Today is World Elephant Day

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved Elephants. Where we lived, an elephant used to come to the streets with the mahout to offer blessings in exchange for coconuts and banana. Elephants as Hindus believe is a symbol of Lord Ganesha.

Lord Ganesha is also my favourite deity in Hindu epics and stories. He is fun, he can be temperamental and he is human in so many ways. Lord Ganesha has been drawn and re-drawn in funny ways across history in the subcontinent – and has so many superpowers that he’ll always be my favourite.

These are just six (did you find all 6?) of the innumerable Ganesha statues and depictions I’ve in my flat.

Elephants as beasts are family-oriented. They are female-led groups and love playing with their kids. They are patient, they remember for long and are empathetic. Peace-loving giants, who love bananas! What’s not like about Elephants?

So when I started writing stories, Elephants started featuring in them. Obviously!

In my first picture book in the UK, Pattan’s Pumpkin, illustrated by Frané Lessac and published by Otter-Barry Books, my earliest imagination was when Pattan returned to the mountains riding an elephant. Illustrator Frané Lessac generously included them in many spreads and elephants are one of the reader favourites in the story.

Listen to Frané talk about her inspirations for the art in this book and the process.

In my much-loved picture book You’re Safe With Me, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and published by Lantana Publishing, I introduced Mama Elephant, the matriarch of the forest. She has wise words for the little baby animals in the forest and reassures them. The image of Mama Elephant cradling the babies in the crook of her trunk was the first image that spurred on the story.

Children and adults alike love colouring in the wonderful illustration by Poonam Mistry during workshops. Download a colouring sheet here to try your own art in Poonam’s style.

And today to celebrate World Elephant Day we have a special treat from Tutti Frutti StoryTime in association with Leeds Libraries. Register to listen to You’re Safe With Me, watch the illustrations be animated and learn to do a craft activity too.

Tutti-Frutti Storytime in association with Leeds Libraries.

Then I want to tell you about Tiger Troubles. This was a story I had been working on for many years until it got published in 2019. In Tiger Troubles, we have Elephant as one of the animals and in fact the first one, who takes it upon himself to confess and not to get his friends into trouble. Hannah Marks has brought out his character in this lively illustration and throughout the book.

And then of course, when I published the first book of Sona Sharma series – Sona Sharma – Very Best Big Sister, from early on, I wanted to make sure that Sona has a plush toy called Elephant. She might have been gifted other animals but her imaginary best friend is Elephant. In the Sona Books, Elephant is her wise counsel, her listening friend to talk through her anxieties and also quite a character. Elephant I’m told by young readers is quite funny and he has one major obsession – he has not been given a name.

Jen Khatun, the illustrator of the series, created a wonderful activity for children to draw the Elephant from the book. You can download it here!

So, when we asked children in Northern Ireland to draw Elephant with Jen’s guidance and find a name for Elephant and explain their reason, these are some wonderful names they came up with. Note the Indian scripts and references the children have used.

Writing stories about Elephants raises awareness. Beyond loving elephants, I want to help them too. So if you want to find out more about elephant conservation and protection, check out the following resources.

Here are some organisations you can look up, studies you can get more information from and find things you can do within your circle of influences.
Here is a link from World Elephant Day that gives you specific things you can do to help.

Happy New Year everyone!

2019 was an eventful year. It started in Chennai, India with my parents and took me on a journey to festivals and conferences across the world.

I was in Houston to participate in Texas Book Festival, then at SCBWI Europolitan Conference as a keynote speaker and had a quick stopover in Dubai for the Emirates Festival. Each festival gave me different perspectives on reading, stories and more. I met children from many different backgrounds, writers with aspirations and passion to tell new stories and although journeys are tiring and routine-breaking, they bring new energy into the writing.

I had six new books come out in 2019, that I’ve been working since 2017 and 2018. They were all different and challenged me in new ways.

I took on new challenges like writing a theatre show that I performed with a wonderful friend. I was part of a theatre devising group and we performed to an audience of five. I was briefly on BBC talking about diversity in children’s books.

I visited many schools, met with teachers and librarians across the world, told stories, inspired new tales with young people of all ages.

2020 is gearing up to be a busy year too. I can already reveal the cover of two new books that I wrote which will be published. Here is a quick glimpse – I’ll be posting more info soon. Watch this space.

While fake news, nationalism and climate crisis threatens goodwill and existence of our planet, this is a time for stories – to imagine a better life, to mine for wisdom from lessons learnt in the past and sculpt a new world for our future generations.

I wish you all a wonderful 2020 in which hope reigns despair and acceptance wins over hatred.

Fantastic News!

Have you heard? We are celebrating!

Poonam Mistry, the illustrator of this gorgeous picture book published by Lantana Publishing, has been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

This is her first children’s book and what a remarkable achievement. Congratulations!

Poonam Mistry at the Shortlist announcement

If you’re shadowing the Kate Greenaway judges or inspired to pick up this book and read, then here are some wonderful resources to add to your experience.

Read Poonam’s interview about her art here.

Get colouring sheets (created by Poonam), puzzles and word searches here.

And if you’re no longer scared of thunderstorms and want to read more about them, find two poems about thunderstorms here.

Are you a teacher? Here are some wonderful classroom resources created by the publishers Lantana Publishing.

So what are you waiting for? Get the book and start reading!

The Launch Celebration of You’re Snug With Me

Yesterday we launched the second book You’re Snug With Me in the You’re With Me series at Chestnuts Primary School in North London.

