Stories are us!

As we enter into 2021, everything’s a bit up in the air. While we are familiar with terms like lockdown, zoom and quarantine, and our children are adapting to this new world, we are also fatigued by staying in, being alert all the time and sneezing into our elbows.

During these times, stories keep us rooted to our past, our dreams and our imaginations. Regardless of the medium, stories keep our hopes soaring high despite the fierce winds and darkening skies. We see joy in unexpected snow, a bird flying past our windows and discovering a long-lost piece of chocolate behind the spice jars.

Art by Jen Kahtun for Sona Sharma – Very Best Big Sister

Children too can find the glimmer of joy amidst the practical rubbles of everyday lockdown life – the story that makes them smile, the book that makes them think, a joke or a song that they can repeat and a drawing that inspires them to draw.

As an author of children’s books, as a storyteller and as a writer who visits schools talking to children often, I understand the struggles of teachers and parents and the hard work put in by librarians to find ways of placing the books in children’s hands.

While it’s impossible to do free video visits to schools or offer all the stories we write for free to the entire world, authors and illustrators around the world have offered their time, energy and their intellectual property to children and their families to enjoy. We’ve all gotten used to making videos, doing school visits online and running workshops to a screen that broadcasts than to eager young people who raise their hands and shout out their ideas.

As an author, I’d like to keep writing these stories and creating more opportunities to share stories, ideas and inspiration to imagine to all children who need it. While I wouldn’t be able to offer everything for free, there are resources I’ve created that can be reused many more times.

Keeping that in mind, here is a collection of resources that parents, teachers and care-givers can use from my bookshelf to yours. Please do use them for free and share them with friends and family. And if you enjoy the story I tell or the workshop I create, do support authors and illustrators like me, by buying our books next time you’re in the mood to read a new book.

Let’s hope for a safer tomorrow!

Welcome to 2021. Despite the chaotic events across the world, and the pandemic not showing signs of slowing down, I’m feeling hopeful. Because hope is the lightest of things that lifts us up.

As a writer for young people, and a 7-year old at heart, I’m always hopeful about every new day. The job of those who write fiction for young people is to imagine a better world for all of us. We can create the worlds we imagine, we can be the person we aspire to be and all of that is built on the hope for the future.

Every time I begin a story, I’m hopeful of the words that will tumble out of my pen. I’m hopeful for the book to be liked by my peers and then by my agent and then by a publisher and ultimately by the young reader. The very act of writing a story is hopeful that it will find its readers, in the future.

Sometimes I struggle when I write. Sometimes things happen in the world or in the industry that will make me despair. And often I might decide to throw in the towel and say I’ll never write another story.

But that thought stays in my mind for less than a day. Then I’ll spot a ladybird on the balcony, or a butterfly on a flower or a worm hoping to cross the road without a calamity and I’m eager to get back to the desk to make up a story. I’m that worm who crosses the road hopeful about the journey and of reaching the destination. I’m that butterfly who knows to live in the today and visit as many flowers as it can. I’m that ladybird that travels the world from garden to balcony and back again.

So if you’re feeling a bit down or you’re cynical about the situation that is unfolding in our real worlds, go read a book, share a joke, write a poem and watch a funny cartoon. Bring back the joy of being a child, share the joy with another child because we owe it to them to be hopeful and set examples to be aspirational for the future.

And here is a poem to read and perhaps know by heart.

Happy New Year to you all! There are many books coming out this year from my desk to your shelves and I hope to tell you all about it in due course!

Goodbye 2020!

It’s been a weird year in some many ways. However, instead of counting my anxiety chickens, I want to count my calming blessings.

I had a number of new books for trade and education come out! Obviously my absolute favourite book I wrote, set in our family home, has warmed the hearts of many families, I’ve been told.

I’m grateful for the joys of this year, spending more time with my family, not having to see a dentist or find an excuse to eat ice-cream. I went through a range of emotions from loneliness to despair to joy. I wrote a number of new books under lockdown conditions, preferring to stay inside my head than read the news. I focussed on the detail, ironed everything possible in my closet and organised my ear-rings into pairs. All those little things helped me focus on the big picture.

