Children’s corner: Amma Tell Me series by Bhakti Mathur

Illustrated by Maulshree Somani, the books are a visual delight for young ones

  •  Ambica Gulati
It’s not often that you come across bright coloured, art paper printed books on mythology for children. A lot of tales have come down to us from the oral tradition, some have been written in heavy texts and some have been written in ancient scripts. But Hong Kong-based Bhakti Mathur has turned them into a easy to remember style, making mythology and Indian tales fun for today’s child. It is also a way of keeping them in touch with their roots, irrespective of the country they live in.
In an email conversation, I came to know what inspired Mathur and how the illustrator Maulshree gave colour to the tales. Excerpts:

Bhakti Mathur answers:
What has been the inspiration for these series?
The motivation for writing the ‘Amma Tell Me’ series was to share with my sons the fascinating stories from Indian mythology that I had grown up with. But I found that there were no resources that were simple to understand and that captured the rich imagery of mythological India that is such an integral part of these stories for me. So I went ahead and started writing the stories in a style that I think kids find fun and non-preachy and collaborated on the illustrations to bring out the imagery that I want my stories to convey. I set up my own publishing company, called Anjana Publishing (the inspiration for the name came from Hanuman as Anjana is the name of his mother and Hanuman is my favorite God) to publish the books. 

How did do you choose your subjects?
I started with Holi as Holi was around the corner and I wanted to tell my sons the story.  Diwali came next and Ramayana followed. I followed the festivals and Gods that I wanted to tell them about and did a trilogy on Krishna and a book on Ganesha.  Currently I am writing a trilogy on Hanuman, part 2 of which has been launched in Delhi. Hanuman is my favourite God and I am really excited to be writing about him.

Where all have you done your research—books, people, legends you heard?
A lot of research went into the writing and in fact, research, is my favourite part of the writing process. I have some prior knowledge, but I quickly realised that there is so much that I don’t know and then some more!  The research is mainly done via books on the festivals and the Gods. I have tried to incorporate stories that I heard growing up from my grandmother (like the Lakshmi story in the Diwali book).  I think our grandmothers were the best storytellers.

How has been the response for the books?
I am lucky that the books have received a very warm reception all over the world.  It has been a very encouraging and heartwarming.  The books are now available in major bookstores in India, Singapore and Hong Kong as well as and on Amazon and in select chains in the US.
I often get emails from parents telling me how much their kids enjoyed the books, or how they as parents have learnt something new, but the best letters I get are from children who have read the book or have been to one of my storytelling sessions.  They often write to me telling me who their favourite characters are with vivid drawings. This is the most rewarding part of writing, knowing that you have been able to create a special moment for someone or have touched someone.

Where all can we find the books—stores, schools, libraries?
In India the books are available in all the major bookstores.  A list of all the bookstores in on my website www.bhaktimathur.com. 

What are the future plans?
As a writer I feel I am just starting out and have a long way to go.  I have more books planned under the ‘Amma Tell Me’ Series.  Our mythology is so vast and fascinating that there seem to be endless things to write about.  Let’s see where this journey takes me.

Maulshree Somani shares:
How did you get into art?
As child I loved drawing. For me a break from studies would be to sit with crayons and draw. I used to draw a lot on my hand. I found crayons, felt pens, paints very fascinating especially they way the colours looked arranged in the box. My mum assumed since I liked drawing, creative would be the right career to take. So that’s how I got into an art school at the age of 17. I didn't know what I was getting into, but it worked for me.

How do you choose your colours?
I love colours as they set the mood. It can reflect what’s in your mind and your personality. So the choice of colours entirely depends on what I want my creative to
reflect. 

How different is it illustrating myths and tales in the past and now?
Earlier people liked to see things for how they were, now I think people like seeing
things for what they could be. People are now accepting different illustration styles.
Earlier the books I had seen on mythology were realistic, now illustrators are experimenting with their own interpretations of characters.

Do you do some research on what appeals to the children?
I have a two-year-old. So I really observe what he likes, pictures that attract him, forms that get his attention. So being with him, gives me a lot of insight on what appeals to children. 

Which is your favourite medium?
I like working with different mediums as they compliment different moods one wants to express. So I like experimenting.

What do you like doing best—graphics, pencil, oils?

As I mentioned earlier, I like trying different mediums. It all depends on what I feel like will work best for a particular project.

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