Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store with Sophia Lee and Christine Almeda
In Episode 83 of the Kitchen Confidante Podcast, Liren talks to Sophia Lee and Christine Almeda, the author and illustrator of the picture book, Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store.
On the podcast, I recently spoke with Sophia Lee and Christine Almeda. Sophia is the author of Holding On and Soaring Saturdays, and her first book, What Things Mean, won the Grand Prize at the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Awards. Christine is a freelance illustrator from New Jersey. She has worked with incredible clients such as Scholastic, Harper Collins, The New York Times, Eater, and more.
Together, Sophia and Christine are the author and illustrator of Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store, a heartwarming children’s book that celebrates community, connection, and Filipino culture.
In this episode, we chat about Sophia’s fond memories of her family’s Sari-Sari store in the Philippines, the magic behind their book, and their journeys to becoming an author and an illustrator. Listen to the full episode or keep reading for some of the highlights from Sophia and Christine.
How did you find your careers as an author and an illustrator?
I always loved drawing. Growing up, I read comics and manga and watched anime. While I loved drawing, I fought the idea of it as a career and considered alternatives such as becoming a pharmacist or an art therapist. However, I studied art in college and started illustrating children’s books, such as Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store. It is the perfect fit for me. I am truly passionate about the work I get to do.
I was always drawn to writing, but for a while, I viewed it as simply a steppingstone to something else. I idolized my dad, who worked as a lawyer, so I went to law school. However, I was never as happy as I thought I’d be. In my free time, I’d mentally escape through reading and writing. My dad encouraged me to finish school, but I could never take the Bar. Instead, I accepted a random job offer writing micro-fiction for subscribers in the Philippines. I enjoyed it, enrolled in a writing class, and produced a book that won a Scholastic Award. My writing journey has been magical and intuitive, and a great fit for me.
Tell us more about your book, Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store
For those who might not know, a Sari-Sari store is a convenience store in the Philippines that is operated out of someone’s home. Every neighborhood has one, carrying everything from daily necessities to snacks. Their inventory can vary, as they stock whatever the owner deems essential for their community.
My family ran a Sari-Sari store when I was a young girl, so I have incredibly fond memories of the store. During the summer, I’d help my aunt with the store. People would come to talk and ask her advice. The store was a fundamental pillar in the community. It was about more than just the necessities and food — it was also about the community and connections.
The book is based on these experiences. The story features a young girl whose grandfather ran a Sari-Sari store, and he reflects on fond memories of the store while they’re making a new home in the US.
I grew up in America, so I did a lot of research for this book. I needed to make sure the illustrations were as colorful and realistic as possible, so I’d go to Filipino stores in the US to do product research.
The most challenging thing was capturing the neighborhood and community aspects of the book. I looked at many reference photos and Filipino vlogs on YouTube to help me capture the inviting, comforting, warm, and intimate atmosphere of real Sari-Sari stores. I also used my illustration style to contrast the Sari-Sari scenes in the Philippines and giant superstore scenes in the US.
Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store, by Sophia Lee. Illustrated by Christine Almeda (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2023).
Listen to the full podcast episode with Sophia and Christine here. You can follow Sophia on sophialeewrites.com and @sophianleewrites. You can follow Christine on christinealmeda.com and on Instagram @eychristine. You can get the book, Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store, wherever books are sold.