So grateful for the Walters and the Golden Kite Awards…

Didn’t expect I’d be taking a break from writing my next novel to write another post this month, but I realize I need to bubble over with gratitude before I can dive into my revising my next novel this morning. Over the past week, I developed an abiding empathy for champagne bottles under pressure because I heard the wonderful news about the Walters and the Golden Kite, both, last week – but wasn’t allowed to share anything publicly until the announcements were made on Tuesday afternoon. Now I am under no pressure to keep is secret and I wanted to share my immense gratitude to everyone who has loved and supported me and THE BRIDGE HOME. I’ll begin with family – here’s a lovely video my kid made for me as a gift:

There are so many people I want to thank – more than I can possibly mention in my award acceptance speeches. I also realize that I will probably keep revising this post, because my mind is sort of frozen now and I am SURE I can’t remember all the kind souls who helped me along the way, and I ask them to forgive me…

My legendary editor, Nancy Paulsen. My literary agent, Rob Weisbach.

My speaking agent, Phil Bildner (an author, too, whose book HIGH FIVE FOR GLEN BURKE is coming out this year). The three authors who judged the Golden Kite and decided THE BRIDGE HOME was worthy: C. Alexander London, Angela Dominguez, and – oh no, I was told but now I’ve forgotten who the third judge was… well, I will add that soon!

As you can see, this is an evolving list! There are so many bookstores and librarians and teachers and educators to thank, but for this post, I’m going to restrict myself to  my author colleagues because the SCBWI award is given by authors:

Margarita Engle, Elly Swartz, Kristy Dempsey, Holly Thompson, Brian Lies, Chris Tebbetts, Dan Gemeinhart, ….

And the many authors who worked for diversity before me, because the Walters is given by WNDB:

Jackie Woodson, Mildred Taylor, Christopher Paul Curtis, …

And finally, congratulations to the winner of the Walter for YA @marikotamaki and all the finalists for MG and YA: @hirosemaryhello, @azemezi, @acevedowrites, @leeseray, @jasminewarga; as well as the winners of the Golden Kite in the other 6 categories: @julieberrywrites, @elizabethrusch, @DHeiligman, @HyewonYum @Remy_Lai, & Ashley Benham Yazdani, and all the finalists. So honored to join the  the current and past winners and honorees for the WNDB Walters and the Golden Kite

Building bridges in 2020

 

What a marvelous year 2019 was! Being part of #GRABridge and #GRA19 was one of the highlights of my entire writing career, and it touches me deeply that so many of my readers loved THE BRIDGE HOME and that some were moved enough to build bridges of their own, by taking action to help fight against hunger and homelessness and poverty. Just as important and unimaginably humbling, the lives of a few were changed for the better because they found the strength to move to safer situations after reading #TheBridgeHome. That is a blessing beyond all imagining to me, and makes every sacrifice I made to become a writer more than worthwhile.

I’m also deeply honored that the book is on so many best of year and award lists, in addition to the wonderful early reception. Here’s a video my daughter (and a friend) made for me, reflecting my thankfulness. I am immensely grateful to each and every reader for allowing Rukku, Muthu, Arul and Viji into your hearts. Thank you all for your love of the book, and all you’ve given me.

I’ve been wondering what I could give you in return that would be useful and interesting to you all. Here are 2 things I plan to do:

First, I’ll be posting a “cooking up stories” writing prompt paired with a book and a recipe (provided by Chef Amanda) at the Highlights Foundation’s blog the first Friday of every month. Here’s the first #foodiefriday episode (from last November), and yes, there’s one for December and January, too.

Second, I’ll be reading some of my favorite poetry aloud, so you can listen – and maybe write some poetry  – or do some art – of your own, inspired by the poem. This month, I didn’t record a poem – but I’d like to share an idea for something I’m calling a Bridge Poem. Here’s how you make one: 1. Find a partner. 2. Choose (each of you) a word or phrase from THE BRIDGE HOME (or another book you love) and write it down (using different colored ink) on an index card. 3. Now place these two like you’re starting to build a bridge (in the shape of the beginning of a bridge). 4. Take it in turns to find another word or phrase or line that grows out of one of those words, and place them like bricks that you’re using to build a bridge. (Or, for more of a challenge you can start at either end and try to find a way to come together, so that you build a bridge between the first two words that you chose).  Here’s an example, below that I created with poet Laura Shovan. I began with the word Trembling and she began with I told you, and then we alternated (the words/plrases I chose are in black, her choices are in pink) and together we created a poem in the shape of a bridge. 

fullsizeoutput_849

In the future, along with a poem I read aloud, I’ll be doing my best to provide prompts that are will be useful and interesting to readers of all ages – young and not-so-young. And I’ll be posting on this blog once a month, or so.

Thanks again, so much, for staying in touch. Here’s…

IMG_2782

… and finally, for you to enjoy the rest of this year, here’s a recipe for a pot of hot, spicy, chai (tea) from cold New England, where I now live (I posted this on twitter last year, but thought it ought to have a permanent home here)! 

THE BRIDGE HOME – honors and awards

* Nerdy Book Award Winner

* Cybil Awards

* Kirkus Best MG Bks 2019

* NYPL Best 2019

* Chicago Public Library Best Bks 2019

* Booklist Editor’s Choice Best Bks 2019

* Washington Post Best Bks 2019

* Mighty Girl Best Bks 2019

* TX Bluebonnet award nominee

* SLJ Top 10 Audio Bks 2019

* Bklist Editor’s Choice Best Audio 2019

* Jr Library Guild audio selection

* CSMCL Best Bks 2019

* GoodReads Best MG Bks 2019

*Audiophile Magazine Earphone Award

* Washington Post KidPost Summer Reading Selection

* Global Read Aloud, 2019

* ProjectLIT, 2019-20

* Ebony Teach Best Books 2019

* Betsy Bird’s 31 MG titles in SLJ

* Mighty Girl pick

* Today Show

* “a blisteringly beautiful book” – Starred Review, Kirkus

* “absorbing” – Starred Review, Booklist

* “stellar” – Starred Review, SLJ

* “a story that must be shared.” – Starred Review, SLC

*  “exquisitely narrated” – Starred Review, PW

* “moving” – Sound Commentary, Starred Review

* Venkatraman brings love, support and humor to a story undergirded by tough issues” – SLJ audio, Starred Review

* “beautifully rendered” – SF Chronicle

* “gorgeous storytelling” – NYT Book Review

* “will break hearts and inspire activist longings” – BCCB

* “this bittersweet novel is about breaking the cycle of abuse, reaching for your dreams and finding home ” – Horn Book

* “an amazing book” – Newsday

 

 

Week 6 #GRABridge Q&A video #TheBridgeHome

Hi, everyone! Can’t believe it’s the final week of #GRA19! It’s been a privilege to have shared #TheBridgeHome with you and an honor to be part of #GRABridge. I do hope you’ll stay in touch, by filling out the form at the very end of this post (for a chance to win a special thank you from me – and if I can, I will do my best to try and send a little something to every one who fills in the form). If you aren’t already doing so, I’d love for you to follow this blog (click follow on the right hand side of the screen) and staying in touch on social media (click the icons on the right or follow my posts on twitter @padmatv and youtube, fb or ig venkatraman.padma).

I’m sad that this is the last official #GRA19 week because I’ll miss getting those beautiful photographs of readers in classrooms all over the world, but there’s been lots of lovely news this week, which keeps me hopeful and joyful. THE BRIDGE HOME is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, a Texas BlueBonnet Award Nominee (speaking of TX, special thanks to Hutchinson School, TX, for your wonderful students who have consistently come up with insightful questions every week), and a Goodreads Choice Award best book of the year nominee! Here’s a link to the Goodreads voting page if you have an account and want to vote: http://bit.ly/32qIAB1

In the coming years, I plan to post a writing-related activity once a month on this blog. As always, if you have a question about my books or writing, click on the title of the post and you’ll be redirected to a screen featuring just this post and if you scroll to the bottom there will be a box in which you can leave the question for me to answer on a monthly basis. I’ve also started a regular guest blog column called COOKING UP STORIES, where I’ll provide a monthly writing prompt (associated with a book for young readers) which will be linked with a recipe provided by Chef Amanda at the Highlights foundation. So if you enjoy writing or reading or food or all three, visit me there the first Friday of every month: click here for the first #FoodieFriday post. I’ll link that on my monthly posts on this blog, too, of course.

Now for this week’s questions. Although I’m in excellent spirits, I’m not in the best of health (I have a sore throat). So some of these questions are answered in writing, although you will see a video as well, below. Sorry it’s not longer – but do please send me your wishes for good health, at least until I’m done with my NCTE/ALAN talks!

Rama, you asked about where I write. Here are some photographs showing places I like to write – the deck, the dock, and my study.

