Monday, August 1, 2016

Interviews with Children's Book Authors: Subhash Kommuru, author of Shabdon Ki Holi

Like children's books? Today I am interviewing Subhash Kommuru, author of her children's book, Shabdon Ki Holi.  Stay tuned for our review on August 31!

Subhash and Sujata hail from India. They migrated to the United States along with their memories of childhood and youth. Now that they are parents, just like every immigrant they crave to introduce their child to the culture and values of their upbringing. Yet it is challenging to teach something while you are in the midst of adjusting to a different culture yourself.

Subhash and Sujata both work in different disciplines and have different styles and backgrounds, but it is the upbringing of their son that brings them on the same page. That exact place where they meet is captured and reflected in their stories, where Subhash can express in words, and Sujata can illustrate them beautifully. Where he puts it in black and white, she adds color to it. You get the idea!

These stories are their attempt to share a glimpse of their childhood days with their son. He is their inspiration to write short stories that have meaning to them and provide teaching in some shape or form.

Shobhan’s latest book is the children’s book, Shabdon Ki Holi.

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About the Book:
Shabdon Ki Holi is a funny story with bright illustrations and lively cartoon written in Hindi.
Ramesh and Suresh are two siblings who love to blabber and find it very funny. But this holi they experience a adventure like never before and meet entertaining creatures/jeevs who are lot of fun but their vocabulary is very limited. See how both siblings go from blabbering to teaching Bandhu, Pratham and his fellow creatures the usage of words - featuring bright and fun illustrations in the backdrop of holi festival.

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Thanks for this interview, Subhash.  I’ve always wanted to write children’s books.  When did you determine that writing for children was for you?

I have a philosophical answer to your question. There is a lyricist in Indian movie industry, in his early days he wrote lots of hits movie where central theme has been lots violence and they were mostly based on revenge and resentment. In fact he is credited as someone who brought the concept of angry young man as a lead character to Indian movies. But after he got married his stance changed completely and he started to write romantic songs. Over the years he has written many romantic songs and they are all very touchy. Lyrics are so rich that you can enjoy them without the music.
I want to believe that having a son in Arya, did that to me. He made a writer out of me. I always used to make up and tell stories to Arya, mostly by observing him and then trying to teach him using stories as mode of communication. But as he started to grow older he would remember not just stories but words and every time I narrate a story he would remind me that my story/dialogues have changed. That forced me to actually write it down and then read those stories to him that way consistency was there.

What was the inspiration behind your children’s book, Shabdon Ki Holi?

My inspiration for Shabdon ki Holi comes from multiple directions.

First and foremost and core of my story comes from the basic that every parent that I know and the one’s that I don’t know they all have one thing in common they love their kids and they always want only the best for their kids. And there are times in all of these parents life that they come across a stage where kids test their limits and that frustrates parents a lot. In my story two brothers Ramesh and Suresh do just that and blabber to the extent of annoyance for their very loving Mom. So that is my first aspect on this book.

Second aspect to Shabdon Ki Holi is to bring one of a very lively festival, Holi, from India. Holi is also known as color of festival enjoyed by everyone from young to old.

Third and last aspect of Shabdon Ki Holi is entertainment and that is achieved by creating fun new characters which we call as Jeevs which in Hindi means creatures. These characters are funny, lively and playful. They love visitors and indulge actively with them.

It’s the combination of these three aspect that takes two brothers on a fun adventure while teaching them a very important lesson.

How do you get into the mind of a child to create a fun reading experience?  Are you around kids?  Are you a kid at heart?

I am a very involved parent be it playing with kids, watching movies and even reading books we always do it together. In fact on a rainy day I sit with my kids doing either lego or other building activities. In fact recently my son is teaching me how to draw. Way kids think is very different and more you involve with them more you learn about simple things in life. I never saw myself as someone who could draw, I read quite a few books, tried quite a few programs online but never quite satisfactory. But then I started to sit with my son and saw as to how simple a skill it is. The way he looks at objects and articulates what to look for when drawing and his sense of color that is absolutely amazing. So I would say that experience of engaging with him and trying to cater to the way he thinks the way he learns alone inspires me to be better writer.

