We promised you amazing stories every Tuesday this September as part of StoryWeaver's 'Weave-a-Story' campaign and here we are, all set to brighten your day. This week, we have a witty and heartwarming story about little Ammu who is eager, SO eager to have a puppy. Written by Sowmya Rajendran and illustrated by Soumya Menon, 'Ammu's Puppy' makes for a perfect read-aloud book. You can read it right here.
In the past, Sowmya Rajendran's stories have been published by multiple publishers such as Pratham Books, Tulika Publishers, HarperCollins, Puffin, etc. This year, she won the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar award for 'Mayil Will Not Be Quiet' which she co-authored with Niveditha Subramaniam.
Read a short conversation between the StoryWeaver team and Sowmya Rajendran, the author of 'Ammu's Puppy'.
We're so thrilled that 'Ammu's Puppy' is up on StoryWeaver. How did this story take shape and form?
When I was in middle-school, there was a friend of mine who got a dog. But she had to give him away in a couple of days because her folks were unable to take care of him. However, she regaled us with stories about that dog for many weeks, pretending that she still had him at home! I see my four-year-old daughter now, making up similar stories, and the story flew out of me.
You've been writing children's stories for a few years now. Has there been any change in the way you think about and write children's stories over the years? We'd love to hear more about it.
I'm more confident about my voice now. I've experimented with different genres too and I work harder to see how much further I can take an idea. I also believe becoming a mother has given me greater insight into a child's perspective of things.
What do you think we could do - as a large community of people who care about reading - to ensure that reading becomes a more inclusive experience for children in India and around the world?
There are two issues here - one is the visibility of good children's books and the other is accessibility. Indian children's books, especially, are barely available in the big bookstores towards which parents and children who can afford to buy these books flock. This is the case with English books, so you can imagine how acute the problem is when it comes to books that are in regional languages. A children's book that becomes an international phenomenon like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games will find readers but there is so much more on offer of which readers are unaware. And then, of course, a lot of people simply don't have access to books that are in languages they can read or afford.
Schools are in a big hurry to finish the syllabus and rarely spend time encouraging students to read outside their textbooks. And parents, too, see non-textbooks as a 'waste'. Adults, who control book purchasing, should first be convinced of the value of reading. Schools, librarians, teachers, and parents should get involved if they want their children to become readers. Community libraries, affordable and well-produced books in different languages, and innovative efforts like Storyweaver are a step in the right direction.
You've written stories for early readers, teenagers and very recently, you published a novel ('The Lesson') for adults. Tell us a little about what it is like to write for all these different age groups.
I don't start any book with an audience in mind. I let the idea lead me and as I go along, I decide who the reader is going to be. This is probably why I have ended up writing for all age-groups! And exploring some taboo subjects in my writing for younger ones, too. I find it restricting to have an imaginary reader breathing down my neck all the time.
Do you think it's important for children's book authors to engage with children?
You know, I find it strange that we constantly treat children as another species altogether. I'm flummoxed when people ask me 'Do you like children?' as if a child were a dog or a parakeet! They are people, just as adults are. I like some of them and I don't like some of them. I engage with the ones I like and get away with making the right noises with the ones I don't. But just as I learn from the adults around me, irrespective of whether I like them or not, I learn from children, too.
What do you do and where do you go when you desperately need inspiration to write? Yes, we're asking you to spill your secrets.
I work from home and I write when my daughter goes to school. I don't believe in inspiration. I believe in slogging it out in front of my laptop with the mortal fear that in just two and a half hours, a four-year-old will come home and slam my laptop shut for the rest of the day. So I write as fast as I can, as much as I can. I definitely do not sit in a fancy cafe in all elegance and work every day (although I do drink green tea).
Next Tuesday, we have another awesome story by Rukmini Banerji and Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, so do watch this space for more exciting updates!