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Black is Beautiful: Following Your Dreams and Finding Your Passion

Our Journey from Travel Book Idea to Landing a Collection at Nordstrom

A few years ago, shortly after I became a mother, I got itchy feet. I could remain where I was, with a comfortable life enjoying new parenthood, or go on an adventure, living and traveling around the world, as I’d long desired to do. After much planning and preparation, my husband and I decided to leave the United States and travel full time with our daughter Asha, who was just shy of turning two years old. I was uncertain of where we would land, or the long-term professional outcome, but I was open to the journey and the excitement of doing something different.

Over the next two years, we lived in four different countries, across three continents and traveled with Asha to over 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey, Iceland, Greece, Oman, Tanzania, and Senegal. In the course of our travels, I saw how much the world has to teach young people and how open the world is to children.

At a very young age, Asha, now with her baby brother, has seen so much of the world. They have met children all over the globe, heard the languages they speak, learned the games they play, the songs they sing, and tasted the foods they eat. These experiences led us to create our children’s story book collection, The Amazing Adventures of Aya & Pete, which shares some of what we’ve seen and learned with other children and their families.

The idea behind our books was to share with children the little things we learn in new places, like what languages are spoken in France or England, what are some foods you could find there, what kinds of currency they use, and what are the key landmarks. But we also wanted to convey the intangible elements of travel, like compassion, understanding of cultural differences and appreciation of our shared humanity. Even if children can’t travel themselves, they could still experience the magic and wonder of exploring and learning about other places through a beautiful book. Plus, there is something truly magical about seeing the world through the eyes of a child!

Our journey to creating Aya & Pete started with an outline for the books, and the lead characters. Aya is inspired by our daughter, and Pete by her favorite stuffed animal at that time, a toy monkey named Frenchie. We wanted our books to be informational, but also fun, so we created character-driven narratives with a good dose of adventure and cheeky banter between Aya and her stuffed sloth, Pete.

We published our first book, the Amazing Adventures of Aya & Pete in Paris in December 2017 under our publishing company, Ashima. Since so much of our story is inspired by Asha’s lived experiences, it was important that she be the co-author, and co-owner of our publishing business. This was an opportunity for her to learn how to create something, how to build a business, when to pivot if necessary and to get back up if you stumbled. Most importantly, I wanted her to have ownership of her story.

While the first two years of this project were one fledgling step after the other, we realized we had something interesting when we launched our second book, The Amazing Adventures of Aya & Pete in London, in the spring of 2019. We organized a five-city “book tour” and in each stop, bookstores and libraries welcomed us and readers and supporters showed up! The day after Asha turned six, we hosted a reading at our local bookstore, and a roomful of nearly 100 people sang her Happy Birthday. That was a very special moment.

In the fall of 2020, we launched our third book, The Amazing Adventures of Aya & Pete in New York! One of the keys to succeeding in whatever it is you want to do, is to be passionate about it. Sometimes you’re in a full sprint, and it’s easy to keep going. Other times it’s a slow crawl and you question whether it makes sense to continue. But we never stopped, and our tenacity eventually caught the attention of Nordstrom, which started carrying our line of books and products last fall. With a national platform, more children have access to Aya & Pete and imagery that shows a little girl who looks like them, or perhaps who doesn’t look like them, boldly exploring, trying new things and just being herself – a kid having fun!

At a time when we cannot travel as freely as we wish and it seems like all of our vacation plans are on extended pause, we believe these books are more relevant than ever. We hope our books can inspire excitement for little ones to see new places, and spark their imaginations with adventures that lay just around the corner. But our story and our books are really not about the act or art of traveling. It’s about our core belief that you cannot dream what you cannot see, and we want all children to know, whether they are traveling, or simply traveling in their imaginations, there’s a big world out there, there’s a place for them, and they belong in it as much as anyone else.

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