Ask her what’s her recipe for a successful children’s book and pat comes the reply from author Payal Kapadia. “I don’t take myself seriously. In fact, my daughters Keya (12) and Nyla (18) are the first readers and critics of my books. If a book excites them, I know I am on the right path.” A journalist turned author, Kapadia whose debut novella Wisha Wozzariter won the Crossword Book Award in 2013, was praised for her humour in her second book Horrid High. The 40-year-old author, who is back with its sequel Horrid High: Back to School, tells us about the current trends in children’s literature and why reading is important for kids:
What inspired you to write for children?
When I was the Art Editor of Japan Times, I started writing a column called ‘On the Book Trail’ where I used to review two children’s books every month. My purpose was to tell kids that there is a whole bunch of exciting books out there, just waiting to be read. The column ran for six years and I ended up reading hundreds of interesting children’s fiction. What I loved was the way these books were written. They were much more exciting in tone and tenor than the ones we read as children. The idea of writing one such book got me into writing.
What changes do you see in childen’s literature today?
It has dramatically transformed over the years. The authors are diverse, and the subject matter is much bolder in tone. Writers no more limit themselves to fairy tales but weave their themes around topics like death and divorce. Another welcome change has been seen in the voice of the author. Today they write for children the same way they would for adults. This contemporary tone and lingo peppered with humour is what tickles a child’s imagination the most.
And what is it that disappoints you?
My only disappointment is we live in a series and best-seller driven market. Some of these books come riding on a marketing engine which blocks a fantastic range of standalone books from the reader’s view.
How can parents inculcate the habit of reading in kids?
You can’t force a child to read. The habit rather comes naturally to kids when parents themselves are readers. I read a lot and my girls watch me enjoying it. Sometimes I suggest them to read a particular book, but if they are not interested I don’t push it. What works for me is I read out a chapter of a novel to them at bedtime and they eagerly look forward to the next chapter the next night.
So, what is in store for kids in Horrid High: Back to School ?
Lots of fun! The book narrates the adventure of a bunch of kids who are dumped by their parents in a high school that is packed with horrid teachers, who are so ridiculously horrid that they are funny. The story is how these kids find a way to survive in such a school. Despite the book being a satire on selfish parents, the story is a rib-tickler.
And what is the character that your readers love the most?
Oh, it has to be Granny Grit. She is a cool, jungle-tramping grandma, who comes in the disguise of a horrid teacher to the school, but outsmarts all of them with her wit and smartness. She is the real saviour of the kids. In a way the character breaks the general notion about older people and tells children that people need not be the way they have been presented before you.
You are known for turning words into names of characters in your books. Like I wish I was a Writer turns into Wisha Wozzariter. Why?
The names of the characters are inspired from their situations in life. And I didn’t want to give my characters any kind of nationality. They had to be universal, so that kids across the world enjoy reading them without judging them as Indians, Australians or Americans.
The book chronicles the adventures of a gang of five kids stuck among horrid people
Samhati Mohapatra, 29 February 2016