SAGES school, FoxLake, WI, you asked if the book is a letter from Viji to Rukku, and yes, it sort of is. “Sort of” because I find repeated short letters a bit of a trite way to create a book, usually, so that’s why it flows like one long letter. This way you hear Viji speaking to Rukku, just as I heard her voice in my head when I wrote THE BRIDGE HOME. So, yes, Colby Sharp and Matthew Winner and other wonderful librarians have indeed described it as one long letter.

Bettendorf Middle School, you, like many others, asked if I’d write a sequel. I don’t know, but here’s something I am planning to do for sure: in either my next middle grade book or the one that comes after, I will give the characters in THE BRIDGE HOME a cameo appearance, so you get a sense of what happened to them, okay?

Here’s a video with a few questions that came up again this week:

And here’s my call to action, with a few suggestions:

  1. Viji’s challenge. Viji loves books and yearns to go to school. Perhaps you could help other children who want an education (through an organization such as ASHA for education) or spread your love of reading. For example, maybe you could volunteer to spend time helping another child to read, or collect books for a library or school in need (as Books are Wings does in my home state of RI, USA).
  2.  Rukku’s challenge.The little family on the bridge enjoys independence and freedom and feels rich, thanks to Rukku’s bead business and the money that it generates. Maybe you can find a way to fund-raise for a cause you believe in, or collect money for an organization that you find important. Here are some organizations that were doing good work to the best of my knowledge, and I’m listing them because they are secular organizations that in some way connect with my writing and the characters and themes in THE BRIDGE HOME (but if you decide to donate to them or any other organization, please do check on them by conducting your own research as well): The Concerned For Working Children, Sankara Eye Foundation, CRY, Freedom TrustV-excelCommunity Volunteers in Education, Engineers Without Borders, Environmental Energy Study Institute, Global Green Grants Fund, Southern Environmental Law Center, Wild Aid, Wild Net, kiva.
  3. Arul’s challenge. Arul is quiet but strong. Arul keeps his promises and never breaks his word. Think about your behavior and your habits. Make a pledge to change the way you act, in order to help the environment and reduce waste – and keep your pledge.
  4. Muthu’s challenge. Muthu enjoys speaking up. In his honor, maybe you’d like to speak up about something that concerns you, or write an open letter with positive suggestions for solutions to a problem your community faces, or send a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or blog or a senator with specific ideas on how to help change a situation for the better.
  5.  Lalitha’s challenge. Lalitha loves art. Use art to raise awareness of a social justice issue faced by your community or country or the world – or just create art using recycled materials and think of kids like those in THE BRIDGE HOME and send them your best wishes as you work.
  6. THE BRIDGE HOME challenge. Build a bridge with words (or actions), maybe just with a smile or a sentence, and share with me what you said or did.

Those are just some ideas I have – you may have more.

Finally, a HUGE THANK YOU! If you would like a chance to win a little something from me to thank you for reading THE BRIDGE HOME, feel free to fill out this form with your Teacher’s Name, School Name, and Mailing address and you may get something from me in the post. So, I won’t say goodbye. I’ll say stay in touch. I look forward to hearing from you in the weeks and months and years to come.

Week 5 #GRABridge #GRA19 #TheBridgeHome Q & A video

Back home after a marvelous tour for The Bridge Home. So this week, I’m just going to post my video and say thanks again to you all for sharing Viji, Rukku, Muthu and Arul’s feelings and for befriending them and for your empathy. I loved how many people from all over the world told me how much they loved all the characters. I’ll try and post my final GRA Q & A video on Friday (or Sunday) and I’ll be posting a few ideas for ways you could help make the world a better place for kids (and for the adults you will become). As always, if you want to leave me questions, click on this post’s title (or click the title under recent posts on the right) and you’ll be redirected to a new screen featuring just this post alone and if you scroll down, you’ll see a box where you can leave me questions. Please, as before, word your questions carefully so you avoid spoiling the reading experience for others who haven’t yet had the chance to read the story. Many thanks, everyone!

Week 4 #GRABridge Q & A video

Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay this week, and for the confusion. I answered some of these questions on instagram today, but I’m uploading this video as well, and I may edit this post and add another video later with some of the same questions. I did this video the same way as last week, which one of you said sounded much better, so I hope the sound quality is good on this one as well. I wish I could close caption them, but I haven’t been able to figure out how.

