Tag archives: Poonam Mistry

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspired by India

Inspired by India 2Lantana Publishing held an illuminating and thought-provoking event at the Nehru Centre in London last week, inspired by two of their recent picture books: You’re Safe With Me, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and Nimesh the Adventurer, written by Ranjit Singh, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.

The authors and illustrators each told us about factors that influenced them. Chitra’s love of story-telling dates back to her early childhood in India. She remembers hearing stories from a very young age. Enid Blyton, particularly The Magic Faraway Tree, inspired all the stories she told her friends and relations.

Poonam, also born in India, was always fascinated by Indian folk art, with traditional textiles a particular inspiration. Aboriginal art has been another major influence on her style of illustration, along with the art of William Morris.

Born and raised in Southall with parents from India, Ranjit said his real education came from the local library, his haven when truanting. Japanese and Bengali film directors, Shakespeare and Sanskrit epics taught him how to tell stories.

Mehrdokht’s interest in books goes back to her childhood in Iran. Her mother taught literature. She fell in love with illustration when an art teacher asked the children to illustrate a children’s story. She chose one of Andersen’s tales.

Both You’re Safe With Me and Nimesh the Adventurer have been extremely well received within the children’s book world, and more importantly by children themselves, both in the UK and internationally. We heard that huge numbers of parents in India want books in English that feature children with lives like theirs.

Alice Curry of Lantana asked the panel their views about ‘the diversity label’ and whether they felt pressure to reflect their backgrounds in their work. All had experienced such pressure, and all agreed that the label is limiting and unhelpful (although Ranjit pointed out its marketing value). Chitra told us she gets more rejections for books without Indian characters, and that publishers frequently request Indian folk tales. Poonam and Mehrdokht were united: ‘We are illustrators. We should not be defined by our ethnicity or religion.’ Alice said Lantana never imposes limits on their authors and illustrators. How refreshing to hear that Chitra and Poonam’s next picture book for them is set in the Arctic.

This piece was written for Armadillo Magazine.