Rice & Rocks is a whimsically illustrated story that takes young readers on a cultural odyssey uniting them through the most primal of experiences- what we eat. The element of travel and diversity and the elegant embrace of the African Diaspora makes Rice & Rocks an illuminating (and tasty) tool for education. Sandra Richards weaves her genius through this book that is appropriate for all ages. We caught up with the Jamaican author about the inspiration and intention behind her new book , Rice & Rocks.
What was the inspiration for the story “Rice & Rocks”?
In 2007, I lost my 8-year-old nephew Giovanni to meningitis. It left a hole in my heart. Giovanni and I had a special relationship, and I think about him all the time. Over the years, I thought long and hard about how to keep his memory alive. I have plenty of pictures of the time we spent together, but they just weren’t enough. I kept finding myself thinking back to conversations I had with him over the years, and I fondly remember one conversation in particular. Giovanni was a very imaginative kid and decided he wouldn’t eat his grandma’s rice and beans because the beans looked like rocks to him.
That conversation ultimately led to the children’s book I wrote my nephews memory. But memorializing Giovanni isn’t all Rice & Rocks has been designed to do. Rice & Rocks is also a story that teaches young kids, and the adults that read along with them, about cultural diversity and the importance of learning about their own heritages. My family is from Jamaica where rice and beans is a staple.
Can you tell us about the role of rice and beans across cultures?
My family is from Jamaica where rice and beans is a staple, especially for Sunday dinner. In Rice & Rocks, the central theme of the tale is about how rice and beans are special in other cultures as well. As the story unfolds, the reader will learn more about how rice and beans are important in other families as well. In the story Giovanni’s magic parrot, Jasper, takes him, his Auntie and her two dogs, Skye and Honey, on a voyage to other places where rice and beans are enjoyed.
What can we teach our children about unity and celebrating ancestral tradition through food?
I think it is important for children to have knowledge about their culture and heritage because it gives them a sense of self and having an understanding of where they came from, their backgrounds and traditions. It also gives the child a foundation, something to lean on in terms of identifying who they are, where they come from and appreciating how far their family has come.
The story is beautifully communicated through visuals, let’s talk about the illustration, what factors led you to choose your illustrator?
They are lovely illustrations by Megan Kayleigh Sullivan, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in Illustration. She and I were connected to by our good friend, Wendy Murphy. Megan and I cliqued right away! Turns out she and I share the same birthday, August 15th! That alone told me that Megan was some special.
What do you hope children take away after reading “Rice & Rocks”?
My hope is that the children enjoyed the journey across the international cuisines where Giovanni ultimately learned that although we are all different and our tastes may vary, we each have something special to share with the world – and of course there are major brownie point involved if it can be served on a plate! Although his time was cut short on this earth, he was able to shine a light on children and the adults in their lives, while sharing his new found importance of the word “inclusivity”.
Any plans to author more children’s books?
Yes indeed! There are so many more stories I could develop around the conversations I had with Giovanni – and my other nieces and nephews. They have given me so much material – that I hope to share them with eager readers who have enjoyed “Rice & Rocks”!
Want to pre-order “Rice & Rocks”(Wise Ink Creative Publishing, August 2016, $17.99 U.S.) – visit this link: I want to pre-order!
About the Author: Sandra Richards is the Executive Director, Head of Diverse and Multicultural Marketing, Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, responsible for developing, implementing, and executing a strategy to build the Morgan Stanley brand in the diverse and multicultural markets. She currently serves on the Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Diversity & Inclusion Council. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Sandra was the Development Officer, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Sandra was named by the African American Chamber of Commerce for Rockland and Westchester Counties as a “Woman of Influence” and in 2008 as one of the “10 Influential Blacks. ” She is also is the author of a children’s picture book Rice and Rocks. Sandra completed both her undergraduate and graduate studies at Seton Hall University.