BookS on MondaY: Deepa Remesh talks about her new series MISS TREE TALES designed for middle grade readers on resourcefulness, sustainability, and other ‘seeds for thought’ with expert kid panel

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By Leslie Lindsay 

My two received Kindle Fires for Christmas. They haven’t moved their eyes from the screen in over a week. One of my kids is asking for an iPod for her birthday. To better practice soccer. Because it’s more fun to work on drills with music pounding in your ears, apparently. I’m typing this on a computer. And then, later, I’m going to see a movie. In a theater. With life-sized actors staring down at me while I absorb their story.

And so it begins, the honest-to-goodness truth of spending more time in front of a screen than, say being resourceful. I’ve read somewhere that we only learn when our eyes are moving [this isn’t the exact article I read, but interesting nonetheless]. Are my kids really learning when they stare at the 9-inch screen in front of them? Granted, they might be on Candy Crush a math builder site or researching a celebrity crush burning question, or, surfing YouTube reading a book, but those images dance and flicker for them. Same is true when I sit in a comfy theater seat and take in someone else’s story. Sure, a few things may resonate, a few more may stick, but overall, I’m being entertained, not exactly cultured.

Feel free to disagree.

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When I came across Deepa Remesh’s debut for middle grade readers on sustainability, resourcefulness, and conservation, I knew I had to take a peek. It follows the story of two kids—brother and sister—who are just as gadget-crazed as the next kid. But there’s a catch. They’re forced to be more industrious than the handheld devices we all carry around.

Join me—and my ‘expert panel’ of three kiddos: Kate (11.9 years), Emma (11.6 years) and Kelly (a newly minted 10 year old) as we chat about Ms. Remesh’s new book, THE MIGHTY COCONUTS.wp_20161225_17_58_05_pro_li

Leslie Lindsay: Deepa, I have to say, I love the concept behind MIGHTY COCONUTS and MISS TREE TALES series. Can you tell me what inspired you to write them? [2/3 of ‘Expert kid panel.’ Not pictured: Emma J.]

Deepa Remesh: Thank you for your interest in the concept behind this book series based on trees. Having  grown up in a small town in India, surrounded by greenery and open spaces, I have always appreciated nature and trees. In those days of scarce resources, I grew up among people who cared about the future generation, led a sustainable life by being resourceful and images-17creative, and demonstrated habits of conservation. Fast forward to the present day, we are now in the time of plenty which makes it difficult to cultivate similar values. My initial thought was to write about these values as a series of blogs  highlighting how trees and plants were used for various day to day tasks. However, I wanted this information to interest kids which made me switch gears and weave some elements of fiction into it. That is when Miss Tree magically appeared inspiring me to create a children’s book series. The illustrations from Anjana Prabhu-Paseband, my tech-savvy, artist cousin completed the picture. Both of us strongly believe an idea or concept needs time , space, and the right conditions to grow. By using fiction and light humor, our attempt has been to prepare young minds to plant  the seeds of thought scattered in our books and let these seeds grow into actions to protect, sustain and conserve natural resources. Now, you may be wondering why I started off the series with coconuts. In the culture I grew up in, coconut tree has been considered  to be a tree of life and all significant activities are launched by offering a coconut to others. I guess that indirectly prompted me to start this series based on trees with MIGHTY COCONUTS. [Here’s a sample of the darling illustrations, by Anjana Prabhu-Paseband. Image retrieved from Twitter on 1.8.17]
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Kate L.: I’m in 6th grade and will be 12 in April…are these stories made for kids my age?  If not, who do you see reading them?

Deepa Remesh: Kate, thanks for asking. The story line in these books should appeal to kids aged 6-11. Having said so, I should add that these stories can be read by anyone curious to learn more about a particular tree and how it gets used in daily life. The books are also filled with tidbits of scientific and environmental information which would make them a good pick for teachers and educators working on similar  concepts. An interesting feedback we have received from a professional biologist is how he liked the format of the book, specifically the way it introduces science facts to kids.

Leslie L.: I was recently at my local Arboretum and totally and completely thought of you and the MISS TREE TALES series. Have you considered reaching out to organizations like these to carry your books, or even presenting in-service type things for kids and families?

Deepa Remesh: Leslie, you make an excellent point. I have contacted a few local organizations and some have shown interest in the concept. Nothing solid yet but this is something that is being pursued. In addition to making the book available at such outlets, there are plans to volunteer on weekends at some of these places and introduce kids to crafts and other projects using plants. 

Kelly L.: My Girl Scout Troop is going to be talking about gardening in the near future in order to earn a merit badge. What types of skills and lessons might we pull from THE MIGHTY COCONUTS to be well-rounded girls?

