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.
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.
No, my mum is not a Bakeoff fan. In fact, we don’t even have an oven in my home in India. As a kid, I read so many books with unfamiliar foods in them that my vocabulary broadened even if my taste buds had never experimented with them.
Even though I grew up in a city that has the second longest urban beach in the world, the beaches, coves and mystery islands I was reading in the books were exotic and exciting.
Now as a writer, I live in the UK. Here crumpets are available in supermarkets and the beaches are cold most of the year but for a brief period of glorious summer.
And I often think the hot Indian weather, the spicy food and the bullock carts would kindle the imaginations of children here, perhaps give them a sense of adventure about the world out there – which is different and yet the same.
And that’s what I want my stories to do. A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, brings a whiff of the Indian summer, the caw-caw of the crows, the mango pickles and trumpeting grey elephants. Along with all that, it also poses questions to young readers about right and wrong, fair and unfair decisions.
Like all young people that have a sense of justice that is unwavering and strong, Prince Veera and his friend Suku too feel strongly about doing the right thing. And in each story, they have to sift through the facts, go deeper than the surface and the come up with a fair solution to the problem in front of them.
But it’s not all work and no play. They have a lot of fun playing pranks, running in the fields and eating corn. Their friendship and camaraderie is infectious and sometimes even the grownups join in.
As a writer, I hope these stories bring the magic of faraway places to children who do not live in India and for those who are familiar with India and its colours, smells and festivals, I hope these are affirming and recognisable.
As a child books from faraway places opened up my imagination, gave me a sense of wonder about the worlds I didn’t know about – for all it mattered an English countryside could have been on another planet, for me they were so exotic and magical.
That’s exactly what I want to do when I write stories – bring a bit of magic wrapped along with a story to every reader who stretch their boundaries and read a book about something or someone different from them.
Throw a giant pumpkin, a jar of mango pickles and a storyteller together into a bookshop, sprinkle some cake, mix some friends and family, garnish with praise from the publisher and editor and what you get is one amazing book launch and a chuffed author who is busy writing more stories.
Maybe you missed the noisy chatter on Twitter or my invite in the newsletter or perhaps you had relocated to Mars to escape the pollution on Earth -but if you have not heard, I celebrated the launch of two new books last Saturday (8th Oct 2016) at Pickled Pepper Books, London with storytelling, orange and yellow mini cupcakes and a room full of people who had come from far to celebrate with me.
I’ve gone to many book launches in the past few years and I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do when it was my turn. I was worried there won’t be any photos. I was worried that I’ll forget my words during the storytelling. I was worried. It was like your baby being sent to nursery or the big school for the first day. Shiny and new into the hands of others. Would they love the stories as much as I do?
I watched the door as people trickled in. I watched as people on the street walked past and it wasn’t a familiar face. As friends started coming in, I slowly relaxed. As the time came to tell the stories, my story genie took over. She knew the stories, she loved them, she grew up with them. And I hope those who were there liked the stories.
So the books have left the docks and floated away into the hands of readers. A story lives again when it is told and it grows and changes and lives over and over again when retold many times. And I hope these stories live those many lives through the readers and the listeners they read to.