Monthly Archives: November 2014

The humorous world of children’s books

kapdia payal

A year after her children’s novel, Wisha Wozzariter, won the Crossword Award for Children’s writing, author Payal Kapadia is back with a new book. This new offering is “so absurdly horrid that it would make kids laugh.” Horrid High, published by Puffin India, is set in the world’s most horrid school where most of the grown-ups are utterly despicable and the kids are left to their own devices to save the day.

The book has five lead characters, each one blessed with an extraordinary skill to help them through school. “They have names to match those qualities too,” says Payal. We meet Phil Fingersmith who can crack all kinds of locks and Fermina Filch, a pickpocket par excellence. And then come the baddies. From the English teacher Vera Verbose who makes the kids read dictionaries to Coach Kallus who makes them run on their knees, these evil folks fill the book with their malicious designs. It is a melange of all things horrid. Payal laughs, “I figured the more horridness, the better! I have to confess: I couldn’t get enough!” And then there’s her favourite grown-up character: Granny Grit, who can save a school or a planet just as well. “Because it’s about time that grandmas figured in a big way in an action-packed children’s adventure!” she says.

Interestingly, she notes, the hero, Ferg Gottin, is an unremarkable-looking boy who might be easily forgotten, but he realizes that he also brings some valuable qualities to the final mix. Talking about how she etched this character, she says,”I needed to ask myself: do heroes have to be blatantly heroic, or is heroism about the choices you make when you’re cornered?”

Payal, an erstwhile journalist, always wanted to be a writer from as far back as she could remember. “Fresh out of college and looking for a credible Master’s degree option, I turned to journalism,” she says. “It would quench two desires at once, I supposed, a desire to write and a desire to change the world.” Journalism was meant to be a pit stop, a platform to develop a worldview and an authorial voice. But after ten years in the field and just around the birth of her first daughter, she was convinced that this pit stop would become a full stop unless she bit the bullet and wrote the books she had always dreamt of writing. “I was on the cusp of motherhood, poised to see the world again as a child. I had become a voracious reader of children’s books. Writing my first book for children felt like a natural choice at this time,” she recalls.

She is currently working on book two of Horrid High which “gets more horrid,” in her view. What does she think about children’s literature at present? Is writing for children different from writing for adults? She answers, “I think the gap between children’s fiction and adult fiction has closed considerably. The best children’s books have complicated plots and characters and even allow for satire and moral ambiguity. Children these days can handle sophisticated thought—maybe they always could, but we never spoke to them as equals, which is a big mistake; they make for very savvy readers.”

The one distinction she sees is that children’s fiction can be unapologetically imaginative. She says, “Children are much more willing to suspend disbelief, thank god for that!”

Horrid High Details of the book: 

Title: Horrid High
Author: Payal Kapadia
Publisher: Puffin Books
Published: September 2014
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780143333173
Genre: Children, Fiction
Buy the book here

Watch the trailer of the book here:

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Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Author Interviews, Books, Children's Fiction, Penguin Books | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Innovators: A fascinating history of the digital revolution

The InnovatorsTitle: The Innovators
Author: Walter Isaacson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 2014)
Pages: 560
ISBN: 9781471138799
Genre: Non Fiction, Computers & Technology, Business
Rating: 4/5

Long before the advent of the computer and internet as we know it now, long before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were beatified as idols of computing and Apple and Microsoft became household names, scores of scientists and engineers had been busy decoding the principles of science, seeking to understand the ways of the machines. Almost a century of discoveries, innovations and generating and executing ideas that helped create the “digital age” is what biographer Walter Isaacson has explored with great zeal and attention in ‘The Innovators.’

But here there are no individual heroes, brilliant thinkers and visionaries who stood above the rest. For Isaacson places teamwork as central to innovation. Elaborating how creativity is a collaborative process, he writes, “The digital age may seem revolutionary, but it was based on expanding ideas handed down from previous generations.” The best innovators are those who understood this trajectory of technological change and all of Isaacson’s characters, be it engineers, scientists, hackers and entrepreneurs, took the baton from other innovators.

When a dream was envisaged by Charles Babbage, his ideas were borrowed and galvanised by Harvard Aiken for his Harvard Mark I. To understand how the first transistor came about is to learn of the collaborative efforts of Walter Brattain and John Bardeen. Steve Jobs built on the work of Alan Kay, who was in turn inspired by Doug Engelbart, who built on JCR Licklider and Vannevar Bush. Yes, this book isn’t a book of lone geniuses and Isaacson, ever so powerfully attests to the romance of collaboration rather than individual effort.

Throughout the book, he singles out the creative genius of the various visionaries and through their stories weaves a wonderful tapestry of human-human and human-machine symbiosis, how each in their own way contributed their share to create a world where new technologies thrive.

The book begins and ends with the story of Ada Lovelace, celebrated as a feminist icon and a computer pioneer, who had a propensity for the marriage of the poetic realm with math. Assisting Babbage on his ‘Analytical Engine,’ she dreamed of a world where “machines would become partners in human imagination.” The saga of the digital age that is ‘The Innovators’ — cataloguing how the digital universe evolved, how technology progressed from transistors and  microchips to personal computers, video games, internet, et al — has amusingly reinforced this idea. Innovation after all happens when you understand the relationship between humanity and technology.

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Categories: Books, Nonfiction, Science and technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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