Thanks for listening and reading, everyone – and for your excellent questions. Look forward to hearing more from you this week. You have all of Friday to ask questions, as I plan to post the next Q & A video on Sunday (for week 5). I do have an important request. PLEASE AVOID SPOILERS – please phrase your questions in such a way that you don’t give away major plot points – remember that other readers may not have read as much as you have and you don’t want to tell them what happens, because it’s important for each reader to discover the story on their own. Thanks again, Padma

Week 3 Q & A Video #GRA19 #GRABridge

Week 3! I can hardly believe we’re at the halfway mark already! Here are answers to some of your questions:

Now for some of the other questions I received this week.

How did I get the idea for Rukku selling necklaces? (Hutchinson Middle School, TX, USA)

I’ve grown up seeing bead sellers like this beautiful woman in the picture below (which was taken this summer in the city of Chennai or Madras, where I was born). They inspired that part of The Bridge Home.

MakingBeadNecklaces2

Why did I decide that Viji and Rukku would end up living on a bridge? (The Book Cavaliers, NC, USA)

Here’s a photograph, also taken this summer, of the very bridge that inspired that particular setting in the novel. When I was a child, the bridge was already falling into disrepair – but I remember seeing families sheltering on the bridge. Now, it’s been fenced off, so it was harder for me to get a good picture – and it’s also not as easy to live on it right now, but unfortunately, in most Indian cities, people live in places similar to this ruined bridge. Be sure to look at the photographic resource (a pdf file on my website’s resource page for The Bridge Home) – I annotated it, so you will have a better idea of how the pictures are connected to the novel.

GKP_2739

I just received another important question from a school in Lubbock TX about whether I’ve ever been bullied for my religious beliefs. I do want to address it – although this is much too brief a response today – because I have to run off in a moment to attend to some other commitments I have. It’s probably going to come out all jumbled, too – but then, you ought to know that even published and award-winning and acclaimed writers can write pages that aren’t polished or perfect.

Yes, I’ve sometimes met with derision because of my beliefs. The awful truth is that even adults engage in behavior that isn’t exactly admirable sometimes. Religious diversity needs to be celebrated in books and in the world. Part of that diversity is honoring those who are agnostic or atheistic. Arul, to answer another question I was asked, is deeply Christian – because I met children like him and I admire his faith immensely; I also respect, equally, Viji, who has an irreligious philosophy. Just as Arul and Viji respect one another and love each other and remain friends and family despite their very different views, we need to accept one another – whether we hold a certain faith or adhere to no faith at all – and we must respect one another if we hope to create peace as a world. In my books, spirituality always has an important place, because I think when we ignore religious diversity, we do ourselves a disservice. We need to respect one another and accept one another. Here’s an article I wrote about that for Kirkus Reviews that you might find interesting. My novel A TIME TO DANCE is the first novel that looks at a girl’s spiritual awakening through the Hindu lens. And, at the end of the day, I wish we could think of our various religions as lenses through which we attempt to capture something that is beyond us; something that cannot be completely described in words. I haven’t studied every religion in the world, but I believe that compassion and love and service to others are important aspects of all of religions; I also believe that atheists and agnostics can work just as much for peace and believe just as much in goodness and morality as people who are religious. If you are being bullied because of your religious beliefs, find someone you can trust and tell them what is happening. Sharing a problem doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. You need to stand up for yourself and be compassionate to yourself and take good care of yourself – just as you need to be concerned about others’ needs. Make sure you stay safe, and take steps to protect yourself from bullies – of any and all kinds.

I did hear a great many wonderful questions that I’ve already answered one way or another – so please do have a listen to the videos I’ve been posting (since the week before the global read aloud began, as well as at the end of the first and second weeks). You’ll also find a page on my website with answers to some FAQs that might interest you.

As you can see, I’ve been having a bit of a cough, and that makes it hard for me to repeat myself as well. Do send me your get well wishes, please, everyone…I have a lot of events over the next few months! I’m going to be incredibly busy traveling, especially next week and the week after, which is wonderful – but it also means I’ll have to ask for your patience. I’ll have to try and create a video on Wednesday night next week, because Thursday will be impossible; I could try to squeeze another in on Friday, but I can’t promise that. So if you have questions, please do try and get them in early, alright?

