In Conversation With Illustrator Anoosha Syed

Anoosha Syed
Anoosha Syed

Anoosha Syed is an author, illustrator, and character designer from Toronto, Canada who has worked on over 20 picture books. Syed graduated with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Ceruleum: Ecole d’arts Visuels in Lausanne, Switzerland. She has worked with many clients across her career ranging from Atomic Cartoons, Disney Jr., Google, Netflix, PBS, Target, Walmart, Warner Bros, and more. Syed’s work includes the following children’s books: “I am Perfectly Designed” with Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown, “Other Words for Home,” “That’s Not My Name,” and many more. She also has a YouTube Channel, dedicated to teaching individuals about the illustration industry, called Anoosha Syed.  Syed’s awards and honors include the Society of Illustrators 62 Annual, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honour, and Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize Shortlist as well as being featured on the Huffington Post, BBC, and more. Through her illustrations readers can truly capture the inclusive characters Syed tries to showcase throughout her work. Continue reading to learn more about Anoosha Syed’s work!

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Your debut picture book, “That’s Not My Name” resonates with so many individuals who have had similar shared experiences such as having their names mispronounced at a café, at school and trying to find a monogrammed keychain. What was the inspiration behind creating this book and how does it feel to have had such a lasting impact on individuals from a variety of backgrounds?

For my author debut, I knew I wanted it to be a story that I would’ve benefited from as a kid. As a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, I grew up never seeing myself in the media I consumed unless it was in the form of negative stereotypes. Now that I’m in a position of power, I feel a responsibility to create work that kids today can see themselves in. In my research I brainstormed through a bunch of different ideas; including concepts dealing with body positivity, empathy, being the new kid, and so on. It wasn’t until a conversation with my husband that I realized a book about names would be a sorely needed topic in the kidlit world. Both of us had very rocky relationships with our names; I hated my name and went by Annie for a long time until I finally, in my adulthood, found a love for it. Whereas my husband Daniyal has gone by the anglicized ‘Daniel’ his entire life to the point that very few people in our lives actually call him by his real name.

I wish I had a book that taught me to be proud of my name and the culture and meaning behind it, and didn’t allow other people to make me not respected when they tried to change it to something easier for their comfort.

I recently made a TikTok about the book that became quite viral, currently at 2.5 million views. And 90% of the comments are from adults who keep saying the same thing; I wish I had this book as a kid. It’s insane to see how much of a universal story this ended up being, but I’m so happy to know that my book was able to resonate with so many people across the world, and hopefully encourage both children and adults to love their names.

[Read Related: Book Review: ‘You Can’t be Serious’ by Kal Penn]


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You worked with Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown on the book “I am Perfectly Designed.” What was the experience like of working with both of them and what do you hope individuals capture from these illustrations?

It was a fun opportunity, and it’s definitely one of my most well-known books which was even featured on a Netflix series called Bookmarks! Not to break anyone’s bubble, but I’ve never had any contact with Karamo and Jason. It’s usually a surprise to people but I very rarely work directly with the authors of my books; I work with the art director and editor of the publishing house who also acts as the mediator for both our ideas. It makes sense though; I wouldn’t want to tell the author how to write, and similarly, I don’t want the author to tell me what to do either, since we have expertise in our own fields.

But to answer your second question, I have illustrated over 20 books with different authors and you might find a recurring theme to my work. I aim to take on projects that have a strong message of empathy and in my illustrations, I try my best to showcase the world that we live in. This means children from all types of different ethnicities, skin colours, types of families, abilities, and more. I think it’s incredibly important that children can see themselves in my books.

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With Daal being such a universal food for South Asians as well as others, what were your thoughts around illustrating “Bilal Cooks Daal” and what was your reaction to winning awards for it?

While I had illustrated several books prior, I consider Bilal to be my ‘breakout’ book. It’s when I really felt like I had found my style and I had full certainty that I wanted to be a picture book illustrator full-time; since before this I was also working within the animation industry and straddling between both worlds while not fully committing my time and creative energy. Bilal was also the first book I worked on where I identified so closely with the character. The author Aisha Saeed had done a wonderful job portraying the desi diaspora experience which I hadn’t seen before and it thrilled me to work on a project which I would’ve loved to have read as a kid.

I loved working on the book, and seeing the praise and success around it. Especially how much people related to it, really helped to solidify my love for the kidlit world.

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What are some common misconceptions about being an illustrator?

Quite a few misconceptions! I’ve already mentioned that on projects I have no contact with the author and I only work directly with the publishing team. The other big misconception is how the publishing process works. I get a lot of authors who will message with their ideas for children’s books…but in traditional publishing, an author doesn’t need to have an illustrator on board for their submission; if anything it actually hurts their chances.

If an author is interested in publishing a children’s book, they should write up a manuscript and get a literary agent. They will then submit their book to publishers and, if a deal is made, the publisher will choose the right illustrator for the job. The publisher has the connections, the money, and the knowledge of the market to know what kind of artist is best for the text.