Illustrator for Shabdon ki Holi, Nayan Soni is cartoonist and his style is fun and casual and speaks to kid directly. This book in particular is very home for him as far as style goes. He is characterization of Jeevs Bandhu and Pratham is absolutely stunning and true to the nature in the story. It almost feels like he brought his inner self to life in those characters. When you look at expressions of each of the characters they are mind blowing.

Our editor, Piyush Ranjan did a fabulous job in bringing right content to the story. Piyush has a command on Hindi language. I have read some of his poems and this is in fact my 4th book with him. While my stories are simple, keeping language simple is equally important and Piyush does a great job of playing with simple words while conveying important message.

The end result “Shabdon ki Holi” is sure to tickle your funny bone and at the same time bring home a very important message. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

Growing up as a kid I was exposed to quite a few books written in Hindi. And anyone who grew up in India will tell you the role Panchatantra plays in their upbringing. I too am a big fan of its simple stories with strong moral to them. To that extent you will see that reflected in my stories as well.

What kind of advice would you give writers who would like to write children’s books?

Writing tips for authors, that is an interesting topic that I feel compelled to pass on, not just because I want to see fellow authors succeed but also because of my singular objective of getting more quality material for kids out there. When you pick children’s book most of them are very good, but you will see a common theme, they are built for commercial perspective to please the audience and generalize them into one category. There is no diversity in books. There is no culture, no tradition and biggest concern is that not many of them challenge children’s intellect.

I would strongly encourage aspiring authors to plan out your simple story. Remember life is complicated but you learn about life one simple story at a time so don’t rush into doing too many things at once. Say if your topic is festivals try to focus on one festival at a time and don’t get immersed in every single detail unless you are writing a text book on them.
For instance our book Bargad, talks about Vat Savitri rather than getting into details of festival, its origin and other details we surround our story around this important festival and bring home the fact the reason behind observance of such festival.

Secondly I would advise you to write something about you care, your story has to bring some value to the table and sky is the limit there don’t have to stick to the populous theme don’t have to restrict yourself to what “cool kids” are thinking today. Who knows your story would be what “cool kids” will be thinking tomorrow.

A prime example of this effort is our title “Chatur(Hindi)”. This story is very straight forward and flow is very simple complimented by colorful illustrations which brings home simple message speaking against greed.

Third piece of advice comes from a writer who rewrites stories numerous times, read your own story over and over again see what needs refinement and polishing.

For instance our book “The Magic of Friendship (Anokhi Dosti-Hindi edition)” talks about a story where two diverse personalities meet and their friendship brings about a change to their environment that completely turns the events from scary to happiness. This story when I first wrote it was simply just that with two diverse personalities sharing their talents. When I was done with the story it turned out to be very good, funny and entertaining, my son would laugh from beginning to the end but I felt that there was something missing in the story, so rewrote the flow where I start the story with a flock of geese migrating and observing the whole story unfold, so the story is being told from a third person perspective and I also take help from geese’s seasonal migration to bring in generations where this story is passed from grandfather-father-son. It tied up so nicely that the book has earned rave reviews from distinguished outlets and very well received by every single reader.

What are your goals for the future?  More children’s books?

Ofcourse more children’s books, many more of them. I love the experience so far. You know how you feel some job to be mundane and repetitive, I don’t feel like that about children’s book at all. Its loads of fun and the best part is towards the end it’s extremely satisfying. Especially when you hear from your readers of not only how much they enjoyed but the values they learned from it. I explicitly remember I read my first book Bargad to a 3 yr old girl, after almost 2 yrs in her school her teachers tasked her class to do some free drawing. She ended up drawing Bargad, her parents were nice enough to share that image with me.

My next project is diversifying my interest even beyond writing. I am divulging into illustration and again inspiration comes from my son who is very good at drawing and always is challenging me to a new level. In fact this untitled project that I am working, we both are working side by side where I draw something and he comes up with his own version and then we discuss what the scene and character really implies so I am relishing this engagement and enthused to work towards completion. Story is around a superhero, given my son’s age this really catches his interest and this story elevates that interest level but brings home the basic idea of superhero.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with your vivid readers. I loved talking to you and sharing more information on Shabdon Ki Holi. As a parent myself I believe in producing quality stories which are not only meaningful for kids but also entertaining for adults. They sure should be thought provoking and a fun read. We would love to hear your feedback on Shabdon Ki Holi or any title for that matter.
    Warm Regards,
    Subhash Kommuru