Animals have been used as a way to tell stories since Panchatantra which was told 2000 years ago. Their natural habitats and habits have been useful in bringing out both stories that are fun and with some lessons hidden in them.
While there are many reasons why we should have more children of colour in stories and not use animals as a substitute, some stories lend themselves to using animal characters. These stories are more fun because of the way animals behave, or their food habits or how they look.
I love writing animal stories just for that reason and it’s not a surprise to me as I grew up listening to tons of stories about animals, animals interacting with humans and trickster tales.
My latest story Tiger Troubles illustrated by Hannah Marks and published by Bloomsbury Education is a fun tale of repetition, funny foods and loads of chants to learn and tell.
Until the book comes out here is a trickster tale from India that you can listen to.
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.
Many young families with babies to 10-year olds were present, eager to listen to a story and talk about empathy. I started the session asking about the difference between sympathy and empathy.
It was easier for some 8-year olds to explain sympathy to me. And then slowly we discussed the concept of empathy. Find out more here. As I explained the various elements of it, even five year olds could relate to it. One child put up its hand to explain how she knew a friend of hers was hurt in the playground the previous day, and how she felt sorry.
Then I told them the story from You’re Safe With Me. We had one avid listener who was fascinated with Mama Elephant and he was so worried why she didn’t appear in every spread in the book. The new animals they had seen in the story – loris and pangolin touched their curiosity. And when I explained about pangolins and how we need to save them – one child remembered and asked about it during the activity time we had.
The hall was full of young children who were fascinated with the story of thunderstorms, thunder, lightning, the hungry river and the loud wind. They actively participated.
And then came the activity. We had Empathy postcards (check out the resources on the Empathy Lab website) and I explained to the children that we are going to make a wish for someone else.
Here are some of the wishes they came up with during the session:
My Nan, because she needs an operation in her eye and she needs to get better to look after Grandpa.
My grandpa because he is on a stretcher and he needs to get better.
My teacher because she spends a lot of time preparing for class.
My friend – I want her to be my best friend forever.
I want my friend to have a pedal bike too because I have one.
I wish for David Attenborough to save more animals
Here are some hilarious ones!
I wish Donald Trump would not be President.
I wish Prince Harry a happy honeymoon.
Joanna, write a new book. (On asking who Joanna was, of course it was J K Rowling! Duh!)
And this one broke my heart – I wish my friend would be nicer to me. I spoke to this little girl and we talked about how she could find out more about why her friend might be rude to her. And maybe she should also say how she feels like, to her friend.
After that wonderful time writing wishes for someone else, they did colouring in and made masks (you can download them here). Towards the end of the session, one child had a tantrum when he had to go home. “I don’t want to go!” he declared. Another came to me and said, “Thank you for the story.” And her little sister, perhaps just four, said, “I loved your story, you made my day.” And she gave me a hug.
It’s my privilege to be able to write and tell stories to children. And when I know I touched a few hearts and helped them to discuss the thoughts behind the stories, it makes all the trouble worth it.
When I write a new story, I might know who might like it or what ingredients should go into it. Even when the book is out there, you don’t know who it’s going to reach. But when it actually connects, the circle is complete and that’s when the book is truly an agent for change.
Follow Empathy Lab on Twitter here. You can follow me on Twitter here and on Instagram here. From now up to 12th June and of course after that, we will be discussing empathy, recommending books and sharing ideas, experiences and more.