Deepa Remesh: Kelly, your troop has chosen a wonderful topic to discuss. I suggest looking at the extra information provided in the “Seeds for Thought” sections in the book. There are many things in there – understanding the  habitat suited for a plant, natural ways to control pests, composting, seed storage banks, and seed dispersal – that should help gardeners. You will get additional information from the links included in these sections. I would love to hear back download-47your troop’s experience with the facts in the book and also any feedback on topics you would like to be included in future books. Here’s a GREEN THUMBS UP for you and your troop!

Emma J.: I read a lot. Not to brag, but my reading level is pretty high…are there other books with a similar message you might steer me toward that would still touch on resourcefulness, conservation, sustainable lifestyle?

Deepa Remesh: Emma, nice to hear you are interested in topics of  resourcefulness, conservation, and sustainable lifestyle. I am guessing you are asking about fictional books as there are a large number of non-fiction books on these topics. There are also many picture books for younger children. As for young adult fiction, most of the popular ones seem to be based on futuristic or dystopian themes. Currently, those styles do not match my reading interests. I can only recommend older classics like ROBINSON CRUSOE and SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which are mostly stories of survival. A newer book that I like in this survival category is HATCHET by Gary Paulsen. These books talk about being resourceful in extreme situations. I would say applying these skills within practical boundaries in one’s day to day life hatchetwould result in conservation and subsequently make way for sustainable living. I hope you find something that interests you in this area. Happy Reading!

Leslie L.: So back to that movie. We saw PASSENGER. If you’re not familiar, the characters have voluntarily gone to sleep [in a ‘hibernation pod’ aboard a space ship] for 120 years in order to wake up in the future on another planet, much like Earth. They have paid big money to do this; though some are there with little cost because they have ‘desirable skills’ like mechanical engineering, gardening, midwifery, etc. My hubby and I got to talking about this after the show: if we don’t teach our children to be resourceful with their hands and body, we might lose a piece of society. Can you speak to that, please?

Deepa Remesh: I haven’t watched that movie but have read about it. I would say being open to learning new skills will take us a long way. While many may think of college degrees and higher education to increase their skill set, it is the presence of mind and flexibility to adapt and be resourceful that increase one’s skill set and lead to happiness and success. These days, many jobs are looked down upon as they require more effort and do not generate as much income as others. This makes folks gravitate towards the higher paying jobs which may not require any vocational skills. I don’t think there is an easy solution to this imbalance other than creating awareness about being well-rounded individuals who learn to respect and take on any task or job.

Leslie L.: That was kind of a deep question. Here’s an easier one: What’s next for you? I can only assume you’re working on subsequent stories in the MISS TREE TALES series.

Deepa Remesh: I totally agree. Your previous question was profound.  Coming back to MISS TREE TALES, there are a few stories lined up. I can say the next one is going to be sweet where the seed would be more precious than the fruit.  I do not want to shout out the name of the tree as Mia and Nik, the two main characters in the book series, have to solve a puzzle to figure out the name. If you guessed the answer, please keep it to yourself. Ssh! It’s a top secret mission.download-7

Kelly L.: Oh! And I want to know if you have kids and what they think about your book?

Deepa Remesh: My kids are thrilled about this book that is dedicated to them. The younger one who is in second grade likes the chapter that talks about crafts with coconut leaves. The older one who is in fourth grade thinks this book could be used as a survival guide if someone is stranded on an island with just coconut trees. Both are quite eager to help create videos and other promotional materials for the book. We used  PowToon to make an animated book trailer and also did an interesting sink and float experiment with coconuts. The videos  are available in Miss Tree Tales’ YouTube channel. And here is a knock-knock joke they came up with using PSC which is the short form of Miss Tree’s Plant Savers Club:

Knock-Knock,

Who’s there?

PSC

PSC Who?

P.S: See this new book MIGHTY COCONUTS!

 Leslie L.: Deepa, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and best of luck with the MISS TREE TALES series.

Deepa Remesh: Leslie, I loved this interview format and style. It is so nice of you to get your expert panel of kiddos involved in the discussion. I appreciate your time and thank you for your good wishes.

For more information, to purchase MIGHTY COCONUTS, or to connect with the author on social media, please: 

 

About the Author:

81wsihp9vxl-_sy200_Deepa Remesh lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two kids. Through her first book series based on trees, she tries to introduce kids to a simple sustainable lifestyle presenting them with numerous seeds for thought to cultivate the values of resourcefulness and conservation.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media channels. I’d love to hear from you!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Image of family in green space retrieved from timesofindia.com, “seeds for thought” retrieved from Twitter, HATCHET image retrieved from Wikipedia, all on 1.8.17]

 

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