Fiction

Interview with Supriya Kelkar, author of THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a treat today!  Today we have Supriya Kelkar, author of That Thing About Bollywood which is out now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

JR: Hi Supriya, and welcome to Mixed-Up Files!

SK: Thank you! It is so great to be back!

 

JR: First off, for those who don’t know, what can you tell us about the book and where the idea for the story came from?

SK: Yes! Bollywood is the nickname for the Hindi film industry. It is one of the largest film industries in the world. I grew up never getting to see myself in an American book, TV show, or movie so Bollywood gave me a little of the representation I was looking for. It was a space where my food and cultures and clothing, all of which were mocked daily in my small town that didn’t appreciate diversity, were celebrated. And it was a place where people who looked like me were heroes. I learned Hindi by watching 3 Hindi movies a week and even went on to become a Bollywood screenwriter as an adult, working on the writing teams for several big Bollywood films, including India’s entry into the Oscars, and another film which was the top grossing Bollywood movie of all time at that moment in time.

So as an adult, I tried for a very long time to put my love for Bollywood into a book. One day I realized most Bollywood films from the 80s and 90s were very obvious about what the characters were going through. Feelings were loud, things were exaggerated and colorful. So I thought what if there is a classic-Bollywood loving kid who is the opposite of that, not very good at showing her feelings?

And that’s how the idea for That Thing about Bollywood came to be. It is the story of Sonali, a Bollywood-loving kid who isn’t very good at expressing herself and showing her true feelings. One day a life-changing event causes her to get a magical condition called Bollywooditis, which makes her express herself in the most obvious way possible, through Bollywood song-and-dance numbers. As the magic spreads, Sonali must find out what is causing it and how to stop it before all her true memories and the feelings associated with them are gone forever.

 

JR: That really does sound amazing! Last time you were here, I told you that absolutely love Bollywood movies! What is it about the genre that makes for good storytelling?

SK: Bollywood, like many kinds of world cinema, is escapism at its finest. It’s full of joy and drama, striking colors and incredible dances. I think it can be a powerful way to tell really serious stories too, and sometimes the musical format can help deliver messages from your theme really easily.

I used some of that theory when it came to writing That Thing about Bollywood too. The fun of seeing your main character bursting out in big song-and-dance numbers let me go into really serious issues too like changing families and health issues.

JR: Last time you gave us some of your favorites, have there been any newer Bollywood films that you’d like to add to the list?

SK: I did not do a very good job at keeping up with the newer Bollywood movies over the past year and the ones I did see were not my favorites. But I did spend that time introducing my kids to older Hindi movies. The one movie we watched over and over again was Lagaan, streaming on Netflix. It was my favorite movie back in 2001, and was nominated for an Oscar. It is a historical epic with songs and dances and colonization and decolonization and my kids love to see it.

JR: I’m going to have to check that out! In your book, you deal with some heavy topics, like divorce. Was that tough to tackle and find the right balance for a Middle Grade audience?

SK: It was initially when I was outlining the book and thinking about its structure and the scenes. But when I started writing, the magic of Bollywooditis let me give readers a break when things were really tough in Sonali’s parents’ marriage, and those magical elements really helped me explore Sonali’s feelings in a way that felt right for a middle grade audience.

JR: I usually break out into song as well when dealing with tough topics. How much of you is in Sonali?

S: I am very much the opposite of Sonali, in that my emotions are very obvious to anyone who sees me. I will say at times I felt embarrassed of how easily I would cry when I felt for something I was going through, or even when I would cry because I’d really deeply feel what someone else is going through. I can still remember being a kid and having to sing prayers at a family friend’s grandparent’s memorial service. I don’t think I’d ever even met the grandparent because they lived in India. But something about seeing our family friends upset led me to sob throughout the singing. I remember some adults laughed in surprise, wondering why I was so upset, before trying to comfort me. I could still get a little embarrassed thinking about that moment as an adult, but thanks to writing this book and going on Sonali’s journey with her, I know that you are entitled to your feelings and it’s actually a great thing to care so deeply for others and have empathy.

JR: I agree. If you could escape into one film, which would it be?

SK: Could Jurassic Park be a Bollywood musical? I’d like to think it could be. I’d love to sing and dance about my feelings while dealing with those dinosaurs.

