Our Cockatoo subscribers are heading off on a magical journey into a vibrant fantasy world this month with Nura and the Immortal Palace, a book that is original and richly imaginative. The story is packed with twists and turns, adventure and surprises. It's also an inspiring read that will prompt young readers to think deeply about the global child labour crisis. We quizzed author M.T. Khan on what inspired the book and its vivid setting, plus which new fantasy books for kids we should be reading next.
What inspired you to write Nura and the Immoral Palace?
I stumbled upon a mica mining documentary and was shocked to learn about the deadly labor behind products like car paint and shimmery makeup. When I learned of the dangers those child miners face daily, it was shocking—not just because they were being paid dirt, but because of how invisible their efforts were to the rest of the world. I knew immediately I wanted to critique the global child labor crisis, and I easily could’ve done so from the viewpoint of an adult. But I wanted to write a novel from the perspective of a child who is living through it, and how she might have a warped view of childhood and the future. These are heavy themes, but I balance it with the atmosphere of a Ghibli movie—wondrous, magical, heart-warming. Ghibli movies played a huge part in shaping my own childhood, and they wove in serious themes without ever feeling like I was being lectured.
We love the setting! What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?
I think my love of travelling really motivated the hotel in the book! I've been to many, but I've always pondered how magical and crazy I could make one of my own. The Sijj Palace is indicative of a lot of South Asian architecture with its mosaic floors, tiled walls, and vivid colours. They also have some exquisite luxury hotels in the region.
Since Nura is caught in one place for the majority of the book, I knew I needed to make the Sijj Palace immersive, and that's how its many rooms and powers and hijinks came to be. The realm's inhabitants, jinn, are beings I grew up learning about through my mother's eerie tales. They are quite an ancient belief, and predate even Islam, but the fact that jinn are still around attests to the power and grasp they have over many people.
Are any of the characters inspired by real people from history (or from myths or other stories)?
The jinn in the story with the biggest appetite is Shahmaran, and she’s actually a creature from Persian folklore who’s half human and half snake. Her name translates to Queen of the Snakes, and she’s historically known for a disturbing love story where she gets eaten at the end because of her medicinal skin.
What would you do if you were invisible?
Probably sneak into places I’m not allowed to be inside of.
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Nura and Faisal?
I don’t really think about my characters once the story ends. I’d rather the reader imagine their future for themselves—there’s so many paths to think of!
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I write anywhere from my desk to my bed to my backyard to a cute café! What I love about writing is how portable it is. As long as I have my trusty laptop, the world is my oyster.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I didn’t begin writing thinking I was going to write for a younger audience. Once I had the concept down, and realized the protagonist was going to be a twelve-year-old girl, I thought to myself, I want to give her an adventure she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And that’s how I pursued the MG age group! Even though the book has some dark themes, there’s also a lot of magic, whimsy, and funny oddities.
What other fantasy books would you recommend our subscribers read next?
Copies of our Nura and the Immortal Palace pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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