The second misconception is about what my job is like; a lot of people think that I sit around and just draw all day and I wish that were true! Actual illustration only takes up 20% of the job; the rest of my hours are spent communicating with clients, meetings, social media management, marketing, promotion, cold-emailing, finances/taxes, chasing after payments, negotiating, reading contracts, researching, and a lot of other admin work. As a freelancer, I have to wear a lot of hats, and although I can outsource a few roles (like having an accountant and agent), it’s important to have a knowledge of the boring bits of the job.

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What do you hope individuals take away from your illustrations as you have taken the time to put in so much detail conveying every emotion in the stories you create?

Above all, I want my readers to find humor, compassion, and love in my books. I want kids to feel like they belong, to learn something, and find joy in my artwork.

How do you get through a block when you are having trouble illustrating for a client?

I have a block, it might just be burnout from working continuously. The best thing to do is to take a break for a while and let my mind and body rest for a bit. That means stepping away from my work and just living my life. People often forget that creativity and inspiration come from life, and if you are not living life to the fullest, you can drain that inspiration pretty quickly, so I will hang out with my friends, watch, movies, read books, travel, etc. I’ll also try to refuel my inspiration with new sources since sometimes you need that change in perspective. So that can mean discovering new artists, brushing up on some history, and again museums, movies and books.

The other issue can be that I want to be creative, but my usual outlet for that isn’t fulfilling so I might change my medium and explore my creativity in a different form. So as a digital artist, I might try something like pottery or knitting, or a new technique, like playing with pencils or oil paints. Using a different medium will challenge my brain in a different way, and hopefully, bring these new skills into my work when I get back to it.

And if all else fails, sometimes you just have to force it. I am working with different clients, and I have deadlines to uphold, and sometimes I just don’t have the luxury of spending so much time with this sort of self-reflection. So if I really need to get the work done, I’ll sit down and do it. Sometimes an impending deadline can really help with that and give me the motivation to get it done.

Have you faced adversity in the field?

Definitely! And I faced it from all sides, both from the publishing world, as well as from the community. Illustration is definitely an unconventional career path for South Asians, and while my parents tried their best to be supportive of course, there were a lot of people in my life who did not understand my career goals and choices, and would’ve preferred to see me go the traditional route (haha!). Thankfully it is getting better, and we are seeing more and more brown people coming up within these industries but we still have a ways to go. And I think the issue is mostly a lack of education, since most people still think of the starving artist trope, and don’t realize that the arts, although a very competitive field, can be lucrative and fulfilling.

As someone with a large social media platform, I’ve unfortunately had people who would want to see a brown Muslim woman fail, either because they are bigots or think of my career choice as inappropriate. And sadly, people who think that the books I create are too woke and shouldn’t be read by children. Did you know that the book ‘Bilal Cooks Daal’ has appeared in some banned-book lists? All because it showcases a brown family, who loves their culture and wants to share it! It’s really quite sad but again hopefully it’s something that will change over time, which is another reason why I do what I do. Your most influential time in your life is your childhood, and if I am able to help shape minds at a younger age towards a compassionate and caring life then I would consider that a job well done.

What are some upcoming projects we can look forward to from you?

I have several books coming out next year! I have a board book called ‘Swaddled with Love’ coming out in April. I have a book called ‘Rani’s Remarkable Day’, which I am super excited about; it tells the story of a little South Asian girl who is a princess. I would’ve loved to have read a book like this as a little girl because you really don’t see examples of Pakistani princesses; and no, I don’t count Jasmine as good representation (ha ha!). Finally, I have my second author/illustrator book coming out, which I’m actually working on right now. I don’t know how much I can say about it, but it is going to be a comedy and it will be the first book I’ve ever done that is traditionally illustrated, which is a huge challenge for me, but something I am really excited for you guys to read.

Lastly, what do you hope readers take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

If you’ve ever been interested in writing or illustrating books, then go for it! Don’t let any of the judging uncles and aunties in your life tear you down. We need more stories about our community out there. I have a YouTube channel where I talk about how to get your start in this industry and how I make my books, so if you are interested, definitely check it out.

Photo Courtesy of Anoosha Syed and Penguin Random House.

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Deepa Prashad: Meet the Breakout Indo Caribbean Host Conquering Media and Sexism

Deepa Prashad
Deepa Prashad | Photo Credit: Talha Tabish

The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.


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Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.

She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.” 

In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.

How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?

The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!

While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated, 

Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.

Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences. 


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Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,

All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.

Tell us about your current position.

“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”

What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?

Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.

I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!

Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,

I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.

Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.” 


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Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at? 

I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.

Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada. 

How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color? 

What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over.  And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way. 

I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.


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How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?

I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry. 

I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshens and those interviews aired nationally which was massive.


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Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.

She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,

We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.

At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges. 

Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.  

By Priya Deonarine

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