Chitra Soundar is the author of over 30 books worldwide. Many of her books her inspired by Indian myths and legends.
Her latest book, You’re Safe With Me, tells the story of a group of animals who are afraid of a thunderstorm. A wise elephant shares her knowledge of the weather and reassures the little animals that they are safe under her watch.
I was able to ask Chitra some questions about the story, and I am delighted to share her answers.
What was the starting point for your story?
The story came to me as an image – a mother elephant rocking little animals in her trunk. And I wanted to find out what her story was.
What were the main influences?
This story is drenched (the pun is fully intended) in my experiences of the thunderstorm. The crash of thunder, flashes of lightning and the relentless downpour is etched in my deep subconscious. And of course the image of a gentle elephant has stayed with me from my childhood.
How do you see Mama Elephant’s role?
This story began with my experience as a storyteller. I wanted the main character Mama Elephant to be a storyteller who would explain scary things in a poetic way.
She plays the role of my grandmother in my life – reassuring, poetic and imaginative.
Why did you choose to include a refrain?
In the first version of the story, I didn’t have a refrain. And the title was different too.
Then as the story found its rhythm, and as I found the voice of Mama Elephant, I knew she had to reassure them that she’d be there no matter what. She not only explains the fearful elements and makes them less scary, but she acknowledges their fears and makes them feel safe.
Your story offers children scientific explanations in a very poetic way. What role do you think art has in helping children learn about the natural world?
Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Children identify with animals and nature – whether it’s Goodnight Moon or baby owls. They want to know how animals do bedtime, eat their food and go to school.
Children put themselves in the character’s place – like the little animals in You’re Safe With Me and they mirror the fears of the characters and they empathize with the characters.
Whether it was thousands of years ago around the fire, to teach children the dangers of predators or today we tell stories about thunderstorms, the purpose of stories is to give us a frame of reference to relate to this world. Through stories we learn about our natural world and our place in it. We learn to respect and live in harmony with the world around us.
I love the personification of the natural world. Why did you use personification?
I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I grew up thinking of nature as living beings. Like the Greeks we have gods associated with each element and we respect them, fear them and acknowledge their place in the natural world.
For this story, the underlying theme was empathy and alternate perspectives. I wanted the little animals to understand the working of the elements and not fear them.
Many thanks to Chitra Soundar for your time. You’re Safe With Me is available now from Lantana Publishing.