Beyond Fairytales: Addressing Real-World Issues Through Children's Stories
We meet author and Divya Thomas who shares her inspiring ji It's inspiring to follow Divya from Chennai to global travel and a career move from marketing to prominent children's books. Her pandemic-inspired new book explains hard issues to young readers, showing that writing can bridge the divide between kids and adults.
Manasi, a fan and aspiring writer, says Divya's novel touched her family and sparked conversations. They discuss storytelling, meaningful content, and Divya's future, including kids' TV and more books.
Divya advises authors to be passionate, connect with others, and share their stories. This interview encourages young creatives worldwide to utilize storytelling to shine.
Divya on Growing Up and getting into writing:
"Growing up in Chennai and living globally, including 15 years in the States and three in London, shaped my worldview. My career in advertising, focusing on creating content that drives behavioral change, was fulfilling. However, moving back to India made me deeply aware of the disparities and motivated me to switch my career towards gender equality and social impact. The pandemic's isolation in Bombay spurred me to use simple language to explain complex issues to children, leading to my first illustrated book. This unexpected success, coupled with my passion for storytelling and equality, guided me into writing and illustrating for children, leveraging my marketing skills for social causes."
Diviya on defining what she does:
“When introduced as a children's book writer, I clarify that I'm actually a data-driven marketer, a campaigner, and a movement builder. To me, all these roles revolve around storytelling, be it through data, marketing insights, or books aimed at changing hearts and minds. They're all facets of the same mission.”
Manasi on starting to write:
"I've been writing since I first started reading Enid Blyton books, writing reviews and letters to the characters. This love for writing grew from my childhood, surrounded by books and newspapers in a home where my mother, a professor, fostered a rich literary environment. My journey into writing began earnestly during the lockdown, when a small project evolved into a full-length book. Encouraged by my father, I explored self-publishing, fascinated by the idea of sharing my work globally from my study table, despite the challenges of formatting and publishing."
Diviya on who she would write letters to:
Reflecting on my inspirations, Enid Blyton's works, particularly 'The Faraway Tree' series, hold a special place. Growing up in India, where Blyton's influence was pronounced, these stories captivated me. The idea of a vast tree housing an entire community of diverse characters sparked my imagination. This theme of community and the ever-changing landscapes above the tree has deeply influenced my creative outlook. Interestingly, my personal art, primarily pen and ink drawings of trees, echoes this fascination, serving as a creative outlet that harks back to these early inspirations.
The imagery of 'The Faraway Tree' and its hidden worlds has always resonated with me, sparking a fascination with the unseen and ever-changing realms. Drawing creatures like little mushrooms and spiders, I've found a way to express this enchantment. While I've not thought of writing to these characters, if pressed, I'd pen letters to inquire about their experiences across the different lands, capturing the essence of those magical, shifting landscapes.
Creativity serves as an escape and offers new perspectives, much like my experiences with writing and drawing. During three months alone in my flat, I sought to flee reality and craft a new one through my work. This process, full of frustration and yearning for change, reflects a full-circle moment in our conversation, highlighting how interconnected our desires for escape and creative expression truly are.
Manasi on books growing up:
Books opened up entire universes of mystery and magic, especially series like the Famous Five and Secret Seven. My brother and I, inspired by these adventures, would create treasure maps with coffee stains and hidden clues in our grandmother's backyard, filled with trees and hidden spots. We'd bury treasures in the mud, trying to live out the adventures we read about. It was our way of bringing the stories to life, immersing ourselves in a world of exploration and mystery.
Divya on what’s missing in Indian children’s literature:
Reflecting on the influence of Western literature in India, it's clear that authors like Enid Blyton and Judy Blume have been significant. Judy Blume, in particular, has broken traditional boundaries by addressing taboo topics, becoming one of the most banned authors in conservative America—a testament to her impact. This discussion highlights a gap in Indian children's literature, especially the lack of strong brown female leads. It points to a need for content that reflects the modern Indian child's experiences and challenges, aiming to engage not just the children but their parents in meaningful conversations.
"It's interesting how Western culture dominates our reading during formative years, mentioning things like mental health counselors in schools, something not common in India. Reflecting on your school experience and introduction to mental health awareness, how has this shaped your perspective on content for children?"
"Indeed, my teenage years were filled with Western books, highlighting aspects like mental health support in schools, a concept unfamiliar in India. My real awakening to the importance of mental health came later, online, spurring a wish to introduce such themes to children directly and normally, through accessible and illustrated books."
