Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interview with Shweta Chopra & Shuchi Mehta on their book "The Diwali Gift"


I am always on the lookout for a good masala children's book for my daughter so that I can teach her more about her father's culture and traditions. Lo and behold...The Diwali Gift! It is a wonderful book for children of all ages that explains the joy of Diwali, along with the fun characters called the 3 Curious Monkeys. Maya absolutely adored this book!

I'm thrilled to introduce you to Shweta Chopra & Shuchi Mehta...


Tell me about yourself and how you became an author....
Shweta: As a third culture kid myself and now raising a daughter in the USA, I often struggled to find ways to pass on my beautiful Indian culture to her in a way that she would relate to and understand. Unfortunately current mainstream media has only 10% of educational products catering to young minority Americans with hardly any representation of India. I was not alone in my quest my co-founder Shuchi, a seasoned indophile, was struggling to make Indian culture relatable for her twin boys and was trying to find ways to solve the problem. Together we founded 3 Curious Monkeys and wrote our first book The Diwali Gift. It did help that we both had experience writing blogs and loved books! 

What did your family/friends think when you told them you were developing a children's book?
Shweta: Our families especially our kids were super duper excited. They saw the whole writing and illustrating process and were thrilled to see characters that they could relate to. Our multicultural community of friends and teachers were thrilled to find good quality and useful resources to get kids to experience the beauty and diversity of India.

What are your favorite childhood memories?
Shweta: I have traveled all my life due to my Dad’s work and no matter where we were when it came to the Indian holiday season, my parents would get us super excited and involve us in the preparations. I remember how my brother and I were "in charge" of the Rangoli that was always displayed in front of our house be it in India, Kuwait or Singapore every Diwali. Not to mention the delicious desserts my mom made.

Shuchi: My special memories are always around the holiday times too. As a child, I remember how my grandma gave us shiny silver coins and we took care of these "special gifts". We used to dream up all the things we would buy with these coins but never really did so since the coins itself were super special. It was indeed the inspiration for our story too.

What are the differences you notice about children nowadays, as opposed to how you grew up?
Shweta: Children today are growing up in the ever-evolving information era. They are much more informed of what's happening in the world and very tech savvy. When we were growing up, we had limited access to the world beyond ours and so were most isolated compared to today's kids. That’s a great advantage to kids and I hope this helps them grow up to become more involved and informed global citizens.

One thing I've noticed joining and Indian family is that many traditions are passed down by word of mouth. Do you think it is important to write books about these traditions - as opposed to just keeping it by word of mouth?
Shweta: Word of mouth is super special as it creates fond memories for the storyteller and the listener. Books are one of the good tools that can be used to accompany these oral narrations for traditions especially for kids. Seeing themselves reflected in the book gives them a stronger sense of identity not to mention it encourages their good reading skills. It also allows them to share their cultural stories with their diverse friends too as opposed to keeping it to themselves.


In the book, Dadima comes on a Skype call - which is quite realistic because many Indians who settle abroad are unfortunately separated by their family elders by thousands of miles. What made you decide to set the Dadima character in India, as opposed to being in North America?
Shweta: Actually the Dadima in our book represented grandma’s everywhere - not just in India. We took inspiration from our own families who live in India and Singapore.

And how do you think the separation of Indian elders from their grandchildren effects modern masala families?
Shweta: Grandparents have a special place in families and they are irreplaceable. The wisdom, experience and knowledge they pass on to their grand-kids cannot be said enough of. Even though kids may not be living with their grandparents, thanks to technology we all feel well connected. Besides, everyone needs someone who spoils them silly right?

Do you think there is a lack of information about Indian traditions in North America, despite the millions of Indian families who have settled abroad?
Shweta: Unfortunately, only 10% of mainstream media represents diverse products so there is a serious lack of good quality resources for families living outside of India to refer to. We are trying to fill this gap through our books and Apps that have a universal appeal that can be enjoyed by Indians as well as Non-Indian families across the world. We have also worked with educators to bring our book into the classroom to provide useful resources for anyone who wish to experience our Indian culture. 