On Monday, October 28th, I’m going to be doing my very best to have a Twitter chat, so that I can answer questions live. It will probably be 2:00-3:00 United States Eastern Daylight Savings Time (and I know that won’t work for everyone, but it’s one of the few times that I can manage it). Please do follow me on Twitter (see the button on the left) if you don’t already, to stay abreast of information on this event – it’s not quite confirmed yet but I am really hoping we can do this, if there’s enough interest (and again, look at my twitter feed for confirmation of date and time). I’ll also be answering questions via YouTube’s livestream (and will announce that on twitter as well).  to

As always, to leave questions on this website: 1. Click on the blog title or click on it on the title beneath “recent posts” (on the right hand side of this screen).  2. You’ll be redirected to a screen with just the post. 3. Scroll down and you’ll see the box where you may leave me your school’s name and location (city/town, state, country) and grade (class level), along with your questions. 4. To return to the “home page” at any time, click Padma, Author and Speaker (top left).

Have you been thinking of ways you might take action to help make the world a place where fewer young people are forced to face the sort of situations that Rukku, Muthu, Arul and Viji faced in THE BRIDGE HOME? I hope very much that in a few weeks, when we’re done with the global read aloud, you’ll spend time on one of the challenges I suggested last week. The project ideas I provided are just suggestions – I’d love to hear of any project you might decide to do that fits in with the themes of the challenges I outlined. Thanks again, so much, for journeying with Muthu, Arul, Rukku and Viji and for choosing to read THE BRIDGE HOME!

Photo credits: An Open Book Foundation for the two photographs in the first row above; Connecticut Head Shots for the portrait (bottom left).

 

Global Read Aloud Video, Week 2 #GRABridge #GRA19

TheBridgeHome_TeacherBadge_Twitter_19I’m so grateful to every teacher and every reader who has the courage and strength to read THE BRIDGE HOME. I hope you’ve all enjoyed laughing with Muthu, Arul, Rukku and Viji this week. I’ve had a wonderful week – it’s been such a joy to see photographs of readers from around the world. It’s also been a rather busy one. So please forgive me if I haven’t answered every question I received. I did try to answer most of them in the video below.

 

Have you made a poster for the #GRABridge contest yet? If you’d like to, there’s still a bit of time. To find out more about this competition, please visit the Global Read Aloud Website.

To leave comments on my website, please, as always:

  1. Click on the blog title (or on the title listed below recent posts to the right of this screen)
  2. You’ll be redirected to a new screen with just the blog post.
  3. Scroll down, and you’ll find a box where you can leave your school name, state, and country.

Finally, here’s something I’d love for all of you to start thinking about. I’m hoping every one of you reading THE BRIDGE HOME might consider doing something for children like Viji, Arul, Rukku and Muthu, after you finish reading the book (which is still a few weeks away). For now, I hope you’ll ponder and consider taking up one of the social justice challenges below:

  1. Viji’s challenge. Viji loves books and yearns to go to school. Perhaps you could help other children who need books or want an education or spread your love of reading. For example, maybe you could help another child to read, or collect books for a library or school in need, or discover a way to help children who want to attend school.
  2. Muthu’s challenge. Muthu is always happy to voice his thoughts. Perhaps you could speak up (respectfully and responsibly) about an issue that moves you strongly. Write an open letter (or a letter to a newspaper or maybe to a senator) about a problem that affects your community (such as hunger) or a challenge the whole world faces, with suggestions on how to create positive change.
  3.  Rukku’s challenge.The little family on the bridge enjoys independence and freedom and feels rich, thanks to Rukku’s bead business and the money that it generates. Maybe you can find a way to fund-raise for a cause you believe in, or collect money for an organization that you find important.
  4. Arul’s challenge. Arul is quiet but strong. Arul keeps his promises and never breaks his word. Think about your behavior and your habits. Make a pledge to change the way you act, in order to help the environment and reduce waste – and keep your pledge.
  5.  Lalitha’s challenge. Lalitha loves art. Use art to raise awareness of a problem faced by your community or country or the world – or just create art using recycled materials and think of kids like those in THE BRIDGE HOME and send them your best wishes as you work.

Those are just some ideas I have – you may have more. I’d love to hear what you decide to do – and you can start these challenges at any time in the next few weeks – or even the week after you finish reading the book. But first, here’s to hearing more from you as you dig deeper into THE BRIDGE HOME.

#GRA19 #GRABridge Video 1 Chapt 1-7

IMG_2062Thank you!

Thank you for visiting this page, for participating in the global read aloud, and for choosing to read #TheBridgeHome.

Many of you (e.g. Baker School, Troy, MI, USA; Our Lady of Fatima Convent School, Durban, South Africa; Kurtztown Area Middle School, Kurtztown, PA, USA) asked about inspiration and if THE BRIDGE HOME was based on my own life. Two schools in WI, USA: Bristol School in Bristol and Watertown Catholic School (and others on twitter) asked why I chose second person / direct address.

