In The Night the Moon Went Missing, written by Shreya Yadav and illustrated by Sunaina Coelho, a young girl sets out on a grand adventure to find her missing friend. Shreya is a marine biologist who studies coral reefs. One of her favourite things to do is cling onto a rock underwater and spy on all the fish and plants and crabs and coral that live there.

In this short interview, Zeba Imtiaz, assistant editor at Pratham Books, talks to Shreya about life under water, her favourite children's books and the process of writing The Night the Moon Went Missing, a truly enchanting picture book.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did your interest in the ocean and creatures in the ocean begin?

Growing up in Madras, the Bay was always quite central to our lives. My brother and I would trot off to the beach every other day after school and spend hours in the water. We lived very close by - there was always a sliver of the ocean visible from our balcony - so I think we took the salt and sand for granted. I started diving when I was 19 on a family holiday to the Andaman islands. My father, who SCUBA dives, asked if I wanted to do my beginner course at Havelock island. I remember seeing an octopus and an eel and all kinds of other impossibly bizarre life on my first dive and being totally blown away. Even though I was studying zoology at the time, that was the first time I really wondered about the ecology of a coral reef without it being some kind of abstract concept.



If you had to pick, which would be your favourite ocean creature, and why?

I definitely have a thing for the small and cryptic critters that live on a reef. Often, I will be swimming over something, and will catch a tiny eye peering at me from behind something. I always wonder what their lives are like. Blennies and gobies are probably my favourites. 



What sort of books did you read as a child? What was your favourite book growing up?

I was lucky to grow up with great books and a family that enjoyed dramatic readings of them! I remember being obsessed with Ekki-Dokki (Sandhya Rao; Tulika) when I was very little and then by a book called Trash! (Anushka Ravishankar and Gita Wolf; Tara Books) when I was a bit older. I also read a lot of Roald Dahl. I think I found Quentin Blake's illustrations very weird as a kid, but there was something so different about them that it was hard to put down.

What was your writing process for your book The Night the Moon Went Missing

I think we had discussed that bioluminescence would be an interesting topic to explore for this book, but the story actually took a while to come. I knew I wanted it to be taking place on an island and I had a list of creatures I thought were interesting in terms of their biology, but I didn't know how to make it all come together. I think it finally came to me after a few conversations on the phone with friends - saying things out loud always helps. 

Later, when I read the first draft out to my parents, my mother told me it reminded her of a story my great-grandmother had written for children which also involved the moon and three young girls on a nighttime adventure. As soon as she said it I remembered that book. Now I feel like I subconsciously plagiarized my great-grandmother! 

What was you favourite part of writing this story? What was the most challenging bit?

I had so much fun writing this. I think the most challenging bit was trying to stick to the word limit - I was worried that it would be hard to visualize in so few words, since it was all taking place underwater at night with a bunch of strange glowing animals. But Sunaina's beautiful illustrations more than took care of that. I think my favourite thing about the book now are her illustrations.



If you were to write another children's book, what would it be about?

I think it would be fun to profile a bunch of marine critters in limerick form, Ogden Nash style.

Do you think your childhood was different from how children live today? 

I'm not sure - I have a feeling everyone who is asked this question will probably say yes. I remember having a lot of time in the day to play and climb trees and run around the beach and I hope that that is still the case today.

Who are some of the authors you enjoy reading today?

Big fan of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Loren Eisley, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Robert Macfarlane, WS Merwin. 

Any favourite illustrators?

Closer to home, I really like the work of Sonali Zohra, Renuka Rajiv, Vinayak Varma, Orijit Sen, Sarnath Banerjee and the geniuses behind Crocodile in Water, Tiger on land - whoever they are. 

Have you read The Night the Moon Went Missing? It is available on StoryWeaver for free, in English, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil and Hindi, and will soon be available in print.

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Talking books with Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

Posted by Remya Padmadas on December 22, 2016


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an independent international publishing consultant based in New Delhi. Her blog has had over 4.6m visitors and continues to grow. Jaya has written columns for BusinessWorld and the Hindu and her articles, interviews, comments and book reviews have also appeared in Frontline, The Book Review, DNA, Outlook The Guardian, BBC Radio, Radio France and The Independent. She has also been a judge for the Crossword Awards for Children Literature. 

Q:  Some time back the Guardian ran a piece asking "Where are the new translated children's books?" Why do you think translation is a necessity, especially in children's book?

