Posts Tagged graphic novels

Interview with Sachi Ediriweera — Author of Enlightened

Author photoWe’re excited to have Sachi Ediriweera on here today to talk about his new release. Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, Sachi, and then we’ll talk more about Enlightened.

What was your life like growing up in Sri Lanka?

I grew up in the southern part of Sri Lanka, which is quite lush and tropical. And life was even more different for me as our home was in a little village an hour away from the main city. I grew up surrounded by nature, little lakes, rice paddy fields, and calming drizzles which were commonplace in April every year.

Can you tell us a little about how you first learned about the Buddha as a child?

Sri Lanka’s population is primarily Buddhist. It’s hard to miss seeing a statue of the Buddha wherever you go. You’re likely to see one in every Buddhist household, roadside shrines and even miniature ones on top of vehicle dashboards. However, my curiosity about the Buddha’s life began in Sunday school, which I didn’t enjoy attending at first as most of the lessons consisted of memorizing verses. However, the lessons about the Buddha’s life itself–his origins as a prince who had everything fascinated me. Learning about the Buddha became more than just memorizing verses and a challenge of understanding his mythos, which eventually influenced my work as well.

Did you have any childhood dreams for your adult life? If so, did they come true?

I wanted to become a movie director! I loved watching movies and learning how they were made even more. Movie DVDs where they had bonus content about how they made the movie was hard to come by in Sri Lanka and I would go out of my way to find them and spend hours re-watching those clips over and over. Apart from that I was experimenting with graphic design as well at the time. I did get to make my own short movies eventually, which screened in multiple international film festivals. However, I realized my passion was ultimately telling stories and I decided that graphic novels were a better medium to express my creativity. So yes, the dream did come true, for a while.

Did you love to read as a child? If so, can you tell us some favorite stories? 

My parents fueled my love for reading. Also going back to growing up in Sri Lanka, the village we lived in had terrible TV transmission reception so there wasn’t much for me to watch on screen. Instead I surrounded myself with books of all sorts. My favorites were Agatha Christie’s detective stories and anything that had to do with comics.

Sounds like not having much TV time turned out to be a big plus later on.

Did you have any early experiences where you learned that written language had power?

When I was 10 or so, our class had a monthly contest where the teacher gave a topic and you had to research and make a zine about it. These mostly revolved around the subjects we were learning. In one particular month, we were asked to make a story book and I remember writing an anthology of sorts with 3 stories. I won that month’s contest and was quite pleased about it.

What was your biggest fear when you were young? Did you get over it?

Being left behind, and I think it was largely due to growing up in a rural village in Sri Lanka. I had to put in extra effort if I wanted to learn anything–the TV air transmission signals were bad, and there was no internet. Eventually I moved to the city, and after that, I leaped at the opportunities–anything that would help me move my passion and career forward. It certainly helped me in the long run as I spent much of my twenties experimenting with my creativity–from film to illustrations.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be passionate about what you do and have faith in yourself.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

When I wanted to direct movies. As I didn’t know any screenwriters, I had to do it myself.

What other careers have you had besides writing?

Apart from being a former filmmaker, I work in advertising as an experiential design lead.

What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a writer? 

The complete freedom you have on the page is probably my favorite part of being a writer. Sometimes you end up discovering a completely unplanned moment in your story, a minor character suddenly becomes a bigger supporting character, you figure out a plot twist that makes everything ten times better! Writing largely happens in solitude and when you suddenly see your story in a completely new angle, it makes that entire process rewarding.

It’s exciting to see words and pictures actually turned into a book. It also can be magical seeing others reading what you’ve written.

And now that we know more about Sachi, let’s find out about more about his book, Enlightened.Book cover of Enlightened

What inspired you to write about the Buddha?

Siddhartha’s journey from a young prince to discovering the truths of this world as an enlightened monk is one that has been retold by hundreds of authors through centuries. However, most of these stories approach the Buddha as a God-like figure whereas I knew there was a grounded version of the story in which we get to explore him as a man who wanted to understand the world better. As I was in-between projects and with the world going through a pandemic, I remembered the stories which fascinated me back in Sunday school and wondered if there was a way I could retell the mythos through my own voice.

