Today I’m welcoming Kashmira Sheth to my series of author interviews. Kashmira is the author of many children’s books. Her picture books include the recent Tiger in My Soup, as well as My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. For middle grade readers, Kashmira has written The No Dogs Allowed Rule, Boys Without Names, and Blue Jasmine. Kashmira also has two young adult novels: Keeping Corner and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet.
Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new picture book, Tiger in My Soup?
Kashmira: Tiger in My Soup came out of my desire to capture the relationship between my brother and me. The narrator of the story, a young boy, is very much like my brother. Growing up, he always wanted me to read to him. Once I took that concept and started writing the story, the imagination of the little boy took over and tiger steamed out of his soup. It was a fun process.
Elizabeth: Can you tell me a little about the illustrations?
Kashmira: My publisher wanted to pair this story with an illustrator who could bring the story alive. I can’t imagine anyone better than Jeffery Ebbeler to illustrate this story. Here are his comments about illustrating Tiger in My Soup:
The main focus of Tiger in my Soup is the interaction between the boy and his sister, and the tiger that only the boy can see. I wanted to keep backgrounds pretty minimal so the focus was on the interaction between the characters.
Most of the book takes place in one room (the kitchen/dining room) inside the house. It can be hard sometimes add variety to a book that only has one setting. Since this book had so much action, that wasn’t a problem.
The first few page of the story don’t specifically mention where the characters are, so I thought I would put them outside to establish a setting for where they live. Since I illustrate books for many different authors, I try to approach each new book with a fresh perspective. I want to imagine as much as I can about the specific world that these characters live in. Anything that might add additional character or uniqueness, including where the story is set, the type of house they live in, the kind of clothes they wear.
I was working on my rough sketches for Tiger in My Soup while I was on vacation with a friend that I have known since grade school. His extended family owns a small one-acre island, far out in a lake in Canada. The islands in the lake are all bare granite rocks dotted with pine trees. Several years back I had helped build the new cabin on the island that sits high up on the rocks. I was sitting on the cabin’s porch looking down at the old, red-roofed cabin that my friend’s great-grandfather had built in the 30’s, and I thought– why not set the book here? The image of the boy chasing his sister up the stairs with his book was taken from that view from the cabin porch. (I posted pictures of the cabin on my web site http://jeffillustration.com/tiger.html) I did embellish the look of the house to give a more mid-century modern style.
I was also inspired by all the seagulls flying around the island. I wanted to add a background character that followed the boy around through the whole story. The seagull is the only character that can see the tiger chasing the boy around, and I liked the interactions between the two of them, especially the scene on the porch where the two of them are trying to read the book together.
Tiger in My Soup is one of the favorite books that I have illustrated. It’s such a clever and unique story and I’m really pleased with how it all came together.
Kashmira: Thank you, Jeffery, for providing such insightful detail about your illustrations.
Elizabeth: I also love the illustrations in My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. Were they done by the same person?
Kashmira: The illustrations for My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon were both done by Yoshiko Jaeggi. She used watercolor and captured the essence of saris as well as of monsoon perfectly. She is also illustrating my next picture book which will be available in April 2015.
Elizabeth: What do you find the greatest challenge in writing picture books?
Kashmira: I think revising the text of a picture book is the greatest challenge. When I first put down the story there is a flow to it that I like. When I revise I may take out parts of it, change words or sentences and yet want to make sure the text has a lilt to it. Since pictures books are read aloud and read more than once, it’s important that they have a rhythm.
Elizabeth: You also write for middle-grade readers and young adults. What different ways do you approach each audience?
Kashmira: I write in the first person, so when I create a story I try to become that person and write from his/her point of view. The most important and challenging thing a children’s writer has to do is to dig down, reach back in time, and think about how it felt when she/he was nine, or eleven or sixteen. All my stories depict an Indian protagonist, so even though the situation, locale or culture is unfamiliar to the readers they must be able to connect with the protagonist at a deeper level. I try to communicate a story that has resonance with young readers by providing emotional honesty so they can read the book and say, “yes, I know how that feels.”
Elizabeth: As you’ve mentioned, many of your books take place in India. Keeping Corner is the story of a young woman in India during the time of Mohandas Gandhi’s movement for independence. Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet and Boys Without Names take place in modern-day India. Can you tell us about your own childhood in India?
Kashmira: My childhood was happy but disjointed. I lived in Bhavnagar (a city in the Western state of Gujarat) with my grandparents until I was eight, and then moved with my parents to Mumbai. When I was seventeen, I came to this country to attend college. Leaving places has preserved memories very distinctly in my mind. Imagining and dreaming about those places has kept me connected to them and helped me become a writer.
Another theme of my childhood was listening to my grandparents tell stories. Listening to and reading the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well getting an education in my own native language, Gujarati, have been among the biggest influences of my life.
Elizabeth: What do you want young American readers to learn about India?
Kashmira: I would like young readers to know that India has rich history and tradition that are passed on from one generation to other. Even though the culture is old, it isn’t stagnant; rather, it’s always changing. I just read an article in The Wall Street Journal about how the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata are now being depicted with gods and angels who have an updated muscular and strong look. This is just one example of how India has always been able to reinvent itself. It does have its share of problems, including poverty and corruption, but it is also the largest democracy and is a dynamic, multicultural, multiethnic, and vibrant country.
Elizabeth: Can you tell us about some of your school visits?
Kashmira: In March 2014 I went to Mattoon, Illinois, for their Read Across Mattoon book. Every year 50 students from Mattoon read the twenty books selected from the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award. After much lively discussion, they select one book as the winner. Last year they chose Boys Without Names. They order 1,000 copies to use in their schools and to distribute in the community. They keep the book choice a top secret until their holiday assembly when the principal presents the winner and challenges the students and staff to read the book. Starting in January the Student Reading Committee gives copies of the book to various service organizations.
What amazed me was the dedication and passion these young students had for the books and how much work went in to making the entire community aware of the book. Not only I was fortunate to visit the school and give several programs, including an evening one for the entire community, but I also had the opportunity to have lunch with the Student Reading Committee. There were so many things they had created to celebrate the book, including posters, artwork, maps, a mannequin wrapped in a sari, and a wooden frame with beads, just like the one Gopal (the protagonists from Boys Without Names) and the other boys had to make. They gave me the wooden frame as a gift. I have it on my desk and whenever I look at it inspires me. As an author, whenever I do a school visit I am amazed and humbled by young readers, their teachers, parents and community.
In early 2015 I will be traveling to Lacey, Washington for their program called “Lacey Loves to Read.” It is a one-city, one-author program, and I am excited about my visit.
Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Q: Pizza or salad?
A: Salad most of the time. Pizza when I am super hungry
Q: Ocean or mountain?
Q: Tree house or doll house?
A: Tree house
Q: Violin or piano?
Q: Comic story or learn-something story?
A: Learn-something story that has humor in it
Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?
A: First, Laura Ingalls Wilder, because she came in my life first.
Elizabeth: Kashmira, it has been a pleasure learning about you and your books.
Kashmira: Thank you for inviting me to do the author interview and for asking thoughtful questions. I enjoyed answering them.
Elizabeth: For more information about Kashmira Sheth and her books, visit her website:
http://www.kashmirasheth.com and the bookstores hosting her works:
Barnes and Noble