Rashmi Sirdeshpande writes the kind of books I wish had been around when I was younger. Dealing with important topics in an accessible way, she is taking picture books in a new and exciting direction.
Tackling subjects such as money, the kindness and wonder of the world that is too rarely reported, and how to live an extraordinary life, these are books every child should have on their shelves.
Your recent work – Dosh – is a vital book about a subject that was rarely taught in a child-friendly way. Can you tell us a bit more about it.
Dosh (for children aged 8+) is all about money and how to earn it, save it, spend it, grow it, and give it away. Does what it says on the tin, really, but in a light-hearted, accessible way. Money is something all of us have to deal with at some point but it’s a topic that can be quite dry so as well as demystifying it, I wanted to bring some fun into it. And I wanted to highlight that money isn’t bad in itself – it’s what we do with it. Used well, it can be a force for good in the world.
All your non-fiction books are so well researched. What is your process when you have a new idea?
Thank you! Once a book is commissioned, I spend a good chunk of time just reading around the topic. I read adult non-fiction, academic journals, articles, watch documentaries – anything to give me a feel for the key themes and debates. Then I fine-tune my book outline and set up a research schedule to look up what I need for each section. After that, it’s research-write-research-write and so on. Books move around a lot with editor feedback so the detailed fact-check (in my case, a monster spreadsheet) is something I leave until the book settles down. For a complex book like Good News: Why The World Is Not As Bad As You Think (my latest, out in June), it’s a long and tricky process but hugely important because children need to be able to trust books.
The relationship between picture book writer and illustrator feels incredibly special. What is it like working with Diane Ewan and Annabel Tempest?
Ah it is so special. I’m very lucky with these partnerships (and others that I can’t disclose yet!). Diane and Annabel are amazing illustrators and always wow me with everything they do. Knowing them and writing the second book for them to illustrate was a complete delight because I knew they’d bring those words to life so perfectly. Take Diane – in our second book together (Never Teach A Stegosaurus To Do Sums), she had to illustrate a stegosaurus, rockets, AI and aliens and convey all this chaos and the joy of MATHS and she’s absolutely nailed it. They’re both lovely human beings too and I’m just really proud to be making books with them.
What is the first piece of fiction you ever remember writing?
I wrote lots as a child and sadly I don’t remember most of it though I do vaguely remember writing a short play when I was about 10 and it was set in Victorian times!
What was an early experience where you learned that language has power?
This is an incredible question and you’ve really made me think. Instead of one experience, I’m going to give you three. My family in India are from a temple background so I grew up around Sanskrit chants and I’ve always felt that there’s something deeply powerful about them. But I really fell in love with words growing up listening to old Hindi film songs and Urdu ghazals. They’re essentially poetry set to music. That’s where I learnt that words can move you, make you cry, and take you to the top of the world. I felt that again studying Keats and Wordsworth and Baudelaire at school. Interesting how these things stick in your mind.
What other writers inspire you?
So many. For different things! Isabel Thomas for phenomenal non-fiction writing. Rob Biddulph, Simon Philip, Nadia Shireen, and Mo O’Hara for funny picture books. Jon Klassen for satire. Nikita Gill, Dom Conlon, Joseph Coelho, and Matt Goodfellow for poetry. And my circle of immensely talented writers (they know who they are) – I don’t know what I’d do without them.
Rashmi Sirdeshpande’s books are available to buy from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here and all good bookshops and online retailers. Her next book – Never Teach a Stegosaurus to do Sums – is out on 27 May and can be pre-ordered from Waterstones here.
Good News: Why The World Is Not As Bad As You Think can be pre-ordered from Waterstones here and is published on 24 June.