Pooja Desai is a compassionate storyteller and a champion of mindfulness and wellness. She has over 25 years of healthcare experience and has leveraged that extensive knowledge to guide others on their personal wellness journeys. Her book Tia Bua Believes in Your Magic takes children on an enlightening journey exploring mindfulness and wellness – and is told through a multicultural lens.
Joe: Hi, everyone! Thank you so much for watching. I am joined by Pooja Desai – the author of the new children’s book Tia Bua Believes in Your Magic.
Pooja: This is so humbling! Thank you for having me.
Joe: Of course. I’d like to start by allowing you to introduce your book – what should parents, children, and families know about it?
Pooja: The big thing is that the book was originally written for the children in my family during 2020 – when life was hard for everyone, and we needed to figure out ways to be a little bit more mindful.
I was sharing it with the family and the main goal is trying to make sure that we equip children with the tools they need to practice mindfulness at a young age.
Joe: So before writing this and venturing into the world of publishing, what was your background? What led to this point in your career?
Pooja: I like to say that I wear a lot of different heels in my life. Long story short, my background is 25 years of healthcare experience – and I’m still in healthcare as well. I run a region for one of the most amazing hospitals in the world. I also help spread mindfulness in the hospital. It’s been quite the journey, even on the medical side – which is kind of what brought me into helping children and writing for them.
Joe: Yes, and mindfulness is such a key component to your book. I feel like in general we’re talking so much more about mindfulness now. People seem to either know so much about it or nothing at all. So, how would you describe mindfulness?
Pooja: I think the way I would describe mindfulness is being aware of your emotions in the present moment – and taking control and taking a pause to set your mindset.
Joe: I think that practice is so important, and I know from experience how difficult it can be. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and let your thoughts race about something that is ahead of you, or behind you. It’s so challenging sometimes to just focus on the present. But once you learn how to do that – it can be life changing. You learn so much about what it means to feel and be present.
Implementing mindfulness practices can be powerful. You have worked in healthcare and are a champion for mindfulness and wellness – so in your opinion, what would you say are some of the biggest challenges that our youth and children face today?
Pooja: The lack of resources. Also, tapping into your emotions. It’s okay to be emotional and we should understand those emotions. Growing up, we were taught to get over it. And it’s not that easy. We have to be very mindful about – why these emotions are happening. We must think – what can we do as adults to help kids through their mindfulness journeys before they become adults?
Being aware of emotions at a younger age will help them really develop the key skills that we all need to have. So, in the event of something tragic happening – or even if it’s something as simple as going to school and being anxious and taking those deep breaths before walking in, or playing sports, children understand that they are going to have a diverse array of emotions. Then of course they will learn how to channel those emotions.
Joe: The mental health conversation and mindfulness conversation is just beginning. I feel like as difficult as it was, the pandemic marked the beginning of the shift towards honesty and vulnerability with mental health conversations. A lot of it was out of necessity but it’s just so good to see people coming forward and speaking out about mental health.
You personally have already done so much in your career and have done a lot to make a difference. So, what made you decide that you want to make a book and have this children’s book published?
Pooja: It started off as my way of sharing our family recipe without actual food. The mindfulness journey is our family recipe. Children were hit really hard during the pandemic – they were the ones who couldn’t go to school and missed out on so much. I really felt that I could communicate to children how to use these tools to improve their lives. I use the book in many different settings – I bring story time to them in a hospital. I teach them how to be mindful before they go into surgery. This is a really important time to be mindful. I end up working with children in so many settings in the healthcare system.
Joe: That’s wonderful. So many people try to push feelings away and it never works. People need to recognize that these feelings are there, and they need to be accepted and embraced. Children will learn from the skills you share and see positive change from implementing mindfulness into their lives.
I also love your emphasis on multiculturalism. There is so much value in multiculturalism and a lot of people here in America miss out on that. What do you think is important about sharing the power of the multicultural experience to children?
Pooja: There are so many benefits. One benefit is teaching diversity at a young age. We’re not waiting. We establish the value of embracing and blending different cultures. It inspires children to grow in such unique ways. Beyond that, it reminds children of all backgrounds that they are loved.
Bringing in multiculturalism to the family and extending it out into the community is also important because representation matters. Not everyone looks the same. For me, being in a multicultural family made it easier for me to connect to everyone. When I’m connecting to the children, I’m connecting to their souls. I’m connecting to know them at a human level. But highlighting diversity at a young age is so helpful to encourage and inspire children to become open, curious, accepting, and loving people.
Joe: This is so true. My wife’s family is from Aruba, and I have learned so much from her family and have become so much more multicultural myself. It’s made me so much more well-rounded and has allowed me to connect to people on different levels. So, in addition to our focus on mental health, I also really value the multicultural component.
Representation is everything. Now for you – as someone who is leading a movement, what do you want people to remember most about your book? What is the main takeaway?
