Chitra Soundar

What books did you read when you were a child?
I grew up in India and during that time, most children’s books were comics. I read a lot of Amar Chitra Katha comic books and as many western books I could get my hands on. We had access to a lot of Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and anything in between.

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
Choosing one would be hard. Maybe a blend of Nancy Drew mixed with Matilda for the reading, Pippi Longstocking for not caring about others’ opinions, Rosie Revere for being an engineer and Dorothy for braving the world.

What is the best thing about reading?
Finding out about things, places and other people. I always think of what I would do if I was called to action just the way some of the heroes in the stories were. Mostly I like word play, using words to create a movie in my head that only I can watch.

What is your all-time favourite book?
This question should be banned from interviews. I read three books a week so to think of just one is the hardest thing ever. But one story that stuck with me from when I was 10, is Kaziranga Trails by Arup Kumar Dutta, an adventure set in a forest reserve to protect rhinos. I bought the book as an adult and enjoyed reading it again.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Oral storytelling is a very important aspect to improve vocabulary, speaking ability and the ability to hold an audience.

The other habit I picked up as a kid is to read newspapers that grown-ups read. I used to underline words I couldn’t understand and look them up.

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
My grandmother and her sisters were oral storytellers and I picked up a lot from them. My mother used to create plays – but again she directed them orally – we had to remember the dialogue by heart. But when I started writing poetry, then jokes, then essays, my parents were super-pleased. They would brag to everyone they knew. I still have my notebooks from that time. I started writing stories much later. Even today when my parents visit, they wouldn’t miss any of my book events. If they hadn’t encouraged me and bragged about my writing so much in the beginning, I perhaps would have given up.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I read with my nephews who are aged 6 and almost 4. We read to them from when they were babies. We read a lot of picture books and poetry. They also listen to audio of poetry recitations. Now the six-year-old reads my work in progress too and wants to illustrate for me.

For younger children, I would encourage children to listen to poetry read aloud or verses in picture books. It’s also important to just look at the pictures and talk about them.

If the child has special interests in trains or dinosaurs, then reading an older book to them even if they can’t understand it all is fine – it’s what I do with my oldest nephew. I read him the original stories from Thomas the Tank Engine and even if he can’t grasp all of the text, he loves listening and following with his eyes because he loves trains.

Reading aloud even to older children is a great way to encourage concentration and imagination. The more they listen the more they imagine. TV gives them processed brain food – already imagined. Books give them fresh brain food – words they can interpret and visualise using their own experiences.

Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer, storyteller and author of children’s books. She has written over 30 books for children and often visits schools to share her stories and run creative writing workshops. Her latest book is the paperback edition of Pattan’s Pumpkin, a flood tale from India and her next book You’re Snug with Me will be out in November and it’s full of snow and polar bear love. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com and follow her on Twitter @csoundar.

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