‘These days, I delight in the hope that I might help children discover how amazing and exciting history is’

Meet Natasha Sharma, the author of Rooster Raga, Bonkers! and Icky! Yucky! Mucky! who possesses a secret spell for making children howl with laughter. In this interview with HSLS, she talks about finding inspiration for stories, using humour as a writing tool, and smart ways in which to promote reading in schools.

Excerpts from the interview:

What inspires you to write for children?

It’s a rather selfish reason! I get to think up scenes and plots with my characters licking curry from hand to elbow. I can relive and recreate my childhood doggy chronicles with a lot more exaggeration. I can put historical characters into the craziest of situations even as I tell children facts from history. These days, I delight in the hope that I might help children discover how amazing and exciting history is.

I enjoy using humour as a tool in my writing. Luckily, children love humour! Which isn’t to say that adults don’t enjoy it. Of course they do, behind all their grumpiness! It isn’t also to say that humour is the only way to write for children. It is what works for me. I get to spend my work time often smiling to myself as I write. I giggle as I brainstorm. I rub my hands with glee as I think up a prank to put into a story. I gain entry into a world where a rooster can say Kukaa-mooo and be perfectly acceptable to the reader.

It is also a rather special feeling to know that a child is reading my story and hopefully getting transported to a different world. I never spell out moral messages but I like to think that my stories work on multiple levels. My recent book Rooster Raga might be a story of a rooster getting confused about his crowing as he tries to fix his own kukaroo-kuroo, but it is as much about a child realising that it is great to be your own special self. Icky, Yucky, Mucky! speaks of terrible table manners and nail biting. Things end on a rather disgusting note but most kids react with an ‘ewwww’ as they promise not to behave in the same way.

Inspiration for a story itself can be found everywhere. These are some of the things that have inspired me: A loud burp, a sock, childhood escapades with my dogs, a doodle.

Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.

I loved the Enchanted Wood series as a child and have loved reading them to my children. There is something about a gigantic tree with a different land on top each day, branches growing different fruits, a character called Moonface with sweets that enlarge and go pop in your mouth that appeals to me till date. All Roald Dahl books have been favourites. I read a few much later but I love to revisit them all the time. I’ve discovered some fabulous books for kids in recent years and find myself often picking one up as I curl into my reading corner.

What are three effective ways in which schools can promote reading for joy? 

  1. Give children as wide a range of authors and titles as one can to choose from in the school library. Children need to try all kinds of books to discover what they really enjoy. Their taste keeps changing as they grow, so it is important to have variety in the library. Alongside, it is important for the teachers and librarians to know the books themselves so that they can make interesting recommendations to the children.
  2. Give them many chances to speak about books that they’ve read and enjoyed. This needs to be in a relaxed environment where they can have free-wheeling discussions, make connections and share their excitement around books.
  3. Invite authors and illustrators into schools! I have so many questions thrown at me by children who are curious about the creation of a book. They often want to know how the idea came about for my story, right down to how it gets printed and sold. It can create additional interest in reading and encourage them to explore different genres.
  4. I’m going to add a fourth one which is actually something followed in my kid’s school. A child gets to give a birthday book to the library each year. The book has the child’s name and class written in and some part of it is read out in class as the child’s choice. It’s lovely to create a bond with books on every possible ocassion.

Name three contemporary authors who you feel children should be introduced to.

Anushka Ravishankar, Oliver Jeffers, Emily Gravett.

Which are five books that every school library must own?

It is impossible to name just five! This is off the top of my head. Few books that I have read recently and highly recommend – The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, Wisha Wozzariter by Payal Kapadia, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Book series like Horrible Histories and Horrible Science that make facts incredible fun. Books by the following authors in addition to the ones mentioned in the earlier point (I am really trying to limit myself here!): Roald Dahl, David Walliams, Philip Ardagh, Shel Silverstein.

If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?

Eeks! Each one I think of goes through some pretty terrible stuff before he or she emerges victorious – which is quite the mark of a great book, but makes me a bit nervous to be them. I am going to say Squiggle from my upcoming book Squiggle Takes a Walk. Squiggle is a doodle who is having an existential crisis in a book, trying to understand who she is and what is her place and purpose. She goes on a wild ride through the book as she meets punctuation before emerging happy in her wildly creative corner. No, it’s not autobiographical!

Watch out for Squiggle Takes a Walk, Natasha Sharma’s latest book due to release in June this year.

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