Thursday, November 15, 2012

In conversation with Helen Rundgren

Heard of Indosuchus, Rajasaurus and Kotasaurus? Did you know there were dinosaurs in India? Surprised? So were we when we first read Stone Eggs, a fact-cum-fiction book about Indian dinosaurs.

The story is interspersed with nuggets of what I like to call “dinformation” – dino information! Not just facts, but info that is relatable and well-presented. A fun book what with the discovery of musk-melon-sized dino eggs, the mention of dino poop... a timeline of Indian dinos and a map to boot! My favourite bit? That would be the description of the world during the era of dinosaurs and a pictorial depiction of continental drift.

This was a book my son ensured was read to him every night for more than a month. It made him guffaw, and it made him read far beyond his level. He would draw dinos, their eggs and poop. During playtime, he would examine every stone hoping he'd stumbled upon a dino egg.

Delighted to interview the author of a book that engaged us in so many ways and for so long - Helen Rundgren.

Helen and Alice
An award-winning Swedish children’s writer, television producer and former zoologist with a passion for reptiles and a fascination for dinosaurs, Helen Rundgren has authored “You Nasty Mosquito!”, “Want to cuddle!”, “Creeping, Crawling Pets” and “A Snails Heart” (all in Swedish) apart from several books on dinosaurs and documentary films.

Helen very kindly and sweetly answered all my questions, from a dark and cold Sweden.

ST - How did the idea of a book on Indian dinosaurs come about and how did the publishers Tulika come into the picture?
Helen - Long ago, Tulika read my book ‘Tyra Tyrannosaurus Rex’. We had some thoughts maybe to translate it, but we dropped the idea. Then I came across an article about dinosaur egg deposits in India. I realized that, of course, Indian children need a book with Indian dinosaurs.

One usually sees non-fiction on dinos. Then there are books in which an anthropomorphic dino dislikes going to bed, or having his teeth brushed... Your book ‘Stone Eggs’, combining fact and fiction, is both informative and entertaining. Is fact cum fiction your chosen style in all your books? 
I write fact based fiction. The kind in ‘Stone Eggs’ with the story and the kids is not usual for me. When I start work with the question to myself - Who is talking here? Why does someone tell us this? That’s why I have a lot of animals talking, not in a tooth brushing way, no, they are actually still animals. Tyra argues that she is the only one who really knows what she looked like. The mosquito mum excuses herself, telling us that she is not all bad – ‘I just need a small amount of blood for my kids…sorry’. That is typically my style.

You are an expert on the topic of reptiles and dinosaurs. Did you have to do your research about Indian dinosaurs in particular?
Yes, of course! I had to do a lot of research and read and read. And that was kind of the best part. A new world of dinosaurs! Fantastic!

The scientist in the book is named Ashok.  How was your experience collaborating with the real Ashok - Dr. Ashok Sahni
I found his name reading dino papers from India. He was very kind and helpful and answered a lot of childish questions. We have never met in real life but I know that he fortunately liked the book a lot.

How about the illustrations for the book, considering we don’t really know what dinosaurs looked like?
Yes, that’s fun. In this case I just let it be and the illustrator dealt with it the way she wanted. But it’s a really good question! When I wrote 'Tyra Tyrannosaurus Rex', the illustrator called me up some days after reading the script – What shall I do? The whole book is about Tyra arguing that humans don’t really know what she looks like.  So?! Tyra turned light blue with no structure at all. She is cute anyway.

The setting is a small town and the book comes across as quintessentially Indian - the loud father, a typical Indian grandmother... how did you pull this off? Have you been around the country?
Yes I have been around a bit. To start with, I travelled in the south with ten writers in a very small bus, a whole month. Strangely enough, I have been back several times since then.

Any interesting experiences you would like to share?
Experiences? I have actually been visiting dino digs around the world. That’s really fun. They discovered an Allosaur head in Canada. I visited the place in China where Gigantoraptor was found, and Laellynosauria in Australia. And I own real dinosaur poo!

You were at Bookaroo, please tell us about it.
That was nice, and a lot of little readers. I brought a banana (a T.rex tooth) a melon (an egg) and my little dino robot. He helped me out with all the kids, but sadly he got ill. I had forgotten his food and that made him fell asleep all the time. If anyone who was there is reading this - he recovered when we got home. He got his real (sic) plastic food and woke up happy.

Your book recos, for our animal-loving readers!
I love a book you already have on your site, Diary of a wombat, Jackie French. A book I was happy to find in a bookshelf in Melbourne. If you want a book with more information about animals I like the way Christopher Cheng presents the facts in Amazing Australian Animals. That happens to be just Australian animals but fun to read. Christopher was at Bookaroo in Delhi a year ago and I bought the book there. Two Australians, I will make that three. I love Shaun Tan. He maybe doesn’t do animal books as such, but what an illustrator and storyteller!

Tell us about your books in the making. Any others targeted specifically for the Indian audience in the offing? How about translations of your Swedish books?
I am not planning any books specifically for Indian kids for the moment, no. I have one script but that is about dinosaurs as well and you may not need another. Right now I have a new book about baby dinosaurs eager to grow up and get big, very big. That one has just been released here. And I am working with another book named “Best nose ever!” Animals claiming why their nose, eyes and ears are the best in the world. I mean, senses can be best in different ways. Best for the owner’s needs any way.

What kind of pets can be housed in small urban flats? What is your advice to families where children would like pets, and parents are worried about the mess?
I think pets are important. Your own pet, other people’s pets or animals around. If you learn to love and care, I think you learn empathy. I don’t know what kind of pets are common in Indian urban flats. Here, in Sweden, all kinds of small rodents are popular. They are hopefully in cages. I love lizards, of course. They don’t mess around at all, but few lizards tolerate cuddling. Keeping small nervous ones in a glass tank is more like having an aquarium. Cats are lovely but if you think of a flat with no possibility to step out, it’s of course not a good idea. And, a lot of cats in cities are a problem to native animals, no doubt. But I want one anyway… a small one… no bird eating… no squirrels on the menu…. yes I knooow… But I am happy with my dragon Matilda, an Australian lizard and Fia, an African grey parrot.

And finally, if one of our readers were to stumble upon something the size of a musk-melon, like Sandhya and Sankar in the story, what is he/she to do?
Let them be. Put something over the possible eggs. Find help to call someone at a museum. Don’t tell everyone at the beginning. The eggs can be stolen and if they are moved, a lot of scientific value will get lost. And call me! I will jump on a plane. I would love to see them!

[Image courtesy Helen Rundgren]


Choxbox said...

Amazing Q & As - thanks Arundhati and Ms.Rundgren! Am off hunting for Stone Eggs tomorrow!

Choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arundhati said...

Thanks Chox! It was a lovely experience interacting with Helen. Can't agree more with what she said about caring for animals.

All - do visit the Birla Science Museum at Hyderabad, the Dinosaurium exhibits include a 160-million-year-old mounted Kotasaurus Yamanpalliensis

Related Posts with Thumbnails