Wednesday, December 17, 2008


How is it possible that six children with five different faiths become friends and share their life experience in peace and harmony? Author Rukhsana Khan respond to this important question through her last book for young readers Many Windows published by Napoleon and co-written with authors Uma Krishnaswami and Elisa Carbone. The story introduces us to six linked stories of six kids who share a classroom, a teacher and a love of basketball. TJ, Natalie, Jameel, Deepa, Benjamin and Stephanie, each comes from a different faith, but in sharing their stories, they open windows into their world. What is really remarkable of this book is that each child's faith instead of being a barrier in social relationship and understanding becomes an open window on their interesting and different cultures promoting friendship, sharing and tolerance.

KABILIANA - When did you start knowing that you wanted to tell/write stories?
RUKHSANA - When I was about 13 I had a teacher who told me I should be a writer. I had never even considered it up till then, but after that I began to dream about it.

KABILIANA - How was your childhood? Did you use to read books? Which were your favorites?
RUKHSANA -My childhood was lonely and isolated. I grew up in a small town with few friends. We were the only Pakistani Muslim family in town. I loved books! I liked all kinds of books from picture books like Ping, to Nancy Drew mysteries and then historical fiction like Geoffrey Trease and Maia Wojcheschowska to action adventure and fantasy like Tolkien. I also loved the classics like Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

KABILIANA - Did you grow in a family where somebodye was telling you stories?
RUKHSANA- My father is a storyteller, although he doesn’t do so professionally. He also read to us every night from the Quran (our holy book).

KABILIANA - How did you think about writing a book whith characters of different faiths like those of Many Windows?
RUKHSANA - This was actually Elisa Carbone’s idea to write a set of stories about kids from different faiths who were friends, like the three of us.

KABILIANA - How did you involve Uma Krishnaswami and Elisa Carbone?
RUKHSANA - Uma and Elisa were on board with the project from the very beginning. It was originally going to be a much more balanced piece with each of us writing two stories. We each wrote one story of our respective religious celebrations and shopped the project around but got no interest. Then when I approached Napoleon, she agreed to publish it but being Canadian and relying on Canadian grants, she needed me to write 80% of the book because I was the only Canadian on the panel, so I took charge of the project.

KABILIANA - You are from Pakistan and raised in Canada where you currently live, how did you grow in a non muslim country? Did your faith ever caused you difficulties in friend's or other social relationships or as a writer?
RUKHSANA - Yes, many times my faith seemed like an obstacle. In fact when I wanted to become a published author I had family members tell me I’d never make it because of the way I dressed. I’ve often felt that it has closed some doors for me. And yet in other ways people have been able to see past the superficial differences and accept my stories too.

KABILIANA - Nowadays we live in multicultural societies where children of different cultures meet and attend the same school. What do you think about those countries where religion (we intend the main religion of that country for expamle Catholicism in Italy) is taught at school?
RUKHSANA -I grew up during a time when Bible stories were taught and Christmas was established as the ‘norm’. I know the feelings of alienation and imposition that some kids feel as a result of this. But we were always taught to respect them and yet maintain our own faith. I think religion can be taught in schools as long as it’s taught in a respectful but not imposing kind of way. Where children who don’t share the same religious values are not looked down upon for being different. That didn’t happen when I was growing up. I was often looked down upon for not eating pork and for having different values even though when I was very young I didn’t dress that differently. I think it’s right that schools try to accommodate the religious practices of their students of all faiths.

KABILIANA - How did your children, differently from you, live their cultural heritage in a foreign country? How is Canada nowadays in terms of understanding, tolerance and confrontation among different culturess?
RUKHSANA - All three of my daughters are grown and have decided to not only wear the Islamic head scarf but also cover their faces. They did this of course as a result of their own choice. They are even more strict in some ways, in terms of religious observance, than I am. I think Canada is pretty understanding and tolerant. I have travelled all across the country and seldom felt any sort of confrontation from other people. People tend to be very warm and friendly, although my daughters with the way they dress find it much less accommodating.

KABILIANA - Rukshana how in daily life faith can become a bridge of connection instead of being a barrier in human understanding and tolerance?
RUKHSANA -That’s easy. Most of the religions share similar values. Generosity, hospitality, honesty, etc. If people apply their religious principles in dealing with others, respect them, treating them as they would want to be treated, it’s really not very hard to get along at all. I constantly remind myself that God has given everyone freedom of choice, and He is the ultimate judge, and we will all return to Him. All I need to do is live my life to the best of my ability.

KABILIANA - In many countries around the world still millions of children don't have access to books, in some other countries fundamentalists regimes don't allow female to attend school... what can a writer do to encourage and promote literacy in those difficult realities?
RUKHSANA -I don’t think there’s much other people from other cultures can do to change literacy among females in other cultures. What needs to be done is for people from that culture to make the change. For example, the approach I would use in dealing with Muslims who don’t want to allow their girls to be educated is bring forward the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) from religious scriptures and show how this is not part of our faith. Show that all Muslims, including girls, are encouraged to become educated, and point out the historical fact that many early Muslim women were scholars of the faith, so education is encouraged.

KABILIANA - If you would have raised in Pakistan do you think you would have become a writer as well?
RUKHSANA -I doubt very much that I would have been a writer in Pakistan. My extended family circumstances are not very ‘literary’. They’re mostly tradesmen. That’s one of the reasons my father took us away from Pakistan, so he could explore educational opportunities for us in Canada.

KABILIANA - In your writings, Islam seems to be your wallpaper, how is it possible to write about universal values through a specific background without influencing the reader or without imposing the reader a specific point of view?
RUKHSANA - It hasn’t been hard at all. In writing about Muslim characters I recall my own feelings of being Muslim. Being Muslim is something I take for granted, and then I write the story, tell the story within that parameter and I often try to use aspects of being Muslim to create a bit of humour or suspense. For example, with my book Muslim Child (also published by Napoleon) when writing about the prayer I wrote about a boy who has to fart during the prayer. That’s a big deal because before we pray we have to make an ablution and if we fart or go the bathroom, it nullifies the ablution and we have to go back and wash again. So in the middle of his prayer this boy has to fart but he doesn’t want to wash up and pray again so he just squeezes and hopes nothing slips out. It’s very funny. Any kid can relate to such a dilemma, so I accomplish two tasks. I educate the reader about a major aspect of Islam and I tell a funny story at the same time. I’m not imposing anything. I’m just relating this child’s circumstances.

KABILIANA - What will you suggest to who is thinking to get involved in children's writing?
RUKHSANA -I would tell anyone thinking of being a children’s author that in some ways perseverance is more important than talent. When I was beginning there were other authors who were better than I was, but they couldn’t take the rejection. I outlasted them and now I have almost eleven books published. But after a while, talent is what separates your work from the mundane, so don’t forget to keep trying new things and working at your craft.

KABILIANA - Can you tell us at least three illustrated books or children's stories you liked in the last year?
RUKHSANA - Oh I’ve read so many, it’s hard. I really liked Mo Willem’s “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”, Christopher Paul Curtis' Elijah of Buxton, and The Tale of Despereaux. By Kate di Camillo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Living Between Cultures

This week our special guest is author Mitali Perkins who talked about her writing life and her last novel Rickshaw Girl published by Charlesbridge. Mitali attracts our attention to important issues related to life between cultures. Born in Kolkata from a Bengali family and raised in New York since she was seven, Mitali used to borrow books from the local library every week spending her time reading and reading, feeding her fantasy and creativity. At eleven she moved to California with her family and that time she was the only kid at school not born in America and the only kid who was not "white". This background inspired Mitali's writing life, her books explore and focus on the "strange place" called life between cultures.
We love her vision of stories saving lives... Mitali says that "stories have a mysterious power to help us process hard experiences and believes that "giving your kids stories, sitting side by side with them , reading them stories sometimes is a lot more effective than a face to face conversation." We believe in these words. Thank's Mitali for sharing with us.

KABILIANA - Mitali, you were born in Kolkata and raised since the age of six in the USA. What did it mean to you living in a different place from yours?
MITALI - I have learned how to make myself at home in many places, but sometimes, on harder days, no place feels like home.

KABILIANA - What did you family do to maintain your original traditions and culture alive far from home? Did they leave you a strong Bengali cultural heritage?
MITALI - Yes, we were a very traditional household, and my parents brought Bengali art, music, dance, and poetry into our home.

KABILIANA - Can you choose five adjectives to define your childhood far from India?
MITALI - Lonely, creative, rootless, inventive, private

KABILIANA - How did you start writing? And why did you chose to write for children and young readers?
Because I was lonely, I started writing as a child. And because I started writing as a child, and books helped me so much in this strange new world, I decided to write for young readers.

KABILIANA - You have a blog “Mitali’S Fire Escape”. It’s a virtual place where you discuss on multiculturalism and related issues. This name suggests that “ discussing, confronting each other, dialoguing means avoiding ignorance, misunderstanding” , is that what you intended for this space?
MITALI - I see my blog as a safe place where anyone, teens and adults alike, is welcome to chat about cultures and books and writing. It’s not a place to run away, it’s stepping out of the heat for a bit to sit and reflect and learn through good conversation and congenial company.

KABILIANA - Many migrants face big difficulties in living in a new place, job, housing, schooling etc… As identity is a process of metamorphosis, how is it possible according to your experience to create a connection between one’s original culture and the new adoptive one, dealing with daily practical issues?
MITALI - Children can creatively fuse cultures when they have a community of people nearby who are also living between cultures, and also by expanding their imagination through stories. Traveling to the culture of origin, if possible, can be a big help, as are connections with grandparents and other members of the child’s extended family.

KABILIANA - You have written several books for young readers, let’s talk about Rickshaw Girl. What inspired you setting a story in small traditional village in Bangladesh?
MITALI - My parents grew up in Bangladeshi villages.

KABILIANA - Naima, the main character, is a 12 years girl living in a traditional Bengali village with her family. She is the best alpana's painter in her village and wants to use her artistic talent to help earn money for her family. Her father is a rickshaw driver and is getting sick and tired, she wonder if she was a boy she could have helped her father. She believe she can do something, she doesn’t know how but her faith in her talent will make her succeed in her purpose. Naima it’s a strong, ambitious girl and the beginner of a new change in her family . Does this story represents what is really happening in countries like Bangladesh or India? What are the main big changes in this direction?
MITALI - Yes! This is beginning to happen in Bangladesh and India, starting in the cities in India, and in the villages of Bangladesh, thanks to organizations like Grameen.

KABILIANA - Your novel introduces us to another important theme: microfinance. We remind our readers that the founder of Microfinance , Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the Nobel Prize. From your report at the end of the book and general statistics, microfinance has more success with women in developing with success their socio economical status. How do you explain this success?
MITALI - Generally, when women earn money they are more likely to invest it into the household for the children’s sake. Also, if a woman is educated, it is more likely that her children will be educated.
KABILIANA - You frequently meet children in schools and libraries. What are their most frequent questions about diversity, living between cultures, understanding the other?
MITALI - Children are quite open to learning about different cultures. They really connect to the feeling of not fitting in — that’s what they tend to focus on. And when they get a bit older, they ask about dating and marriage since I grew up in a really strict, traditional home.

KABILIANA - What would you say to parents of mixed culture's kids and teachers to encourage their children to build a solid identity made of their full multicultural background?
MITALI - Travel if you can afford it. Invite friends in your home from many cultures. AND READ THEM STORIES!
KABILIANA - Can you list some children’s books you read in the last year you enjoyed?
MITALI - "North of Beautiful"by Justina Chen Headley (YA novel), "Amadi's Snowman" by Katia Novet Saint-Lot (picture book), "Lady Liberty"by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares (nonfiction story of the Statue of Liberty, which was built by many immigrants).

KABILIANA- As a writer what would you say to a beginner writer who means to write about diversity? What to avoid and what to deepen in order to break common stereotypes?
MITALI - I would send them to browse around my blog, and to these posts in particular: “Straight Talk on Writing Race” and “Six Critical Questions To Ask About A Story”.

Mitali's new novel Secret Keeper will be issued on January by Random House .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dedicated to all the children in world, especially those who still don't have access to books

It has been already a month since I interviewed Katia Novet Saint Lot on her Amadi's Snowman , recently on virtual tour, is going to be the main character of a whole afternoon dedicated to all the children in the world, especially those who still don't have access to books.
During the "Afternoon with Amadi" , Amadi and Mama Katia together with Mama Dimitrea and her beautiful drawings.... will take the children directly to Nigeria, exploring through a hand made Tree Book all the main curiosities about this country and its culture.
The afternoon will be divided in three different moments:

Reading of Amadi's Snowman/Exploring Amadi's world
Discussion about reading and the right of sharing knowledge
Drawing and Writing to remember the experience

The best venue we could find is a Bookstore.Yes we'll be surrounded by books ad what a lovely place to talk about reading and books....! Thank's to Giunti al Punto Bookstore who wanted to guest this event.
The meeting is included in the campaign "Un libro per un bambino / One book for one child promoted by Kabiliana, to share awareness about children who don't have access to books and education.

W H E R E & W H E N ?

GIOVEDI' /THURSDAY 11 Dicembre 2008
Lerici - Via Roma 49
16.30- 19.00

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