Do you think it is important to share Indian traditions with non-Indians and non-Hindu's, and why?
Shweta: Why not share it. If we can celebrate Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Chinese New Year and St. Patrick's day...everyone can celebrate Diwali, Holi, Eid etc. We live in a multicultural society and that means multicultural traditions. At the end of it all, they all represent kindness, giving and love for each other.

Why did you choose Diwali as the subject for your first children's book?
Shweta: Diwali was a natural choice for our first book because that’s one of the most popular holidays in India and is widely celebrated all across the world. "The Diwali Gift" came about as a need for a fun, a contemporary and more relatable book for Diwali that lets all children regardless of ethnicity or race experience this major Indian festival without getting much into mythology and its nitty gritty. Our research showed that current stories on Diwali focus too much on mythology and less on fun and the interesting traditions/stories that each family has to share. In fact, this story was inspired by a surprise gift that our kids received last year on Diwali and how it made them more curious about this festival and encouraged them to ask us more and more questions on our own family traditions


Each of the monkeys have different personality traits. Can you tell us what/who each monkey represents to you? Are they based on real characters?
Shweta: 3 Curious Monkeys was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s “3 wise monkeys” that stand for "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil". We took a positive aspect of Gandhi’s 3 monkeys and through our medium we want to encourage all kids to see, hear and learn more about India. Thus, the names of our cute and relatable characters, Suno, Dekho, and Jaano. 

Suno is a girl who is confident, playful and loves to sing and dance. Dekho is adventurous, playful and fearless, while Jaano is a walking talking Wikipedia and super imaginative. Our adorable monkeys are engaging and relatable to kids and infact we have three little monkeys of our own that have similar traits too!

What were your favorite children's books as a child?
Shweta: One of my favorites was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. Meal time for me was never the same and I always imagined my dinner plate was speaking to me!

Shuchi: Mine would have to be Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I was a fussy eater and had my share of time outs in my room so this book connected with me at many levels.

Does being a mother yourself give you a different perspective on children's literature?
Shweta: It sure does. When I became a mom, I realized how influential books for kids are. My daughter recalls and quotes books I have read to her in her day to day life so it’s very important which books I choose for her. So while there are some excellent books out there for kids, there also many that are simply not age appropriate and have content that can be misrepresentative especially when it came to books about Indian culture. 

How long did it take you to develop your characters and write your book? What was your creative process like?
Shweta: From inception to launch it took us 8 months! It was was a very intense process which required long hours but since we knew we wanted to launch in time for Diwali, we were determined to make it happen. We applied our business skills and followed a step by step approach by first speaking to tons of parents to learn about their pain points and struggles when it came to passing their culture to their kids while we created original characters that all children could relate to and enjoy. We worked closely with a super talented illustrator who was equally passionate about our cause and helped us to bring our vision to life. We spent a lot of time focusing on the minor details in the illustrations as that is something the children really enjoy. This attention to detail has been well received by our ever growing multicultural community of like-minded educators and parents has been very positive as is evident by receiving The Mom's Choice award for our book as well as our huge fan following on social media channels. 

What advice can you give to other children's book authors?
Shweta: Write from your heart but share your vision and script with others especially with kids. Kids give you the most honest feedback right away!

What's the best part about becoming a children's book author?
Shweta: We get to read tons and tons of children’s book and get to work with some of the most creative people. It does help that we have little ones who we bounce of story ideas with and they in turn provide us honest feedback.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Shweta: We hope to offer parents and teachers a useful resource to talk about Diwali to children. For kids especially those of Indian Diaspora, we wish to make them feel confident and proud of their roots when they see characters that reflect their lifestyles and talk and behave like them. To all kids, we offer them a fun, engaging and relatable way to experience a beautiful Indian holiday and share the spirit of this festive season with everyone.

What's next for you? What are your hopes & dreams for 3 Curious Monkeys? Would you like to write more books?
Shweta: We want 3 Curious Monkeys to do what "Dora the Explorer" did for Latino culture. Bring our Indian culture out of our homes and share it with the world in the most engaging and fun manner. Through our age- appropriate cultural books, toys, and app, we wish to help build self-confidence and a strong sense of identity among children as they grow up in multicultural environments. Yes, we will continue to write more books and, in fact, are looking to collaborate with talented writers and authors to bring their stories to life through the 3 Curious Monkeys platform.

