After smashing all the bestseller lists in India with her debut book, Girl Power! author Neha Hiranandani is set to take on the rest of the world.
Girl Power! is the first book of its kind to celebrate 50 Indian women that achieved remarkable feats - it's the first children's book that represents Indian women in this light, adding diversity and hope to a dying all-white narrative.
I'm really excited about this book, not just because I'm Indian and a woman, but because it gives a voice to children of colour everywhere and acknowledges their identity through representation, offering inspiration and empowerment to do great things, regardless of whether your male or female.
Here's our interview with Neha herself.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you, as a debut author, to launch a children's books first, and a diverse one at that?
A: My 7 year-old daughter, Zoya absolutely loved Rebel Girls. As a mother, I was happy to see her being inspired by incredible women from around the world. But then one day she came to me clutching her beloved copy of Rebel Girls and asked sadly "Does India only have two rebels?". Of course, I immediately wanted to tell her all about the phenomenal Indian women that India has had - our rule breakers, our mavericks, our smashers of ceilings. We spent the next few months discovering these women together. It was magnificent – the stories were incredible! I quickly realized that these were stories that all our girls - and even our boys - should hear.
Q: What inspired the title 'Girl Power!' you could have called it anything, eg '50 Great Indian Women' - just curious about the title and why you picked that particular phrase.
A: Oh, I’m glad you brought that up! My working title for the book was ‘The Mavericks’ as that’s how I thought of these women. It was my publisher at Scholastic who suggested ‘Girl Power!’ and it clicked. Girl Power! started as a slogan in 1990s but I think it’s kept its relevance and punch over the years. Just like the women in the book!
Q: If you had to choose three out of the 50 women as your favourites, which one would you choose and why?
A: That’s a tough one; I feel so strongly about them all. Instead let me tell you my daughter’s favourites! So far she has loved Arunima’s story who climbed Mt Everest with a prosthetic leg and a steel rod in the other making her the world’s first female amputee to climb the peak. Subhasini is another firm favorite – she worked as a maid and sold vegetables for 25 years to save money to build the first hospital in her village. Subhasini later received a national award from the President of India for healthcare. And Geeta who rescued 300 bears and ended the cruel practice of ‘dancing bears’ in India forever!
Q: How did you select the 50 women? Was there a selection process (eg was there a longlist?) Tell us a little bit about how the women included qualified?
A: This was easily my favorite part of the project! I was clear that this wasn't going to be just a list of accomplished Indian women - the women in this book had to be mavericks, ceiling smashers! And so I set about finding the stories and really, what stories they are! Every story made me feel me proud to be Indian all over again. You will meet a spy princess who parachuted into France, a warrior queen who defended India from the Portugeuse six times! The grandma who learned sharpshooting in her sixties. Of course, there are some household names as well including PV Sindhu and Priyanka Chopra. But personally, I am very proud of the untold stories. They were so exciting to discover!
Q: In terms of writing about these women, what was your research process - some of these women were born in the 1500s eg Abbakka
A: Along with the team at Scholastic, I was meticulous in making sure that every fact was double-checked. Many times this meant watching several documentaries for a 5 word-quote or finding obscure books and articles in dusty libraries. While there is no bibliography in the book, we have maintained an exhaustive back-of-house bibliography! The research, especially for the lesser-known women, wasn’t easy but it was fun.
Q: Were there any women in here that you were unable to include but are worth a mention?
A: Girl Power! includes stories from across the country, across industries and across time periods. I have picked stories that had an identifiable 'Kodak moment', that could be written coherently in 300 words or less keeping in mind the attention span of the younger generation today. This was easier said than done, especially given that all of these women have led very nuanced lives!
With every inclusion, there was also a woman who I would have loved to cover but couldn’t for one reason or another. For instance, I wanted to profile the exemplary Indira Jaisingh but I couldn't find the correct 'Kodak moment' in her life that would be relatable to a young audience. I am a mother first, and so I was acutely aware that above all, Girl Power! has to be appropriate and enjoyable for children of all ages.
Q: What's your favourite diverse children's book (apart from your own of course!)?
A: I love the Ordinary People Can Change the World series.
Q: What impact would you like the book to have on your readers?
A: One might assume that this book is only addressed to young girls. That’s a mistake. We’ve received so much praise for this book but I think one of my favourite moments was when a mother wrote in to say that her two sons quarrel over who will read it first. I loved that! For far too long, Indian women have only been showcased in certain roles - as a mother, as a wife etc. I love that this book is opening up conversations about Indian women succeeding as wrestlers, as scientists, as entrepreneurs! I think that’s great impact.
Q: What other exciting projects (books) have you got lined up?
A: I’m currently writing a book on living and parenting in the digital age. It will be published by Penguin Random House in 2020.
Q: Where can people find out more about your work?
A: My website www.nehahiranandani.com is always up to date!
You can also read my review of the book itself here.
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