Richa Jha, author of children’s picture books was in the city for a talk on Vizag’s Literature festival. While discussing themes and her book; she tells us about unknown facts of being a children’s fiction writer in India.
Except from her interview:
Is it correct that children’s writers aren’t taken seriously in India?
Writers in general in India especially face a lot of challenges but it’s usually compounded for children’s authors because we are not taken seriously. In the writer hierarchy we (children’s writers) are always second citizens.
Which is very sad because we are laying the foundation for a child to become a book lover for life – it is true the craft we employ for our writing is not considered to be serious enough especially for picture books.
Are challenges any different for children’s writers from adult fiction?
The general misconception is that picture books are very easy to write – and that anybody can do it. On the contrary – it is difficult because we tell the entire story in about 400 words or less.
And, the story has to be appealing to the parent as well – unless the parent likes it they won’t read it out to the child. A lot of dynamics that goes into making a picture book.
But don’t popularity of books depend on children’s tastes and liking?
No. Parents, school teachers and librarians are a very strong gatekeeper to what the child reads. In India there’s always a grown-up who makes all the decisions. They decide that children are not old enough to read some books or take this book is the general idea.
I observe parents who are picking up books for their children in bookshops. Even very well meaning parents end up doing this which is really sad.
So do your picture books cater to the parents?
Absolutely, the picture book is never picked up by the child. It’s mostly the parent who makes that decision for the picture book. The first look and feel of the book has to appeal to the parents first.
Are you planning to explore other genres?
Not yet. And even in children’s genre I want to stick to picture books for the time being, because I feel that a lot more needs to go in to it in terms of how I can develop that medium.
What else do your books talk about?
My books deal very strongly with gender, identities and one of my book is called the Unboy Boy – meant to break typical boy or typical girl stereotypes.
Another book talks about nudity in children – where there’s a girl who loves to be wild and free without her clothes on, and how society imposes the dont’s and the cant’s on her while she is trying to explore why it can’t be done.
What or who is your muse?
Most of the stories do have a trigger in something that has happened around me – or something that I may have seen in my children or some sentence that they may have spoken, very casually probably.
It gets me thinking that oh this could be a lovely topic for my book.
How do we encourage children who lean to writing at an early age?
Every child has a story to tell – and sometimes adults can discourage it without realizing maybe in subtle ways to break the flow of the child when the child is keen to write.
Is there a prerequisite for a children’s author to have kids or be around kids a lot?
Not at all
Any tips for a budding children’s book author.
It’s important to think like a child. Not childish thoughts but to be able to understand what is going through the child’s mind. Respect their fears and insecurities.
Richa Jha’s book ‘The Susu Pals’ was shortlisted for the Raymond Crossword Award in the children’s category and won a third place in RivoKids Parents and Kids Choice Awards. Her latest books are ‘Thatha at School’, ‘Vee Loved Garlic’ and ‘Love Like That.’