An interview with Chitra Soundar about Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister and her favourite books for kids set in India
The book we sent out Parakeet subscribers this month is a lovely, gentle tale about life in a lively Indian family and the very relatable feelings Sona has about becoming a big sister. It was an easy pick for our boxes, not least because it has the most beautiful cover! We asked author Chitra Soundar to tell us more about what inspired the book and which other books set in India she would recommend for kids and parents.
What inspired you to write Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister?
I am the oldest of two sisters, and I had been thinking about setting a story in Chennai where I grew up. I’m also fascinated with names and their origin stories. So, all these things came together slowly to become Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister.
What came first, the characters, story or setting?
Sona and her grandfather came first. I wrote a series of stories about them – most of which were not used in the book. I was writing to discover what the relationship between them was. Elephant emerged during that exploration. And from there, as I said before, I wanted a story for Sona and I wanted the story to be about names. And then it all came together.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I like to write in my study because I start very early in the morning to write. I have my desk and I have a window next to me to watch trains that come into London. I make sure my room is warm and cosy and then I just write without break until lunchtime.
Having said that, I’m very flexible. I’ve written sitting by the steps off the Tower of London, I have written in libraries, parks and even while going on trains.
Why did you choose to create books for children?
Even though I’m a grown-up in the real world, in my head, I think I’m only 8 years old. My curiosity of finding out more about everyday objects, watching people, observing interactions amongst strangers have the quality of a child fascinated with this world. Children enjoy going on a fun ride – they are more willing to suspend disbelief and they are more willing to trust the author to take them on adventures. And while that’s a big responsibility for a children’s author, it’s also very satisfying.
When children come up to me in schools or during festivals to tell me their favourite characters or how they identified with the emotions of my character, or how it started a discussion in their family, it inspires me more.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I read loads when I was a child. I read magazines, comic books, listened to oral stories and watched plays on the stage. My favourite book when I was just around 8 or 9 was Kaziranga Trails by Arup Kumar Dutta. It’s a wonderful story, still relevant today, about two boys rescuing rhinos from poachers. As a young girl far away from the national park in which the story was set, it transported me to the forest, it made my heartbeat fast and compelled me to keep turning the pages.
What other books set in India would you recommend for our subscribers?
Unfortunately, there are not that many Indian stories for a younger audience published in the UK. So, Sona Sharma is a welcome relief for kids like my nephews who are thirsting for stories set in India.
Here are some of my other books set in India
• A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom (Walker Books), illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
• A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (Walker Books), illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
• The Extraordinary Life of Mahatma Gandhi (Puffin Books), illustrated by Dalia Adillon
Some other books I would recommend are:
For younger kids:
Jamila Gavin's Grandpa Chatterji series
For older kids:
Jamila Gavin's The Wheel of Surya series
A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master
Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
Fancy snapping up your own copy of Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? We have past packs available here.