JR: I’ll count it as a musical for this. Many authors use local flavor to influence some of their books. Does where you live now lend anything to your books?

SK: It does! I grew up in Michigan and still live there so I loved setting American as Paneer Pie there and making the fictional town there as close to my hometown as possible. Similarly, because I lived in L.A. for a while and traveled there a lot for work and vacations, I felt like it was the perfect setting for That Thing about Bollywood because there are already magical elements about L.A. thanks to Hollywood, and it seemed like the best place for Sonali’s Bollywooditis to manifest.

JR: Read on your site that you have a purple belt in karate. How up to date is that?

SK: This question made me laugh for a really long time! It is sadly not very up-to-date. But it was clearly a bragging point in my childhood bio from 1989.

JR: I still would fear you! In that same vein, would you describe yourself as the toughest MG author out there?

SK: Well I didn’t see any other MG authors saying they could sing-and-dance their way out of dino trouble, so maybe?

JR: TRUE! What are you working on next?

SK: I’m working on my next middle grade novel, several picture books including my 2023 release, My Name, and I’m working on my illustrator debut for American Desi, a book by Jyoti Rajan Gopal that comes out in June 2022 from Little, Brown.

 

JR: I can’t wait to see all of them! Any upcoming appearances?

SK: I was at Books of Wonder in May and there is a replay of the panel in case you miss it, Cafe Con Libros on June 1st, and at Nerd Camp KS, Nerd Camp PA, and Nerd Camp CT this summer!

JR: You Aare definitely busy! How can people follow you on social media?

SK: Instagram: @supriya.kelkar
TikTok: @supriya.kelkar Twitter: @supriyakelkar_ 

 

JR: I’d like to once again thank Supriya for joining us here at Mixed-Up Files, and everyone else, make sure you go out and get a copy of THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD!

 

Until next time, Mixed-Up Filers, have a great start to summer!

 

Jonathan

Showing Children Our World – Good and Bad – Through Books

As a mother, nothing comes close to my primitive urge as a mom to protect my child. So, I thought it ironic to visit a playground in North Carolina when my son was young and see a warning sign of alligators nearby.

This sign hit me with the realization that while we can provide our children with the resources to defend themselves and make good choices, ultimately we have to let them go out there to frolic amongst the good guys and the gators. This includes opening their eyes through media and books to not-so-nice things that go on in the world.

Especially books. They can open up our child’s eyes to events in history, just and unjust. Books have opened up many dialogues with my son about slavery, civil rights, religion, women earning the right to vote, the Holocaust, bullying, and terrorism.

When my son was six we got a wonderful book called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (since made into a movie). In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky.

This book paved the way for us to talk in depth about the twin towers and terrorism. My son said at the time he hoped that the bad man would be caught and the towers would be rebuilt.

One out of two so far. I was able to report to my son not long after that the bad man had been caught. My son wanted to know how he was found, what happened to his children, his wife, and if his being caught meant this kind of thing would never happen again. How I wished I could have said ‘yes’ to that. But, I hope in having these discussions (as I hope parents are having everywhere) that we are changing the world for the better—one discussion at a time.

As my son got older, middle grade books opened up discussion for us. Here are some of them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: about being a disfigured kid in a “normal” world.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: what it could be like to have a voice but not be able to communicate.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: the difficult decision of choosing where you belong.
Rules by Cynthia Lord: on autism and asking “what is normal?”
Holes by Louis Sachar: about friendship and believing in yourself.
Surviving Bear Island by Paul Greci: about being separated from your family and having to survive in a strange, dangerous place all alone.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen: on endangered animals and ecology.
Duck by Richard S. Ziegler: about standing up for yourself when the one person who protects you is gone.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: fearing middle school and then finding out how cool it really is.

Books. They open us up to new worlds and help us as parents relate the good and bad of the world to our children. They reveal the beauty and the darkness that co-exist in our world—and within us. They inspire feelings of sadness, joy, compassion, or outrage.

Books. They open up conversations with my son about life and death and right and wrong. I watch him as he struggles with these issues even as he becomes a young man now and tries to figure out his place in the world.

