Richa Jha: Breaking Stereotypes with Picture Books

“We need storytellers to bring words and ideas to our children in an entertaining, engaging, and if need be, hard hitting manner.

Unlike the passive act of watching television, sitting through a storytelling session draws a child into the scene of action with a force that no electronic media can ever do.

Storytelling is live, immediate, and the child can hear your breath. Its impact will always be dramatic. And lasting.” – Author and mom Richa Jha

We totally believe that storytelling has the power to buy happiness. Just today I heard from a parent of a three-year-old who is on a brief hiatus from the story sessions owing to the festive season. “Every time he crosses your studio, he points towards it and asks me when are we going there?”. What literally brought tears to my eyes was when she told me that he said, “I love the story class and I love story aunty.”

So yes I totally believe that stories have the power to buy happiness, love, respect and most importantly an undying love for books and learning.

We interviewed super mom and super author Richa Jha on her super books The Susu Pals and The Unboy Boy, her views on storytelling, reading and some stuff in between. Here’s what she has to say:

(Interviewed by Rohini Vij)

Q 1. What does storytelling mean to you?
A 1. When a set of even mundane words strung together have you enthralled and hungry for more, that’s good storytelling at work. It’s an art I wish I could grasp, deliver and master.

Q 2. When you tell / write a story how do you come up with it?
A 2. If a spark of an idea or a flash of a thought gets me all excited and lets me already ‘see’ the finished book in my mind, bingo! I know it’s a story begging to be written down. Most of these ideas strike when I’m chatting with my fast-growing up daughter (she’s a 9 yo now).

Q 3. Who are your target audience?
A 3. Parents who would love to cuddle up with their children day after day for years with funny, intelligent, sensitive or madcap picture book in hand.

Q 4. What are the kind of books you like to read? Could you share some of your favourite books and authors?
A 4. I like books that linger on in the mind long after they’ve been shut and put away. They could be funny, outright crazy, poignant, richly illustrated, hard hitting, or whatever. These are books with a strong pull-back factor, something that keeps them fresh and entertaining (or thought provoking) reads after reads.
Mes petits demons (French) by Claudine Desmarteau.
Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke.

Q 5. What makes an ideal picture book? Could you please recommend some good picture books along with age groups?
A 5. A good picture book plays a child’s own view of the world back to her; it understands her big little concerns and throws back ways to deal with them. It brings a child’s world of joys, mischief, imagination, flights of fantasy, fears, anxieties and much more right into – as the NYT bestselling author of picture books Doreen Cronin puts it – the child’s hands for her to “hold them with both hands, sit with her feelings, and confront them” at the turn of every page. All the while, playfully, with humour, and many a time, without a single word written on any page.
Being a visually rich medium, an ideal picture book should encourage hours and layers of conversation between the adult who is reading out and the child who is following (and interpreting) the images.

Q 6. Tell us something about your book Unboy Boy? What probed you to write this wonderful story about breaking stereotypes? What kind of a response have you received for this story – Especially from parents.
A 6. Several things. My own gentle boy, for one. But more than that was this constant refrain of ‘boys will be boys’ that we hear all the time around us. There are two sides to it. One, that leads to a sense of entitlement among one half of society to believe they can get away with anything; and the second, that it pushes our boys and men into a trap of undue and unrelenting masochistic expectations and codes of conformation.
The response has been overwhelming (not that it necessarily translates into sales – that’s the publisher side of me butting in! 🙂 )

Q 7. What about Susu Pals? It is a rather unique title. How did you come up with it?
A 7. We’ve grown up seeing boys standing facing the wall relieving themselves and chatting without cares. Hypothetically, place girls in a similar context, and we’ll suddenly hear the alarm bells about perversity sounding on all sides! And it always makes me wonder, why? And so, I didn’t even have to think hard for the title when I started writing this book about two best friends who happen to be girls! I knew I was taking a huge risk in a market where picture books hardly sell, but that was more than half the fun bit!

Q 8. When one looks at Susu Pals one immediately puts it into the girls’ book category (again stereotypical) however my son thoroughly enjoyed the book. How have your positioned the book? How would you get more boys to pick it up too?
A 8. I guess, it’s the pink cover and the girls on the cover and all the pig tails and pony tails, right?! Well, I have never looked at it as a book for the girls’ category. I would like it to be seen as a book about friends and friendship, with all its joys, sorrows and insecurities thrown in. It’s just a picture book for parents and children to enjoy together. When a parent and a girl child read a book about a boy, no one thinks of it as a girl picking up a boys’ category book; but the moment we reverse gender of the reader and the protagonist, these rigid stereotypes come to the fore.
I feel the more books we have in the market that show childhood with a neutral filter, the more accepting parents might become of ridding themselves of these biases. Which is why I was totally over the moon at Viraaj enjoying The Susu Pals! You became a rockstar mom to me that very moment! 🙂

Q 9. Could you share any memorable experience as an author / storyteller?
A 9. I guess it’ll have to be people I’ve never met or known before taking out the time to drop me an email about how much they enjoyed my books. I can’t boast even a handful of those, but the few whom I heard from have given me immeasurable joy for keeps!

Q 10. What according to you is the role of a storyteller in today’s world?
A 10. We need storytellers to bring words and ideas to our children in an entertaining, engaging, and if need be, hard hitting manner. Unlike the passive act of watching television, sitting through a storytelling session draws a child into the scene of action with a force that no electronic media can ever do. It’s live, it’s immediate, and the child can hear your breath. Its impact will always be dramatic. And lasting.
Writing and creating books is easy. ‘Showing’ that story is not. I wish I had the skill and the confidence to become a story teller!

Q 11. Children today are not reading much. How do you think they can be encouraged to pick up books?
A 11. Read out to them from day 1 (or better still, while they are still in there kicking our tummies with gusto). A child who grows up sniffing, touching, chewing on books will be a lifelong lover of books.

Q 12. How can the art of storytelling be incorporated in the school curriculum?
A 12. Literature and history render themselves beautifully to story telling form. Schools should invite storytellers, and encourage their own teachers to take regular lessons to an experiential level by introducing storytelling sessions as a compulsory part of classroom teaching.

Richa Jha’s love for picture books can be seen on her website:

Photo of author

Rohini Vij

Rohini is a professional storyteller, educator, listed & certified Jolly Phonics UK trainer, curriculum developer, parenting coach, founder of NutSpace. She is on a mission to raise readers and is actively engaged with curriculum development for schools and her own ed-tech platform - Nutspace Edtech.

1 thought on “Richa Jha: Breaking Stereotypes with Picture Books”

  1. You overwhelm me, Rohini, yet again! I hope I get to meet you sometime soon. I need to tell you in person how much I admire you as a storyteller, blogger and parent. Cross my heart! 🙂 Truckloads of good wishes coming your way from Noida! May you never tire of touching the lives of young impressionable minds…


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