Ajmera, Maya

views updated

Ajmera, Maya

PERSONAL: Raised in Greenville, NC. Education: North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, 1985; Bryn Mawr College, bachelor's degree, 1989; Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University, M.A.

ADDRESSES: Home—Washington, DC. Office—The Global Fund for Children, 1101 14th Street NW, Ste. 910, Washington, DC 20005.

CAREER: Shakti for Children (not-for-profit organization), Washington, DC, founder and executive director.

AWARDS, HONORS: William C. Friday fellowship for human relations.


(Editor, with Lisa Daughtry) Raising Children to Become Caring Contributors to the World: A Resource Guide for Families and Educators, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1997.


(With Anna Rhesa) Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World, Shakti for Children (Durham, NC), 1996, revised edition with a foreword by Marian Wright Edelman, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2001.

(With Olateju Omolodun and Sarah Strunk) Extraordinary Girls, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1999.

(With John D. Ivanko) To Be a Kid, foreword by Chris Kratt and Martin Kratt, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1999.

(With Michael Regan) Let the Games Begin!, foreword by Bill Bradley, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2000.

(With John D. Ivanko) Back to School, foreword by Marilyn Jachetti Whirry, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2001.

(With John D. Ivanko) Come out and Play, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2001.

(With John D. Ivanko) Animal Friends: A Global Celebration of Children and Animals, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2002.

(With Alex Fisher) A Kid's Best Friend, foreword by Super Gus of Planet Dog, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2002.

(With John D. Ivanko and Fred Rogers) Be My Neighbor, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2004.

(With John D. Ivanko) To Be an Artist, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2004.

Also author of Xanadu.

SIDELIGHTS: Maya Ajmera has dedicated her life to teaching children tolerance and respect for other cultures. She is the founder of Shakti for Children, named after a Hindu goddess (a nod to Ajmera's South Asian heritage), and the author of numerous multicul-tural books for young readers. As she explained in an interview on the Charlesbridge Web site, "I wanted to create books that highlight the universal connections and similarities among children around the world." Ajmera's books are also "designed to help children gain insight into human, cultural, social, and environmental diversity."

Written with Anna Rhesa Versola, Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World provides young readers with a whistle-stop guide to various cultures of the world, one for each letter of the alphabet. (For X, which no countries on Earth ever begin with, Ajmera and Versola tour the legendary land of Xanadu.) The book contains plenty of facts, Denia Hester noted in Booklist, "but the real eyecatchers are the beautiful photographs of children at work, play, and worship."

Ajmera has continued exploring different cultures in other books, many of which are more narrowly focused that Children from Australia to Zimbabwe. For example, Let the Games Begin! features children from all around the world playing various sports, while Come out and Play showcases an international medley of young people making their own fun by swinging on ropes, swimming in streams, and playing traditional games such as bao, from Ethiopia. While Ajmera's books attempt to instill a curiosity about and respect for other cultures in their young readers, they also generally teach other lessons as well. In Let the Games Begin! these other lessons include the importance of good sportsmanship and the fun of participating in organized athletics, while, according to School Library Journal contributor Linda Ludke, Come out and Play will "encourage children to reflect on … the importance of imagination and friendship."

A Kid's Best Friend, which Ajmera created with Alex Fisher, focuses on the relationships children share with their pet dogs while also subtly illustrating the differences in geography around the world. The book's photographs, taken outdoors, provide a look at various areas of the world and frequently contain images houses and local customs. For example, a photograph showing a boy and his dog in Benin illustrates the sunny and sandy conditions in that desert country and the grass huts in which some people live; in Peru, in contrast, a girl and her dog keep watch over a flock of sheep. The photographs are "attractive," wrote Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, while School Library Journal reviewer Christina F. Renaud dubbed the title "appealing."

Like Let the Games Begin!, To Be an Artist encourages children to try a specific activity, this time art, while also depicting how children from around the world express their creativity. The forms of artistic expression mentioned in the book include visual arts, such as painting; performing arts, including dancing and singing; and writing. To Be an Artist is a "vibrant book," Tracy Karbel wrote in School Library Journal, adding that Ajmera's work "pulsates with the energy and sense of accomplishment that accompanies participation in the arts." As Linda Perkins commented in Booklist, the book is also "an excellent supplement for social studies units and an inspiring springboard for arts programs."

In Be My Neighbor Ajmera and photographer John D. Ivanko take a tour of countries around the world, from Togo and Turkey to Mongolia and Guatemala, inspired by the teachings of the late Fred Rogers of Mister Roger's Neighborhood fame. Neighborhoods may be different in other countries, Ajmera and Ivanko explain, but some features are common across cultures, such as the presence of schools where children can learn as well as houses for people to live in; temples, churches, mosques, or other places for residents to worship; and stores or marketplaces for buying necessities. Alongside Ajmera's simple text, which is geared for preschool children, Ivanko illustrates how these sites look in other places—from familiar-looking farmers' markets in Mexico and France to unusual orange houses in Mali. Be My Neighbor is "a rich source of pictures showing the functions of a community," Carolyn Phelan explained in Booklist, while Horn Book contributor Susan Dove Lempke maintained that teachers will find the book "an excellent resource for multicultural community units."



Booklist, January 1, 1998, Denia Hester, review of Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World, p. 796; February 1, 1999, Kathleen Squires and Jack Helbig, review of To Be a Kid, p. 975; April 1, 2000, Tim Arnold, review of Let the Games Begin!, p. 1452; September 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of A Kid's Best Friend, p. 134; March 1, 2004, Linda Perkins, review of To Be an Artist, p. 1190; January 1, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of Be My Neighbor, p. 865.

Horn Book, January-February, 2005, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Be My Neighbor, p. 106.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of A Kid's Best Friend, p. 800; October 1, 2004, review of Be My Neighbor, p. 955.

Library Journal, August, 2001, Maria Otero-Boisvert, review of To Be a Kid, p. S58.

Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2001, review of Come out and Play, p. 213; March 1, 2004, "Adventures in Art," review of To Be an Artist, p. 71; January 3, 2005, review of Be My Neighbor, p. 57.

School Arts, September, 2004, Ken Marantz, review of To Be an Artist, p. 58.

School Library Journal, May, 2000, Barb Lawler, review of Let the Games Begin!, p. 159; August, 2001, Linda Ludke, review of Come out and Play, p. 166; September, 2001, review of To Be a Kid, p. 58; June, 2002, Christina F. Renaud, review of Back to School, p. 118; July, 2002, Olga R. Kuharets, review of Animal Friends: A Global Celebration of Children and Animals, p. 102; August, 2002, Christina F. Renaud, review of A Kid's Best Friend, p. 173; October, 2003, review of A Kid's Best Friend, p. 24; March, 2004, Tracy Karbel, review of To Be an Artist, p. 188; July, 2004, Lisa G. Kropp, review of Back to School, p. 45; October, 2004, review of To Be an Artist, p. 22; January, 2005, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Be My Neighbor, p. 100.

Skipping Stones, May-August, 2000, review of Extraordinary Girls, p. 34.


Charlesbridge Publishing Web site, http://www.charlesbridge.com/ (May 5, 2005), "Maya Ajmera."

[Sketch reviewed by Cynthia Ponby, director of Shakti for Children.]