We are pleased to welcome with us today Richa Jha, author of “The Unboy Boy” which my son and I are reviewing over on the fabulous website, Africa to America.
Richa Jha is a writer and editor who nurtures an insane love for picture books. When not day-dreaming of writing a thousand picture books in a day, Richa is sure to be found curled up with a few of her favourites. Richa is immune to her kids’ constant refrain of ’Grow up, Mamma!’ She loves picture books, and wants the world to fall in love with them as well. Through her website, Snuggle With Picture Books, Richa shares reviews of Indian and International picture books. Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of both Indian and English as picture books begin to fill up the shelves in Indian bookshops. You can learn more about Richa and Snuggle With Picture Books at http://snugglewithpicturebooks.com/
Richa was kind enough to answer some questions for us today, so without further ado, here she is!
About The Unboy Boy
1. Please tell us why someone should read your book.
One, in India and many other cultures around the world, children face tremendous pressure (and not always only overtly) to conform to the notions of being suitably boy-like / girl-like, with clear and obvious masculine and feminine ‘qualities’. It is we, the adults, who perpetuate the boy and girl stereotypes all the time through our statements, media, books, gossips and before we now it, the children have imbibed it. I feel for such boys who will not know of another world where boys need not have that kind of ‘boyhood’ thrust upon them.
And two, because this world is in need of more gentle and sensitive boys rather than macho ones. There is this constant ambient refrain of ‘boys will be boys’ that generations of kids have grown up hearing (and more worrying, believing). It is infuriating to see parents condoning everything abominable in the name of ‘boys will be boys’. I shudder at the thought of these children growing up with this sense of entitlement that has been drilled into them for simply being a boy.
I could not agree more. I have a son, my 7 year-old boy who isn’t a stereotypical “boy”. He isn’t into the imaginary sword play, wrestling, and physical play that boys typically engage in. One of the things he’s loving to do at the moment is his latch hook project! This link is literally the one he’s working on.
Where did you draw your inspiration from for your characters?
The character of Gagan, the unboy boy, is based on my son. He was a lot like Gagan when he was younger – gentle, happy in his own world, mostly unfazed by the jibes that came his way. Now, of course, the teen demons are raising their monstrous heads (!), but he remains a boy who will always be comfortable in his gentleness.
The other characters in the story (friends, sibling, grandfather) who have narrow definitions of manliness and who make fun of Gagan’s gentleness (and mistaking it for meekness) are inseparable chunks of the mosaic of Indian society (as they are of many cultures around the world).
It is my hope that we will be seeing a whole new generation of boys who will not fit the typical stereotype. They are being raised in a society where great strides have been taken in re-defining masculinity and femininity and the blurred lines in between. Sadly, though, we still have a long way to go!
The last page, where Gagan is being himself and his brother and friends are being themselves. The others are busy playing pranks while Gagan is happy with his magnifying glass looking at ants. I think it pretty much sums up what I want to convey through this book – that each of us should be comfortable being what we are. There are no unboy boys and no ungirl girls. If a boy is naturally naughty or macho, that’s great, but it’s equally great if another boy is not.
I think you raise a good point because it’s important to not attribute negative connotations to the concept of masculinity either. It really is about respecting those differences as they fall along a continuum.
Can we expect more books from you in the future?
Oh, absolutely! I am already working on two more! 🙂
About Being an Author:
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Two toughies, both in the context of The Unboy Boy and both of which I’ll have to live with – that I messed up the title and I messed up the ending! It took me a while to get reconciled to these, but I do see the terrible flaw in both! Anushka Ravishankar, the SCBWI India regional advisor and one of the most respected names in kidlit in India, pointed out that by saying ‘the unboy boy’ on the book cover, I am suggesting that Gagan’s qualities are essentially ‘unboy’ like, something that the book attempts to fight.
And two, by Samina Mishra, another highly respected name in Indian kidlit, that I am still ascribing a certain braveness to Gagan’s character before he gets accepted among his peer. What if a boy is like Gagan AND is equally scared of the dark like Gagan’s friends?
I interpret the title as being more of a play on words. I think that what you are arguing in the book (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that Gagan’s qualities are not stereotypically “boy” and really the problem exists with attributing specific characteristics to each gender. So, when someone conjures up “boy”, the understanding should be that his “sex” is male, but being a “boy” doesn’t mean that he has specific personality traits or exhibits specific behaviors (i.e., aggressive, macho, etc.). I think the title speaks more to the rejection of “boy” meaning aggressive, macho, and so on. When I was an academic, a big part of my research program was examining the concept of “gender” (and all its problems). With all due respect, I like the title.
With respect to Gagan having to demonstrate courage to earn the respect of his peers, this is a pretty common theme in books, movies, and real life. A character will do something that places them in a new light. I don’t see demonstrating “courage” as something that is “boy-like” because it also could have been a girl doing the same thing; so, I wouldn’t interpret that to be the reason he becomes accepted in his peers’ eyes. Being brave doesn’t make him “one of the boys”, it just earns him respect and ascribes him value within his peer group. They see that he is worthy of their respect even if he doesn’t exhibit typical “boy” behavior.
How do you react to a bad review?
It depresses me for a while, gives me a week of sleepless nights. Then comes the couple of days of it-could-have-been-worse. After which I usually put on some snazzy Bollywood numbers, dance for a while and it’s out of my system! But it certainly does make me reflect on whether (and how) I could have done things differently, and whether that would have worked better.
If there’s one thing I’ve seen time and time again is that you really need to have a thick skin in this business!
Unless I write it, my book will never get written.
Can you tell us about the challenges you have faced in marketing your books? What works? What’s a bust?
Not easy to say. I think before we roll out our marketing plan, we need to be very specific about what we have set out to achieve at the end of it (because it could be different for each of us). Is it building a brand equity for the author, or it is to reflect directly on the book-sale? My experience says that no matter what we do online, very little of that translates to any visible rise in book sale. So while all the buzz (and often noise) does make the author more visible in the virtual world, the selling of a book needs hardcore legwork. There is no substitute for personal interaction with your prospective buyers (both retailers and readers).
It seems that getting books in readers’ hands is a real challenge when you are competing in a huge marketplace. Great to hear that the best avenue for you has been the personal interactions by which I assume you mean author signings, school visits, etc.?
More About Reading and Writing:
If you could invite any 5 authors to dinner who would you choose?
Neil Gaiman, Cornelia Funke, Mem Fox, Lemony Snicket, Mo Willems.
I would like to hear THAT dinner conversation! Now THAT would be interesting! lol
More About the Author:
If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 things would you want with you?
Let it please be one with a wifi! 🙂 Smart phone / laptop, digi SLR, and my swim wear.
Oh dear, would you ever be in trouble if there were no wifi. lol
If you could choose only one time period (i.e., past, present, or future) and place to live, when and where would you live and why?
I am ALWAYS here and now. I have very little to do with what was or what will be or could be. And I am happy wherever I am (as long as the internet works and I have access to picture books!). I explore it like a maniac, fall in love with it, and adapt with ease. So Lagos is the place for me, until our next move!
Wow! That is a fantastic attitude!
If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
Work in Progress
Love it! I often say that my theme song is “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield:
I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned…
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
• Season? Winter
• Colour? Mahogany
• Singer/Band? Alanis Morissette (a Canuck!)
• City to visit? Brugge
Thank you for joining us and sharing a bit about yourself to our followers, Richa!
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