Today is the book birthday of The Ammuchi Puchi! To mark this very special day, I caught up with the book’s very talented author, Sharanya Manivannan. She shared with me some lovely stories about her childhood and learned the importance of keeping our hearts open to the mysteries of love and life. Read on to find out more!
Congratulations on your beautiful new book, The Ammuchi Puchi! Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a few of your favorite things about living in India?
Thank you! That The Ammuchi Puchi found Lantana Publishing brings me such joy. I’ve only lived in India for 9 years, so while I still don’t feel like this is where I belong, what I love includes: the rich, textured history and cultural artifacts from so many fields, from architecture to literature to music and more; the fact that I live in a state (Tamil Nadu) that has both beaches and mountains; and traditional fashion – I can wear flowers in my hair every day, even to work!
What is The Ammuchi Puchi about? And can you tell us what inspired you to write this story?
The Ammuchi Puchi is about two children – 9-year-old Aditya and his little sister Anjali – who are very close to their grandmother, Ammuchi. When Ammuchi passes away, they are visited often by a mysterious butterfly who guides them and gives them consolation. “Puchi” is the Tamil word for “insect”. I wrote the story a couple of years after losing my own grandmother, and although I was an adult by this time, I began to wonder how children deal with losing their grandparents.
What made you decide to write a story about death and bereavement for children? What messages do you hope children will glean from your story?
Like Anjali and Aditya, I had also experienced mysterious things after my grandmother’s death, and I wanted to write something that could help children with bereavement while also gently bringing in a touch of the miraculous. The main message of the story is really that love is eternal. And that, as Ammuchi teaches, there is more to the world than what the eye can see (but sometimes, you just have to let things be).
What do you think of Nerina Canzi’s illustrations for your book? Do you have a favourite illustration?
I couldn’t be more delighted that Nerina Canzi has illustrated the book. She has captured the children, Ammuchi and the landscapes so perfectly. Friends of mine were amazed at how Nerina, who is from Argentina, had understood the colours and textures of South India so accurately. Watching the pages develop was an enormous pleasure – I looked forward to every email with a new illustration and oohed and aahed over it! It’s difficult to choose a favourite, but I love the one of Anjali and Aditya riding a parrot-dragon with vines of mangoes streaming behind them – so striking!
We loved the stories that Ammuchi told her grandchildren, Anjali and Aditya. Can you share with us one of your favourite stories from your grandmother?
My Ammamma told us ghost stories, just like Ammuchi! She loved to frighten us by telling us about apparitions in trees and things that had happened in her hometown of Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. As I grew older, I began to understand that my grandmother’s supernatural stories were deeply rooted in her spirituality.
The Ammuchi Puchi is written in very beautiful prose, but you are also known as a writer of poetry. Is there a process by which you choose the writing style for a particular story?
Thank you! I wrote The Ammuchi Puchi one afternoon in 2010, listening to music and sitting on the balcony on which my Ammamma had spent much of her final year of life. I had never written for children before, but there was one thing that I held steadfast in my mind as the story started to come: that children are highly intuitive, and that the moment they sense condescension, you lose them.
Do you have a favourite children’s poem?
This is a classroom cliché, but William Blake’s “The Tyger” is still vivid in my mind from my days in school. There’s a rhythm and a fire to it that overcomes the dreary way in which poetry is taught. So many people hate poetry because we were forced to memorise it and then recite it poorly. The thing about “The Tyger” is that the inflections of all the questions and the natural way in which the lines and our breaths align make the experience just so much more thrilling, even when taught in that boring way.
Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos of your life in India on our instagram feed. A few of the photos are of the Navaratri festival. Can you tell us more about Navaratri and what it means to you?
Navaratri literally means “nine nights”, and it is a Hindu festival celebrating different manifestations of the Mother Goddess. It is celebrated in various ways among communities in India and around the world. In South India, for example, there is a tradition of arranging special dolls on a sequence of steps near the altar. Navaratri ends on Vijaya Dasami, the 10th day. This is a very important day for children as it is auspicious to start learning new things, whether that is in terms of academics or the arts. The previous night, all one’s instruments – pencils, paintbrushes, laptops, drumsticks, dancing anklets, and so on, depending on your passions – are kept before the altar and you aren’t allowed to use any of them. No reading allowed that night – I used to find that torturous as a kid! The following morning, after praying, you make a fresh start with those instruments, asking the Goddess to bless your learning and creative pursuits.
Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?
Absolutely! A library, or even a bookshelf, is a key to other worlds. Books teach empathy, and books about diverse cultures are so important both to facilitate understanding as well as to forge identity. Children deserve to see themselves in the books they read, and they also need other children to see them.
And finally, can you give our aspiring authors any tips for their writing?
This tip matters no matter what age you are: read! In order to write well, you must read as much as you can. And you must never stop.
Thanks, Sharanya! To buy a copy of The Ammuchi Puchi, please click here.
Photos from Sharanya Manivannan.