We’re grateful you made good use of the shut-downs during the pandemic.

Where did you go to do your research?

I referred multiple textbooks which were written about the Buddha and his teachings as well as reached out to a couple of researchers who were well-versed in the subject.

What was one of the most interesting facts you learned while researching?

With the Buddha’s teachings being centuries old and spanning across multiple regions around the world, certain elements of the core mythos had their own interpretations depending on where the material was originating from. It was interesting to compare different versions of the same story elements and how they had shaped those cultures.

Can you tell us a little about how you wrote and designed your graphic novel?

Enlightened was particularly challenging as I was adapting a story which had hundreds of interpretations (including children’s books and movies!) and importantly, as the Buddha’s story is so vast, I had to map out which part of the story I was going to adapt and how it would still be intriguing from a narrative perspective. Of course, the process began with writing a story outline and then doing some character sketches. Once I was happy with those, I created 15-sample art pages which I used for my pitch.

The subtle use of blue and orange in the illustrations give the graphic novel a striking look. What inspired those complimentary colors? And do they have any significance to this story?

My original pages were only in different tones of blue. However, I had used the orange on the pitch cover, as a spot color for the Buddha’s robe. Greg Stadnyk. my wonderful art director at Atheneum came up with the brilliant idea of using it throughout the book. Orange color is often associated with Buddhism as it’s the color of robes worn by Buddhist monks.

What comes first for you—the words or pictures?

Mostly pictures, but I do try to keep it between a balance of both.

How do your filmmaking and design backgrounds influence your graphic novels?

Back when I was doing short films, I spent a lot of time doing pre-production on my own. This included storyboarding scenes, to make sure you have the right shots, which you use to create a shot list for the day of the actual shoot. A crucial part about filmmaking is that you learn to be economical with your shots (because filming things cost a lot of money!). For instance, if you want to show a car exploding, you can film a scene of a car passing a pedestrian and then show his reaction with a loud sound effect, reacting to an explosion, instead of actually blowing-up a car. It’s a similar challenge with sequential storytelling, where you have to figure the best possible way to visually tell the story you want.

It’s fascinating how shooting films and creating graphic novels use many of the same skills. I’m sure it also helped in laying out each picture because those are like framed camera shots.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The story of the Buddha is much larger than it could be fit within these pages. If someone gets inspired to learn more about the Buddha’s teachings, that would be a win for me. Also, I do hope readers enjoy the story on its own.

I’m sure they will.

Can you tell us about your other books?

My two earlier books were self-published with my debut being a graphic novel called Lionborn, which was the first English language graphic novel published in Sri Lanka.

What are you working on now?

Enlightened took me almost two and a half years to make. So right now, I’m spending time exploring art styles and potential story ideas before diving into what I want to do next.

Thanks ever so much for agreeing to the interview, Sachi! I know our young readers, as well as teachers and librarians will enjoy learning more about you and Enlightened! And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

About Enlightened

Prince Siddhartha lives in a beautiful palace in the heart of Kapilavastu. His father, the king, ensures that he has the best of everything—he just can’t go outside. He is locked up away from the city, away from anything that might cause him pain. He knows nothing of illness, aging, sorrow, or death, yet Siddhartha feels the pain regardless, and it instills a burning curiosity to understand the world outside—and the nature of human suffering.

Based on the life of the real man who was known first as a prince, then as a monk, and now as the Gautama Buddha, Enlightened is about one boy’s quest to learn the truth that underpins our endless struggle against suffering—and in understanding, break the cyclic existence that perpetuates it.

