Introducing Global Read Aloud,
& a Q/A for Padma Venkatraman,
author of THE BRIDGE HOME
Here’s my fresh poem today inspired by the Global Read Aloud, which unfurls after summer recess.
“My street” by Jan Godown Annino
Quaked earth in Sicily shakes me –
family rides by vulcan shadow
drought hitting honey bees honey farmers in Bulgaria
exhorbitant price rises in Argentina
echoes of WW II children of Amsterdam
echoes of Trail of Tears children in America
child drowned in cruise waters on frantic float to freedom
child shot on panicked walk to freedom crossing lion safari lands
potent stories reach my small suburban foot-path
opening eyes heart embrace
to create One Street
. . . .
I appreciated so very recently learning about a big book event – Global Read Aloud.Padma Venkatraman, author of a lovely & potent new MG novel, THE BRIDGE HOME, set in coastal Chennai, India, enlightened me about this interactive book celebration.
Lyrical Picture Books, lively Early Readers, lovely MG &YA are selected for focused reading & reader interactionwith the creators & other young readersduring the GRA celebration of world stories.
All books selected invite participants to understand & welcome learning about lifestyles, regions, cultures, ideas & teachings that may be lesser-known. According to Kara Yorio in School Library Journal, students have reached out to each other via social media, traditional mail, Skype & other ways to discuss selected global books.
In her tale, inspired by incidents from real life, four children of coastal Chennai, India, find themselves cast out upon the streets. How will they survive? What will that look like, day and night? Can they become a family? Can a street child living with a disability be as resilient as those without that challenge? Who among the many adults encountered, can be truly trusted? How do children handle the sorrows that inevitably shadow street people living near, but also so far,from the beautiful beaches along the giant Bay of Bengal?
THE BRIDGE HOME is deservedly moving here there everywhere in reading groups, at teacher conferences & home study programs. I haven’t had a chance to look at all Mock Newbery 2020 blogs but I am happy to see this dream list.
Classrooms from South Africa to North Carolina are talking about connecting across community streets to discuss THE BRIDGE HOME after summer recess. You can join the Facebook page:
But some won’t be waiting for September 30th – official start of Global Read Aloud – to meet Padma’s four young characters, thanks to the far reach of TV. And last month in The New York Times, Marjorie Ingall had this good word to say. So much YAY! for a book I love.
Q/A with Padma Venkatraman, author of THE BRIDGE HOME
Your story is so excellent in offering an MG visit into extreme poverty, while authentically sharing the characters’ lightness & love. How many years has this beauty has been in the making? Please share a peek into the revision process on this one, after contract.
PADMA This book was about 5 years in the making, maybe even 6 or 7! It was easier than the others to revise in some ways (except that I was used to writing YA so it started off a lot larger and I had to trim a lot while retaining the essence and especially the emotional punch.)
Climbing the Stairs began as diary entries, but that seemed too narrow; so I widened it to rewrite the whole thing in third person but that felt too impersonal; then I rewrote it all in first person and I knew I had the voice right.
Island’s End originally had 2 voices but then I realized I didn’t need multiple points of view and it was just Uido’s story.
A Time To Dance started as verse and stayed verse in the end but in between I was frightened and tried prose which sounded horrible for that novel, so then I trusted my instincts and went back to verse.
With THE BRIDGE HOME, I just knew the voice was right, right from the start.
It’s a really unusual voice – 2nd person – direct address, so it has the feel of one long letter that Viji the protagonist is writing to her sister, but I wanted the reader to feel both like Viji was speaking to her sister but also, in some way, like there was the intimacy of the protagonist speaking to the reader directly.
I find poems from writers with India heritage in young peoples’ anthologies, notably those selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. Would you please share a a poetry collection for YA or MG by an Indian author, or authors, available in English?
PADMA I absolutely love Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. Much of his work has been translated into English – YA readers would be easily able to read those translations. I believe W. B. Yates’s translation of his Gitanjali won the Nobel Prize.
[ Bookseedstudio: RT created the India national anthem & is known for literary & educational innovations & for winning the Nobel Prize.]
Your back story reads like a novel, Padma. After child days in India with your accomplished single mother, who has a wonderful shout-out in your author’s note, which makes me fall for her, you worked as an oceanographer following university years in the UK.
This ocean-going leadership position took you far out to sea, on fascinating waters of the world. Which is one reason why we are fortunate to have ISLAND’S END, set in the Andaman Islands.
Please share any moments when the ocean’s creatures or phenomena left you amazed, or perhaps when the ocean’s fury astounded you. This is a question, I guess, about theimpact of those years dwelling close to Nature for weeks, months, on end. And also please share your your view of how our fragile giant blue/green marble fares today.