The answers to both questions (about inspiration and point of view) are connected and rather too long to squeeze into a video, so I’ll answer them in writing below. But first, if you’re having trouble figuring out how to leave questions, here’s a video showing how (and I’ve provided written instructions at the end of this post, too):

Here are answers to some of the questions I’ve received:

Below, in writing, are answers to more questions, beginning with the one about inspiration and choice of voice:

The Bridge Home is, indeed, based on real life – but it’s an amalgam of others’ memories and experiences, as well as my own.

I was born in India, and my earliest memories of home are of a wrought iron gate swinging open, a drive drenched purple with the juice of fallen jamun fruit, a terrace with a magnificent view of the polo and riders club where. Until I was about 7 years old, I was surrounded by luxury and the illusion of wealth: ponies to ride (as a child I was certain I’d someday play polo), a wonderful garden filled with trees to climb, an upstairs library filled with books. When I was about 8, all that was lost to me.

My parents separated and my mother set up house in a small flat in a concrete jungle. Even before we moved, I’d been exposed to violence, and in the years to come, I was repeatedly subjected to more (and different kinds of) violence by various adults. For a while, I was also bullied by children at my school who didn’t know any better (probably because I was so different from them; there was no other child I knew with separated parents like my own). Just so you’re all aware, though, many of those children apologized when they became adults, and some are now dear friends of mine.

My childhood wasn’t easy, but then again, I didn’t have it nearly as hard as some children I met. My mother, even though she had to work ever so hard to keep house and home together, volunteered to teach at schools for children who had much less than we did. There, I befriended a few children who were from the lowest castes (Dalit/”Untouchable”/Roma): Indira, Padmini and Nagabushan. We were friends because we laughed together in the best way – we laughed the way the four in the book laugh – with the sheer joy of being alive (we never indulged in cruel laughter together or make jokes at anyone else’s expense) – and that brought us together.

Nagabushan’s father was a potter and I can still remember his hands shaping the most amazing vases on his father’s wheel, and his heels kicking water in my face as we splashed in the green water of the pond in his village. When I think of Padmini, I think of her sparkling eyes and brilliant mind. As for Indira, she could be a bit bossy, I must admit (just as Viji sometimes is, in the novel), and she declared herself my older sister; and one day, she shared with me the story of her life. And because she knew I wanted to be a writer (I was always scribbling away in a little notebook that I carried with me all the time – after reading that Roald Dahl kept a writer’s notebook with him), she asked me, in Tamil, “Will you write my story one day?”

Years later, I heard a voice in my head, the voice of one sister speaking to another and I knew I had to follow that voice and find out why the two sisters were apart… and then I realized I was, in a way, writing Indira’s story. I just knew THE BRIDGE HOME had to be written the way I’d heard it – in direct address. With some of my other novels, I did debate whether I’d chosen the right point of view and tried rewriting in another voice, but with THE BRIDGE HOME I felt compelled to write the way I heard it and never had any doubts about the path I’d chosen. Recently, I read in a book about “writing” that it’s a really tough point of view to pull off; luckily, I’m an oceanographer, so I never read that before (I was too busy reading novels and poetry and books about things like thermodynamics).

So THE BRIDGE HOME is a fusion of her story and others’ stories and imagination and my own childhood pain. That said, I must make it clear that I never suffered homelessness or hunger or ran away from my home. I also had some adults who cared about me. I sometimes say I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone; but so many of the children I met had gone through so much worse – and those who were my friends never indulged in self-pity. To this day, I see us as survivors, not victims; and I dislike pity and sympathy. It is empathy that I hope you, as readers, will feel as you laugh and cry and live and journey together with Viji, Arul, Muthu and Rukku.

IndiaTour3McLean School, Fox Lake, USA asked How did you come up with the names?

Viji, like the protagonists in my earlier novels CLIMBING THE STAIRS and A TIME TO DANCE, has a name that begins with the letter V – in honor of my most dear aunt, Visalam chithi. Arul means grace, and he’s named after one of my nephews because he asked me, several years ago, to write a book in which boys had as much screen time as girls. Muthu means pearl, and he’s named in honor of Karuppaswamy Mudaliar, a man who was the guardian angel of my childhood, and who had a son by that name. Rukku is short for Rukmini, and she’s named after a lovely young Indian-British-American person I met in Rhode Island (where I live). Kutti means little one in Tamil, which is Rukku’s mother tongue and mine; it’s often used as a term of endearment. Celina Aunty is named after two wonderful women: Dr. Chinna Oomen, a teacher who believed I would be an author someday (she’s the one hugging me in the photograph, during my first book signing in India for THE BRIDGE HOME), and Dr. Celina Pereira, a friend who took the time to read drafts of the novel with a medical doctor’s eye.

