Looking Back at 2017

2017 has been brilliantly busy. I

  • learnt to dance Salsa a little bit, still learning,
  • started to learn photography,
  • finished my Masters,
  • rode a horse
  • lost weight
  • 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.


Good News Galore!

I’ve been slow in blogging the last few months due to really hectic schedule. I finished an MA in Writing for Young People, travelled to Rome and wrote a few picture books in  between all that.

So what’s the good news then? Where should I start? As it’s October and Pumpkin season, I’ll start there.

Pattan’s Pumpkin has been making waves here in the UK and in the US of A.

Closer home, CLPE has chosen Pattan’s Pumpkin to be one of the texts for their Power of Reading programme. This is so brilliant because so many more schools and children will get to read a story from a corner of India. And enjoy the illustrations of Frané Lessac.


In the States, Pattan’s Pumpkin has been chosen as a book to Read Across America in October. Find out more here along with wonderful resources created by Reading is Fundamental. Check out their awesome calendar too.

I’m so happy to share the good news that Lantana Publishing will be publishing my next picture book You’re Safe With Me (illustrated by Poonam Mistry) in April 2018. Here is a sneak peak into the cover! The book has been making waves already and I’ll share the good news when I’m allowed to tell. Shh!

And finally, I’m doing a number of events in the UK and in the US over the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for me in your neighbourhood. Check out the details here.

An Irreverent Guide for Patrons of Reading

Originally published on http://www.patronofreading.co.uk/

Don’t worry! This guide will not be serious. This guide is neither full of practical tips nor some amazing ideas. It’s just another writer, avoiding the work-in-progress, hoping to rescue thousands of children from forced learning of subjunctive clauses and modal verbs.

Patron of Reading is a bonkers idea from the three musketeers – Tim Redgrave, Jon Biddle and Helena Pielichaty. And more crazy people like authors, illustrators, school teachers, head-teachers and librarians joined up and made this bonkers idea more brilliant. Who would have thought reading for pleasure was a thing? DoE haven’t heard of it, it seems! But we don’t worry much about them when we have wonderful characters and amazing facts in so many books.

To me, being a Patron of Reading is an adventure. By adventure I mean, I have no idea what I’ve got myself into and I figure out as I go, guided by the children and the teachers who have invited me in.

So how does this adventure start? Like all adventures, it starts with a tall man with a big heart and almost no hair. He checks you out with his twitter thermometer and measures your ability to read for pleasure. You write children’s books? Then don’t worry – most probably you’re already afflicted with this condition.

Then you get listed on the Patron of Reading website. Think Match.com except for matching hibernating authors with super-humans like librarians and teachers. Like in any dating profile, just reveal enough of your reading for pleasure tendencies and the general neighbourhood where this affliction affects you – and I mean more than your own room – like a city where people live and schools are run. (At least for now; if you don’t vote, who knows, all parents might have to home-school compulsorily).

See what I did there!

Then the tall man with a big heart tweets out your patron profile to a legion of followers who re-tweet it as if these are cute cat pictures until an eager school spots you and goes Aha! We’ve would like that one please – yes that author with the yellow shirt, long hair, standing next to a stack of books and a pile of laundry. Is that you? Then you’ve been matched.

Once you’re matched, the above-mentioned tall man will approach you with details of your suitor. Where is the school? Who will be in touch with you? Who is this teacher who on top of everything they do, has agreed to be the Patron of Reading coordinator.

Like in any self-respecting matching situation, you get to talk (and by talk I mean, by email or phone or Skype or telepathy, whatever suits) with the potential school you will be patronising.


Here is the thing – this is where you reveal your reading habits – poetry? Ghost stories? Adventures set in abandoned islands? Don’t be shy. You’d be surprised when you listen to their choices.

This is where you find out what does your potential suitor want? What kind of school is it? What motivates the children? Why did they choose you? What could you bring to the table (other than a chair of course)?

You have questions? You are too shy to ask your potential suitor? Shoot it across to the matchmaker. He has weathered every what, why and when.

One too many?

Well – what do you think? Have you agreed the terms and conditions of patronising? Do you have a date setup? Ooh! That’s exciting, isn’t it?

Hold fire! Don’t relax yet. Plan the first visit as you would plan any school visit – except you’re not going to be running creative writing workshops. You’re going to find ways to promote reading for pleasure. The keyword as you might have noticed is PLEASURE!

Like in any first date, take it slow. Don’t overwhelm the school with your enthusiasm. I’ve been there! Both in life and in schools. Figure out what they need from you and in what levels of enthusiasm. You might have time between two book projects and want to run a competition for the children. (Or you just want to procrastinate). Teachers as you might have guessed from teachtwitter, are an overworked bunch. They might not have time to jump into every rabbit-hole the patron wants to. So KEEP CALM and READ FOR PLEASURE.

Then agree frequency of visits. Ask them how they would like to stay in touch when you’ve returned to your cave after inspiring them with the love of reading. Maybe they would want to, maybe they won’t. Maybe the things you initiated on the first visit doesn’t fully pan out. Don’t fret. You get to go back, build relationships and try new things.

That’s it – there is no secret handshake (well, I’m not telling you, if there’s one), there is no heavy manual in all European languages (Brexit means Brexit, didn’t you know?)

And there are no set rules about how you patronise reading. Standing up, sitting down, upside down, reading poetry, non-fiction, stories, picture books, newspapers and cereal boxes – it’s all up for grabs.

