Here’s a peek into our one-on-one with Menaka Raman about her book, Gappu Can’t Dance ahead of it being read to thousands of children on World Literacy Day
Pratham Books: What inspired you to write Gappu Can’t Dance? And what’s been your experience with dancing?
Menaka: All through school and college I’d watch longingly from the wings as my classmates danced on stage at cultural programs and competitions. I was rarely invited to join in – apart from one or two disastrous attempts at group folk dance – and for good reason. I have a terrible sense of rhythm and coordination.
I also, as many friends will attest to, frequently get my left and right side confused… I’m not someone you want navigating Google maps for you.
So, over a year ago, when I overheard Bijal and Aparna (Editors at Pratham Books) talk about how dance was a theme they wanted to explore through a picture book, an idea took root in my mind. At a very young age, children are uninhibited – in the way they sing, dance, paint and voice their opinions. But somehow, once they grow up, they become aware of how certain things appear to the outside world. Ideas of what ‘good’ dancing or drawing looks like begin to emerge, and children become their own worst critics. It’s a theme Peter H Reynolds explores in his book ‘Ish’ beautifully.
So I got thinking of a dance class in school and one girl who is delightfully out of sync with the rest of her class and blissfully unaware. And so Gappu was born!
Pratham Books: How does the GIF format add to the reading experience?
Menaka: When I first heard that Gappu was going to be a GIF book on StoryWeaver I thought it was a fantastic idea – exciting and innovative. And then Krishna C. Nair’s illustrations came in and I was blown away. The expressions and vibrancy he brought to each page was truly amazing. To add some GIF magic to that was the icing on the cake. I think that’s what’s so great about also having a digital book – the cool, fun stuff you can do with them! Also, since the book is under CCBY4.0, to see it translated and published in so many languages – 18 at the last count I think – has been lovely. Gappu and I do a little dance every time we see a new translation pop up!
Pratham Books: What would you like the children to take away from the book?
Menaka: That they should dance like no one is watching! And write, create art and sing without worrying about what other people will say. And to always make room on the dance floor for everyone!
Pratham Books: What would a sequel to Gappu look like? What does Gappu master next!
Menaka: Ha! Gappu might need to learn how to tie her laces!
Pratham Books: What’s been your experience of One Day, One Story?
Menaka: One Day,One Story to me is one of those things that shows me there is still good in the world. People coming together, setting aside time and energy to share the joy that lies inside a storybook with children – it gives me hope. And it’s a real honour to have Gappu Can’t Dance be that story alongside Sowmya Rajendran’s awesome Weightlifting Princess!
Menaka Raman is a former advertising copywriter, occasional marathon runner and columnist. Her two sons have forced her to overcome her fear of heights, bugs, and long division.