Author website/social media:
Instagram and facebook: Venkatraman.padma
1. When you were my age (10), did you like to read?
I didn’t like to read, I loved to read! I had a tough childhood, in which books were a saving grace.
2. What is a book that made an impact on you?
Several books had an impact on me… and here are a few that come to mind. THE SECRET GARDEN, for example, was wonderful in some ways (I loved the magical element, the garden and the robin) and awful in others (many aspects of the story drip with racism and ableism). I liked a book called THE SPRIG OF BROOM because it was one of the few that wasn’t overtly racist (except in that it was populated entirely with white characters). I also enjoyed a book called 31 BROTHERS AND SISTERS – because it was the ONLY book I had as a kid that featured a dark skinned girl who defied gender norms in her society; as a child, I assumed the book had been written by an African author; as an adult, though, I discovered the book wasn’t and that it had limitations I hadn’t been sensitive too as a child…despite all that, it was the one example – the only example I had – of the kind of book I wanted to write in that it was the only one I came across that actually had a protagonist with dark skin who was in some ways like me, a girl who rebelled, a girl who had a burning desire to forge her own way in the world, a girl who fought to express her independence.
3. Is it hard to come up with book ideas?
Nope. I wish I could live long enough to finish writing all my book ideas, but as it turns out, even if I managed to write a book a year until the day I drop dead (and I plan to drop dead at the age of 101 with a pen in my hands), I won’t be done with all my book ideas…
4. The Bridge Home talks about a less nice side of India. A lot of the books I have read about life in India are not so nice life. Do you have book suggestions that show the nice side? (I hear it is really pretty, colorful,busy)
I like to think THE BRIDGE HOME show both sides of life in India – after all, the characters manage to find laughter and courage in the toughest situations – which is pretty wonderful, no? Anyway, here are suggestions for the nice side – I think my novel A TIME TO DANCE explores a nice side, for the most part, as it looks at Indian dance and a mostly functional family and solid friendships. There are also many lovely books that show the nice side of Indian culture – I just read a charming little book that’s coming out this fall called COUNT ME IN by Varsha Bajaj which shows a totally nice South Asian Indian American family; as for books set on the Indian subcontinent, one of my favorites is RICKSHAW GIRL by Mitali Perkins which is about a very lovely Bangladeshi family; THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING is a joyful romp by Uma Krishnaswami that’s set partly in India; Deepa Agarwal is an Indian author who’s been writing fantasy inspired by Indian tales for decades, such as the book BLESSED, but I’m not sure how easy it is to get her books in the United States…
5. What author or book have read recently that impacted you
Margarita Engle is an author whom I admire and someone I care for deeply; she is so generous. I read SOARING EARTH – a companion to her acclaimed and award-winning memoir in verse ENCHANTED AIR.. and it’s one of the few sequels I’ve read that is just as wonderful as the first book. It came out this spring, I think, around the same time as THE BRIDGE HOME.
6.Is there a new or lesser known author you think kids should be aware of?
In this day and age of twitter, I’d like to mention a few authors who aren’t on social media (because I hope and think kids should be aware of them and I’d like to make sure we don’t forget their marvelous work just because they aren’t on the internet): Donna Jo-Napoli is a prolific author, who, among other things, has written books that relate to Greek Mythology that are really interesting – such as the young adult novel THE GREAT GOD PAN. An Indian-American author who comes to mind as I write this note is KASHMIRA SHETH; she’s pretty well known, but I think it’s important for us to celebrate people like her, even as we welcome new authors into the field. Mildred Taylor’s ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY is a classic, in my opinion, and a book I hope kids are aware of – and again, an author who isn’t on the internet I don’t think. CAROLYN COMAN is a superb author, whom I think kids should be aware of; her novel WHAT JAMIE SAW is pretty incredible and an absolute gem of a book. To me, Coman is one of the immortal names in kidlit. As for authors who are on all things twitter and whom I do think are pretty well known, but here’s a shout out to them, just to be sure – Dan Gemeinhart, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Phil Bildner, Ann Braden, Brian Lies, Kristy Dempsey, and the incredible Kathi Appelt, author of THE UNDERNEATH which is a superb book.
7 What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?
Read, read, read. Don’t worry about whether adults around you think a book deserves acclaim or awards – have the strength to form your own opinions. Most important of all, don’t be in a hurry to see your name in print – it’s not publication that makes an author and author, it’s love of the written word, love of the process that makes a person an author. Material success isn’t always a reflection of a book or an author’s true worth – there’s a lot of luck in this field. I became an author because of my desire to communicate and to increase compassion in the world because to me, a book isn’t merely something that entertains, a book is a magical key that unlocks empathy…that’s not to say everyone who is an author needs to feel this way, but it’s just to say this is where I come from.
8 As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
The most wonderful thing in the whole world is to hear from readers who’ve been touched or moved by your work. In a way, I feel like my books aren’t really mine. THE BRIDGE HOME belongs to Rukku, Muthu, Arul and Viji, to the real people who inspired the story and to the characters in my head and heart who are very real to me – every honor I receive is an honor for them, too. When I was in India, a boy broke down when he delivered the vote of thanks after my talk – and I heard later that he rarely ever expressed himself so seriously; so many children have been spurred to action because of THE BRIDGE HOME and that means a lot. Finally, I know of at least six children and two adults who drew enough strength from the book that they were able to move from tough situations in their lives to places of greater safety – and that is humbling and honoring in the most immense way possible. It is a priceless gift to that the book was one small positive step in their lives, one tiny element of change for the better in our world.
9 If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?
THE LORD OF THE RINGS – despite all the violence – and I’d change it, so there were a bunch of heroines of color! It’s such a wonderful read, in so many ways, but there are a lot of problems in it, too – and I think it would be sort of boring to enter a book world in which everything was pretty much fine already … it’s more fun to think of a book world that needs change, a book world in which I would need to challenge gender-norms and racism and able-ism, especially a book world in which I’d have to ride horses and use magic while I did all of that! And after that, for rest and entertainment, I’d like to enter the world of THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste, because that’s a world which is filled with magic and doesn’t need to be fixed!