I miss meeting friends and family, miss school visits which gave me the inspiration and energy to keep being creative and the festival circuit that always comes with a new book. Nevertheless, I did try and do most of that virtually – through the help of technology. Ironic that the large scale urban growth driven by technology caused the pandemic and we relied on tech us to keep us distracted from that chaos.

I really hope that this changes our collective humanity and we strive to work smarter to protect our planet. In my own little ways, I’ve been brave this year, spreading my wings, getting a new agent, writing new and different things.

Here’s my from writing desk to your reading chair,

Happy Holidays and a wonderful new year.

Sona Sharma is coming soon!

I wrote my first story for Sona Sharma in 2015 – she came fully formed on the page along with her Grandfather whom she calls Thatha (Grandpa in Tamil) and Elephant, best friend and imaginary friend all rolled into one.

Published by Walker Books,
Illustrated by Jen Khatun

Although I loved Sona in her first story I wasn’t sure a quietly funny family story will appeal. My first confidence in the story came later that year when I was doing my MA at Bath Spa University. I had a 1-1 session with our Professor – the most amazing David Almond. I had sent in the first few pages of Sona for him to read and he loved it.

It gave me the boost of confidence I required to send the story to my editor at Walker Books, Mara Bergman. Mara loved Sona – but we decided she needed a bigger story, a story that shows off her charm, her humour and also her love for her family.

That story became SONA SHARMA – VERY BEST BIG SISTER. Loosely based on my growing up in Chennai, and set in a contemporary Chennai in a loving family like mine and a fun cast of characters in Sona’s world – her school friends, teacher, her auto-rickshaw driver and Mum’s best friend Mullai – they all help Sona become the VERY BEST BIG SISTER to her baby sister.

Illustrated by Jen Khatun

Sona Sharma is currently available to pre-order and will be out in the world on 3rd September. Beautifully illustrated by Jen Khatun, the stories showcase one family in Chennai and a little girl who has the fears of any first-born child like me – will my family love me less when the new baby comes?

Illustrated by Jen Khatun

Amma, Sona’s mum explains to her that families have loads of love to go around and Appa, her dad explains that they will be poor only when they run out of love.

With the help of Elephant, gentle proverbs of Paatti, her grandmother and the wisdom and stories of her grandfather and the no-nonsense street smart of their auto-rickshaw driver, Sona learns to love her little baby sister.

Illustrated by Jen Khatun

Get hold of a copy now and find out who the President is, who Miss Rao is and how Sona finds a name for her little baby sister.

Illustrated by Jen Khatun

Sona Sharma will be visiting a number of UK blog sites during the month of September. Don’t forget to follow the bloggers to find out more about her mission to becoming the Very Best Big Sister.

SONA SHARMA – Very Best Big Sister – Blog Tour

Here is a little peek into the book!

The Empathy of Friends

When I started writing Tiger Troubles (soon to be out in bookshops, so brilliantly illustrated by Hannah Marks and wonderfully produced by Bloomsbury Education), I first of all wanted to write a circular story. I had listened to my grandmother tell stories that formed a chain – the story went from one character to another and coming back a full circle.

Then that story slowly transformed into a story of friendship – especially about friends who don’t let down each other.

When Sloth Bear falls on Tiger in this story, he blames the Elephant. But Elephant needn’t have shown his face or accepted his mistake. But he did, because he didn’t want his friend to get into trouble.

As the story unravels, we find that every friend in this forest has the courage to own up, not to let their friends down and look at the situation from their friend’s point of view.

They not only felt bad about what had happened, but also acted on their feelings and owned their mistake despite knowing that Tiger loved to eat.

For me, this story is about unconscious empathy that children have – they know what they are feeling and they don’t want their friends to be in trouble. But the story doesn’t teach a lesson by schooling the kids, but by hilarious accidents, alliterative food and the little tiger solving the puzzle one step at a time!

Empathy is the jam inside this story doughnut. Empathy is the jam that makes us all sweet. If we can’t be filled with jam, what kind of doughnuts are we really?