By Caroline Bruno
Motivation comes in many ways. For author Sandra L. Richards whose book, Rice & Rocks is destined to be on the New York Times Best Sellers list, motivation tapped her senses on the passing of her eight-year-old nephew, Giovanni in 2007. What has followed since is Sandra’s brilliance and creativity as a storyteller captured in Rice & Rocks – a true account of Giovanni’s chagrins over a famous Jamaican dish with stupendous embellishments fit for an audience of curious and imaginative kids.
I spoke with Sandra who had just left a school in Brooklyn, New York where she was invited to do a reading of Rice & Rocks, and to share details of the book through the school’s Behind the Book program. What came out of that exercise was an assignment that gave first to fifth graders an opportunity to write their own rice and rocks story. But what is this story with an imaginative title about?
It is first and foremost a memoir written to preserve the life and memories of Giovanni. “It is a story that is trying to turn a tragic event into a story that allows sharing some happiness. It is a story that has allowed family to dig deep and now share what was personal with the world while being comfortable in the process. It is about being able to pick yourself up from loss,” Sandra said. It was debilitating when Giovanni passed away at such a young age. It took years for the family to experience any sense of normalcy.
Preserving Giovanni’s memories in Rice & Rocks was part of the healing process for Sandra and her family. The book has had broad and popular appeal. Sandra noted: “People are sharing unique themes from their reading. Kids are going home curious about where they are from, and asking questions about rice and rocks – whether the dish is part of their culture. They are also inquisitive about their national bird.”
Rice & Rocks oozes pride, diversity and cultural heritage. Although the story is presented in the context of Caribbean-American customs its storyline of perceived differences is broadly applicable to other facets of life, and easily resonates with a wide audience. Sandra says, “We were so connected to Jamaica. Our parents encouraged us to read and to appreciate our sense of self; to maintain our cultural upbringing despite peer and societal pressures.”
Rice & Rocks – a play on rice and beans – is a staple for many families around the world. This was one of Giovanni’s discoveries during a conversation with his aunt and their Puerto Rican neighbors. The dish makes its way to the table anytime – regular weekday lunch, Sunday dinner, and especially now around the holidays. As I read the book I realized that there are multiple dynamics at play: community, cognitive development, and testimonies from a spiritual perspective. Sandra revealed that this came all naturally because of her cultural influences.
It has taken a village to lift Rice & Rocks to its current plateau. “I am humble and grateful for everyone who jumped in to help, share ideas and encourage me along,” Sandra remarked. Rice & Rocks has received outstanding endorsements and great reviews including from Donna Brazile, author of Cooking with Grease and syndicated columnist: “Rice & Rocks has something, literally, for every child. It teaches the joy of sharing and bonding over mealtime, and the universality of celebrating holidays with traditional food (in this case, the same dish). Rice & Rocks takes me back to when I was a girl in New Orleans. Stories that combined exciting fantasy with sound life lessons remain vivid in my memory, as this one will.” Sandra is a USA Best Book Awards Finalist. Very recently Rice & Rocks was selected by the Indie Editors to be featured in the December 1st issue of Kirkus Reviews.
Morgan Stanley where Sandra works as Executive Director - Head of Business Development, Diverse & Multicultural Markets has been a leading contributor and supporter of book readings. A number of volunteers from Morgan Stanley participated in a book reading to students at the Early Learning Center of the W.W. Smith School in Poughkeepsie, New York, in celebration of its first National Diversity Day on October 7. Sandra says, “This was a great opportunity for Morgan Stanley to infuse its work on diversity back into the community.” Sandra finds that the marriage between her role and creative writing is a very familiar space. “My role requires an understanding and appreciation of the diverse and multicultural markets and to the importance of culture for each segment,” she mentioned.
The debut picture book author is an American-born daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents. She has wet our appetite by hinting on what she might be involved in over the holidays – penning a sequel on the value of heritage and the importance of cultural diversity to her cherished audiences – children, teachers, parents, and by extension the wider society.
More about the book and the author can be found on her website - http://sandralrichards.com/. The book is available for purchase via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Hue-Man or you can support your local independent bookstore.