PADMA Ever since I was a child, I have been attracted to nature. I could always lose myself in a place of natural beauty and I think that feeling of losing one’s ego entirely is something that also happens when I write, which is why I like both being in nature and writing.
As for moments that left me amazed, I remember dolphins following our small craft in the Andamans once, and how they threw rainbows into the air every time they leaped.
It astounds me, though, that we refuse to look after Earth. We only have this one planet and it is shocking to see how poorly we’ve treated it. It’s so depressing to me to see that we Americans act as though Global Warming is a question of belief. It’s not. It’s a scientific fact.
If I ask you do you believe in God, that’s a fair question. But to even ask if anyone believes in Global Warming is not okay because it is not a matter of choosing whether you want to believe in it or not – it’s a matter of opening our eyes to the fact that if we don’t change the way we live, we soon won’t have anywhere to live.
THE BRIDGE HOME leaves me tremulous for the four children – one older sister & her younger sister, and also, two boys who are friends by circumstance. I began to worry about them incessantly.
At other moments the unlikely informal family- by- accident makes me laugh. I still think about them.How did you deal with your heights of joy for them & also your sadness at their poignant, tragic moments?
PADMA I love them too, so thank you. I remember hearing Lois Lowry say once that the worlds she created were real and I feel like the characters I create are real, too. I do get very involved in my writing and I must admit my sadness at the way we treat children even today does affect my family.
Plus it was incredibly tough to return to the place in my childhood and adolescence when I witnessed violence and I had to do that, to write. I wish I could say it was cathartic but it is wasn’t because we still have so many real Rukkus, Vijis, Muthus and Aruls today in this world who are suffering from hunger and homelessness.
I am not sure I really know how I deal with it – it’s just a fact I live with and think about and try to do something about through my writing and outside of my writing; but some days of course, other aspects of my now-comfortable life take over and I don’t think or do as much as I should.
Your author’s notes are fascinating, especially about your mother. What are some of the things she tells you about your writing. And especially about, BRIDGE, as it must seem so personally potent to her, considering her volunteer work when you were young.
PADMA My mother ardently supports and admires my writing. She has, ever since I was a child. It was to her that I first dictated my poems – and she says I was really picky about line breaks, even when I was just 3 years old!
Apparently, I’d say – a poem came to me, I have a poem in my head, write it down for me – and that was because at that age I couldn’t write myself. She recorded in her journal that she was shocked I had the concept of a line or such an extensive vocabulary.
This is a tiny prompt I will share with writers in my home June 19. It is modified from one given by poet Helen Frost at the poetry blog of editor/poet Michelle Barnes.
Select an object relating to your story idea or your character. But, an object that isn’t usually symbolic. Can’t be the surface of a small pond/mirror/window, nor a banner/flag or flower etc.. It could be a sock, a patio chair or chewing gum, to offer examples.
1/ What is the object
2/ Ask this object a question
Padma: How do you feel when people throw you away so easily
3/ What does the objects answer
Padma: I don’t like it. I wish they’d all recycle me.
We met when you spoke at a Highlights Foundation Novel-in-Verse workshop.
PADMA Highlights is an incredible place – at least a place that is special to me. The beautiful setting and just being surrounded by nature would itself be enough but here one is not distracted by mundane everyday needs and you’re served amazing and wholesome food, everyone is welcoming and I think (hope) the faculty really and truly supports the students. I rejoice when I hear that so many writers who were once students when I was faculty – like Traci Sorrell, Charles Waters, and many many others – are doing so incredibly well. I have heard some people say Highlights is expensive but I really don’t think that is true at all. It is an all inclusive package so it is an incredible price I think. But I am biased in favor of this wonderful program!
Anything else you’d care to add about where we might connect with you.
PADMA I would love to have any and every school that wishes, to participate in the Global Read Aloud, for which THE BRIDGE HOME is the middle grade selection.
I am so honored and humbled this is the case and I cannot wait to connect to students and teachers and librarians and readers around the world.
I also am so honored that the book is a ProjectLIT selection as I think that is an effort I so greatly admire, too.
Can’t think of anything else at the moment, Jan! Off to catch my flight to Trinidad – so excited to be chief guest at their Beach Pen festival again! A great week ahead with many school visits library events and even an event at a women’s prison, which I am sure will be so incredibly important and meaningful to me.
Bookseedstudio: Appreciations, Padma for this deep sharing.
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Padma Venkataraman’s website, including, when underway, Padma’s updates on connecting with GRA students & other events:
Global Read Aloud website:
Here at Bookseedstudio I also wrote about Padma’s novel, ISLAND’S END.
Thank you for reading this far! The comment box is below. Many appreciations to today’s Poetry Friday host the multi-talented artist & poem-maker Michelle Kogan.
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