The 2022 peer assessment committee says:
"A moving reflection of love and loss through the eyes of a child, The Sour Cherry Tree is a tender story about family and culture that is portrayed with subtlety and thoughtfulness. Memories of childhood and bereavement feel tangible and are softened by Kazemi’s gentle artistry. Hrab and Kazemi’s work evokes the depth of love we share through little gestures. This beautifully crafted book will linger long after you have finished reading."
Naseem Hrab is a writer, storyteller and lover of improv. She is the author of the Ira Crumb series, How to Party Like a Snail and Weekend Dad, a former Governor General’s Literary Awards finalist. Her work has been praised by Quill & Quire, the Globe and Mail, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR, among others. She once worked as a librarian and now works in children’s publishing. Naseem Hrab lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Nahid Kazemi is an author, an illustrator and a multidisciplinary artist who has published more than 65 children’s books. She has been a Governor General’s Literary Awards finalist and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Recent publications include Shahrzad & the Angry King, Just Bea, Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, and The Old Woman. She was IBBY Canada’s Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence for 2018 and TD Summer Reading Club illustrator for 2022. Nahid Kazemi lives in Montréal, Quebec.
Imagine you could spend a day with any author, living or dead. Who would you choose, what would you do, and what would you talk about?
Naseem: I would love to spend a day with Shinsuke Yoshitake. I absolutely adore his picture books! They’re hilarious, philosophical, and appeal to children and adults. He tackles all sorts of big and little life questions in the most creative and imaginative ways. It would be so cool to get to watch him make an entire picture book from idea to finished book, but that would take more than a day!
Nahid: There are a few authors and illustrators that I would like to spend a day with them to learn from them. Persons such as Kveta Pacovska, Beatrice Alemagna, Isabell Arsenal, Manon Goutier, Simone Rea, Xavier Zabala. But to answer this question, I would choose the German author-illustrator Wolf Erlbruch, And I would like to talk to him about the procedure of working on Duck, Death and the Tulip. I'd like to get familiar with his mindset and what makes him so comfortable talking about complex and bitter issues like death for kids. I’m very keen to know the events behind the story that I’m working on. I mean the experiences that every author goes through before writing a story matter to me to get the depth of the story.
What advice would you give your ten-year-old self about the future?
Naseem: I would say, "If you’re ever in need of comfort, write." I underestimated the power of writing down my feelings for a long time. The word "journalling" can have so much pressure associated with it—like needing fancy paper, nice pens and important things to say, but you don’t need any of those things. Writing your feelings down can simply help you take your thoughts out of your head and look at them a bit differently. In turns out that my writing for children is more of a coping mechanism for me than an art and I’m grateful for it.
Nahid: If I go back to when I was ten, I would start reading in English and French along with my own language, Farsi, because now that I am living in a bilingual country, I realize its importance in my life. Also, every language you learn opens the door to a new world and culture. It enriches your personality, and the fact is you never know where life is going to take you.
I also want to tell children that life is constantly changing and involves sadness and happiness, hardship and comfort. It is important to recognize that and broaden your perspective of the world. One way to do so is by reading books. Books help you to understand yourself, motivate you, and show you how spectacular the world is and what amazing opportunities are out there for you.
Your book The Sour Cherry Tree explores experiences of death and loss through the eyes of a child. What was it like to collaborate on telling this story together?
Naseem: The book is an expression of love through the eyes of a child. I think that whenever I see obituaries written by adults, they often feel overly formal and, in many cases, missing those most favourite moments, memories and parts of the people we love. I feel so lucky that Nahid felt such a connection to the manuscript because I feel so connected to her illustrations. It was a beautiful experience to make this book with Nahid and Owlkids Books—it seemed like everyone who worked on this book from the editor to the designer to the marketing staff felt a connection with this book. It was a rare thing, indeed, and I appreciated every moment of getting to make this book.
Nahid: First of all, I would say this book is more about sharing love in silent without sharing any word. But you can see a few other notions in the stories as well. For example, for a while I was thinking it could be about finding peace after losing a loved one through memories and the stuff belonged to them. Now when I go through the pages, I see some pieces of myself in the book. All my own experiences combined with what I heard from Naseem. I can see my memories from my own grandpa in the book as well. His pose when he was sleeping, his look and the sparkle in his eyes when he was watching us. That curtain with those patterns in one of the illustrations had really existed and I am still behind it. That samovar in the picture is still dripping in my mind.
In your opinion, what makes a book for young people authentic to young readers?
Naseem: There’s a wonderful quotation from notable children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom: “I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing.” There’s a lot of children’s books out there that speak down to children and feel didactic. All stories feel more authentic when they’re steeped in real emotions instead of lessons.
Nahid: When a story springs from your heart, it touches others’ hearts too. Stories based on personal experience convey a unique and authentic message that children can engage with. There happen challenges in life about important issues such as love, family, death, and so on that everyone will experience in one way or another. Stories that are inspired by personal experiences help young readers to have a self-connection to the story, understand the world around them better, and in case of facing similar challenges, they can resolve them easier. Children can see themselves in the narration and through the illustration, realizing they are not the only ones who are experiencing these issues.
What was the last book by a Canadian author that changed you in some way?
Naseem: The last book by a Canadian author that changed me in some way was Ruth Ohi’s Blanket. It’s a comforting, wordless story about a cat who is experiencing a grey day and the friend who is able to be there for them. It’s a sweet reminder to never underestimate how important it can be to reach out a hand to a friend in need.
Nahid: The first year I was in Canada, I knew nothing about Canadian books, authors, and publishers. From morning to night, I was reading picture books in grand bibliotheque to know books, authors, illustrators, and publishers. In those days I saw Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith. This book was like a ray of hope to me because it was a silent book and it showed me that there is still the possibility of being an author-illustrator for someone who doesn’t know the language very well. It gave me the idea of working on silent books then I found JonArno through social media, and we ended up working on a book together two years later.