Posts Tagged Diverse Middle Grade Books

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

THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY~An Interview With Author Marie Arnold + #Giveaway

Welcome to my interview with author Marie Arnold and THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY – a brightly imaginative middle grade novel that will leave you in wonder and awe of a brave girl named Gabrielle.

THE BOOK

THE YEAR IF FLEW AWAY by Marie Arnold
Ages: 9 – 12
Released: February 2021
 

In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK.

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell.

Gabrielle is a funny and engaging heroine you won’t soon forget in this sweet and lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Hurricane Child and Front Desk.

THE INTERVIEW

It’s wonderful to have you here with us, Marie! So excited to share Gabrielle’s story with our readers. In five words, give us an inside view into The Year I Flew Away.
Magic. Wonder. Friendship. Home. Family.

These give me the feeling of warmth and safety, but I also something very beautiful.

Gabrielle is a brave girl, immigrating to America and knowing her parents won’t be able to join her for a while. Explain how this must have felt to her and give us an example of how she handled such a challenge.
Coming to America Gabby, was both excited and scared. It was hard to leave the only home she had ever known. One of the ways she handled this new challenge was by seeking out amazing adventures. She decided to make the best of it and try to find her place in this unfamiliar land.

Brave, brave girl.💗💗💗

STORY CHARM

If Gabrielle had a life quote, what would it be?
We are stronger, together!

Such an important message!

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Not letting Rocky (her bff and sidekick) take over was the hardest!

Haha! 😄 Now that’s funny. Can’t wait for readers to meet Rocky, too. 

You’ve utilized the character of a magical witch in Gabrielle’s story, which I love! What other sort of magic can readers expect to find within the pages?
Thank you! There are all sorts of wonders inside this book: a talking Rat, enchanted snails, and magical water rescue!

I must read this now! So many fun magical things. I highly suspects middle grade readers will love the world you’ve created.

AUTHOR INSIGHTS

How do you hope Gabrielle’s experience in the book can help educate non-immigrant American middle grade readers about the challenges immigrant students face?
I am hoping that non-immigrant readers will start to see that not being from the same place doesn’t mean not having things in common: we all want and deserve kindness and friendship. Also, our differences shouldn’t be made fun of, but something to celebrate.

Do you see yourself in Gabrielle?
Yes! I was always curious how everyone else lived and what made them American.

What makes Gabrielle different?
She’s more courageous than I am. I am more pragmatic, most times.

Share one thing about the story that you’d like readers to know.
I think every reader has what it takes to be the hero of his or her own story, just like Gabby!

Right?!! This is super wise insight.

WRITER’S CORNER

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for writers today? Any advice on how to handle this?
I think the hardest thing is to find a way to drown out all the noise and just focus. There’s always something that needs doing and writing can fall to the bottom of the list. I say make time for it, no matter what. You don’t have to sit for hours, first try writing for just twenty minutes and then add to it every day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie Arnold was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and came to America at the age of seven. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York alongside her extended family. Marie enjoys creating stories full of adventure, and wonder, which center on girls of color. When she’s not writing, she’s adding to her insanely long Netflix queue and trying not to order pizza. THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY is her debut middle grade novel. She lives in Los Angeles, CA. Stay in touch with Marie on INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

Thank you for sharing your latest release with us, Marie. Middle grade readers are in for a treat once the meet Gabrielle!

THE GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway begins today and ends on June 3rd. Winners announced via Twitter! Good luck!

Indie Spotlight: Ashay ByThe Bay, Black Children’s Bookstore Vallejo CA

Given the challenges of the pandemic, many independent bookstores have turned  increasingly to online sales to survive. Deborah Day, founder and CEO of  “The #1 Black Children’s Bookstore,” Ashay By The Bay, Vallejo, California, made hers an online shop from the beginning in 2000. It survived the recession of 2008 and is still going strong. Fittingly, Ashay is a powerful Yoruba word that means “it shall be so.” It is also Deborah Day’s given name.

So! Day has developed an engaging and user-friendly website (www.ashaybythebay.com) with over 800 titles, from  baby books to picture books to fiction and nonfiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Most have black American and African subjects, themes, and characters.  But since there is a large Latin American community nearby she also has school collections of Spanish and bilingual books for them. More about her school collections in a moment.

It’s exciting to see so many books for kids about black culture, people, and history gathered onto one curated site. I have now added several titles to my staggering must read pile. For instance, though I’m not a fantasy or science fiction fan at all, I can’t wait to read Tomi Adeywmi’s West-African inspired fantasy, Children of Blood and Bone.  Before the week is out I will probably also dip into Nnedi Okarafor’s imaginative and highly praised tale of magic and adventure in Nigeria, Akata Witch. As Day understands, good books for kids are good for everybody!

Before COVID, Day advertised grew her business by going to events, holding book fairs, and helping groups to conduct book fairs. She loved making in-person contacts that way. Now that those events are no longer possible she is relying more on social media ads, and she is hearing from people across the country.

The Pandemic also poses a challenge to her goal of getting children’s books about black subjects and black experience into the schools where they can have more impact on students’ understanding. Few schools are buying books right now and many students are doing distance learning. What an important time to build a home library, Day says. Of course there are many digital book available online, but the students are already screen-weary from school work. Day loves books and believes and holding a book to read is a more satisfying experience.

During shutdown, people can consult the Ashay website for the lists of the book collections, organized by age/grade e level, that Day offers to schools, and find ideas for books to order. These collections include many core curriculum books, but also give a chance for some independent publishers to become better known. Here are just a few of the many titles on her lists for middle graders:

Biographies: The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (Young Readers’ Edition) by Kamala Harris ; Portraits of African- American Heroes, by Tonya Bolden , including figures from dance, law athletics, science, and more. Who Was Jesse Owens? By James Buckley and Gregory Copeland; Brave. Black. First, 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World, by Cheryl Hudson; Hidden Figures, Young Reader’s Edition, byMargot Lee Shetterly; Black Women in Science: A Black History Book for Kids by Kimberly Brown Pellum;

Award-winning Fiction:

P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia; The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon; Harbor Me by Jaqueline Woodson; Ghost and Look Both Ways, by Jayson Reynolds; A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson;Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes; The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Nonfiction:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba;28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith; The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade and Cheryl Hudson; Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men who Changed America, by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

The Arts:

Radiant Child: The story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe; Who is Stevie Wonder? By Jim Gigliotti; The Legends of Hip Hop by Justin Bua; The Rose That Grew from Concrete,by Nikki Giovanni and Tupak Shakur; Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry, edited by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount; Who is Stevie Wonder? By Jim Gigliotti and Who HQ’; Misty Copeland: Life in Motion.

December 2020:  an ideal time to get to know more about black culture from the excellent books being published for children.   It’s also an ideal time to give beautiful, real books to children who’ve been doing schoolwork online all day. And let’s please bypass the chains when we buy these books (Amazon will survive the economic crisis) and support independent booksellers like Ashay instead. A triple win!