Back to School 1

One of the occupational hazards of writing for children is the period need to visit schools for interactive sessions. While these can often be inspiring and fulfilling, there are also occasions when they are not.
We bring you some stories from Jerry Pinto, Ranjit Lal, Shalini Srinivasan and Arti Sonthalia.

Interludes: Jerry Pinto

First little girl: I think your book is boring.
Me: Oh have you read it?
First little girl: No, but it looks boring.
Me: Haven’t you heard of the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.’
(Another little girl walks up.)
Second little girl: Did you tell him?
First little girl: Yes.
Second little girl: What he said?
First little girl: Something boring.
Little boy: Why is your name Jeronimo?
Me: My parents gave me the name.
Little boy: Didn’t they want to call you Stilton?
Me: Because I am not a mouse.
Little boy: How did they know?
Little girl: Your book is too yellow.
Me: I’m sorry.
Little girl: Do you have anything in pink?
Little boy: You are very fat.
Me: I am at that.
Little boy: You are too fat to be a writer.
Me: I might be at that.
Little boy: At what?
Little boy: Uncle, uncle.
Me: Yes?
Little boy: I can’t find your book.
Me: Here it is.
Little boy: Thank you.
(He puts it down.)
Me: Don’t you want it?
Little boy: No, I just wanted to find it.
Jerry Pinto is the author of many award-winning books for children and adults. His books for Duckbill include Monster Garden and Phiss Phuss Boom.

Hot Air: Ranjit Lal

In one school, the teachers got all in a tizzy, when I read out or spoke about my story ‘Dungbeetle Dhamaka’ and introduced them all to the metal and leather dungbeetle gang, the Frightful Farts … You know led by Big Fart and with other such illustrious souls as Sweety Fart, Little Fart, Party Fart, Arty Fart, Baby Fart, Squeaky Fart, Hearty Fart etc.
I heard this frenzied horrified whisper behind me: ‘Why is he saying fart? Tell him not to say fart! He shouldn’t say fart!’

I think they nearly pulled me off the stage!

Ranjit Lal is the author of many acclaimed novels for children and adults. His book for Duckbill is The Deadly Royal Recipe.

Not the Same Page: Shalini Srinivasan

AKA the time I realised that the problem was not that the kids and I weren’t on the same page; it was that I was on a page and they were on a completely different creature.

It began like this: I went to a school and met a bunch of eleven-year-olds and read them a story and then we talked about wildly improbable places we wanted to visit, and made jokes about plants we have tried to grow but ended up killing instead and it was all very fun.

When the school asked me if I wanted to talk to some not-eleven-year-olds, I was casual, even cheerful. ‘Of course,’ I said.

There were some ninth and tenth standard kids, they told me, who want to be writers. Talk to them. So I armed myself mentally with all the things that help me write (a flashing light that says EDIT IT AGAIN, a roulette wheel of strange creatures, a lucky draw bin of words that make me laugh, a stern travel agent named Plot …) and wandered into the library.

‘So,’ I began with what I hoped was a genial grin, ‘I hear you want to be writers. What kind of stuff do you like?’

There was a vast and awkward silence.

I grinned a little less.

There was a vast and awkward silence.

‘Personally,’ I said desperately, ‘I like fantasy. And comics. And funny books!’

They stared at me as one would gaze upon a fungus on one’s bathroom wall—part resentment and part bafflement.

One more try, I promised myself. Then I’d flee.

‘Oh and detectives!’ I said with hideous and artificial brightness, ‘I love detective stories.’

A boy nodded at me slightly. His friend across the room caught his eye, and there was a brief flash of something, some distant cousin to enthusiasm. The fungus had been found of mild interest. I smiled, hopeful, pathetic.

A third boy eyed them and relented. ‘Thrillers,’ he said.

‘You like thrillers?’ I boomed, overflowing with joy. ‘What kind?

More kids now turned to meet my eye. A couple whispered to their neighbours. Something was astir at last.

‘Lee Child?’ I prompted.

They looked at me blankly.

‘Errr…’ I scrabbled for another contemporary thriller writer, while my mind beat an ancient litany of SidneySheldonDickFrancisRobinCook.

Several kids opened their mouths. Then they closed them again.

I gave up. ‘John Grisham?’ I said.

They exchanged more looks.

Finally, a boy at the back of the class put up his hand. ‘Cold Case,’ he said. (Or something. Mystery Case maybe?)

It was a battle cry. The others took it up. ‘Cold case!’ they cried in a hundred (okay, twenty) voices, and a fizzle of energy swept through the class.

‘I haven’t read that,’ I confessed. ‘Why don’t you tell me about it?’

Backmost Boy gave me a look that made it clear he was Not Amused by the fungus.

‘There are clues?’ he said.

‘And murder weapons to find?’ a girl added kindly.

Then everyone started shouting at once.

‘Wait, wait,’ I said weakly. ‘Start from the beginning. Remember I haven’t even heard of this thing.’



The kids shook their heads at me, disappointed, pitying.

‘It’s a game?’ a girl in front said finally.

‘We all play it,’ someone else said.

‘Everyone plays it!’ a third kid said. ‘On Facebook?



And oh again.

‘Oh like thaaat,’ I said. ‘You want to write games!’

Fungus:0; Kids:4000.

After that, we talked about plot and what might motivate someone to kill, and what kinds of clues they might leave. We even ventured a few funny bits. And when I said antiquated words like book they pretended politely that they couldn’t hear me.

It was quite the education.


Shalini Srinivasan is the author of two novels for children and many many comics. Her book for Duckbill is Vanamala and the Cephalopod.

Sign on My Shirt: Arti Sonthalia

After the first two sessions with the kids there was a lunch break. The teacher was taking me for lunch to the staff room, when hordes of children came running towards us.

I asked the teacher, ‘Where were they running to?’

She looked shocked. ‘I don’t know!’

And within seconds, I was surrounded by kids clamouring for my autograph. I was dazed but pleased.

The teacher kept screaming, ‘Get back, she will sign for everybody.’

The kids were even louder: ‘Ma’am, please sign for me!’

Older kids came to see what the commotion was all about. ‘Who is she?’ they demanded.

Someone said, ‘She is a rock star!’

Another one said, ‘No, she is an author!’

A third shouted, ‘No, she’s an actress! Don’t you know the Telugu actress Arti Agarwal? I have seen her in a Telugu movie!!’

‘Are you Arti Agarwal?’ yelled one child.

Agarwal used to be my name—so I said yes.

There were even louder shrieks. ‘Arti Agarwal the actress is here!’ The kids from Class 6 and 7 now also started asking for my autograph.

‘Sign on my hand!’ yelled one child.

‘Sign on my shirt!’ yelled another.

Drawn by the commotion, the principal turned up and dispersed the mob. I was quite relived to be saved, but to tell the truth, I did enjoy the paparazzi for a few minutes!

 Arti (Agarwal) Sonthalia is a contributor to many Chicken Soup books and the author of the hOle book Big Bully and M-me.

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