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!

For Some or All?

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.

Illustrated by Kanika Nair, Farmer Falgu series are great stories about positive thinking and making the most out of difficult situations.

Varsha’s Varanasi introduces the beautiful city of Varanasi.
Pattan’s Pumpkin brings a previously untold story of the Irular tribe. Illustrated by Frané Lessac
Prince Veera stories reimagine ancient trickster tales from India. Illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

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
Sliding Doors for all…

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.

Diversity by Elli Woolard

Crumpets and Pickles Wrapped in Magic

I grew up on crumpets and ginger-beer.

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.

buttered_crumpet2

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.

Veeraseries

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.

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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.

AJOP_9781406364675_PC_UK_circRead A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice and find out if that magic reached you and lit your imagination.

A Celebration of Jars and Pumpkins

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 AJOP_9781406364675_PC_UK_circrelocapattan_coverted 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 p1030032wouldn’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?

p1030050I 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.

 

 

A Dollop of Drama with Alice Fernbank

I’m so excited! No it’s not just the elections. Speaking of which, did you cast your vote yet?

adollopofgheeAlice Fernbank and I have been working on a new drama project based on  A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom ever since I visited Cranford Park Academy where the kids were keen to dramatize it.

 

I met Alice in a masterclass with storyteller extraordinaire Jan Blake. Alice and I hit it off rightaway and though we told markedly different stories, we liked each others style. Our easy collaboration abodyofwordscame to life when we had to mimic a scene without talking and we had a hilarious time doing it. And Jan called me Born to be a Clown! Really? Me?

 

One thing led to another, we talked, we discussed, we dreamt and then we got another one of our masterclass friends Greg McCormick involved too.

A Dollop of Drama was born for real –  A workshop to bring to life the characters and stories in the book A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom (Walker Books, UK). The story makes speaking, reading, talking and of course interpreting of written language so much fun. I love Veera and Suku and their irreverent sense of humour and my readers always have told me they want to have similar adventures.

drum2There you go – now you can. We planned the workshop for  KS2 where we could bring the book into the schools, teach children how to create and bring a character to life, read and speak dialogue and match it with their body language too.

 

 

Greg then kindly offered to take pictures of us playing the part. We dressed up as Veera and Suku and the people of Himtuk, we made costumes, we made paper swords, we enacted scenes, we fell on the floor in a heap laughing at our own antics – while Greg was patiently setting up the lighting and camera angles.

DSC_6418 compOn this 7th day of May in the year 2015, we launched the workshops.

You can now bring us into your schools to work with your KS2 children. Imagine children getting fired up to read a book so they could play a part in the drama workshop, imagine them reading and talking dialogue and interpreting the words into action and body language. Every English and Drama teacher’s dream come true. But then literacy is always more than just English, isn’t it? Reading prescription to election manifestos, literacy in primary schools is literacy for life.

Interested? Want to know more? Check out the details here and get in touch.