Willing to take the plunge? Reach out to the tall man with a big heart (also called @jonnybid) and leave the rest to the universe.

Chitra Soundar is a Patron of Reading at West Earlham Junior School in Norwich, where she brings stories from different countries into the classrooms. She gets on their radio show, teaches them voice modulation and tells them stories from brilliant books. And when she’s not patronising, this is what she’s up to. Find out more here. Have questions, shoot her a tweet at @csoundar.


Fabulous February

Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.

This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.

World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.

When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.

From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.

If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.

Skyping at Silly o’clock

FF-JustBooks_Aug2015_2It all started with Just Books, Anna Nagar. I made friends with the fabulous folks from Just Books when I was in India couple of years ago and they kindly invited me to their book festival this year.

Of course travelling all this way to Chennai for an hour’s storytelling was as improbable as my pet fish becoming a rockstar on the moon. She doesn’t have much of a talent on the moon, no gravitas, you see.

So we decided I would Skype if Just Books could arrange the technical things – like a laptop, a TV connection and a microphone. Sounds simple, right?

It was relatively simple, I should think. I’m kidding. I was here just turning on the laptop where the Just Books team carried big TV sets into their library, laid cables, tested mikes, changed laptops until everything went BLIP_BLOP_BLOOOO and then back to working FF-JustBooks_Aug2015_5again.

We tested laptops, televisions, microphones, lighting and seating and we were ready to go. The thing is India is about 4.5 hours ahead of London – that means all my events happen at silly o’clock in the morning in London.

It’s just as well, that I’m a morning person – the one who could wake up at five, but couldn’t keep her eyes open after midnight.

News of this Skype session spread like a bad smell and I got invited via a good Facebook friend to visit Pathways School in Noida, near Delhi for their technology day. What better way to be inspired by technology than use it for fun. So I agreed. Again we tested the setup a day before at half-past six in the morning  and then today I met with the kids at half-past six my time again.

IMG_0591That’s a lot of early mornings, ready and bright to meet the world. Normally I get up really early but I couldn’t even let my invisible friend see me until noon – I walk around in my pjs, with no makeup, hair pinned up until hunger knocks on the inner stomach walls and remind me I have to feed the writing machine.

SenbeiClockOr if it is a day I have to go to a day job, my talking clock reminds me – IT IS LATE and I rush into work – hopefully remembering to take off my pjs and put on something more sensible and grown-up-ish looking.

Every time I do one of these sessions, I’m amazed how convenient this technology is. They can hear me, see me and listen to me tell stories. And then we always make up a story together and it is so much fun. farmerfalgudressupAnd I don’t even have to change out of my pj. Just change the top to something more respectable. I’m kidding. I do dress up before I meet impressionable young minds and show them authors are really grownup people. Most of the time I fail miserably.

Today I met second-graders from Pathways School and they were an eager bunch in spite of the session being very close to their lunch hour.

I started with some things about myself, some questions to them and suddenly a voice popped up – When are you going to tell the story?

To the point. Just like me when I was his age. I am still told I come way too quickly to the point and I need to beat around the bush some more. The little person was right. So I told them the story from this book. gola_web

11988727_867511133331373_7090665875316021014_nI was almost done, we had question time and the first question was – How do you write a story? How do you answer that?

I can say I get ideas, I think about them,

I doodle, I dawdle,

I procrastinate, I fabricate, hyperventilate.

Then I get aggravated, agitated and put it away.

But the story is obstinate, I can’t eradicate it.

I’m fascinated and then I sit down and write.

And it goes on and on and on.

 But that is not something I could tell a 7-year old who thinks somehow this process is magical filled with dancing puppies, unicorns in silk robes and Korean pop music in the background. So I decided to show him how it’s done. And we made up a story together.

I gently gave them a structure and they filled in the blanks with enormous doses of creativity – a dragon that wants to eat a – stand back and be surprised and be warned – a baby.

And then I asked what super-power does the baby have – pat came the answer – crying of course and at that point, ladies and gents, the story was born. The rest as we say was as simple as dragon’s dinner. Want to read the story? You can find it here.

I have to mention the absolutely wonderful teachers who arranged everything without a hitch. They were on time, they encouraged the children to participate and will be doing some of my book related activities in their classroom too. A big thank you to them for making this happen.


In spite of the early starts, that makes me wonder if I’m really a robot with a self-destruct button, I’m enjoying the time I spend with these young people. Especially when I meet with kids in India who are mostly told academics is the first thing, everything else comes later – a spark of a story can set fire to the Delhi downpours (thanks Adele, for a brilliant line, which I have borrowed and changed).

selfdestructSo, to prove that I do have a self-destruct button, I have two more Skype sessions with India. The first one on the 19th (this coming Saturday), is with HippoCampus, Chennai. It’s free to attend and my books will be on sale to buy too. We will be creating a new story for Farmer Falgu.

And then I’m meeting with 9 parents and their kids via Google Hangout on Sunday and that’s a brand new experiment in the world of social media meets author who loves silly o’clock sessions. Let’s see how that goes. More sessions are on the cards – you can register your interest here.

That’s my super-late (for an early riser like me) report of today’s amazing session with Pathways school. The good news is I can sleep in tomorrow until 7 am. Blisssszzzzzzzzzzzz.