Stories of the Storytellers : 5 inspiring stories of 5 children’s literature authors
By Abhilasha Iyer
Behind every book that carries our minds to lands our feet haven't touched, there is a writer.
Behind every character we empathise with, shed tears of joy and sorrow for every little triumph and defeat of theirs, is a writer.
Behind every storyteller, is a story that made him, her, they, one.
Their books have kept us company on train journeys, been that essential part of every travel suitcase, knit families together every bedtime, maybe even been our first book to be read, been the only reason we sneaked out of classrooms and into libraries for.
Today, let's read between the lines of the lives of our all time favourite children's book authors
“We become writers before we learn to write. The rest is simply learning how to put it all together.”
These words as simple and yet so profound in meaning, are shared by none other than British descent Indian contemporary children literature author, Ruskin Bond. On his 85th birthday Ruskin Bond published the third in a series of memoirs, “Coming Round the Mountain” adding yet another gem to his repertoire of works, from genres spanning essays, short stories, fiction and novella, which he has been penning from the tender age of 17.
Having lived in different parts of the country and being separated from his family and losing his father at a young age, he found his belonging in books, a companionship introduced to him by his father. A bookworm at heart from a young age, he would even miss early morning physical training sessions to unlock the library and be lost in the world of books. He was only 17 when he wrote his first book, A Room on the Roof, a semi - autobiographical story of Rusty, a confused and lonely teenager, who sought thrill in escapades and adventures with the boys of the hills. Doordarshan TV even adapted these stories as a series, Ek Tha Rusty
“It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.”
- Ruskin Bond
Enamored by the scenic beauty of the mountains, Bonds stories paint a vivid imagery of the scenic mountains, from his Ivy Cottage in Mussoorie, where he lives. He imagines his books as a film before he writes, making even the residents of the plains yearn for its solitude.
Despite having a lonely childhood, he has preserved the happy nostalgia from childhood in the pages of his book, bringing the beauty of simplistic joys to life. “It is only through the love of books that one becomes a serious writer,” he says.
“Books actually opened a new door for me. You can't go to the Himalayas but someone goes to the Himalayas, so their experience you can read.”
- Sudha Murthy
Philanthropist, social worker, teacher, India’s first female engineer to be hired by TELCO and the favorite amongst children, is Sudha Murthy a prolific children’s literature author. The multi-faceted saree clad role model, has a treasure trove of stories and life experiences to share. From hidden gems of Indian mythology in her latest Upside Down King to technical books to children literature “How I Taught My Grandmother To Read”, her simplistic style of writing both in English and Kannada appeal to the sentiments of the common man.
Calling herself the writer-next-door, she considers herself fortunate to have grown in an age void of electronic distractions which in turn made her a voracious reader. Her mother would insist write a 25-line review on a topic of her interest everyday. Following this habit every day, her thoughts began to flow with the ink, and she started out early writing in Kannada which were then translated to English. It was not until Wise and Otherwise that she first wrote in English and was then translated to Kannada, breaking language barriers for herself.
Her work as a social worker at The Infosys Foundation has given her the opportunity to interact with individuals from different classes of society, from destitute to alcohol addicts, she has empathetically captured their pathos from the plethora of these experiences to convey it to a common man. For her contribution to literature, she was awarded R.K. Narayan's Award for Literature.
Ultimately, you will survive if you are good. Books cannot be sold because I am Narayan Murthy’s wife.
- Sudha Murthy
If your knowledge on Greek Mythology has been thorough, you have The New York Times bestselling American author Rick Riordan to credit. Most well-known for his five-book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Rick Riordan has been able to bring out the timelessness of Greek mythology and make it relevant to today’s times, while also creating a world of fantasy for every child and adults who are childlike at heart to escape into. After graduating from the University of Texas, Rick Riordan chose to teach middle schoolers English, History and Greek mythology for 15 years and was even bestowed with Master Teacher Award for his exceptional teaching services.
In these 15 years, Riordan developed a good bonding with his students and gathered an idea of what interested children. He often caught sight of his children picking up J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and reading it for the umpteenth time. Watching them engrossed in a world of fantasy, it drove him to create another fantasy fiction for his young readers.
There’s an interesting real-life story behind Percy Jackson. Riordan’s son, Haley, who deals with ADHD and dyslexia, insisted that he narrated bedtime stories on Greek gods and deities. When he ran out of stories to tell, he tapped into his subject he taught at school and remembered giving his students a creative writing assignment where he asked them to create demigods based on the mythology and send them off on a Greek-style quest. In that very moment, he conjured Percy, a 12 year old boy entrusted with responsibility of returning Zeus’ lightning bolt. This story weaving went on for 3 nights and his son asked him to write a book, the first copy of whose was approved by his mini editors – his middle schoolers and his son!
The first out in the series was The Lightning Thief and the rest is history. In order to honour those suffering from dyslexia, Riordan modelled out Percy having ADHD and dyslexia as a creative child with a zest to bring change, inspired by his own son! Here’s his message to aspiring young writers,
Find a mentor who will guide you. Reach out to the authors who inspire you!
Read, read and read different styles, voices and structure!
Keep a journal and write everyday : descriptions of people, stories you hear but write everyday! Writing is like a sport, you get better with practice. If you don’t write, you’ll suffer from writing atrophy
Don’t get discouraged. Rejection is a part of the process, keep at it
"Writing for me is a kind of compulsion, so I don’t think anyone could have made me do it, or prevented me from doing it."
The girl who grew up to write a seven-part series on The Boy Who Lived is Joanne Katherene Rowling or J.K.Rowling. Growing up, she was surrounded by books. “I lived for books,’’ she has said. “I was your basic common-or-garden bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.” She has always wanted to be a a writer and if there is anyone who believed in her dream more than her, was her best friend Sean, who like the Weasleys owns a battered old Ford Anglia (rings a bell?) She was only 6 when she wrote her first book called Rabbit, which was a book about a rabbit with measles.
When she was a teenager when she lost her mother to multiple sclerosis. This loss affected her deeply and is reflected in the Mirror of Erised in the Philosopher’s Stone, where Harry sees his parents for the first time, which is her favourite scene. While she studied Classics and French at the University of Exeter, she used the Latin from her classics to create the spells you know at the back of your wand!
All it took was 4 hours delayed train journey, from Manchester for the idea of Harry Potter magically pop in her head! The minute she got off the train, she rushed off to her flat to continue writing. At this time, she lived off government assistance while raising her daughter as a single mother. She would even sit in the cafés of Edinburgh completing her chapters, teaching and writing in every spare moment. The first three chapters of the Philosopher’s Stone were rejected by various publishing houses except one whoe wrote back to her. Just like the Letters to Hogwarts opened a whole new world up for Harry, this one letter, J.K. says, was “the best letter I had ever received in my life.”
After her first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s in America) Stone was published by Bloomsbury in 1997, a new chapter in her life began. One after the other, her books cast a spell on adults and kids alike queueing up in beelines just to be transported to the magical world of Harry Potter. Her books have been adapted into award winning movies and she even went on to establish Lumos, an NGO that finds homes for abandoned children.
Did you know?
J.K.Rowling personified her own struggle with depression as Dementors, the happiness sucking creatures, that leave one with the absence of hope
If one is to borrow a page from J.K.Rowling’s life, it is that of persistence and the undying belief in one’s dreams.
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall…”
- Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The name behind the famous Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is Roald Daahl, a British children’s book author with 19 books to his credit. His quirky characters, often with a crude sense of humour who set off on wildly imaginative journeys, kept his young audience chuckling and hooked on to his books such as Matilda, Fantastic Mr.Fox, to name a few. Quite a prankster himself, Roald was sent to St.Peter’s and later on Repton boarding school, after he pulled a practical joke on his previous school principal. The boys of Repton were often called for trial tasting of chocolate. The aftertaste of this memory planted the seeds of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in the years to come.
With a reckless urge to travel, Roald Dahl quit university, and was only 23 when he joined the Royal Air Force and became a World War II fighter pilot. While his travel dreams took off, an unfortunate air crash at Egypt landed him with severe neck and back injuries, and he was transferred to Washington as an air attache. The author C.S. Forester asked him to write his experiences for the Saturday Evening Post and he did such a fine job penning them that it was published without edits. Thus, began his journey as a children’s book author. From his first book James and the Giant Peach, which he made up while telling stories to his five children, to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and even the prodigal Matilda, his literature continues to remain the yardstick for storytelling
"The pen is mightier than the sword"
While these authors have changed and touched lives with words and imagination, you can too!
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