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The World in Multicolour

Told by moonlight: an interview with Mahtab Narsimhan

in: Children's books

coby-me-and-lord-ganeshWe thought it would be a lovely idea to celebrate Diwali with Mahtab Narsimhan, the author of Looking for Lord Ganesh – and we were right! Mahtab told us fascinating stories about the bravest people in India and why Lord Ganesh is a wonderful symbol for starting a new life in a new country. We also found out the meaning of her name…

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and share a few fun facts about Mumbai, the city of your birth?

My grandmother named me, Mahtab, which means moonlight, in Persian. I was born in Mumbai and lived in this city till I was twenty-four. This city by the sea has some of the bravest people in India. Every year they are battered by fierce monsoons, mind-numbing heat, and humidity, and yet they soldier on with life without complaint. This is also the city which is famous for the ubiquitous dabbawallas, tiffin carriers, who deliver home-cooked food to white-collar workers. A unique aspect of this 150-year old service is that it is entirely manual (no computers or paperwork to track the six million tiffins delivered on a monthly basis) and yet their accuracy is 99%. One box in six million is lost, and this is the premise of one of my novels titled – The Tiffin.

Mumbai also has the legendary Gateway of India constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (Mumbai).

dabbawallas-a-unique-aspect-of-mumbai

Your first picture book, Looking for Lord Ganesh, was recently published in the UK. What is it about?

It is about a young girl, Anika, who has immigrated to a new country and is trying to fit in. This is something many immigrants, just like I once was, can identify with. When Anika faces problems in settling in, she remembers her grandmother’s words, which is to pray to Lord Ganesh for answers. Being a child of the digital age, she turns to the internet for answers. Her problems are finally solved but the reader has to decide who it is that is actually helping Anika.

What made you decide to write about Lord Ganesh? What is so special about him?

I’ve always found Lord Ganesh to be one of the most fascinating, and fun, of the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Plus there’s a cool (and gory!) story of how he got his elephant head. Lord Ganesh is known as the God of Wisdom, New Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles. It was serendipitous that my first foray into writing picture books is about the God of New Beginnings, and my favourite.

What do you think of Sonja Wimmer’s illustrations for your book? Which illustration is your favourite?

Looking for Lord Ganesh promo spread 1 - low resThey are simply gorgeous! I could not have asked for a more talented illustrator, nor imagined a better way my words could have been brought to life. My favourite illustration is the one where Anika and Hadiya are sitting on a tree branch, talking about forming their own team.

Looking for Lord Ganesh speaks particularly to children who have experienced immigration, or those who have been bullied at school. What message do you hope readers will glean from your story?

That help is always available if you actively seek it. Sometimes it can come from outside – an adult, a friend, or a book you’ve read where the character faced a similar problem and managed to work through it. But often, we already have the answer within us. All we need to do is to listen to that internal voice which gives excellent advice even if it may be hard to follow. In reading this story, I hope I can inspire kids to look inward as well as outward for answers to their problems because the one constant in life is change.

You grew up in Mumbai but spent a few years living in the Middle East before you settled in Canada. Can you tell us what it was like for you to move to a new country? Was there a time that you felt lost and out of place like Anika in the story?

Very often I felt the way Anika did. Change is always hard. Leaving everything that is familiar to you and embracing the unfamiliar is scary. You have to believe that you will get through this stage, be brave and carry on. I am totally at home in Canada now even though the first few years were very hard.

celebrating-diwali-at-home-with-lord-g-x-2What is Diwali and why is it so special to you? What role does Lord Ganesh play in this
festival?

Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil. It is when Lord Rama vanquished the evil Ravana and returned to Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile, as the rightful heir to the throne. He was accompanied by his wife, Sita and his brother, Laxman. The people of Ayodhya were so happy that they celebrated this occasion with lights and firecrackers. Diwali is also the New Year for Hindus and is the time when they worship the Goddess Laxmi (for wealth) and Lord Ganesh (new beginnings).

