All good things must start with a story. And the National Storytelling Week must of course start with a brilliant one.
This story I’m going to tell you, has stayed with me from when I was six or seven. I was a very fussy eater and one of the vegetables I didn’t like to eat was the purple brinjals (or the white ones for that matter).
Many of the stories in my Prince Veera series are reimagined versions of such stories about Emperor Akbar and Birbal, King Krishnadeva Raya and his trusted friend Tenali Rama.
Listen to the story and enjoy! If you like it, do pass it along. Because a hand-me-down story is the best kind there is!
I write mainly stories that touch upon India in some way. Putting aside why that’s so, my stories bring tales from all parts of India.
These stories are definitely for the Indians who live everywhere in the world. I witness the joy of children from Indian backgrounds in schools across the world when I bring these stories to them. They are undoubtedly a joy to the parents and grandparents who can relate to them and enrich the reading session with their own stories and tales from their own lives.
But is that all? Surely these stories appeal to everyone else? For a child who has no connections to India, these stories are exotic, magical and from a place where they had never been to. Perhaps they’d travel to India, inspired by these books. Perhaps they’d relate to their neighbour from India better.
Stories about someone other than our lived experience is a window to the outside world. It is a door to walk through and make friends, shake hands and embrace someone new. It’s a mirror that reflects how similar we are to others in this world, however far we seem.
“When the only images children see are white ones…as long as children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books… there seems to be little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation.” -Nancy Larrick, 1965
Schools, libraries, parents, grandparents, booksellers, publishers and reviewers must therefore not brand these books as “Great for South Asian Kids”. Because they are universal in their appeal – both to South Asians and to the rest of the world. How else will a child find out about life outside their town, city and country?
Read about why we need public libraries and these must be curated by professionals who understand Equity in the Library.
Schools, libraries, parents, grandparents, booksellers, publishers and reviewers must not only embrace if they want diversity in their reading – but also if they don’t want it. What if your community or school or customer base is monochrome? Then how would you show your world that the universe is a bigger place than what they can see and perceive?
Absolutely make it available in communities where South Asian readers live. But don’t forget it to bring it to readers who have not ventured beyond safe reading choices.
As the fabulous John Burningham once said, "Children are not less intelligent, they’re just less experienced."
So let’s give our children a varied, rich and wide experience of things around the world. So they grow up to be citizens of the world embracing people from all backgrounds.
Elli Woollard wrote a poem to go with this post and she has given me permission to reproduce it here.
I had entered the prize when I was based in Wiltshire and it was wonderful to see so many connections with the prize. I studied in Corsham Court as part of my MA in Writing for Young People (Bath Spa University) and Caroline and Angela Summerfield, daughters of Eugenie Summerfield told me that she too had studied at the art college that existed at Corsham Court before that.
The judges shared with me that they loved reading the imagery, colours, smells and taste of India in the story. The stories in this book are based on the folktales of India, clever trickster tales that my Grandmother told me and I was so happy that the oral storytelling tradition had seeped into the text. As a playwright herself, Caroline said that she thought it was very suitable for reading aloud.
A professional actor read out my text and a text from Eugenie Summerfield for all of us and made the text come alive. We then signed books, ate cake, drank tea. I then braved the most unreliable of all things on the evening of the World Cup win – Great Western Railways.
I want to say a big thanks to my agent Phil Perry and Abi Sparrow of SP Agency for supporting me today and everyday as I write and giving me the confidence to go to the prize ceremony despite the travel disruptions.
My project partners – Uma Krishnaswamy, the illustrator and Mara Bergman, Editor at Walker Books surely share this prize with me and were a big part of its appeal.
And finally I want to say how surprised I was to win because this book was on a shortlist with five other amazing books by wonderful friends.
A quick note for US readers:
A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice along with
the first book in the series A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom
is coming to the US in January 2019. Find out more here.
The last month has been hectic for so many reasons. Through March I was still doing school visits as part of the World Book Day celebrations which have started to extend into the month.
Through snow and rain, I’ve been to 11 schools during March and April, to meet with children to work with them on storytelling and creative writing. It’s always a joy to meet children who have read my books, and my website and have interesting questions to ask.
All school events are different – in some the classes are small and in some I talk to a whole year group or key stage. This year I had the opportunity to talk to children about both my picture books and stories from my chapter books.
I visited West Earlham Junior too, where I’m the patron of reading and we wrote poems and riddles in each class and the children enjoyed their time making what would be on their imaginary’s teacher’s table.
Alongside the school events, I was also at the Bexley Half-term festivals to tell stories at the Bexley libraries, which was super fun because I met a lot of parents and their young children who had come to listen to Farmer Falgu stories.
The summer term is here now and I’ll be visiting more schools. I’ll be at more schools across England and Wales in May and June. I’ll also be doing public events in the summer. You can find out more about my events here.
But here’s the conundrum of an author and a writer who writes stories for children. I love meeting my readers and I go into schools and libraries just to do that. So when do I write my next stories? Every week I set aside time to write, whether it’s the weekend or early mornings before I head out – so that I’ll be writing new stories all the time. Find out more about my new books here.
learnt to dance Salsa a little bit, still learning,
started to learn photography,
finished my Masters,
rode a horse
visited California, Spain and Rome.
It was a year of the Great Bucket List.
Notwithstanding the political and natural disasters this year that we all suffered through, on a personal basis, I met many wonderful new people, reconnected with old friends, met children in classrooms and bookshops across the UK and US and wrote a lot of new stories.
Professionally I had multiple milestones this year – I met my agent and they signed me on. I finished my MA in Writing for Children, albeit with a lot of tears, nail-biting trauma, and a lot of drama.
Pattan’s Pumpkin got brilliant reviews in America and got included in the Read Across America calendar for October. A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice has been shortlisted for the Surrey Libraries Children’s Book Award and Farmer Falgu makes new strides in Germany.
Sometimes it felt like I was shuttling between things, or living in train stations and lounging in airport lobbies, but I managed to combine book tours with holidays, squeezed time out of every day and night and I’m still here, unscathed, a little wiser, a lot more childish (I seem to grow down than grow up) and I can’t wait to find out what 2018 will bring.
Thank you to everyone of you who came to my events, talked me through a bad draft of the novel, gave me advice, encouragement and support. Thank you to every teacher, librarian, PTA organiser, parent and literacy activists who brought diverse books into children’s hands. Thank you to all my family who hardly saw me this year as I breezed in and out of family gatherings and celebrations.
I thought just a couple of photos looking back wouldn’t do. So here is a quick recap of the year.