Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A chat with Shruthi Rao on writing for children

A while ago, I posted an interview with Debasmita Dasgupta about her illustration projects and her adventures illustrating children’s story books. Debasmita’s latest illustration project was the gorgeous little book called ‘Avani and the Pea Plant’. My son loves this books with its simple story and lively illustrations. Since we plant vegetables in our garden and just finished gobbling the last crop of the sweetest peas, this book about how a little girl discovers a pea plant in her garden felt so familiar and endearing.

Today, I’m chatting with Shruthi Rao, the author of this story book. If I could, I’d have loved to talk with her about writing, a mom-writer’s life and children’s books over cups of steaming coffee. But since that’s not possible at this moment, I did the next best thing – invited her over to my blog for a bit of writerly gupshup.

 Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I've lived most of my life in Bangalore, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area less than a year ago. I live with my husband and a story-monster (our 8-year-old daughter). I have a post-graduate degree in Energy Engineering, and worked in the software industry for a few years. And then I changed tracks and started writing. I love books and long walks. You can find out more about me and my published work on or on my blog

What kind of things do you enjoy writing?

I've experimented with different kinds of writing, but what I love most is to write fiction. To create worlds and to populate them with characters who sometimes take on a life of their own -- it is a beautiful feeling. I also enjoy editing -- to play around with a piece of text, spruce it up and make it all shiny and impressive!

You’ve been writing for children for sometime now, right? Will you please tell us about your other books?

I haven't written for children as much as I have for adults. But yes, I've published a few children's stories here and there, and have written children's content for several NGOs. One of my stories, The Story Lady, won the Unisun-Reliance TimeOut contest in 2011, and it was converted into a picture book by Unisun Publishers.

image credit: Debasmita Dasgupta

Please tell us about your journey from thinking up the idea of Avani and the Pea Plant to getting it published.

Avani and the Pea Plant grew out of one of the stories I told my daughter when she was a toddler. She loved stories, and she was full of questions. Once she asked me how plants and trees grow without anybody planting the seed and watering them. To (partially) answer that question, I made up this story, which she loved, and asked me to narrate to her again and again. A couple of years later, for some reason, I remembered the story again, and thought it might make a good picture book. So I wrote it down and sent it to Pratham. I'm delighted with how it has turned out -- the illustrations by Debasmita Dasgupta are gorgeous.

Are you writing another story book?

A book for children, "The Secret Garden", is about to go into print. I wrote this for Nature Science Initiative. The book has been beautifully laid out, full of the most wonderful illustrations and cartoons and photographs, and I'm looking forward to its release.

What would you say to those who want to write and publish a children’s story book?

I'm a novice myself, so I can't really afford to give advice to others! But I've gathered from the picture books I've liked that it probably helps to retain a child's sense of wonder about the world around you.

Thank you Shruthi!

#storybooks #wednesdayinterview #writing

Friday, April 1, 2016

Re-starting the reading habit with my son

Even before my son was born, I knew I wanted to read to my child. One of the most appealing images of parenthood for me was of a parent and a child snuggled up under a quilt with a dreamy expression on their faces and a brightly illustrated storybook propped up against their knees.

So, of course, I had stock piled a collection of picture books and was determined to read to my son from the day he tumbled out of the womb, all ripe and wrinkly. I finally did start reading to him when he was three weeks old, and he seemed to enjoy listening and looking at stories in the way a newborn could. Solemnly with eyes as round as marbles.

As I made my way across this foreign terrain of motherhood, with its cracked ice ground and egg-shell thin emotions, I clutched to stories. As I fumbled and stumbled in those initial long months, it was stories and books, pictures and a legacy of reading that I held on to. Always hoping that my son would one day love books and that one day, I’d be more of the mother I wanted to be.

Fast forward a year, and my son was loading books onto his pillow, asking for more stories to be read before he was finally ready to go to bed. We’d read anywhere from eight to 10 books in a day. And while, I would get bored of reading his favorites again and again and again, I was secretly happy that he had dived into the land of books with such enthusiasm.

Fast forward another year-and-a-half, right to the present. The box of children’s books beckons us brightly from the corner of the room. The regular pile of children’s books, tucked under the pillow, begs to be shuffled and exchanged for new ones. My son still loves stories just as much, but I lie beside him, tired of reading one book after another. Laziness. That’s what it is on my part. And a need for shaking up the old routine.

So here I am today, renewing my vows to read more to my son, to offer him stories before his afternoon nap and before he nods off at night. I’m crafting this reading goal with a healthy dollop of realism, which means that he not only enjoys listening to the stories, but that I equally enjoy reading/telling them as well. And for this, I’ll choose books and the number of books, depending on how much time and energy we have to offer to this ritual on that particular day. So, rather than choosing between 10 books a day and no books at all, we do books to suit the day. The middle path that makes story reading doable.

And this time, since he is older and very interested in the nuances of language, I want to also introduce him to the world of audio stories. I love the free story apps and I am also considering trying out a subscription to Sparkle Stories with their treasure chest of beautifully told stories about children and animals and gnomes.
So, here’s to reading to children. And here’s to a new promise to sustain and thrive on this journey into the land of stories!

What kind of books do you enjoy reading to your children?

#storybooks #reading

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