"This topic resonates with me too. I've been working on a project, 'Mind the Octopus,' aimed at 4-7-year-olds. It's about a girl learning to emotionally regulate with the help of an octopus, teaching through simple, fun rhymes and activities without being preachy. The book includes practical tools for emotional regulation, aiming to engage both kids and parents in understanding and naming their feelings, encouraging a healthy discussion about mental well-being."
Manasi: "I'm curious, are you currently working on any projects, perhaps something beyond the book you've mentioned about self-publishing?"
Divya: "Yes, actually, I'm exploring writing for children's television, focusing on creating representative characters for young audiences. I'm also considering expanding 'I Am So Much More' into a series addressing various important issues for kids, presented simply and engagingly."
Romy: "Engaging with a community and receiving feedback can be incredibly valuable. We've been organizing 'pitch clap' sessions where people from diverse backgrounds share their projects and gain insights from each other."
Divya: "That's exactly what I'm missing—a community. The pandemic showed us how vital connections are, even if they're digital. But there's something irreplaceable about in-person interactions and the energy they bring."
Romy: "Hopefully, we'll all meet in person soon. Our collective focuses on multi-generational learning, which could be beneficial for your projects."
Divya: "Please include me in your collective and WhatsApp group. I'm eager to connect with people of various backgrounds to share and receive feedback."
Romy: "Your insights would be invaluable to our group, especially with your experience in children's literature and your passion for addressing complex topics in accessible ways."
Divya: "I look forward to collaborating and exploring new creative and business avenues together. There's so much potential in leveraging storytelling for educational and social impact."
Divya: "For aspiring writers, my advice is to remain open to learning and exploring new platforms. Engage with the community, seek feedback, and never underestimate the power of a well-told story."
Participants: Manasi, Divya
Romy: Welcome to our session today. We're honored to have Divya, a renowned children’s book author whose work has touched many across the globe, and Manasi, an enthusiast of Divya's work and an aspiring author herself. Divya, let’s start with you. What inspired you to write your latest children's book?
Divya: Thank you, Romy. The inspiration for my book came from a blend of personal experiences and a desire to make a difference. Growing up in Chennai, living abroad for nearly two decades, and then returning to India, I was struck by the contrasts and the social issues that were evident. My career in advertising initially allowed me to explore storytelling, but it was really the return to India that shifted my focus towards creating something meaningful, especially for children. The pandemic provided a catalyst for this, highlighting the need for content that could be understood by children and also resonate with adults.
Romy: That’s a powerful journey. Manasi, how did Divya's book come into your life, and what impact did it have on you and your family?
Manasi: I discovered Divya's book through my family. We were immediately captivated by the illustrations and the depth of the messages within. It's rare to find a book that speaks so profoundly both to children and adults. My brother and parents were equally impressed. It’s not just a book; it’s a conversation starter about important issues.
Divya: Hearing that is incredibly rewarding. My goal has always been to bridge the communication gap between children and adults, making complex messages accessible and engaging. It’s gratifying to know it's being received in that spirit.
Romy: Divya, can you share more about the process behind creating your book, especially how you've connected with your audience during these challenging times?
Divya: Absolutely. The book was a response to the overwhelming and often complex discourse around the pandemic. I wanted to distill this into something digestible for children, using simple rhymes and relatable illustrations. The response was unexpectedly wide-reaching, leading to translations and adaptations that broadened its impact. Engaging with schools, book festivals, and directly with children has been profoundly enriching, underscoring the universal desire for content that empowers and educates.
Manasi: It’s inspiring to see how your background in advertising and your personal experiences have informed your writing. It's a testament to the power of storytelling across different mediums and messages.
Divya: Thank you, Manasi. Transitioning from advertising to writing children’s books was about harnessing storytelling to drive positive change. It’s about finding those universal truths and presenting them in a way that touches people, regardless of age.
Romy: Looking ahead, Divya, what new projects are on the horizon for you, and how can Manasi and other aspiring writers draw inspiration from your path?
Divya: I'm exploring the creation of children's television content, focusing on narratives that feature strong, diverse female leads. The aim is to fill the gap in representation and inspire young audiences with stories of empowerment and adventure. For Manasi and others, my advice is to remain curious, embrace opportunities to learn, and never shy away from sharing your story. Storytelling is a powerful tool for connection and change, and there's a world out there eager for new voices and perspectives.
Romy: Thank you, Divya and Manasi, for sharing your insights and experiences with us today. It’s clear that storytelling, whether through books or other mediums, has a profound ability to educate, inspire, and connect us all. We look forward to witnessing the continued impact of Divya’s work and the future achievements of aspiring writers like Manasi.