“I prefer writing descriptive poetry” says 11-year old Vaishnavi Krishnan minutes before a reading at the Goodbooks Store a few days ago. The reading was of ‘Nora the Nonapus’, the story that Vaishnavi co-authored with three of her classmates while in the fifth grade at the Estes Hills Elementary School, North Carolina, United States last year. Although the shy Vaishnavi was nervous about being the centre of so much attention, she read the story and sportingly answered questions from members of the audience, which was predominantly children her age.
But the real news is this. Not only have Vaishnavi and her classmates written and illustrated the story, they have also won a prize for it in Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors competition. For this contest, the writing had to be done as a team, as a collaborative effort and was open to children between the Kindergarten and the Eighth Grade. In this case, Vaishnavi’s team mates were her classmates, Zoe Gan, Susan Cavender and Alison Smith.
“I was very happy when it was announced in front of all the students that we had won the contest. None of us knew about it until then!” effuses Vaishnavi. Among thousands of entries, this book was selected for being published and distributed by Scholastic. As for the award itself, it comprises a medal and a certificate for each author, along with a copy of the published book.
The role of the school in encouraging young writers is all-important. In the case of Vaishnavi and her classmates, while in the process of developing the story, they were exempted from some classes so they could work on it. To recognise its efforts in honing such keen talent, the school will be given books from Scholastic as well as 100 copies of the published book.
“All four of us worked on it equally.” says Vaishnavi, eager to share the limelight with her classmates and co-authors. “We talked about what the story should be about, and when we decided on an octopus, we started writing it. Then we divided up the pages between us to do the drawings.” It took about 4 weeks for the foursome to write and illustrate the story, who had paused only to research on volcanoes, as this forms an important aspect in the story
About the story itself, Vaishnavi says, “As ‘Octa’ in the word ‘Octopus’ means ‘eight’, describing the eight tentacles that octopuses normally have, Nora is a ‘Nonapus’ as she has an extra tentacle making it nine.” This difference is all-important, as we gather, in a story of adventure and also, to an extent, of knowing one’s true worth.
This thought stream of being ‘different’ seems to have manifested itself early in Vaishnavi’s writing - as early as in Kindergarten. She surprised her mother with her depth of thought back then, with a story about a ladybird with no spots. Again, the concept of ‘different from the lot’ is the primary theme. One wonders then, if perhaps being an Indian in a predominantly American educational setting, could contribute to writing of such intense nature, as early as in kindergarten. After all, when the child escapes into the world of make-believe, he or she could derive comfort from the fact that not only is being ‘different’ alright, it could also save the day, as in the case of Nora.
In addition, Vaishnavi has written poems among other things, about a tiger, a lily-pond and an old man. The poem about the lily pond was written when her class was taken to a botanical garden and asked to write about something they saw there. In another exercise, she was shown the portrait of a wizened old man, and she wrote a poem about him and his difficult existence. All her work, be it poetry or stories, are evidence of Vaishnavi being a very deep thinker for her age. Perhaps this will go a long way in her chosen profession, of which Vaishnavi says, “When I grow up, I would love to be a writer. Or a journalist.”
Pic courtesy Third Eye
An edited version of this article was published in Madras Plus in 2004.