And while I empower my son with information and send him out there to navigate the battle field of life with as much armor as possible, I hope the good guys outnumber the gators. I hope he witnesses more glory than gore. And even if the gators in disguise try and get him, I hope it’s “just a flesh wound!”

Are there books you’ve read with your children that opened up discussions about the world around them?

And if you’re looking for a fun, heartfelt adventure to read with your kids, check out the next books 6-10 in my Unicorn Island series, Secret Beneath the Sand, out today! There are new characters, new creatures, and new adventures to enjoy. In the next part of the series, when a mysterious scourge spreads among the unicorns, Sam and Tuck must face a long-buried secret to protect the herd. It releases on Epic, the leading digital library for kids 12 and under, in a 5-part serial May 2021 with illustrated hardcover out winter 2022 by Andrews McMeel.

 

Diversity in MG Lit #26 Moving and Migration April 2021

Moving is a watershed experience in a young person’s life whether it is across town or across the world. Here are six recently published or soon to be published diverse books about moving and migration.
book cover Letters from CubaOne of my favorite things about historical fiction is the window into seldom studied chapters in history. Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar is an epistolary novel about a Jewish refugee putting down roots in Cuba while working to bring the rest of her family out of Poland during the horrors of the Second World War. Twelve year old Ester narrates her new and mostly welcoming life in Cuba in letters to the sister she left behind. It is based on the author’s own family story. (Published Aug 2020. Nancy Paulson Books, PRH)
Land of Cranes by Aida Salazar is a contemporary refugee story set along the US-Mexico border. In spare and haunting verse, nine year old Betita tells the story of her family, fleeing the drug cartels of Mexico to find refuge in Los Angeles, only to fall into the hands of ICE and suffer detention and deportation. There are a few graceful line drawings to fill out the pages with the shortest poems. It’s not an easy story to read but the format encourages taking it slow and asking questions along the way. Though the narrator is on the younger end of the MG spectrum I’d recommend this one for older readers. (published Sept 2020, Scholastic Press)
book cover While I Was AwayWhen I was in in the late 70s and 80s I had a friend who, like debut author Waka T Brown, traveled to Japan to stay with grandparens regularly in order to keep his language skills and connection to his family culture fresh. I remember his complex feelings about the whole thing. Pride in his culture, love for his grandparents who seemed fiercely strict to me. But sadness at missing summer camp with his scout troop. I remember that kids teased him about his proficiency in martial arts in an era before martial arts were popular. But I also remember how impressed we all were by his fluency in Japanese and the way he drew kanji with a brush pen. I loved how While I was Away by Waka T Brown captured all the beautiful complexity of being a bicultural kid moving between Kansas and Japan and finding things to love in both places. A very promising debut.  (published Jan 2021, Quill Tree Books, HC)
The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold is another debut novel. This one centers on ten year old Gabrielle who has moved to New York from Haiti. She faces the usual struggles, living with relatives she doesn’t know well, learning English, navigating the usual schoolyard teasing. What makes this one stand out is a fantastical element. An encounter with a witch who offers Gabrielle the ability to assimilate by magic. Though she knows better she makes the bargain only to learn what it cost to lose her heritage. A sweet story with a satisfying conclusion. (published Feb 2021, Versify, HMH)
book cover UnsettledUnsettled by Reem Faruqi is a novel in verse about the experience of coming to America from Pakistan. One of the things I appreciated about this book is the role sports played in helping Nurah and her brother feel at home and gain new friendships. There are many reasons to support sports and the arts for children in schools, one of them is the role they play in helping our diverse student populations find common ground and things to strive for together. I was happy to see a glossary in the back along with a recipe for Aloo Kabab. (soon to be published May 2021,
You may have noticed that so far every protagonist I’ve reviewed has been female. I’ve been paying more attention to gender balance on the bookstore shelves at Annie Blooms in the last year. I’d been hoping for more than this one new book about a middle grade boy on a great life journey. However, Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza is the only recent book on this theme I could find. (If I’ve missed a good one please mention it in the comments.) It’s a charmer though. Ahmed was a bit a slacker in his old school in Hawaii but in Minnesota, he’s challenged in ways he wasn’t before. I especially enjoyed how the author weaved in the characters thoughts about three MG classics I’ve loved all my life–Holes, Bridge to Terebithia, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.