A Tale of Armenian Rug-Washing Day in 'Bábo' Little Tato sneaks a few cherry plums before grabbing a mop and a hose to help Bábo — her grandmother — with a favorite chore.

Mop-mop-swoosh-plop it's rug-washing day in 'Bábo'

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A little girl named Tato sneaks a few cherry plums before she races off to help her grandmother, Babo, with a favorite chore. It's rug washing day.

ASTRID KAMALYAN: My name is Astrid Kamalyan. I'm an author who was born in Yerevan, but I moved to the United States back in 2015.

SIMON: Astrid Kamalyan writes in her new children's book, "Babo," (reading) we scrub. Brushes bop-bop-bop until our hands are warm, until our knees and toes tingle a little, until it's time to clear the foam. Time to slide.

KAMALYAN: So the pitch for it is a bunch of kids - siblings and their friends - washing rugs with their grandma, which when you hear the pitch, what is there to it, you know? But as you read the book, and especially as you look at the illustrations, you know that it's actually a book about Armenian joy and about the beauty of Armenian family. It has so much of what made our childhood so happy that is very difficult to describe with words, but it's right there in the book.

SIMON: For our children's book series, Picture This, Kamalyan explains why it was so important for her to work with an Armenian illustrator.

KAMALYAN: We submitted the book, and then right after, a war broke out in Armenia in 2020. It was a 44-day war. And authentic representation is key for me. And I suggested, hey, I have an illustrator in mind that I think would be perfect for this book because I admired Anait's work for years before I ever thought I'm going to be published.

ANAIT SEMIRDZHYAN: My name is Anait Semirdzhyan, and I'm an illustrator. I moved to the United States from Armenia in 2012, and that's when my hobby of drawing grew into profession.

KAMALYAN: Wow, I didn't realize there's only, like, a three-year difference between you moving to the U.S. and me doing the same.

SEMIRDZHYAN: Yeah, that's right. And "Babo" was such a great surprise. When I first read the manuscript, I was like, what? I think it's the most favorite activity in Armenia in summer. So we take rugs outside, a hose with water, a soap, a brush, and you just wet it. You brush it. And everything ends up with water playing because summers in Armenia are hot. All kids are wet and playing with water, soap, and this is how it is.

KAMALYAN: The funny thing is that I had the memories of endless joy and happiness and sun and all the smells. But what I forgot is that we had to turn the rugs over and wash the backs of the rugs. And when I was telling about the book to my grandma, she said, well, how about the backs of the rugs? And I felt like a 5-year-old girl, you know, when parents say, don't forget to wash behind your ears. And that literally went into the book.

SEMIRDZHYAN: I did it with my grandma as well. But usually she would set it up, and my cousins and siblings would start washing, and then Grandma would go away, do her business, and then she would come back and check if everything is done properly.

KAMALYAN: There is no formal rules or ways or - that's the beauty of it. And I think that's a wonderful opportunity to connect also with your own grandparents, because they don't have to monitor anything or tell you what to do. You kind of just do it and have fun with it.

SEMIRDZHYAN: There is nothing to break.

KAMALYAN: Yeah, there's no chance to break. Actually, though, do not follow the rug washing process described in book if you have heirloom carpets. Have them professionally cleaned...


KAMALYAN: ...Because you don't know - especially the older ones, you have to be careful with the dyes and everything. You can spoil the rug.

SEMIRDZHYAN: When the rug is soaked, it's very slippery, so be careful running on that rug.

KAMALYAN: That's a little American side note, right?

SEMIRDZHYAN: I was so excited that I don't need to research how buildings or streets look like, what clothes Armenian kids would wear. The research was done on the rugs, though. Yes, because we never pay attention to what colors and patterns are used on the rugs.

KAMALYAN: I did a ton of research, and I actually - one of my friends got me introduced to a carpet weaving expert, and she knows how to weave carpets, but she also knows the history of Armenian carpets. So I would meet with the expert to make sure that every single sentence about the rug cleaning process itself, as well as every single carpet that we have illustrated in the book, is actually correct. It went down to, like, the details on the rugs, you know, how big or small the size of the detail on the rug. What are the combinations of colors on this specific rug? If you look at the dragon carpet, it's red, white and blue. And if it were green, brown and purple, you would know something is a little off.

SEMIRDZHYAN: My favorite part is the table in the end of the book, full of deliciousness. What you will see on the table is what usually I would eat at my grandma's house. It would be a walnut preserve. It would be gata. Gata is Armenian pastry - sweet. And actually the balcony on the first two pages with the door - it's the door from my grandma's house, so (laughter).

KAMALYAN: The balcony looks so much like my mom's balcony.

SEMIRDZHYAN: There is so many magic in this book, honestly.

KAMALYAN: I was extremely lucky. I would open the page, and it was like the sun was shining through the illustrations, and it brought so much joy to just see them. It's interesting that - I mean, I've read the book a million times, obviously, but when I received the author copy a couple months before it was published, and I read it to my kids, and I felt home. And I've never felt anything like that with a book. And I can't describe that feeling other than I felt home. So I hope a lot of readers who have similar experiences, they will feel home.


SIMON: That was author Astrid Kamalyan and illustrator Anait Semirdzhyan talking about their children's book "Babo." Our series Picture This is produced by Samantha Balaban.


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