The book we've shared with our Parakeet subscribers this month is a fun, real world story about a group of friends who find themselves embroiled in a hilarious prank war that gets a bit out of hand! It's hugely entertaining and stars a brilliant and diverse cast of characters that young readers will really relate to. We asked author Nikesh Shukla to tell us more about what inspired the book and which illustrated chapter books for younger readers he recommends you read next.
What inspired you to write The Council of Good Friends?
Partly, it was me sharing a bedroom with a relative at a young age and us getting engaged in a prank war and hating and loving each other, and learning to get along the hard way. Partly, it was also about rekindling my faith in male friendships that aren’t based on bants and humiliation and stereotypical visions of what men and boys are like. I wanted to show that boys can be vulnerable with each other, and communicate with each other, and that not make them any less manly. Whatever that means. Also, I wanted it to be fun and funny. It’s inspired also by a lockdown experience I had where a bunch of friends and I started a Sunday movie club, that became a WhatsApp group about the movie, that then became a place where each of us was able to share our truest, most tender selves, and I realised I had been lacking this in my male friendships for so long. And I was in my forties! I wanted to write backwards to myself as a kid and show myself what was possible. As a youth worker, as an uncle to new nephews, as a parent and a child, as a brother and a friend, as a co-worker and a mentor, it felt important to me to write a fun book where boys can appear soft.
Which of the four friends are you most like and in what ways?
I imagine there is something of me in all of them, but I think there ‘s a version of me in Vinay and in Nikesh. I don’t always know how to communicate my feelings and so I can end up seeming either quiet or vague or rude or not paying attention. But also, with Vinay, I love bringing people together and I get such anxiety when the group is going through bad times. I want everyone to be ok.
What do you think is the most important lesson Vinay learns?
That maybe open dialogue is better than pranking. That perhaps all of his friends were right in some way and why was asking Nikesh if he was okay the hardest option. Why were all the pranks easier than being honest and saying, “bro, what’s going on, would you like to get anything off your chest?”
Why did you choose to create books for this age group?
I’ve never really set out to write a thing for a specific audience. It’s just been a feeling that I needed to do it. I started writing YA because I was a youth worker at the time and the kids I worked with didn’t read YA, because they wanted more stuff that was contemporary and set in Bristol where I live. And I thought, I will do this for you. I wrote a memoir because I needed to read that book once and I didn’t want anyone else yearn for something that didn’t exist. I wrote Spider-Man because… well, that’s the best thing ever. This book, I wanted to write something my kids could read. They know I’m a writer in the abstract, but now they can experience it. When I gave them the book, they both read it on the way home. And then, when I emerged from the toilet, later that day, they both had lined up at the door with a pen and their copy of the book, requesting a signature. It was the proudest moment of my life. Apart from writing Spider-Man.
What message would you like young readers to take away from the book?
That you can make mistakes and get things wrong, and that doesn’t make you a bad person. What counts is what you do next. I hope the book will also kickstart a conversation between young readers and their adults on emotions and mental health, to talk about friendship groups and male friendships and to just have a laugh.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I love my co-working space in Watershed in Bristol. It’s a creative arts space where technologists and artists and thinkers and theatre makers and writers all make stuff. I’m surrounded by people doing interesting things so far from my own practice and I’m fascinated by their approach.
Which other illustrated chapter books for younger readers would you recommend our subscribers read next?
My kids and I love Anisha Accidental Detective, a superb book series by Serena Patel, about a kid who wants nothing to do with mysteries but constantly finds herself solving mysteries. Jason Reynolds’ Stunt Boy is thoughtful and fun and brilliant. And hey, look, I’m writing a Spider-Man India comic book series. Read that!
Copies of our The Council of Good Friends 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!
This post includes affiliate links to our bookshop.org page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!