Let’s go ‘Bonkers!’


Indian book Bonkers! has recently won the 2014 Crystal Kite Award. Here, we met with the author Natasha Sharma and the illustrator Deepti Sunder to know more about the book that has created waves in the children world. Bonkers!, published by Duckbill Books, written by Natasha Sharma and illustrated by Deepti Sunder has won the 2014 Crystal Kite Award for the Middle East, Asia and India. The Crystal Kite Awards are given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to recognize great books from the seventy SCBWI regions around the world. Along with the SCBWI Golden Kite Awards, the Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.

Bonkers! plot line….

Bonkers! follows the adventures of a boy named Armaan and his overactive dog Bonkers. The story begins at the point when a brown and white pup, soon to be named Bonkers, enters Armaan’s life. What ensues is utter chaos as Armaan deals with puppy teething trouble, toilet training and Bonkers’ antics that unwittingly get Armaan into more trouble with the school bully, TT. Bonkers! talks about pets, responsibility as well as bullies.

Natasha Sharma, the author…

Natasha Sharma’s childhood had crazy episodes, featuring dogs, rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, horses, buffaloes and the occasional squirrel, all in her backyard. She graduated in Math, did an MBA, worked as a brand manager, and is now happily doing what she loves most—writing books for children. Natasha’s other books include Akbar and the Tricky Traitor and Ashoka and the Muddled Messages (Duckbill Books), Icky, Yucky, Mucky (Young Zubaan) and Rooster Raga (Tulika Books).

Deepti Sunder, the illustrator…

Deepti Sunder graduated in architecture, but towards the end of her course, she knew she didn’t want to practise as an architect. She then went through this period of trying to decide what do next, which involved a lot of considering and dropping options. Somewhere in the middle of all the searching, she got the chance to do an internship with illustrator Tanvi Bhat. That was when she realised illustration was possibly the kind of career she had been on the lookout for. Following that, she applied to Duckbill and got to work on Bonkers, and ever since, there’s been no looking back!

Varsha: Tell us something about your award-winning book Bonkers!?

Natasha: Bonkers! is completely inspired by real life! I grew up in a house full of dogs, with four at any point of time and often a litter of pups added in. With a whole host of doggy escapades, the idea had always existed in my head. Sometimes a wealth of ideas can overwhelm. I think I took time sorting through them before sitting down to write this one.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a dog of my own with the constraints of apartment living and incessant travel. My parents, however, have a young dog, all of one year, named Obi Singh. He is the current and original Bonkers and is by far the naughtiest dog we have ever had. He recently enacted the entire first chapter from my book Bonkers! much to my mother’s exasperation since she was left with a chewed up pair of spectacles. (We suspect Obi can read.)

Deepti: I still can’t quite believe Bonkers! has won an award! That said, however, I think it’s a brilliant book. Natasha has written it wonderfully, with her trademark sound effects, come-to-life-when-you-read-them descriptions, and all-around craziness and humour. I remember really loving the story when I read it for the first time. When you read Bonkers!, the story comes alive in your head, and I think this especially helped with getting the characters onto paper. The characters I was most excited about illustrating (apart from Armaan and Bonkers, of course) were Guvi and Beeji. I loved Guvi with his alliterative exclamations and love for food, and couldn’t wait to draw him. I also found the idea of a grandmother who was scared of dogs and kept screaming around Bonkers hilarious. All in all, I had a lot of fun illustrating the book.

Varsha: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing/illustrating a book? Why?

Natasha: I think this would be different for each writer since the process of writing can vary drastically. For me, I breathe easier only when I have some framework of a plot. Characters of all sorts keep popping up in my head. Often they lead me to find their story. At times it is a concept with a strong character. Laying out the plot is the hardest part for me. Once that is done, writing it is the fun bit.

Deepti: Well, I’ve never really thought of any part of the illustration process as difficult. For me, the step that takes the most effort is probably conceptualising the characters, but the time it takes can vary a great deal. Some characters just take longer to take form than others, and you keep working at them until you are satisfied. For instance, Armaan came to me rather quickly, but I drew many, many versions of Bonkers before I was happy with how he was looking.

Varsha: What factors are kept in mind while writing/illustrating for children?

Natasha: Age, conceptual understanding by level, vocabulary to some extent (I don’t worry too much about it since there will be some words they may not know, but it is good for them to be challenged). I use humour in my writing and have to make sure it works for a child and for that age group. While writing picture books, the reason for each word to exist in that book becomes important. Page turns become crucial to hold a child’s attention.

Deepti: I think the main thing to keep in mind is that the illustrations need to be relatable for children who will be reading the story. So it’s important to make sure the drawings suit the age group at which the book is aimed, and it’s also important to add details and objects in the drawings that children can identify with.

Varsha: What publishing advice do you give to aspiring artists of any age?

Natasha: If you love writing, stay at it. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Since writing is self-driven, you have to be disciplined and write often. Don’t take feedback, critiques and even rejection letters as personal affronts. They are great learning. Observe the world. Keep a notebook and jot stuff down before you lose the idea, phrase or dialogue.

Deepti: My advice is very simple, really. I would say that it’s important to believe in yourself, have faith in yourself and to keep trying. When you send in applications, don’t lose hope when you are rejected. There’s always room to learn and grow. Also, stay positive and keep looking ahead. Being an artist is essentially about you trying to better yourself at your craft every step of the way. Learn from others, but don’t get bogged down in comparisons.

Varsha: We live in a time when young people have numerous choices for entertainment. What would you like to say to children who may be hesitant about reading a book for “fun?

Natasha: Books are the most fabulous fun! Try many different authors, titles, series, genres and you’ll be sure to discover something you like. Everyone’s taste in books is different and sometimes the most unexpected books can be the ones that get you hooked on to. So be adventurous with your reading. There are also many review sites and online reading groups where you can discover new titles.

Deepti: Books can be the most captivating, exhilarating source of fun ever if you just give them the chance. When you are so deeply immersed in a book that you cannot put it down, all that will matter will be you and whatever the book is saying, and nothing else. So pick up a book you seem to like today, and read it. You won’t regret it!

Varsha: Which is your next book that readers can look forward to?

Natasha: Raja Raja and the Swapped Sacks – the third in the History Mystery series (Duckbill Books); Squiggle Takes a Walk (Young Zubaan) and Anaya’s Thumb (Pratham Books).

–Varsha Verma

2014 Crystal Kite Awards
The winners of the SCBWI 2014 Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for fifteen regional divisions include:

  • California, Hawai: The Kite That Bridged Two Nations by Alexis O’Neill, Illustrated by Terry Widener
  • West (Washington, Northern Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota): Once Upon A Memory by Nina Laden, Illustrated by Renata Liwska
  • Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico): Tea REX by Molly Idle
  • Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio): Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller
  • New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island): The Story of Fish & Snail written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
  • New York: Crankenstein! by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Texas, Oklahoma: Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert by Doris Fisher
  • Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland): Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff
  • Mid-South (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana): The 13th Sign by Kristin Tubb
  • Southeast (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama): The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchcock
  • UK, Ireland: Shine by Candy Gourlay
  • Middle East, India, Asia: Bonkers! by Natasha Sharma, Illustrated by Deepti Sunder
  • Canada: It’s a tie!: I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau and Skink on the Brink by Lisa Dalrymple, Illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
  • Australia, New Zealand: Zac and Mia by AJ Betts
  • Other International: Chick-o-Saurus Rex by Lenore Appelhans, Illustrated by Daniel Jennewein


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