Have you experienced a water shortage yourself, similar to the one in the book?

Certainly have! Unfortunately, given how carelessly we use our planet’s resources, water shortages are common in several parts of the world. Even if we don’t live in a place where you experience water rationing, we ought to use water carefully, because we share a planet and water is a precious resource. On a quick search I came across a few websites that provide some suggestions that seem reasonable to me (1, 2). I really hope you’ll change at least one of your habits and take a “baby step” to start conserving water in at least one small way after you finish reading this post…

If Rukku is older than Viji, then why does Rukuu act younger? Does she have a disability or is it for another reason?

Rukku has a developmental disability, and so when the book begins, Viji feels that Rukku acts like she’s younger, even though she is actually older.

File_003

FBCS, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands asked Which is your favorite book that you’ve written? 

Here are pictures of my previous books: CLIMBING THE STAIRS, ISLAND’S END, and A TIME TO DANCE. CLIMBING THE STAIRS is special because it’s my debut, and it’s based on my family history (and India’s role in WWII, as well as Gandhian nonviolence). ISLAND’s END is special because it takes me back to the time when I was the only woman, only person of color and chief scientist on a research vessel; and to the time that I walked through rainforests on the Andaman Islands. A TIME TO DANCE is special because it’s my first novel in verse, the first novel to look at a young girl’s spiritual awakening through a Hindu lens, and because the girl in it dances like I wish I could (my ability to dance or sing or play the vina – a musical instrument I learned as a child is close to zero). So I do love them all, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be THE BRIDGE HOME – because it honors the courage of children I knew, whose stories need to be celebrated and heard and recognized and respected and raised and given praise and understood and rewarded. And because it’s about so many things I think need to be shouted about urgently and that we are hiding as a world. And because it reflects the worst kinds of cruelty humans are capable of – as well as our very best moments.

THE BRIDGE HOME means so much to me because it took me back to terrible, horrible, awful moments, but it also renewed the most important things I kept alive and strive to keep alive even today – hope and gratitude and acceptance and love and compassion and honesty and joy. And, through the Global Read Aloud, this book no longer belongs just to me – it belongs to each of you, too. THE BRIDGE HOME belongs in part to each reader who loves it – because I can only ever do part of the work to bring as story alive as a writer – and that’s the best thing about books – that in a way, I give all of you the same words, but then every one of you takes those words and creates something fresh and new and unique and individual – you are each artists and directors of those images and movies you make in your mind as you read; you are each, for a little while, merging with my characters so you see from within their hearts and minds; and so, this book becomes your very own, just as it is also, mine.

IMG_1317
Baker Middle, Troy, MI, USA asked As much as I can. I read different sorts of books (fiction and non-fiction) that relate in some way to mine, interview people as many people as I can who have any sort of connection with themes in the book, and in the case of THE BRIDGE HOME, I also drew on my memory and revisited the diary I had as a child, when I was in India.How much research do you do? 

People on Trash Distant (4)Renfroe Middle, Decatur, GA, USA asked many questions about the caste system. The caste system is complicated – it’s a social evil that exists in Indian society. I’ve read books that say it was initially not rigid and that it was meant as a code of ethics (if you chose a particular profession, it suggested a set of rules to live by), but at any rate, today, in India, although it’s technically illegal (just as hate crimes are in the United States), it unfortunately continues to exist. Children inherit their parents’ caste. Caste isn’t directly related to wealth. In fact, Brahmins, who are the highest caste, were not traditionally the wealthiest – the poor Brahmin is a stereotype in many Indian folktales; but they had a lot of power.  The lowest castes, however, had no power and no wealth – and although, for sure, if someone from a lower caste became rich they would have an easier time for the most part than someone who had to endure poverty and caste-discrimination, money couldn’t buy you way out of the caste system (at least not immediately; to read more, read the resource articles on this website). The two upper castes that came right after the Brahmins (Kshathriyas and Vaishyas) were usually the wealthiest. Upper caste people could shun or treat those who had to scavenge for a living (like Rukku, Muthu, Arul and Viji) with inhuman cruelty all their lives.