Translation is very important to make literature available in its amazing variety and diversity for children. Recently, I was chairing a panel discussion at the launch of the Scholastic India KFRR report. The school children on the panel were discussing animatedly how much they enjoyed reading Tintin, Asterix and even Gopi Gain Bagha Bain by Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury. Yet they did not know they were reading translated literature. But as KFRR says "more than three-quarters of children (77%) believe reading books for fun is extremely or very important." If that is the key then introducing children to translated literature will also make them hopefully sensitive as adults to other communities and cultures too.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for translators and translated works today?

I think the challenges vary from project to project and region to region. Having worked on such projects in the past I would say that it would be translating as accurately as possible in the destination language without losing the cultural connotation and relevance. It is not always easy to find the equivalent word for the language of origin into the language of destination. A good example of this is "Apple, Bear, Pear" by Emily Gravett is a lovely simple picture book that won the Kate Greenaway medal. Immediately there were translation offers. It is a play on English words using the comma as evident in the title but in a European translation  it became a lengthy line that even messed up the layout.

But much of this is going to change rapidly and will be reduced to mere academic discourse. If you have been monitoring the news recently you would have heard of Google's Neural Machine Translation ( GNMT). This technology is going to change the game of translations in publishing just as the recent announcement by Amazon India to launch Kindle in multiple Indian languages. Once technology comes into play and moves from being a culturally sophisticated skill to a functional skill the market will explode and new unforseen and unheard of challenges will emerge, most of which I hope will be moving in the positive direction.

As reported by technology blog Tech2:

"In September, Google switched from Phrase-Based Machine Translation (PBMT) to Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) for handling translations between Chinese and English. The Chinese and English language pair has historically been difficult for machines to translate, and Google managed to get its system close to human levels of translation by using bilingual people to train the system ... Google planned to add GNMT for all 103 languages in Google Translate. That would mean feeding in data for 103^2 language pairs, and the artificial intelligence would have to handle 10,609 models.

Google tackled this problem by allowing a single system to translate between multiple languages ... When the translation knowledge was shared, curious Google engineers checked if the A.I. could translate between language pairs it was not explicitly trained on before. This was the first time machine based translation has successfully translated sentences using knowledge gained from training to translate other languages."

In other words, Google Translate's A.I. actually created its own language, to enable it to better translate other languages.

Q. Following from the above question, while we do have stories being translated from English to other languages for children, is enough being done in reverse? How many original language books are being translated to English?

This really depends on the availability of funds and human resources (skilled translators,editors, designers, illustrators, production teams). English is a powerful language and has funds available since it is a language of social aspiration, legal engagement and finance. So it is relatively easier to make literature available from it for translation into other languages. It is certainly not easy to assess how many "original language books" are being translated into English. This kind of a database does not exist in India. Remember much of the literature published in India is self-published so details are not easily available.  

Q: While there are somewhere around six or seven thousand languages on Earth today, about half of them have fewer than about 3,000 speakers and experts have predicted that even in a conservative scenario, about half of today's languages will become extinct within the next fifty to one hundred years. What, in your opinion, does a death of a language imply?

The moment there are no more younger speakers left and no literature available in a language it is the death knell. Language is always living and evolving. No language cannot be allowed to die. And this is possible by according respect to one's language and culture by introducing children to these languages and scripts via books, storycards etc. The marvellous work you do with StoryWeaver is a brilliant start.

Q. There is a huge demand/need being expressed to learn English these days, often at the cost of one's own mother tongue. What will the effect of this be on multilingual publishing and what can be done as an antidote?  

As I mentioned in the previous answer, English is the language of commerce, legalese and finance. So it has a clout like no other language in today's world. The effect on multilingual publishing will that there will be minimal resources available and yet this very same diversity will be appreciated.  

Q.You once mentioned how few inclusive spaces there were for children's books... what does it mean for a space (digital or otherwise) to be inclusive ?  

To be 'truly' inclusive is once again challenging. Pratham Books is doing a very good job by being inclusive in terms of the number of languages you are creating books in, inclusive by keeping your books affordable and inclusive by  addressing different aspects. I’ve written about ‘Literature and Inclusiveness’ on my blog.  

Q. Tell us about your childhood reads?

Oh my goodness! This is tough. I read everything that came my way. My mother told us stories including of the books she was teaching. So we were introduced to Shakespeare when we were small. But then there was much, much more. As I grew older I inherited libraries. So childhood reads would include a lot of English literature.

Q: Looking back, what else would you wanted to read but couldn’t because of the language barrier?

I am not very sure since I only read English and Hindi. I cannot possibly regret not knowing languages. If a good translation exists so be it.

Thank you Jaya for taking the time to answer our questions. You can following Jaya on Twitter here.

Ps. StoryWeaver had a twitter chat with Jaya in early December about books, translations and reading. If you missed it, you can read all the tweets here.

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