About Sachi Ediriweera

Sachi Ediriweera is an accomplished designer, filmmaker, and comic book artist. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novels Lionborn, which was the first English language graphic novel produced in Sri Lanka, and Enlightened. Apart from his design and illustration work, he has also built a career in filmmaking as a writer, producer, and director of acclaimed short films that have screened in numerous film festivals around the world. When he’s not drawing or writing his third-act plot twist, Sachi enjoys reading art books and comics, eating pizza, and overthinking cosplay ideas for comic cons. He divides his time between Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Dubai.

Pushing the Kindness Agenda

Since the now-infamous awards show last week that, unfortunately, probably far too many young people saw, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness. I saw very little of that broadcast, admittedly—the abundance of “gibes” and “roasts” and physical gags (long before the most talked-about moment) had me turning away early on. It made me wonder if that show/“joke”-fest might be one representation of a lack of general goodwill between people these days stemming from societal stress. Society seems a bit besieged right now with supercharged tensions (the years-long weight of the pandemic, increased political polarity, harmful social media, images of war, economic concerns…) that sometimes eclipse kindness in words and deeds.

Despite parents’ and teachers’ best efforts, kids may struggle to find kindness in the midst of those confusing stressors, especially if they don’t understand them. Counterbalancing our increased societal tension with some extra promotion of kindness seems more and more crucial.

Luckily, there’s at least one way to push a kindness agenda that’s easy for us as writers, teachers, parents, and librarians: Offer good books that show what kindness can do. Many, many middle grade books offer a dose of kindness, as we all know that books for this age range have great potential for character education; parents and teachers see the merits of sharing and teaching books to middle graders in which virtues like kindness are rewarded. And some middle grade reads promote kindness as the very root of the plot, theme, or main character’s arc.

These middle grade choices count under the kindness column, including some newer titles on the scene as well as older favorites worthy of a fresh read with compassion in mind. Eager to hear your personal picks for kindness in the comments.

Like Auggie said, choose kind.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park – Fourteen-year-old Hanna is not surprised by the mostly unwelcoming attitudes of townspeople in the new railroad town of LaForge, Dakota Territory in 1880, where she and father settle to open a dress goods shop; she is half-Chinese, and others have made their prejudiced views clear all her life. In the midst of unfriendliness and harassment, Hanna must find the courage to draw on the kindness of one genuine friend to save her father’s shop and their future in LaForge.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros – Seventh grader Efrén embodies kindness towards his family and friends, even when his mother’s deportation requires him to take on the care and supervision duties for his kindergarten-aged twin siblings, making his own homework difficult to complete and his free time disappear. A rocky friendship that heals through empathy and Efrén’s goals to extend his kindness beyond his family’s needs solidify the goodwill theme.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – Annabelle, going on 12, learns perseverance and resiliency in her attempts to show kindness to a misunderstood local WWI veteran who becomes the victim of a malicious harasser. Look for the sequel to Wolf Hollow, My Own Lightning, due out next month.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh – In this graphic novel, main character Snap befriends a local older woman whom many in town consider a witch. Snap learns some unexpected things about her own family—as well as a little magic—through this kindness.

Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross – Twelve-year-old Jacques makes an unexpected friend through kindness: Kiki, a Somalian refugee new to his small Maine town. On a larger scale, the book invites a look at how towns can change for the better through acceptance and generosity toward others in need.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein – A group of middle schoolers try to beat Mr. Lemoncello’s “escape room”-like game with kindness in mind; those who are unkind or play unfairly break the rules and face ejection from the competition.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – Eighth grader Carley Conners feels bitter, betrayed, and fearful after an episode of abuse involving her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Now in foster care, Carley is initially mistrustful of the kindness shown to her by foster parent Mrs. Murphy, a mom of three boys. Soon, Carley learns that the kindness you accept can be practiced toward others.

A Long Way from Home by Alice Walsh – Reflecting the true story of kindness extended by the town of Gander, Newfoundland to thousands of diverted plane passengers on 9/11, this novel’s main character is a young Muslim refugee on her way to America. A boy, Colin, initially sees only differences between Rabia and himself, but the charity of Gander’s citizens soon leads to a change in perceptions.

