Born to a Pakistani father and American mother, I was raised beachside in Half Moon Bay, CA, just south of San Francisco. I grew up on a diet of liverwurst, Madeleine L’Engle and sitar music. I went to public school through 9th grade, then a private high school and Princeton University, but my true education was always through books and travel.
At age nine, my father spent what he had saved as an electrical and nuclear engineer on a trip around the world for his family. Starting from San Francisco, we visited Hawaii, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, India, Pakistan, Germany, New York and Florida (yes–we ended our trip around the world at Disney World). This travel transformed my world view, giving me an outsider’s perspective of my country of birth, as well as a new awareness of myself as an outsider.
Although my father planned an touristy itinerary of International Hotels and temple tours, what stood out for me during these travels were the people I met. I recall Korean grandmothers, Indian snake-charmers, and most especially two Chinese street artists who enthused over my immature (and since abandoned) pastel sketches of the Hong Kong Harbor. I did not recognize at the time how my mixed heritage made me an outsider in our small farming community and even in my own extended family. Now I understand that undeveloped questions about my own identity fueled my strong desire to connect with other people of other places.In 1985, Steve McCurry‘s famous image of the green-eyed Pashtun refugee Sharbat Gula startled us all from the front cover of National Geographic magazine. For me, this image was deeply personal, as I recalled meeting an Afghan girl of my age while visiting Murray in the mountains near Peshawar, Pakistan, my father’s home town. Looking into her eyes was like looking in a mirror, and explained the mystery of my green Afghani eyes for the first time.
After graduating from university, I joined the Peace Corps and served a two-year stint in Paraguay, South America, working to implement guaraní-Spanish bilingual education across the country. Returning to the Bay Area, I pursued my Masters in Multicultural Education from San Francisco State University, and taught Spanish-bilingual kindergarten in San Francisco. Five years later, I began work as Head Teacher of the 2/3 class at Mills College Children’s School, where I also obtained National Board Certification in Early Childhood Education.
In 2001, I became a Teacher Consultant with the Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP), work I continue to this day as a teacher in their Young Writers Camp program. Part of BAWP’s mission is to reconnect teachers with their own identify as writers, in the belief that teachers who write are better teachers of writing. In a writing group for the first time since college, I began writing stories again. My son was born in 2006, and my daughter in 2010. Since becoming a mother, I have retired from the classroom and instead focused on my own writing. In 2013, I joined the SCBWI and dedicated myself to writing my own stories for children.
13 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me
- I collect rainwater in jars.
- I celebrate the pagan Wheel of the Year (solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarters).
- I have knit exactly one sweater in my lifetime.
- I learned to birdwatch in South Africa.
- I learned origami from a package of 2″x2″ paper given to my by our first Japanese exchange student, Kai.
- In middle school I grew herbs and decorated cakes to earn money.
- I studied kung fu for eight years and went to China to demonstrate fighting forms with my Sifu Zhong Luo.
- I still practice on a wooden dummy in my backyard.
- My son typically beats me at pinochle.
- My daughter can build anything with Magna-tiles.
- I spend my idle hours sorting my children’s collections of Pokémon cards and Legos.
- I never took my vitamins until I got married and had children.
- Someday I hope to learn Italian, go on a scientific research expedition, and return to visit my father’s homeland.
My Life in Books
My favorite books as a child:
- Higglety Pigglety Pop!, In the Night Kitchen, Brundibar, and Where the Wild Things Are, all by Maurice Sendak
- The Little Engine That Could, Watty Piper
- The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Dr. Seuss
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
- Voyage to the Bunny Planet, Rosemary Wells
- The Maggie B, Irene Haas
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie
- The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
- The Little Prince, Antoine de St. Éxupery
- Neverending Story, Michael Ende
- Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie
- Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
- A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
- Heidi, Johanna Spyri
- Anne of Greene Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
- The Velvet Room, Zilpha Keatly Snyder
- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
- Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers
- Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brian
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc. by Roald Dahl
- Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
- Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlin
- The Changeover, Margaret Mahy
You’ll notice a dearth of picture books on this list. My picture book collection suffered an early trauma from which I have never recovered: my mother gave away all my books! When I was eight years old and reading middle grade books, my mom founded an infant/toddler center. All the picture books we had on our shelves at home went for teething stock at the day care center. I loved my mother’s work and even went on to become an early childhood educator, but this early loss led directly to a picture book obsession that persists through this day.
In high school I won an AAUW essay contest and traded my first prize (an all expense-paid week trip to Washington DC) with the second prize winner for a $500 gift certificate to Alexander Books in San Francisco. I spent all the money on picture books, and since have dedicated myself to recovering the books I knew and loved as a child. To this day, nothing matches my feeling of recognition and relief when I find an old edition of a beloved favorite in a used bookstore.
As an English major at Princeton University I specialized in Children’s Literature, and did my thesis Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Ten years in elementary school classrooms as a Spanish bilingual Kindergarten teacher and 2/3 Head Teacher gave me even further excuse to expand my picture book collection beyond all bounds.
Some favorite adult reads:
- The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
- Mama Day, Gloria Naylor
- The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
- The Bone People, Keri Hulme
- Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels
- A Yellow Raft on Blue Water, Michael Dorris
- Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres
- How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez
- The Life of Pi, Yann Martel
- The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells
- The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenberger
- The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
- Shine Shine Shine, Lydia Netzer
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
- Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
- The Mistress of Spices, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
- Love, Toni Morrison
- Beloved, Toni Morrison
These are what I call my “Top Shelf” books: they occupy a place of honor on the top shelf next to my writing desk. I have reread them over and over.
These days, I’m most likely to be found reading middle grade literature. At our public library, a shelf featuring new middle grade fiction faces the children’s section, so I can keep an eye on my own kids while I hurriedly stuff books into my bag for checkout. Check out the Windows and Mirrors series on this website for reviews of some of the best books I’m currently reading.