Tell us about the book My Name is Saajin Singh and why you decided to write it.
My Name is Saajin Singh is a picture book about a young boy who takes pride in his name. Things begin to shift after his first day of school when his teacher mispronounces his name as Say-jin as opposed to Sah-jin. He tries to live with that version of his name, but it just does not feel right. After some interactions with friends and a meaningful conversation with his parents, Saajin begins to realize the importance of correcting others when they mispronounce his name.
I decided to write this book for many reasons. The biggest inspiration was my son, Saajin. Before he was born, I was on the hunt for picture books with Sikh protagonists. I wanted to create a library of books for him. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many books on the market with Sikh protagonists. This bothered me, but at that time it didn’t cross my mind to do anything about it.
How did you come up with the idea? What aspects of your own life helped inspire the book?
After Saajin was born, we spent a month carefully selecting and spelling his name. Unfortunately, during his medical check-ups, many people mispronounced Saajin’s name. When people were mispronouncing Saajin’s name, it reminded me of my personal experiences. As a child and even as an adult, people constantly mispronounce my name.
Growing up, I never really had the courage to correct others. In high school, I always feared attendance because I knew the teacher would say my name wrong and my peers would laugh and poke fun. Even as an adult, I don’t always correct people when they mispronounce my name because I try to avoid the awkward conversation. Or I pronounce my own name in an anglicized way when introducing myself. This is something I’m still working on today and am getting better at.
As a teacher, I have witnessed many children, especially BIPOC children, not correct their teacher when their name is mispronounced. That version of their name then follows them throughout their educational experience. I’m hoping to change that through this book.
I hope children will take pride in their name and learn that they can correct adults/peers when they mispronounce their name. Or even go a step further and share how to properly pronounce their name in their mother tongue.
How will you use this book in your classroom?
I have created a lesson plan and cross-curricular unit activities for this book. The resources and worksheets are available for free download on the Annick Press website. I have tried to incorporate my range of teaching experiences from elementary classroom teacher to learning support teacher to English language learner teacher, and I hope other teachers will find them helpful. The resources include before/while/after reading questions and activities, vocabulary word cards, story sequencing, and extension activities in language arts, social studies, math, art, and social emotional learning. I’m so grateful to the illustrator, Samrath Kaur, and the Annick Press graphics team for bringing my worksheet sketches to life.
What response have you received from teachers, students, readers, etc.?
Right when the book came out, there was an overwhelmingly positive response. Parents, young adults, and teachers reached out, sharing their personal stories and connections.
I enjoyed hearing from teachers who shared the experiences of their students who also tried to live with a different version of their name. Some teachers even shared how they didn’t realize the magnitude of impact a mispronounced name could have on their students.
The response from the press was also a surprise. I never imagined being asked to interview on television (CBC, CTV, City News, OMNI) and radio stations (Red FM, Sher-E-Punjab, CBC, CKNW, Spice Radio) to talk about the book. So that was a very neat experience.
My favourite response is from children, especially BIPOC children. When I see their reactions and connections to this book, it truly melts my heart. It’s especially huge for South Asian children to see representation in the book. They are thrilled to see a boy wearing a patka and kara who eats roti and daal. They are able to see themselves and their families in this book, which is so important to help ignite the love of books and reading in children. I grew up reading books with mostly animals and characters that didn’t look like me or my family, making it harder for me to be interested in reading. I can see the excitement in their eyes when they see representation in the book, and that means a lot to me.