Wonder by RJ Palacio – To borrow the author’s phrase, this “meditation on kindness” has certainly impacted millions of readers. Readers new to Wonder will explore the struggle behind individuals’ difficulty in accepting a boy just because his appearance is different from theirs.

Middle Grade Examines the Constitution!

By Robyn Gioia, M.Ed

Constitution Day, September 17, 1787: The day the U.S. Constitution was signed by founding fathers such as George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

What began as newspaper comic strips in the late 1800s evolved into stories spanning several pages. From there, stories grew into the superhero genre with the likes of Superman and Batman, to name a few. Later the word “graphic novel” was coined for depicting larger works that can be more serious in nature. Since then, graphic novels have grown to represent every form of genre, from entertainment to nonfiction to academically examining controversial topics such as the Constitution.

The Constitution, a document that was written in the 1700s and for a different time in history remains the heart of American law. Many argue the Constitution needs to be rewritten. The graphic novel fault line in the constitution takes middle school kids through the history and nuts and bolts of the Constitution in easy to understand scenarios and graphics. It is definitely a topic that makes you question the way things work and how you think about them. The book has garnered “starred” reviews from top book reviewers such as Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

Meet Cynthia Levinson, teacher, writer, mentor, and author of the middle-grade graphic novel, fault line in the constitution.

(Yes, fellow teachers, the book title does NOT use capitals!)

Robyn: Welcome to From The Mixed Up Files. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. It’s always fun to connect a person’s life with their books.

Cynthia: I have two daughters, two SILs, and four grandchildren. And every book my husband and I write includes a thank you to “our thoroughly splendid children,” regardless of whether or not they helped with the book! For most of my professional life, I worked in education—teaching from K-12 and higher ed and also in state-level education policy. As a writer, I still consider myself an educator. I like to cook, but only in spurts; otherwise, a kitchen-sink salad is my favorite dinner. Nothing with okra—blech.

Robyn: A good salad. Someone after my own heart. I’d pass on the okra, too! So tell me, why write a middle-grade graphic novel on the U.S. Constitution?

Cynthia: The idea to write Fault Lines in the Constitution came from one of my editors—Kathy Landwehr at Peachtree, who had given her father a copy of one of my husband’s books (a law professor) on the Constitution. He liked it so much that Kathy asked if we would write a version for kids. Our editor at First Second/Macmillan, Marc Siegel, requested a graphic novel  version! So, happily, the ideas came to us from publishers.

Robyn: How did you choose what topics to include?

Cynthia: Great question! How on earth did we?! Well, my husband, Sanford (Sandy), has written extensively on problems with the US Constitution so I began by reading his books more closely and winnowing his massive knowledge base to kid-size bites. We introduce each of the 20 issues in the book with a true story. For instance, we begin the chapter on habeas corpus—the right that the Constitution gives Americans to be released from prison if the government cannot show a cause—with a story about a pandemic. See Resources for Teachers.

Robyn: How does a topic on the Constitution relate to middle grade kids?

Cynthia: Although it might seem that the Constitution has nothing to do with middle-graders, that’s not such a tough question. Our government—especially, the way it fails to operate these days, thanks to our Constitution—affects kids’ lives from what they eat for lunch (that’s Chapter Two, called “Big States, Little Say: The Senate”) to whether they have to be vaccinated (Chapter 19) to whether they can vote (Chapter 8). Fault Lines makes abundantly clear the relationship between the Constitution and everyone’s everyday lives.

Robyn: Well, your book has certainly given us a lot to think about. Thank you very much for introducing us to your middle grade, graphic novel fault line in the constitution. Readers will be happy to know there is a plethora of resources available, everything from a teacher’s guide, to lesson plans, to a blog.

Resources are plenty and interesting! The Blog delves into topics such as:

Your Turn! How Would You Write a New Constitution?

What IS “General Welfare?”

What’s a Vice President To Do?

The King is Dead


Discussion guides and Activities  (Peachtree teacher guide)

Standards based lessons