Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s highlight reel. I spent a lot of time on social media in the early days and really got down on how “well” others were doing and played the comparing myself game. It was silly and not worth my time.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sailaja Joshi.
Sailaja N. Joshi is a design thinker, intersectional feminist, mother of two, a bibliophile, an entrepreneur, lover of bold, modern design, diversity activist, and an aspiring dog owner. She’s also the CEO and founder of Mango & Marigold Press, an award-winning independent publishing house that shares the sweet and savory stories of the South Asian experience through children’s, middle grade and young adult literature. The company’s mission is to not only bridge the diversity gap in children’s literature, but also improve the accessibility of diverse children’s lit in underserved communities by ensuring that every child has access to high-quality, diverse kids’ lit.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It all started six years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. I have always adored books and grew up a voracious reader. From Leo the Lop to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings to Amelia Bedelia–I loved every book I read.
And so I was planning a library-themed baby shower, of course! I envisioned filling my daughter’s bookshelf with beautiful books that celebrated our shared Indian culture and heritage. In this moment, I found the diversity gap that exists within children’s literature. The books I did find were inappropriate for a child, or even worse, culturally insensitive. I could not imagine raising my daughter in a world where she would not see herself as the hero on the cover of a book, so I took matters into my own hands and started a publishing company for diverse children’s literature.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think one of the most amazing things that has happened since I started the company is the powerful feedback I’ve received not from parents, but from kids! The number of kids who casually try to run off with a book because the person on the cover looks like them is so incredibly heartwarming. In addition, being featured on my favorite local TV program growing up (Chronicle) was really cool!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh my! When I started the company I was pregnant with my second child, Vyas. This pregnancy was really tough as I had morning sickness until 34 weeks and then was in early labor starting at 36 weeks. This meant that when we were proofing things I wasn’t always thinking. So, later in that year when our book Padmini is Powerful came out, I leafed through the book and realized that–whoops!–our branding was nowhere to be found. Somehow, we had managed to not get our branding onto what would become one of our best selling books. Lesson learned. Don’t do too much when you’re having a tough pregnancy and always make sure your branding is on your book!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We make a social impact in two important ways. First, Mango & Marigold’s founding mission is around diversifying children’s bookshelves. We are just six years old, but we’ve produced 14 books across four different product categories and we’ve been featured on the Today Show, People Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and in so many other places.
You may be asking, why are children’s books so important? Eric Velasquez captures this perfectly by saying, “Once children see themselves represented in books, their existence is validated, and they feel that they are part of the world.”
Kids are born open-minded. They aren’t born with the idea that there is only one way to do things; that there is only one kind of beauty or belief. With our books, we want to open up the world to our readers, encourage wonder and awe in diversity, and show children that diversity is the nature of humanity, not an initiative. Through diversity, we increase education, love, kindness, and understanding.
We just launched the preorder campaign for our twentieth book, Bravo Anjali, which means that we’re putting out a significant number of new books to close that diversity gap.
Secondly, last year we started the #1001DiverseBooks campaign, which focuses on closing the accessibility gap by giving our books to nonprofit and literacy groups across the country, increasing access to literature for underserved communities. Our newest release, Bravo Anjali, is paired with this campaign. For every preorder, customers will have an option to sponsor a copy of the book for just 10 dollars. This sponsored copy will be given to one of the company’s partners and distributed to the children who most need the books. It is so exciting to be able to say YES to organizations like the City of Cambridge, Behind the Book, Book Smiles, and IRIS Refugee Families and give beautiful new diverse books away to children in need.
So why are we so passionate about not only closing the diversity gap but also the accessibility gap? In low-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books to children is one book for every 300 children, far below the ratio of 13 books per child in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods (Handbook of Early Literacy Research 2006). This is what we are combating, and I am determined to change this.
I love seeing the difference our work has made. As I read our books that celebrate and share India’s culture and heritage with my children, I am so grateful that they will grow up in a world where they can see themselves on the cover. Our books empower families and teachers to talk about diversity from an early age in beautiful, impactful, and meaningful ways. One of our early readers was just two and a half when he started asking his mother questions about diversity! It is these conversations that will change this next generation of children into culturally literate citizens. And now, we’ve expanded our reach to include young adult books with the release of untold: defining moments of the uprooted ,a collection of real stories that explores the South Asian experience in the U.S., U.K., and Canada through the lens of identity, being, and relationships.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One of the most memorable moments in my career here was when our author/senior editor and close friend Amy Maranville told me that, even if my company fails, my books would always exist in the world. And it was the fact that they would touch somany people that would be important. Hearing that, at that early stage, gave me the audacity to continue to do the work that we do. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have a good friend and mentor who has frequently opened up their checkbook when angel investors, banks, loan officers said no.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
First, know that literacy is power and break down the structural barrier at hands that limit communities of color access to books and literature. Next, supporting the arts/artists and literature in the same way that you support oil companies would probably change the way this world works. And finally, finally, know that this is more than diversity: our books will help to break down generations of prejudice and help to foster a kinder humanity.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I have four words that define my leadership “style” if you will. Humility, empathy, candor, and passion. I try to infuse that into how I lead, how I support, and how I create.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Get the accountant now. Honestly I wasted so much time doing it myself that I shouldn’t have. Just get the accountant and have them handle that!
- Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s highlight reel. I spent a lot of time on social media in the early days and really got down on how “well” others were doing and played the comparing myself game. It was silly and not worth my time.
- Some people won’t like you, or your stuff. This sounds really mean but it’s important to remember you really (really) can’t please everyone.
- Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. I think this is really really important as I’m a perfectionist.
- You are awesome. Really, truly. Starting a business is hard and the fact that you’re doing it is wonderful. GO YOU.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wow! What a question. So, I really believe that a book, that the written word, can change the world. I really, really do. It can change a person’s thoughts, emotions, and attitudes and I think books, literature, words, they are power. So I believe deeply that books, and access to books should be a fundamental right.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have lots of favorite life lessons quotes, one is “This too shall pass,” but lately my motto has been that as I open a door, to bring others along with me.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I really, really, really want to have a breakfast date with Dolly Parton. I love her music and the work she does is so incredibly powerful. In a world without financial limits, I would create a company similar to her Imagination Library and distribute diverse, free books to kids all over the country, if not the world. Dear Dolly, if you’re reading this OMG HI! Joelene is my favorite song of yours and also can we talk about how we can make the #1001DiverseBooks campaign part of your Imagination Library and make my dreams a reality? Please?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!