Each month, look out for our interviews with wonderful authors, illustrators and storytellers who are contributing to the wealth of children’s literature. We are thrilled to kick-start this series with popular children’s author Asha Nehemiah. Over the years, Asha’s books have been published by Scholastic, Duckbill, Puffin and Children’s Book Trust. ‘Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula’, ‘Mystery of the Silk Umbrella’ and ‘Zigzag and Other Stories’ appear on CBSE’s list of Recommended Books for Schools. Read her interview with HSS in which she talks about promoting reading for joy in schools, her favourite children’s books and her dream job inspired by Roald Dahl.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are the factors you keep in mind when writing for children?
Children today have many more options for entertainment than ever before: TV, movies, internet, games, apps! So if I want a child to read my book, it had better be as entertaining as any of her other choices – ideally it should offer a child something more satisfying. So I always keep this in mind when I write. In order to make my book a more fulfilling option, I try to include some emotion in it. Talk about feelings and relationships along with the fun and adventure. I’m also very conscious of the fact that the child’s entry into the world of reading and books is influenced by my book. This is a big responsibility. If my book is boring, children may begin to think that reading is a boring activity.
Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.
Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ series. I loved the stories as a child and read them even today. Her books are so layered in terms of humour and plot that they can be enjoyed by children at one level and by adults at another.
What are three effective ways in which schools can promote reading for joy?
a) Schools should make parents partners in the process. Conduct workshops and interactions with parents so that they understand how vital it is to ensure that children have the time to read and access to a wide variety of books. It’s entirely up to the parents to see that their child’s time at home is not so packed with activities that there’s never a window of time when they can relax and read.
b) Schools should provide a great library with a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction. Have librarians and language teachers who love reading and read widely themselves so that their love for reading rubs off on the children. Ensure that there are books for every taste.
c) Schools should budget for providing every student with five books (every year) that become their own and that they can take home to read. These five books should be chosen across genres and interests. Children will, quite naturally, discuss what they read and peer influence will encourage reading. The choice of the books – with different selections for each class – must be made fresh at the beginning of every year.
Name three contemporary authors who you feel children should be introduced to.
It’s difficult for me to limit this list to 3 as there are so many wonderful contemporary authors. Here’s my shortlist: Ranjit Lal, Uma Krishnaswami, Anushka Ravishanker, Subhadra Sengupta, Michael Morpurgo, Morris Gleizman, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Paterson, Anthony Horowitz, David Walliams, Elizabeth Laird, Rebecca Stead, Kate Di Camillo, Sharon Creech, Karen Cushman.
Name a few books which you feel every school library must own.
The Why-Why Girl by Mahasweta Devi
Hanuman’s Ramayan by Devdutt Patnaik
Cool by Michael Morpurago
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleizman
The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Lyddie by Katherine Paterson
If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?
Willy Wonka in his Chocolate Factory, creating new types of chocolate and eating it! My dream job!
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