Author and illustrator Tanvi Bhat talks about her newest book, Sharanya Speaks to Robots, the importance of STEM storybooks, and shares her advice for budding artists. Dive into our conversation with her!
Pratham Books: We love your new book! What are your thoughts on introducing STEM concepts through storybooks?
Tanvi Bhat: I think stories are a wonderful medium to introduce STEM concepts to children. The approach of making a STEM concept non-academic, and delivering it in fun bite-sized pieces to kids is a very effective way of introducing them to complex concepts. I think I would have benefited greatly from STEM storybooks when I was a child. I struggled with STEM subjects in school because the approach was very ‘exam-driven’ so personally, I see a great appeal in them.
Pratham Books: Tell us a little about your process of writing and illustrating Sharanya Speaks to Robots!
Tanvi Bhat: The story actually emerged while talking to my editor C.G Salamander. Initially, I was toying with making it a wordless picture book. But as we spoke more, I realized we needed words for this one. Plus I was really keen to play with all the languages Sharanya uses on Robu. The art emerged very organically. My usual process is that I start sketching the main characters and the universe around them falls into place. For this one, Sharanya’s character was a result of my very early sketches. I wanted to make her look like a fun, relatable character. She hardly has any words to express her personality so I tried making the art do that for her. In my head, her classmates all have distinct personalities, but that’s another story.
Pratham Books: Five books you’d recommend every child grows up reading?
Tanvi Bhat: It’s very hard for me to pick only 5. But I’ll try and list my current favourite picture books. I am going to list my two favourite Ammachis right now… Ammachi’s Amazing Machines and Ammachi’s Glasses. Incidentally, both written and illustrated by my favourite illustrators! I also really love Footpath Flowers. It’s such a pure and beautiful book that talks about small acts of kindness. Something our world very much needs now. My next pick: A Fine Dessert. I thought this one was very impactful and really makes the reader think about history, culture and well, food. Also, the art is so dreamy! Sophie Blackall is a treasure. Finally, The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. This book made me cry actual tears. It’s so important for children to understand that feelings are okay. And that one must process them with respect and love. This book turned out to be a nugget of wisdom for me.
Pratham Books: What was your journey into becoming a children’s author and illustrator? Any advice for budding writers and illustrators?
Tanvi Bhat: My journey as an illustrator was a very wonky one! I started off in 3D animation, always thinking of myself as someone who could draw only okay-okay (I still do). But after a year of working at a studio wobbling around with softwares, I was told by my boss that I wasn’t interested in being an animator, and I should go be an illustrator because I was spending all day drawing. I took his advice to heart and practised drawing more. And one day (after many rejections) I was offered a children’s book. I have never looked back since (and certainly never opened a 3D software since).
My approach to illustrating children’s books is that I feel it’s my job to make the reader really see the personality of the protagonist (and other characters). The words tell me who the character is, and I want the art to make the character familiar to the reader. I have to admit, I don’t have an actual method of doing that. I just observe people and some of their traits make their way into my pictures.
My advice for budding writers and illustrators is: Take the pressure off yourself. Our industry is new and budding and if you have a story to tell, there is a place for you here. I recognize artists as a very self-critical group. The world around us is filled with beautiful work of other artists. But we need to be kind to ourselves and understand that there will be a place for us too. I need to keep reminding myself of this too!
Tanvi Bhat is an author and illustrator who has created books for publishers like Pratham Books, Duckbill and Tulika, to name a few. She likes working with watercolours and gouache when making pictures and scribbling on scraps of paper that she is constantly losing when she writes.
Click here to buy Sharanya Speaks to Robots.