Do you think children living in Mumbai (where you grew up), children living in the UK (where the book is published), and children living in Canada (where you live) will appreciate the story in different ways?

I am sure each child will take something different away from the story based on their own experiences and perspectives. That is the beauty of stories. It resonates with different readers in different ways, which is exactly the way it should be!

Ganesh 1Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely! It’s the main reason I write. It is so very important that children from every culture see themselves in stories. It gives them a sense of pride in who they are, builds confidence, and helps them connect with the characters more strongly.

Finally, can you give aspiring children’s book authors any tips on their writing?

Read a lot. Everything you love and even things you don’t. You will always learn something. To be a good writer, you have to love reading!

  • Practice writing every day.
  • Never lose touch with the child you used to be, or the sense of wonder you once had about our world.
  • And lastly, have fun. If you’re having fun, then writing doesn’t feel like work.

Thank you, Mahtab! You can find out more about Mahtab, her awards and her books here.

Photos from Mahtab Narsimhan

Katrina

On magical butterflies and the special love of grandmothers: an interview with Sharanya Manivannan

in: Children's books

me-oct-14Today 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.

Ammuchi Puchi

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!

ammamma-oct-12

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.

Ammuchi Puchi

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?

The Ammuchi Puchi

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.

Katrina

Photos from Sharanya Manivannan.

Chicken in the Kitchen: Winner of the Children’s Africana Best Book Award 2016

in: Children's books

img_4026

Of all the weeks in Lantana’s two-year lifespan, this past week has ranked as one of the best. Not only did Lantana’s founder, Alice Curry (left), fly to Washington to attend the Children’s Africana Book Awards ceremony for Chicken in the Kitchen alongside author Nnedi Okorafor (centre) and illustrator Mehrdokht Amini (right), but we also found out that Chicken in the Kitchen has made it onto the White Ravens 2016 honour list, which means it has been nominated by the International Youth Library in Germany as one of the 200 most ‘exceptional’ books from around the world for that year. And all of this on the one-year anniversary of Chicken in the Kitchen‘s publication!

 

img_4051Library of Congress

The week began with a visit to the Library of Congress courtesy of Everybody Wins! DC, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children’s literacy through shared reading experiences. Author Nnedi delighted children with tales of Wood Wits and giant chicken masquerades and illustrator Mehrdokht had all the children guessing with her fabulous sketches of animals from the book. It was a pleasure to see each child leave the event with a smile on their face and a copy of Chicken in the Kitchen in their hands.

An Open Book Foundation

Day Two began with a school visit courtesy of An Open Book Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Not only did Nnedi regale the children with real-life stories of masquerades in Nigeria but also answered all of the children’s questions, about nature spirits, insects, ten foot chickens and her own long hair!

 

img_4163Awards Dinner

The Children’s Africana Book Awards dinner took place that evening, hosted by the African Studies Association andAfrica Access, two organisations devoted to the accurate and authentic portrayal of Africa in the arts, and in the exchange of knowledge about Africa across all subject areas. Held at Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, the awards dinner was a great success, involving words of thanks by the winners and honourees of the awards, including our own Nnedi and Mehrdokht. Lantana’s Chicken in the Kitchen won the highest honour of the night – the Best Book Award 2016.

Awards Festival at the Smithsonian

The final event of the three-day celebration was held at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and saw hundreds of children and parents descend on the museum to attend a drumming session, watch an African dance performance, get their faces painted, make chicken collages out of coloured paper, and have their books signed by the winners of the Children’s Africana Book Awards. Much fun was had all round! To top it all off, Nnedi and Mehrdokht took part in a fascinating panel discussion about their inspiration for their award-winning book, and the possibilities of future collaboration…  Watch this space for further information!

All in all, a truly fabulous few days in Washington and a fitting tribute to the wonderful work of Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini. Our thanks to Brenda and Harriet and all of the people who made such a wonderful programme of events possible. And if you’d like a reminder about why our award-winning book Chicken in the Kitchen is such a hit with children and adults alike, you can find out more information about it here!

 collage

Alice