Pooja: You can lead with kindness. It’s amazing what happens when you believe in yourself. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish – no matter what your age is. The only limitations are the ones you set for yourself. If you can start believing in yourself when you’re younger, there is nothing holding you back.
Joe: That is beautifully said. One thing also that stands out about you is how multicultural you are. And you are so proud of it. It makes you who you are. How has your multicultural background helped you expand your reach? How has it been a part of your mission and influence?
Pooja: It has made me more aware of my surroundings and my family – ensuring that everybody felt like they belonged. I think that’s been very important for us. Every one of us is mixed – Indian, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, Jamaican, Italian, Irish. The beauty of it is everyone learns Hindi. Everyone learns each other’s language. We’re an accepting, loving family. We try to let everyone know that it doesn’t matter where you’re born or who you are born to, or how you got here. You’re precious, and you matter.
A lot of people lack being heard, felt, validated, and loved. You don’t get that here and that helps me with my reach. When I’m connecting with any child, no matter their race or situation – it’s about making them feel valued and important.
Joe: That is so powerful. You are doing so much to help other people learn about themselves. You are helping people change and grow. And honestly for you, the process of writing a book is a bit transformative. Have you learned anything new about yourself throughout this journey of writing and publishing a children’s book?
Pooja: I learned to be more confident in myself and the work I do. I’ve always wanted to do something to help people. How can I make processes better or more efficient? I think that by pairing up with BookBaby, it’s been an amazing journey. It’s been so much fun. The process of putting it all together, getting the manuscript together, it’s just amazing to see and having such creative input into this book has been outstanding.
I’m learning a lot. And you know, talking to the children has always been easy. And as the crowds get bigger (I’m kicking off my Barnes and Noble tour), you learn to be more confident. Kids can ask tough questions!
Joe: Amazing stuff. One of the best parts of writing a children’s book is being able to do readings and events – whether they are in schools, libraries, or places like Barnes and Noble. What have events been like for you so far?
Pooja: I kicked off my book tour in November with Barnes and Noble and I’ve been doing readings. I also have done a reading and book signing at a Children’s Hospital. I have about 4-6 Barnes and Noble tours lined up throughout January. I’m very excited for all the opportunities. And I’ve also talked in a couple of different areas where kids need a lit bit more attention too. There is beauty in that the book can be utilized in shared in any shape or form.
It really is meant to heal wherever it can.
Joe: Wonderful. If you are ever near Philadelphia on your book tour, let me know! I do have an author question for you now. What was your process like? What was it like to write the book? Can you describe the journey of writing, illustrating, and bringing it to life?
Pooja: The process was relatively fast! In 2020 I was using some of the techniques with my family. Writing the book began in February during a snowboarding trip which I chose to not do the snowboarding. Instead, I was just writing. I wrote 24 books that day – short stories like this. But they cover everything from diversity to sickness and mental health. So, in total, it was about a 6-month journey to create this story.
The minute I called BookBaby, everything just worked out. They took a lot of the burden off me. I just handed in a manuscript and then it all came together. The book has already done more than I expected and I’m excited to see how far it’s going to go.
Joe: Amazing. Especially since you remained independent, you can get your story out right away. You don’t have to wait. It happens so fast and I’m happy to see that you are finding success and people are resonating with your story. As a storyteller, do you find there are any other authors who you look up to or admire? Who inspires you?
Pooja: There are so many! The one who really sticks out to me is Humble the Poet. He helped me a lot throughout 2020 as I was reading his books. There are so many people who I look up to – and you know reading is a big part of my life. I like to take best practices from everybody’s books and figure out how to implement that in my real life.
Joe: Yes, and you make it your own. You are a part of the creative chain, and you have your own place in the space which is amazing.
Pooja: Thank you. It is amazing. Every day I’m excited about this. This is how I know I’m supposed to be doing it. I’m so passionate.
Joe: That’s the best type of work – work that you believe in and find passion. Are you working on any other projects or initiatives currently?
Pooja: I am working with a couple of different hospitals. One of the initiatives is to get my book in pre-surgical packets. So, before surgery, the book is presented to kids and is part of their routine the night before surgery. It will help them practice mindfulness and be comfortable going into something scary. It’s also helpful for their parents.
Joe: That is such a meaningful endeavor. It will make a big difference and will be so helpful for children to have access to your book before undergoing something so scary. I’m happy you are doing that, and I am really happy for you.
Pooja: Thank you. Seeing what my book has done locally has been incredible. It’s a feeling like no other when you see a young child connect with your book. It also can be heartbreaking – especially when I’m working with sick children in the hospital. Helping them believe in magic is so important. And these children are the most resilient. They are the happiest. They are the humblest. They are incredible.
Joe: The work you are doing is incredibly meaningful. I’m looking forward to following your adventure and your journey in this space. Thank you for taking the time to be here.
Pooja: I appreciate you being a part of my journey! Thank you.