Author Nandini Bajpai on Diverse Books, Education, and Writing for Teens

By: | 08/13/2021
Category: Instruction

Author Nandini Bajpai began writing novels for young adults because she wanted to create the kind of books she wished she’d seen on library shelves when she was growing up in New Delhi, India—diverse books that showed Indian children with experiences and problems that reflected her own.

Photo of Nandini Bajpai.

Today, Nandini is the author of several children’s books that center on Indian and Indian-American characters, families, and traditions. She’s also a Curriculum Associates contributing writer whose diverse passages enrich students’ learning experiences in Magnetic Reading, a new Grades 3–5 reading comprehension program, and i-Ready Learning for Reading, a standards-aligned personalized learning program.

In May 2021, Nandini published a new novel for young adults, Sister of the Bollywood Bride. Like her earlier YA novel, A Match Made in Mehendi, Sister of the Bollywood Bride invites readers to experience the world from the perspective of an Indian-American teen as she navigates family relationships, high school, love, and friendship. Nandini and I recently put our passage-writing work aside for a moment so she could answer a few questions about her new book, the writing life, and why she believes education materials need diverse perspectives.


When you look back at your education, can you think of a teacher, class, or lesson that has had a profound influence on you?

I attended middle school in New Delhi, and, though I was an avid reader, I wasn’t the greatest student. Luckily, I had an excellent seventh grade English teacher who encouraged my creative writing. I remember I wrote an essay about trees in the monsoon, and she gave me an amazing grade even though I had made several spelling mistakes, which other teachers cared about a lot. It was wonderful to have that positive feedback from a teacher.

You’ve contributed original stories to Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready Learning and Magnetic Reading. What drew you to writing for an audience of students and teachers?

I believe in the work Curriculum Associates is doing to add diversity to passages and programs so that many more perspectives and life experiences are reflected in the materials available to students. It is so important to include all voices in the learning materials children have access to. Students need materials that act as windows into others’ experiences as well as materials that act as mirrors by reflecting their own experiences. Diverse content is essential for helping students develop empathy and self-confidence.

Magnetic Reading uses a knowledge-rich curriculum, culturally and linguistically responsive texts and instruction, scaffolding, and actionable data to help students build their skills and develop a love for reading.

Download a Free Magnetic Reading Lesson

How does your personal experience influence your writing and the stories you choose to tell?

Book cover for Sister of the Bollywood Bride.
 Book Cover Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

I loved reading growing up, but I really felt the absence of characters who reflected my family, culture, world view, and the places I called home. There were no sweet, funny, contemporary books with characters who looked like me and were just living their lives and finding their place in the world. I wish I had books that reflected the past, the future, or even a fantasy world through the eyes of someone like me. I really missed that. Those are the kind of books I want to write—and hopefully am writing.

What do you hope teachers and students will take away from your writing?

I think it is really good for everyone to have more writing available about different people, perspectives, stories, and cultures. It enriches everybody to understand a wider range of people. Diverse literature helps erase fear while fostering empathy and acceptance. I hope my writing will allow people outside of my cultural background to gain an understanding of it while also giving students from my background a chance to see themselves reflected in what they (and their peers) are reading.

“Diverse content is essential for helping students develop empathy and self-confidence.” —Nandini Bajpai

What question did I not ask that you wish I had?

Maybe: Who is my favorite character that I have written?

If you had asked this question, I would say Leelavati (a.k.a., Leela), the protagonist of my YA historical novel, Starcursed, which is set in 12th-century India. According to legend, Leela was the daughter of one of the most important astronomers and mathematicians of the age, Bhāskarācārya, and she was brilliant at math herself. Her father wrote a textbook on math, named the Leelavati, in which many of the number problems are addressed to a girl, sometimes Leela herself.

I wish more people realized that many contributions have been made to math and science by people who are relatively unknown, such as Bhāskarācārya.

Diverse Book Resources

Nandini Bajpai grew up with a family of readers in New Delhi, India. She now lives in the Boston area with her husband, children, and a fluctuating number of pets. She is the author of several works of fiction for children (including A Match Made in Mehendi, Starcursed, and Rishi and the Karmic Cat), a Curriculum Associates passage writer, and an advocate for diverse reading content. Find her online at NandiniBajpai.com.

Teacher and students sitting on the floor.

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