As for the question about streaming a Skype visit live – not sure, as I’m traveling a lot, and also because I’m sure Pernille Ripp has a million things to do already… but if you have ideas on how to organize something along those lines, don’t hesitate to share your suggestions with me. I’m not the best with technology (though I’ve been learning a great deal, thanks to #GRA19) – but if there’s a way to do this, I would be happy to see if I could try.

Do remember, please, to send me your next set of wonderful questions by Wednesday, United States Eastern Standard Time next week (or by Thursday afternoon at the latest) and I’ll do my very best to answer as many as I can by Friday afternoon, my time. To leave me questions, please:

  1. Click on the title of the post – either on the blog itself or beneath RECENT POSTS (to the right of this screen).
  2. When you click on the title of this post, you’ll be redirected to a screen showing just this post.
  3. Type in your question, school name, state, and country.

Can’t wait to read the next set of questions, and thanks ever so much for the wonderful questions this week!

Photo credit: An Open Book Foundation for the first 6 panels; the second to last photograph was taken during a lecture at Harvard University; the final photograph was taken during my visit to Quest Montessori School.

 

#GRA19 #GRABridge Q&A Video #0!

Hi everyone! I just wrote a poem about how grateful I am for the invention of the zero (in an anthology collection entitled ThankU edited by Miranda Paul, which was just released this fall), and so I thought  I’d number my weekly videos with video # 0, below, as it just answers a few very general questions about my writing process. But first, instructions on how to leave me a comment:

So, again, please do your best to leave me questions by Thursday at the latest, but preferably by Wednesday 5:00 p.m. US Eastern Daylight Savings Time, and I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can by 1:00 p.m. on Friday US Eastern Daylight Savings Time. Do remember to add your school name, state, and country in the box below (where it says name) and maybe your class (grade level) as well. In all communication, if you wish to have a reply, please use a personal email address, as school servers admin may otherwise block my replies. I also have ensured that many of the resource links are now easily accessible right on The Bridge Home Resources page of my website. Now, here are answers to the first few general questions I received.

Finally, if you requested a Skype visit, you should be getting a confirmation within the next week or so. My fall Skype calendar is now full, but follow my twitter feed to be alerted to when it opens again in winter for the spring semester (and yes, I’ll be doing some Skype giveaways in spring as well). I will be giving away something unusual – a full 40 minute free Skype visit – to the winner of the contest (judged by Pernille Ripp and her class). Preliminary details in my previous post, and more to follow soon.

Thanks everyone! I’m so GRAteful you’ve chosen to read The Bridge Home!

#GRABridge Contest

Having #TheBridgeHome chosen for the global read aloud means the world to me!

If you haven’t already, please:

  • sign up to follow this website and follow my twitter (or ig / fb) feed to stay updated
  • leave me questions by THURSDAY 5:00 p.m. United States Eastern Standard Time (at the very latest; preferably by Wednesday 5:00 p.m.)
  • you will need to click “recent posts” and then you’ll be redirected to a screen and if you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a box where you can leave me questions
  • remember to leave your school name, state and country after the question
  • and I’ll do my very best to post weekly videos by Friday afternoon, my time, with answers to as many questions as possible, starting with GENERAL questions (on process or Indian culture etc.) this week.

I’m also thrilled to announce that Pernille Ripp and her class have very kindly volunteered to judge a contest! Details below.

TheBridgeHome_TeacherBadge_Twitter_19

Preliminary Contest Information (more details to come soon):

  1. Create a poster with words and artwork, inspired by a social justice theme addressed in The Bridge Home. You may, for example, address hunger (but it could be hunger in your community, not necessarily in India), or homelessness, or child labor, or domestic violence, or access to education – anything that moves you enough that you’d like to increase awareness of.
  2. Take a photograph of the poster and send it to us (more precise info on how and where to submit will come soon).
  3. Provide us with your name, class (grade level) and school address.
  4. The likely cut off date for submissions will be around 15 October or roughly mid-way through the global read aloud.
  5. The prize will be a free 40 minute Skype visit by the author.

Note that this is the last Skype visit opportunity this fall, and my Skype calendar is now closed for this fall (but will reopen again next spring – so be on the lookout for an announcement on this website and twitter and ig).

Finally, if you are having trouble accessing my files, it is likely that your school’s administrator does not allow it. Sharing is open at my end, and all who click on my links should be able to see the resources I have created.

To prevent unnecessary disappointment, you may have to download the files ahead of time to your device and show them to your students the next day. Many thanks for choosing to read THE BRIDGE HOME! Can’t wait to connect!