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.
It’s not always that a story is set in South East Asia and shows us the intricacies and wisdom of the people there. Right from the start, I loved the narrator, she had me wondering where she was and what dangers awaited her.
As story unfolded, I loved not just the narrator but many of the characters I met on the way. The Warden was such a beautiful soul and so were the inmates and guards. Isra stood out as a person I wanted to meet in real life.
Luchi, the protagonist is vulnerable, yet has to learn her strength. She is new to the outside world and the outside world to her. But she learns slowly to trust, to unravel the mysteries of this world that is ours, and she makes mistakes like all of us do. Sometimes we all trust a bit too much and sometimes we are too careful.
When Luchi stays with Kiet’s family – I almost longed to be there with her. But Luchi is right, she had to be on her way and she couldn’t trust anyone.
When I visited Bangkok the first time, my immediate response was – I know this place. This looks so familiar just like Chennai, the city I grew up in. It had the same spirit, the same busy-ness and the same chaos intertwined with an unseen pattern that worked. And anyone who hasn’t been in a big city before would be overwhelmed just like our Luchi. And she manages to find her way around although she is betrayed when least expecting it.
I grew up with a maxim that everything happens for a reason. And that’s exactly what I would tell Luchi if I had met her a corner shop in Bangkok. Because her dire situation take her closer to her final destination.
I loved the poetic quality of AJ Paquette’s language in this book.
The descriptions and the story unfolded as if
they were spun of silken words.
My concern for Luchi kept me going.
I did want a bit more of the danger though. Luchi even though she does not know, has a safety net around her except when she starts walking on her own and towards the end and even then she gets a guardian angel. I think Paquette loved her so much that she didn’t put her in too much danger. As a reader, I wanted Luchi to be able to face the world on her own for a little longer. In this war-ravaged world, there are many such girls on their own, escaping camps or war zones and having to to survive on their own, and it would help them gain strength.
Nevertheless, it’s a story of adventure, of love, of families far and near, of families that are related by blood and not and more importantly of trust – trusting others and one’s own self. It’s a feel-good book for boys and girls with a sense of adventure. I’m sure it charms many readers as it charmed me.
I created a pinterest board with the floating market, just outside of Bangkok. It is still one of my favourite places since I visited it in 2005.
Here is an activity for all readers – can you create a pinterest board (or a cardboard collage) of all the places Luchi has visited in the story? Share it with us with the tag #ReadYourWorld.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts 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.
Yesterday was Roald Dahl’s 100th birth anniversary. His estate is celebrating it worldwide with movies, jars with hedgehogs and such and hopefully more reading too.
I came to Dahl’s books much later in life after I moved to England in 2006 – and I wish I had known about his books when I was growing up. I grew up with Enid Blyton’s books. The Magic Faraway tree made me imagine and inspired my first made up oral story. But in many ways they were still not as subversive as Dahl’s books. I wish I could have read the wacky and crazy anti-establishment books like The Twits or Matilda or Fantastic Mr Fox or even The Enormous Crocodile.
As a kid I flew under the radar mostly, unnoticed and invisible, except for a few verbal outbursts and once in a while doing some unexpected things that I must admit my mum let me do and my dad never knew about. Before you go imagining anything wild like crawling under the neighbour’s fence (we had a wall) or exploring ancient caves (we lived in a city), it wasn’t anything like that.
At 6 I switched my choice of 2nd language at school. We had to study at least two Indian languages in school – one main and one like an elective but at Y1. I went into my Y1 class for the first day and switched my languages to opposite of what was filled in my admission form. I wrote a radio song at 8; wrote poems and essays and went on stage along with our neighbours until we were 15. We didn’t know it was anything unusual.
Apart from these approved extra curricular all I did was read and follow rules. I didn’t want to break rules or crockery if I can manage it although I was thin as a blade of grass and clumsy like a clown. Who knew in the future I would be fat and go to clown classes.
But I was a serious kid – worried about orphans in the SOS village, wrote passionate (but bad) poetry, raised money for my mum’s charity, gathered friends to publish a neighbourhood newspaper and didn’t get jokes that people made about me all the time. My coping mechanism was reading and writing. What I read expanded my imagination. I dreamt up elaborate situations in my head and had an entirely new family in my head (Ssh! My real family doesn’t know still). I was shy, easily intimidated and in awe of style and fashion and girls who could be confident. I am still like that – I just have learnt how to hide it better.
So the Enid Blyton books and Nancy Drew stories were all about following rules anyway and my stories were like that – should I say – are like that. I wrote quiet and serious stories and even if I have managed to put some funny bits, my stories are not yet wild and absurd. When I met Andy Stanton a few years ago to join the course he was going to teach at Faber – that’s what I told him – I want to learn to let loose – make my stories jump out of bins and tins, sing loudly at traffic lights and hop around the tube station with a mask. He just smiled. Perhaps he wondered if that could ever be taught or learnt. But he was immensely supportive during the course.
When I read amazingly absurd stories I wonder – would reading Dahl as a kid have helped? I think it would have. It would have made me a different person in the head and in real life too. Since 2006, I have managed to read all of Dahl mostly including his short stories and biography and I wish I could have immersed in his world as a kid. Today with my nephew I am getting the reputation of CRAZY AUNT – he is a serious 4 year old who asks me not to be silly when I dance like a clown and make faces. I am going to put Dahl into his hands as soon as he can read on his own and get him to soak up the crazy wacky subversive world. Life is too serious for us to take it seriously. I’ve changed over the years; I know I can be whatever I want to be. But I wish I could have known that when I was 6 or 7 or 8.
I’ve changed since writing for children and still changing. Every children’s book I read, opens up my imagination and shows me more possibilities and I forget I’m a grownup. I still read children’s books for pleasure and I would rather be inside the pages of a funny Roald Dahl than look up and see President Trump (or our PM for that matter) on the telly. Sometimes I wonder what he would happen if we let some of Dahl’s characters loose on him. That’d make a great movie.
Anyway, Happy Birthday Mr Dahl. Your books are needed for every child to take refuge in, forget whatever the dire situation they are in and revel in the anarchy. Thank you to everyone who edited and published the books, to Quentin Blake who gave us the pictures. I’m off to find a crazy villain for my own stories.