This month, “Mining for Heart” welcomes Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, whose debut picture book, MOMMY’S KHIMAR, was released this week. How do you find the heart of a story about an object? Read on!
The Heart is in Relationships
To find the heart of Mommy’s Khimar, I decided to go back in time. I searched my computer files for the oldest drafts I could find of my manuscript. I blushed a lot as I read them (my early drafts were pretty awful!). Yet, I kept going back. I wanted to know what I was thinking. What was I feeling when I decided to write this story? What deep artistic vision inspired me to write my debut work?
The oldest draft was a page with only one sentence: “A little girl experiences a day walking around in mommy’s khimar.”
My deep artistic vision didn’t amount to much.
I went back, again combing through my drafts. What was I missing? Why did I write this story in the first place? Where was the heart?
What I did notice is that the phrase “mommy’s khimar” was consistent from my initial sentence through numerous drafts and in my final published piece. For whatever reason, the mother’s ownership of this religious garment, which the girl plays with, trips over, and even watches fly away in one draft (I said these drafts were awful!), remains central to the text. The girl has numerous interactions with her mother through this garment. Yet, I didn’t recognize that I was using the khimar to clumsily explore their relationship until my editor requested that I include the mother more.
In including the mother more, I went deeper and in going deeper, I began to see Mommy’s khimar as symbolic of a mother-daughter bond. I saw that while the khimar allows the main character a means to escape into a world of fantasy, it also grounds her in feelings of connectedness to her mother. The khimar connects her to other members of her family and her community as well; through the scarf, she becomes a momma bird to her baby brother and sunshine for her grandmother. Interestingly, while on the surface, Mommy’s Khimar is about a religious headscarf, the khimar is only a device to illuminate relationships. Relationships are in fact the heart of Mommy’s Khimar.
The more I write, the more I realize that I am obsessed with relationships. My protagonists are always trying to deepen, understand, experiment with, or figure out their relationships with other characters. Writing allows me to work out my own understandings of relationships, and when my stories struggle to gel, it’s often because I am not going deeply enough to understand the dynamics at play between the characters.
Fortunately for me as a kidlit writer, children are very interested in relationships too. They long for and struggle to form their own bonds. They work hard to learn how to connect with others. Good stories help children to do this work. Good stories put a magnifying glass on this ever-present aspect of our lives. If we write relationships with sincerity and depth, we write stories with vision. We write stories with heart.
For more information on MOMMY’S KHIMAR, visit Simon & Schuster’s page with starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly!