How did you discover that you enjoy writing stories for children? What role does creative writing play in your life?
I was an engineer for many years with a long career in information technology and business consulting. But when I left my job ten years ago for family reasons, I remembered how much I had enjoyed writing when I was a child.
I used to write short stories and poetry almost every day. My parents encouraged us to be creative as well as studious. My two sisters and I often held our own writing competitions at home. I have notebooks filled with stories, and even wrote four novels of a detective series (inspired by an idea from my dad), which are tucked away in a trunk in my parents' home somewhere. In high school my city's newspaper published many of my poems. But I gave it up to focus on college and graduate school.
Soon, I started tinkering with writing stories again. I took some courses at the Institute of Children's Literature; this helped me gain confidence and become serious about writing for children. It is my passion, and I have been writing regularly for publication purposes since.
In addition to Super Teacher Worksheets, my fiction has been published in Highlights for Children, Hopscotch for Girls, Fun for Kidz, Kahani, and Red Squirrel magazines and is forthcoming in Humpty Dumpty magazine. Now, I wish I'd never stopped writing!You have two young children of your own. Do your kids have an impact on your writing? Are there any similarities between your children and the characters in your stories?
My twins, Asha and Ajay, just turned four and are an endless source of inspiration. They are best friends but exact opposites: Asha is outgoing, Ajay is cautious; Asha likes chocolate ice cream, and Ajay likes vanilla. They also quibble all the time and are mischievous. This generates a wealth of story ideas!
I often keep a notebook and pen handy in the kitchen to jot down these ideas. Frequently though, I find my children have appended my notes with their own "stories," but I don't mind. I love to find their scribbles in my notebook because in a way my writing has become a family project. Even my husband, Jay, participates! He is my "editor-in-chief"; every story goes through him before I send it out the door.
None of my characters are directly based on my twins, but I hope my characters embody my children's playfulness.In your experience, what keeps young readers interested in a story? How do you capture a small child's attention with written words?
Young children tend to enjoy short, fast-paced, concrete stories with repetition and/or rhyme. Abstract stories with a lot of detail will probably overwhelm them. So, in my stories, I try to keep the language snappy, fun, and at their level.
I also like to write about topics that relate to a child's world: school, siblings, and pets to name a few, so that the child can relate to the story.What were some of your favorite books to read as a child?
I was an avid reader as a child. My parents took my sisters and me to the local library every Saturday. I remember the librarian once asked us with an amazed smile, "Did you girls actually read all these books?" because each Saturday we would return a huge pile of books. Our answer was a resounding, "Yes!"
Some of my favorites were Amelia Bedelia, The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Later in middle school I was a fan of rich detail and faraway settings; Anne of Green Gables and other classics like Little Women became my favorites.What are your children's favorite books?
Jay and I read to Ajay and Asha every night. Martha No! and The Prince Won't Go to Bed! are two of their favorites. They also like the Fancy Nancy, Amelia Bedelia, Little Blue Truck, Pete the Cat and Click, Clack, Moo series.You've written several series of stories for Super Teacher Worksheets, including "Emma and Alex," "Ian and Sir Wags-a-lot," and "Anna and Kitty." At what point do you decide to turn a story idea into a series? Why are series helpful for young readers?
If my character has an ongoing need or problem that can't be fixed in one story, then I know it will become a series. For example, Emma and Alex have an ongoing desire to find mysteries to solve. Each mystery can stand as its own story - thus, a series.
Series are great for young readers because kids often feel more secure with the familiar. They know the characters and feel a connection to them, so reading is more enjoyable. The more we like something, the more we crave it.Many authors who want to enhance their writing and storytelling skills participate in writer organizations. What have you gained from being a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators?
SCBWI is a wonderful organization for writers, regardless of experience level, to learn more about the craft of writing. I visit the writers' message board on SCBWI every day to stay up to date on the market and connect with other writers.
I've found many market opportunities through SCBWI, including Red Squirrel, a Chinese literary print magazine and my first international publication. It was fun to see my story translated into another language, even though I couldn't read a single word of it!Some of your stories have cultural themes, such as "The Holiday Surprise," a story about the Holi Festival from India. Does culture play a role in the themes you like to write about? If yes, how so?
Some of my stories reflect my Indian-American culture. I believe learning about other cultures helps to build tolerance, peace, and understanding; this is what I hope to accomplish with my stories. Highlights published my story about an Indian-American girl wanting to communicate with her grandma in India, but the girl and her grandma didn't speak the same language. An adult reader commented to me afterwards that she showed my story to an Indian-American friend and that it opened up a discussion about their cultures. That was one of the greatest compliments anyone could have given me.
I love to learn and read about other cultures, too. I've been lucky to have traveled across North America, Europe, parts of Asia, the South Pacific, Mexico and the Caribbean. Traveling is one of my hobbies and I often keep a travel journal for story ideas.
I write about my Floridian culture, too. Fun for Kidz recently published my story about saving baby sea turtles, a common event on our beaches in Florida.If you could meet another author, from any time period, who would it be, and why?
Shannon Hale, author of The Princess Academy series. I love her writing style; it's so fluid and whimsical. I am currently reading the third book in this series, and when I'm done, I'll probably read the whole series again!What is one tip you'd give to parents and teachers who are helping their children develop a love for reading at an early age?
All kids are different but this has worked well for us: allow the kids to participate. Asha and Ajay like interactive reading.
We started reading to Asha and Ajay when they were babies. They liked interactive books - books with flaps, textured books, etc. We read to them as they interacted with the book.
Now, they are preschoolers. They love picture books and early readers. They are drawn to the artwork, especially bright, whimsical art.
We let them study and touch the pictures with their fingers as we read to them. They like to match what's going on in the pictures with what we're reading to them. They're into counting right now and often stop us to count objects on a page. They've amazed us with how much they've memorized from their favorite books. They like to recite the story, page by page, as we read aloud. We also ask Ajay and Asha questions about the story and art work. So, in our case it's a very interactive process. Otherwise, I'm not sure how long they would sit still for story time.
We really enjoyed learning more about Anita and her compelling storytelling abilities. If you have any questions or comments for Anita, please leave your feedback in the comments section. You can check out some of Anita's pieces by following the links below: