Friday, December 16, 2011

Naomi Rose on Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure

Author-illustrator Naomi Rose, welcome and congratulations on your new picture book from Lee & Low, Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure. (Review excerpt from Booklist: "gracefully introducing Tibetan words and customs...this upbeat story provides a rare look at Tibetan American culture.")

[Uma] Your own inquiry into Tibetan wisdom and culture is important to your life. How did that inquiry lead you to the mysteries of the flower cure?

[Naomi] About 10 years ago, my father was recovering from cancer. My mother, who knew of my interest in Tibetan culture, emailed me a true story about a Tibetan man who miraculously recovered from cancer. The story was written by a hospice worker. She had tried to use the Tibetan Flower Cure to bring comfort to the Tibetan man in his final days. Instead of simply bringing him comfort, the Tibetan Flower Cure actually cured him! But it wasn't just the flowers that evoked the cure. It was the coming together of communities in support of this man's well being. The doctor was baffled about the unexpected healing. But the Tibetan man explained that the disease couldn't live in a body filled with so much love. It was such a beautiful story of the power of kindness and community, I knew I had to write it for children.

[Uma] In the end this is a story of geographies blending and merging through the connections between the generations. Talk about both those elements and how you show this blending of places and cultures in your art.

[Naomi] When I have visited the homes of Tibetan-Americans, I've seen an intriguing mixture of American and Tibetan elements. The homes generally have a special room dedicated for the most sacred items. This room is specifically for meditation, chanting, and prayer. The rest of the house is a combination of Tibetan and American culture, such as prayer flags flying in the yard next to a lawn mower, thangkas hanging above televisions, and so on. In a way, this approach blends the sacred and mundane, which I really appreciate. So I was careful to place Tibetan items in the ordinary rooms and scenes in my art.

Another aspect of blending is the dress. Some Tibetan-Amercians, especially the elders, continue to wear chupas, the traditional Tibetan clothing. Others, especially the younger generations, wear American clothes. I portrayed this in the illustrations with Popola wearing chupas, and Amala and Tashi wearing American clothes.

[Uma] Reversals drive the structure of this book: Sickness to healing, inaction to action, I could go on. I know you worked on this book over time and in many different versions, but can you tell me how you arrived at the final structure?

[Naomi] After several years of working on the story on my own and with my critique group, it finally earned some interest at Lee & Low Books. Louise May was the editor-in-chief at the time and she and I worked on the story for almost 18 months. But when she finally showed it to the editorial committee, they passed on the book. I was devastated. I filed the story far away. Then about six months later, I read a newly-released picture book from Lee and Low, written in free verse. I loved the voice. Inspired, I rewrote Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure in free verse, first person, present tense. I wrote the story without thinking of a publisher. I wrote it from my heart. I knew I had a good story, much better than before. I showed it to Louise May and it required only a few minor revisions before the acquisitions committee accepted it.

[Uma] Finally, can you share a recipe for solja?

[Naomi] Solja, or Tibetan Butter Tea, is definitely an acquired taste. It is especially enjoyed when living in high altitudes and freezing temperatures. Tibetans in Tibet have very elaborate ways of preparing the tea. These ways may include using butter churns and horsehair (to strain the tea). But here is a way to make it more simply.


Makes 5 to 6 cups of tea:
plain black tea (2 tea bags or 1 tbsp. of loose leaf)
¼ tsp. of salt
2 tbsp. of butter
½ cup of milk

Boil 5 to 6 cups of water. Pour two tea bags or one tbsp. of loose leaf into the boiling water and wait 2-3 minutes. Gently remove the tea bags or strain the tea leaves. Pour the tea into a large container with a lid or a blender. Then add salt, butter and milk. Shake it for 2 or 3 minutes. Serve it immediately. Enjoy!

This delicious tea will keep you warm in the winter and help you feel healthy and strong.

[Uma] Thank you Naomi. And here's another review from one of my favorite book bloggers, the BookDragon.


  1. Naomi, congratulations on Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure! Uma, thanks for the interview, which inspired me. I loved hearing about the genesis of the story and Naomi's persistence with Lee & Low. A book's publication is like Tashi's friends and neighbors, a community coming together to celebrate.

  2. True, Margaret. I also want to note and appreciate the publisher's willingness to revisit a prior decision.

  3. An insight on the Tibetian culture and the wisdom on the cure with flowers it holds. A useful and very informative post for the people.