Are you interested in doing library readings, school visits, or book talks? If so, how can people contact you?
Shweta: Yes, Yes and Yes! Doing story time in our community is one of the best perks and joys of our job. We love interacting with our diverse community and hearing from parents and kids. We do several interactive story sessions and book signing events. You can check out our events calendar and join us. You can also contact us at info@3curiousmonkeys.com.

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A huge thank you to Shweta Chopra & Shuchi Mehta for sharing this amazing book with our family. For more information about them, their writing, and the world of 3 Curious Monkeys, please visit their website HERE. And don't forget to try out their free App HERE! This book is currently the #1 holiday book on Amazon this season!

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Maya's red dress is from: Biba
My turquoise Ganesh pillow is available on my online shop
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14 comments

  1. This is great. I'm a few years away from having kids myself and I am so happy to know that I will have your whole line of resources available when I do 😊
    It's also so heart warming to see people living their dharma; enjoying their life while making a difference.
    Thank you!
    Megan

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    1. Thanks Megan! I find these ladies so inspiring!

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  2. Hi Alexandra,

    Thank you for this post. I think parents of half Indian children can relate. I actually wanted to share a couple of good books for you to share with you daughter that were written by someone in the Indian family I married into. Her name is Anjali Joshi and she wrote "Ganesh and the Little Mouse" and "Let's Celebrate Diwali". You can find her books on Amazon. She wants to promote more diversity in children's literature just like the moms mentioned in this post.

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    1. Thanks so much! Can't wait to check them out :)

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    2. 2nd book in the 3 Curious Monkeys series, Mystery of the Missing Parathas' now available http://bit.ly/3cmkeys on Kickstarter Pre-Order now! Only 8 days left!! http://bit.ly/3cmkey

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  3. The book is currently sold out on Amazon. I hope it is back soon.

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    1. I know, it went fast! It is available online at Barnes & Noble :)

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  4. Great book for learning experience for children. Shweta and Shuchi what talented ladies and the children are adorable. Maya seems to love the book and is enjoying her Dad reading to her. This is a great way of relating to your children on Diwali.

    Melissa

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    1. Thanks Melissa! It is a wonderful children's book!

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  5. I want to introduce my kids to Indian culture as my sis in law is from Mumbai. We are religion free family. Are there any non-religious traditions which Indians enjoy?
    Kim

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    1. Hi Kim,

      Wow! This is the first time I read a comment from a fellow nonbeliever on this blog.

      My family is not completely religion free, I am an atheist and my husband is a mildly devout Hindu. As in go the temple once year when they are offering free food type of Hindu.
      We have decided to raise our children nominally Hindu although I also incorporate skepticism. We attempt to strike a balance between our preferences which can be difficult. I escaped extreme childhood religious indoctrination so I truly abhor raising children in a fundamental religious home. I accept that my children will choose whatever religion they want, if any, when they reach an age of cognitive maturity.

      I am also interested in non-religious Indian traditions which we can share with my children and would appreciate any information someone could share.

      Also, I don't mind celebrating religious holidays like Christmas and Diwali as long as we emphasize positive concepts such as gift giving and spending time family and friends while ignoring religious mythology origins.

      - Rebecca

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  6. It is very exciting to hear about this book and these authors ! I hope many more quality books are produced for children of Indian origin !

    Kim, I don't know about festivals, but have you thought about the "Panchatantra" stories for your kids ? They are short stories with animals imparting wisdom for children. (Pad)

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  7. Alexandra, do you know of any quality children books in tamil ? Thanks. Pad

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  8. Hey All! We are very happy to announce that the 2nd book in the 3 Curious Monkeys series, Mystery of the Missing Parathas' now available http://bit.ly/3cmkeys on Kickstarter Pre-Order now! Only 8 days left!! http://bit.ly/3cmkey Come order your copy now!

    ReplyDelete

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