News and Interviews

Saumiya Balasubramaniam's Beautiful New Picture Book is a Pathway to "Appreciate the Magic in the New"

Saumiya Balasubramaniam photo by Rajni Radja

In a sea of endless Canadian snow, Ma misses the colours and warmth of home — so far away now it's hard to explain to her little girl as they walk home from school. But her daughter's joy in the cold beauty of the wintry sky, snow angels, and snowflakes caught on her tongue is eventually so boisterous it becomes the warmth that Ma needs. 

Saumiya Balasubramaniam's Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White (Groundwood Books, illustrated by Eva Campbell) is a thoughtful, beautiful story about home, belonging, and love, and how they can sometimes be found in unexpected ways, and Eva Campbell's gently enchanting illustrations will transport young readers (and their grown ups) to a chilly afternoon full of wonder. 

We're thrilled to welcome Saumiya, who previous books for children have garnered praise across Canada, to Open Book today as part of our Kids Club interview series. She tells us about how she hopes kids will feel empowered and valued in their reading of the story, the simple joy of physical ink on paper as part of her writing process, and the literary power of a good cup of tea. 

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Saumiya Balasubramaniam:

Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White is a gentle story of perspectives unfolding as a conversation between mother and child. When the immigrant mother misses the warmth of the country of her birth, it is the magic of the snow and practically everything in the winter landscape (as seen through her daughter’s eyes) that changes her outlook.

While the story arc, dialogues etc. are fictitious, the idea and the imagination evolved on my walk back home from school with my very young daughter.

It is always fascinating to observe, and learn how wonderfully children perceive and adapt to the same situations in a different way.


Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?


Yes, with this particular book I would like to think that kids feel empowered in the knowledge that they have the ability to enable adults to see and learn from their point of view, to know that their opinions are valued, and that hierarchy, power positions etc. does not always matter.

Also, I think that an immigrant child (and parent) is perhaps more likely to relate to the adult-child conversations and views in this story. The concept of loving and embracing a new landscape as home truly resonates.


Is there a character in your book that you relate to? If so, in what ways are you similar to your character and in what ways are you different?


Two Drops of Brown grows from personal experience. So of course, it is the mother in the story that I relate to. She, (like me sometimes) views the winter world with a myopic lens. She too is cautious around ice, and a perhaps a bit jaded by the old to appreciate the magic in the new.

But unlike me, the mother in the story allows herself to slow down, and rejoice in the contagion of the magic spun by a young mind.


What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


I need a pen or pencil, piece of paper (I love the simplicity in the physicality of black lead/ ink on white paper), and a quiet physical and mental space preferably very early a.m., or sometimes middle of the night

A strong cup of tea(chai) is always helpful.


How do you cope with setbacks or tough points during the writing process? Do you have any strategies that are your go-to responses to difficult points in the process?


A particular tough point for me is to write/arrive at that subtle moment of denouement that sparks the heart of the story.

I have never consciously worked at a plan or a strategy, but what I find effective is a long break from what I am working on, and revisiting the story after a significant period of time.

A possible downside to this approach is that the entire process may take too long, which means that from the time I start to write the first draft to the time I feel contended to send it out, a good deal of life has passed by. But I am okay with that.

Sometimes critique sessions (In conferences etc.) are useful. On occasions, I have shared original second, or third drafts with a writer friend.

Different perspective/fresh ideas as viewed from a third person’s point of view can sometimes be helpful.


What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?


The favourite part for me is that first strike of inspiration or an idea when it appears quite suddenly, and then of course the writing the first draft. I also enjoy the multiple revisions over time.

Recently I have begun to appreciate the complete re-writing of the story. The possibility of a creating a good book from a seed of an idea comes alive only through the process of revision/re-writes, working up to final draft.

The toughest part is determining for myself that the draft is indeed final, and that it cannot be improved any further.


What are you working on now?


I have an interesting idea for a picture book sequel to When I Found Grandma.


Saumiya Balasubramaniam’s debut picture book, When I Found Grandma, illustrated by Qin Leng, was featured in the Globe and Mail (“Seven books to help kids make sense of the world”) and by the CBC (“Kids books to look for in 2019”). It was described by Publishers Weekly as a “subtle, heartfelt story.” Saumiya lives in Toronto.

Author photo credit: Rajni Radja

Buy the Book

Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White

A little girl and her mother walk home from school on a snowy winter day.
“So much snow,” says Ma. “So monochromatic.”
“Mono crow what?” her daughter replies.
Ma misses the sun, warmth and colors of their faraway homeland, but her daughter sees magic in everything — the clouds in the winter sky, the “firework” display when she throws an armful of snow into the air, making snow angels, tasting snowflakes. And in the end, her joy is contagious. Home is where family is, after all.
This gently layered, beautifully illustrated story that unfolds as a conversation between a mother and daughter will resonate with readers young and old.