It all began when the librarian Tanya Efthymiou of Chestnuts Primary and I tweeted to each other about a school launch for the next book. It would be fantastic to share the new book You’re Snug With Me with children and parents, and teachers, we thought.

And the idea was born and we took it to the wonderful team at Lantana Publishing who embraced it with wholehearted support.

Then we decided on a date that worked for everyone, we designed an invitation, we planned the day and it all came together wonderfully yesterday.

First I met with Reception and Y1 children before the big event in the evening. Then we decorated the hall with the help of amazing library helpers who had read the book and wanted to be part of the launch.

Y6 had done a project on plastics and the ocean and had used art work inspired from both You’re Safe With Me and You’re Snug with Me. It was brilliant to see how the books transcend from the confines of its form and reaches the readers.

As the bell rang for the final time that afternoon, parents and children started filing in.

We started with a storytelling from the book in which children joined in enthusiastically and then Alice Curry, publisher of Lantana Publishing spoke about books for under-represented children and why reading the 1% was so important.

Then it was party time – colouring in masks and colouring sheets kindly given to us by the illustrator Poonam Mistry, who couldn’t make it to the launch (we missed you!). I signed loads of books for parents and children, the school and the library too.

What a surprise, I had an author friend Paul May who came to celebrate the launch with me too!

All in all, a wonderful way to celebrate the publication of a new book. My heartfelt thanks to everyone at Chestnuts Primary School who came to the event, helped us make it a success. A special Woot-Woot to  the head-teacher Mrs Katie Horwood and librarian Tanya Efthymiou who hosted us.

An Interview with fabulous illustrator Poonam Mistry

Poonam Mistry is a freelance illustrator living in the UK and graduated in 2010 with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration at the University of Hertfordshire.

Her style incorporates her love of nature and her Indian roots and explores the relationships between pattern, shapes and colour. Poonam’s upbringing and childhood have heavily influenced her work, in particular being surrounded by Indian fabrics, paintings and ornaments. She loves folklore tales and stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and these have been a rich source of inspiration in a number of her illustrations.

Poonam creates her beautifully intricate images by hand using fine liners and then digitally alters them.


Poonam and I have worked together on two books and I wanted to ask her some questions on everyone’s behalf. So here is my interview with Poonam.

  • This is your first illustrated book. How is it different from creating your own artwork?

It wasn’t so different actually. I think this was because I tried not to approach the project as a children’s book. I didn’t want to ‘dumb’ down the images just because it was aimed for children. With ‘You’re Safe With Me’ I wanted the artwork to feel more like art/wallpaper rather than your standard children’s book and the pages to reflect the metaphors and imagery conveyed in the text rather than just illustrating the actual narrative. The illustrations were made to appeal to both children and adults. The story is so beautiful it was important for me to focus on that and really get that across. I think it was a case of trying something new too. The great thing about working with Lantana was the creative freedom they gave me for this book. It was such a natural enjoyable process so it was like working on my own personal work.

There were just a few things I had to take into consideration unlike my own art. I think the 3 biggest differences were size, the amount of pattern I used and of course time. With my own art I have no deadlines or guidelines really. I allow myself the freedom to let the art take its own direction and natural course which is exciting because sometimes I haven’t even sketched out or planned what the final art will look like. With ‘You’re Safe With Me’ the rough sketches are similar to the final pieces. I can go quite crazy with the amount of pattern I draw in my own work. I don’t think that’s a bad thing but with this book I tried to get the balance right.

  • What is your process for interpreting the text into spreads?

First of all I read the text multiple times so that I knew the story well. I then went through each spread and highlighted anything that I thought visually summed up the key elements of the text. I sketched out multiple ideas for each spread in pencil and then narrowed these down for 2/3 ideas for each page highlighting my favourite ones.


Alice Curry then picked the ones she thought worked well. I sketched these out neatly in pencil and drew over them adding details and patterns on thick cartridge paper using black ink pens. I scanned these in onto the computer and added colour and the final details on PhotoShop. My process is a mix of hand drawn elements and digital work. Ideally I would love to do all my work by hand but it is time consuming and would take months.

  • Does your art follow a traditional folk art pattern?

Not necessarily. I love folk art. It is a huge source of inspiration for me but I am fascinated by many types of decorative arts celebrated across the world. I use a lot of dots in my work, which is taken for Aboriginal art. I also adore African masks and totems, Scandinavian art and design and ceramic tiles. It’s a combination of lots of things really.

Mostly I take inspiration from Indian folk art. It is stunning and something that has had a huge influence on my style. Kalamkari textiles are the biggest influence in my work and the patterns I use. I would love to try this process one day or have my work applied to this. So much craftsmanship and skill goes into this and I am just in awe of it.

  • What do you like drawing best? What do you find challenging?

I love drawing birds and rabbits. They feature a lot in my work, especially my personal work. Animals in general are fascinating to draw, especially strange unknown ones. I loved drawing the pangolin for ‘You’re Safe With Me’. It was something I had never heard of before and it was fun to try and translate it into my style.

I confess my strength has never been people. I remember once drawing my Dad and he asked me after I had finished it if he had a big nose. I think that completely put me off! Strangely I find Hindu Gods and Goddesses easy to draw in my style. Recently I have introduced human figures into my work and surprisingly I feel I have found a way of drawing them that doesn’t scare me. It’s quite exciting now. I have always been so comfortable drawing animals but I feel that drawing people and adding them into my patterned landscapes has added a new dimension to my work. It could be something seen more in my illustrations in the future.

You’re Snug with Me, the second book in this series is out on November and is available to pre-order now. Please find out more here.