When I first reviewed the debut Anisha novel, I knew that Serena Patel had created something special, and with the publication of each book, both Littlefae and I have been swept away in these young reader mysteries that explore so much more than the social or interpersonal problem presented, and yet capture the very real and emotional experience of being a tween, whether being blamed for something you didn’t do, or being proud enough to be yourself in the face of teasing. Through Anisha, Serena encourages children to shine.
So when Erin invited me to celebrate Anisha and Serena for the FCBG Childrens Book Award Blog Tour I was delighted and honoured to be the one to laud this choice by children in the Younger Readers (age 6 – 11) category.
The Federation of Childrens Book Groups or FCBG are a national voluntary self-funded organisation whose aim is to promote enjoyment and interest in children’s books and reading and to encourage the availability of books for children of all ages, from first picture books to young adult. The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish.
I am super lucky to have been able to borrow Serena from her writing and her busy day job to answer a few questions about her wonderful series!
First of all, in honour of one of our favourite scenes,
Have you ever had a live crustacean on the loose in a family kitchen?!?!
That scene was inspired by my mother in law who brought home a live lobster one day. It totally freaked me out clacking its way round her kitchen sink but my children thought it was brilliant and wanted to keep it!
It’s lovely to see a character who is smart but also kind and struggles with how her intelligence is perceived by her peers, I think there will be a core of readers who will resonate with that, and others may stop and think how they treat the ‘smarty pants’ in the class who is often caricatured as a ‘cheap’ villain.
Was it important to you that Anisha is clever and talented and was Anisha or her mannerisms as a character inspired by anyone in particular?
Yes, I was quite clever at school and in the top sets for everything but made fun of for it. Being called goody two shoes and a keeno was horrible and stayed with me, I tried to make myself as small as possible. I guess I’m trying to let readers know it’s okay to be yourself and no-one should ever make you feel like you should be less than that.
I recognise that from my own experience and am grateful you are empowering children like us now!
I love how you introduce young readers to mysteries without the mature or perhaps scary requirements of a murder plot like MMU or High Rise Mysteries or indeed community crimes such as Clifftoppers or the Secret Seven reboots.
Was this a deliberate decision to make Anisha solve social and interpersonal mysteries rather than criminal ones?
Writing for a younger audience means writing mysteries that are still interesting but not scary. I think this wasn’t so much an intention at the start but something that’s developed as I’ve written more and more.
As a multigenerational family ourselves it has been a joy to see Anisha’s own family growing up with an auntie and grandmother within the same household and more so involved and supportive across the series rather than distant or detached until it serves a plot point.
This has not been the typical in children’s literature so was it important to you to readdress the way we frame family or responsible adults in children’s books?
Very much so. I think it’s important that we see families in stories and how they play a part in the story too.
You are clearly aware that studies have sadly shown that children of non-white heritage haven’t typically been the protagonists in children’s literature let alone adventure and mystery books until recent efforts to challenge this.
What was important to you to express, feature and communicate through Anisha and her story to readers excited for representation?
The importance of seeing ourselves in stories. The power of books as windows and mirrors and that anyone can pick up this book and enjoy it just for being a fun mystery.
And speaking as a parent of a child who LOVES and resonates with Anisha even if they don’t share the same heritage; What do you want ALL children to take away from Anisha?
That we can all be the hero of a story and the power of stories and unique voices.
Where do you want the Anisha franchise to lead? Are there more adventures on the horizon, is there an end-game, will she grow up into middle grade mysteries or will she be frozen and possible to return to in the future?
I hope I get to write more Anisha, there’s no plan for an ending as such yet so we’ll have to wait and see! I am looking at some new ideas and will hopefully have more news soon.
Thank you so much Serena for sharing your thoughts with us!!
Wishing you luck in this Top Ten Testing phase where children all over the country will vote and select the Category Winners and Overall Winner to be announced at a Grand Award ceremony!!
Thank you to Usborne for arranging our Q&A with Serena and our copy!!