‘Only a few books on diversity for kids’

91r9HmMDMQL Priya Mahadevan is an author of two illustrated children’s books published in the USA. She began her career as a political journalist and now she is also a chef. Her first book Princesses Only Wear Putta-Puttas, a wonderful story about what it is like for a child to be exposed to two cultures, has been selected for the 2017 VA Festival of the Book. Below are edited excerpts from an interview conducted via email by Tehelka.
edited Excerpts from an interview •
Tell us about your two books.
Princesses Only Wear Putta Puttas follows a little girl, Fey Fey, from Charlottesville to Chennai where she is visiting for the first time. She is entranced by the sights and sounds of India and takes a great liking to the traditional skirt-blouse worn in the south — Pavadai Chattai — which she abbreviates to Putta Puttas. When she returns to her home in USA she wants to keep her princess outfit on and continue being an Indian Princesses as she has taken to calling herself!
My idea for this book is to get away from the common notion of ‘princess’. My protagonist is a bespectacled little girl who loves to romp around the yard. This is also an effort to showcase the bi-cultural life so many Americans lead. Many of us come from very rich cultural heritage and it is not something you want to give up, but rather you want to imbibe the best of both worlds. While many of us in India have been exposed to the western world, the same cannot be said of the Americans. Having lived in US for over 20 years and being steeped in both cultures personally, I thought it might be a good idea to give them a peek into our Indian culture and traditions.
The second book Fey Fey Says No is a family effort to help Little Fey Fey understand that it does not always work to her advantage to say no and rather than banning the word or getting upset, help her figure out when to use the word effectively.
shreya-me-shreyas-sisiter-in-traditonal-indian-clothesWhat was the inspiration behind these books?
There is dearth of books on diversity for children and there is plenty of scope for new literature that tried to bring the East to the West rather than always allowing the flow to go from West to East. This is especially true of children’s book genre. Educating people about diversity is a very interesting challenge. Kids are so open to new ideas, exploring new worlds and learning about people who don’t look like them per se but are very much like them.
Are you planning to publish in the Indian market?
YES!!! This is the most important focus for me — to find an Indian publisher to take these books and publish them for the Indian audience.
What’s your next plan after these two books? Can we look forward to more adventures of Fey Fey?
Since I come from a journalism and communications background, writing has always been my mainstay. I have run a vegetarian food blog since 2010 which helped me start a business venture under the name of Suvaiyana with my own line of products — spices, soups and catering. I have written at least 75 poems which I hope to publish as a compilation some day. I consider myself a social activist especially in children’s causes and I write about the issues that affect our children. I have a couple of manuscripts that are ready to go, one which is a continuation of the Fey Fey series, the other a poem which I would like illustrated for a children’s book. I am also working on ideas for making some of our beautiful Indian fables more mainstream in the western world. I look forward to connecting with some Indian publishers.