Author Interview: Kashmira Sheth

kashmiraToday 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 tiger book

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:

Jeffery Ebbeler:

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.

kashmira dadima bookElizabeth: I also love the illustrations in My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. Were they done by the same person?kashmira monsoon book

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.”

kashmira keeping bookElizabeth: 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 boys bookKashmira: 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.

kashmira frameWhat 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?

A: Ocean

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Tree house

Q: Violin or piano?

A: 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:

Indiebound:

http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=kashmira+sheth&x=0&y=0

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=kashmira+sheth

Barnes and Noble

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/kashmira-sheth

Thanks!

Author Interview: Eileen Meyer

eileen

Today I’m welcoming Eileen Meyer to my series of author interviews. Eileen is the author of the recently released picture book Ballpark, for ages 4 to 8.

Q: Can you tell us about your new book?

eileen ballpark coverA: Thank you for inviting me to take part in your author interviews, Elizabeth. I’m thrilled to see this sweet story become a picture book. Written in rhyme, Ballpark brings to life all the sights and sounds of the big game. A boy and his grandpa are heading to their first big league baseball game together. They’ll cheer on their team, keep an eye out for fly balls, eat some peanuts, and hopefully watch their team win the game! Illustrator Carlynn Whitt’s adorable characters showcase all the fun and action of a day at the ballpark. The book celebrates the simple joy of spending a day together.

Q: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

A: This manuscript had a lengthy journey to become a published picture book. In its original form, it was a story about the two main characters and also focused on our five senses, incorporating the experience at the ballpark in what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell. After writing it, in 2008 I had submitted the story to a number of publishing houses with no success.

Then I attended the Illinois Prairie Writer’s Day Conference in November, 2010. There I heard a Marshall Cavendish editor express an interest in receiving sports-related picture book submissions – so I made a note to send the editor my manuscript, Ballpark.

Fast forward to Fall 2011. I received an email from the editor. The editorial team had reviewed my manuscript and they were interested in Ballpark, but the story would need some revisions. The editor wanted to play up the experience between the grandfather and grandson and eliminate the sensory focus. I was excited to revise the manuscript with that in mind. In fact, it was a nice challenge. It certainly helped that the fall baseball playoffs were underway and I sensed baseball fever all around.

The editor accepted my revised manuscript and offered me a contract in late 2011 for a spot on their spring 2014 list. Then, the publishing house experienced some corporate changes – Marshall Cavendish merged with Amazon Children’s Publishing, and some of the final paperwork took a bit longer. All told – I wrote the original manuscript in 2008 and six years later, I’m delighted to hold this colorful and beautiful picture book in my hands!

Q: Your book Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals will be coming out in spring of 2015. Can you tell us a little about this book?

A: I’m very excited about this new picture book; this bedtime story presents the varied sleep habits of 14 different animals. Each animal’s sleep habit is introduced with a short poem, followed by a brief factual paragraph, and all are linked with the story thread of a child settling in for the night and wishing “sweet dreams” to each animal.

Q: Your poetry was included in the poetry collection And the Crowd Goes Wild. What do you find the most fun and the most difficult about writing poetry for children?

A: I love writing poetry. I think the challenge of writing poetry (for me, at least) is the mental work I do before I sit down to write. I like to think about what I’m trying to achieve with the piece and find my way “in” – will the poem be humorous, should there be a punch line or a twist at the end, or is it lyrical in style, more informative, etc. Once I have an idea of where I would like to go with the poem, I like the creative challenge of achieving that goal and creating my best work.

Cathy Cronin, Michelle Schaub, Heidi Roemer, Pat Cooley and Eileen Meyer
Cathy Cronin, Michelle Schaub, Heidi Roemer, Pat Cooley and Eileen Meyer

One very rewarding aspect of my inclusion in the anthology And the Crowd Goes Wild has been the opportunity to continue to work with a number of Illinois poets. A few of us have created a wonderful sports poetry elementary school program and we’ve taken our show on the road to a number of schools this past year. Heidi Roemer, co-editor of the book, helped organize all of us and our team includes Michelle Schaub, Pat Cooley, Cathy Cronin, Patty Toht, and me. We’ve had loads of fun working with K-5th graders, presenting both auditorium programs and grade-level break-out sessions. We all wear our favorite sports jerseys, act out a number of skits for the students, and talk about one of our favorite topics – poetry!

Q: What is your writing process?

A: To boil it down to the most basic steps: I like to think about my project for quite a while and brainstorm ideas, then of course I write an awful first draft, revise – revise – revise, then polish the final draft. If it’s a nonfiction piece, of course there is a heavy research component in the early stages, and that is something I truly enjoy.

Q: To write for children, do you think an author needs to have regular interaction with children? How does that work for you?

eileen schoolA: Yes – our young readers are such a key component to everything we do as we write books for their listening and reading enjoyment. My sons are in high school and college, so they’ve graduated well beyond the scope of what I write for young readers and listeners. I make a point of spending a lot of time with young children during my school and library programs. I enjoy the time together and young kids always make me laugh with their great comments! Most of all, I think you have to be young at heart. I love writing days when I can channel what a 6-year-old wants to read in one of my books. It’s a great day to spend time thinking like a 6-year-old!

Q: Enough about writing—tell us about yourself.

A: Thanks, Elizabeth. On the personal side, I’m a mom who is working herself out of a job, which is what we’re supposed to do! I have three sons – one is a sophomore in college, and I have twin sons who are seniors in high school about to graduate. We’re a big sports family –I’ve watched my sons play soccer since they were very young so I really enjoy going to their games. Next year I plan to travel quite a bit to watch their games at their various colleges. When I’m home, I enjoy spending time with my husband and sons. I walk outdoors each morning to start my day and it’s also a good time to do some thinking about projects; I’m also a devoted reader of books and newspapers, and I enjoy traveling, cooking and watching sports. I came to writing children’s books later in life; in college I studied business and then worked for a dozen years with software products and marketing programs. It’s been a rewarding journey.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s writers?

A: Of course, join SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And get involved in your state chapter – attend programs, serve as a volunteer, join a critique group and get to know the community of writers in your state. Not only will you learn a great deal, but you’ll also enjoy getting to know other writers and make close friends. Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s wonderful to connect with other kindred spirits! I’m very close to a number of friends in my writing groups (two groups – one for all genres, one specifically for poetry) and they are very important to me.

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: I love salads, but can’t resist cheese pizza! So both.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: I love hearing the sound of the ocean. It’s always a thrill to vacation near the water

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Tree house – I’m a mom of all boys.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Piano.

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Learn-something story. I love to research interesting topics and weave the information into my books.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: Can’t decide – a tie. I read both series aloud to my kids when they were young, and they enjoyed both immensely.

For more information about Eileen, visit her website: www.eileenmeyerbooks.com

To purchase Ballpark, visit: http://goo.gl/WAkVzG

You can also like her on Facebook: Eileen Meyer, Children’s Author