Sunita Mistry Shah is a children’s writer of a series of books called The Jai Jais. Sunita was inspired by her son Syon to write this series of books for children.
“Nothing can beat grandma’s tales and stories, but I wanted a way to teach my son about Hindu Gods and Goddess from an early age. I wanted to create simple characters that a 3-year-old would find fun engaging and easy to learn”.
Sunita, a Speech and Language therapist and uses her extensive knowledge as to ensure the communication levels for her series of book are age appropriate for pre-school children.
Sunita is passionate about children not growing up too fast and enjoying their childhood, creating memories and interactions that will last a lifetime.
Apart from writing books for children, Sunita specialises in working with bilingual children and works at a National level to promote the advantages of learning two or more languages which are her passion.
Sunita interview questions
Can you tell Asian Mums Network about how you became a children’s author?
The main inspiration to start my publishing was my older son. At night we would pray, and in the house, we had a temple, he would ask about “The Monkey God and the Elephant God”, and why we pray to so many idols and what each Goddess represented. My knowledge was basic enough for a child’s curious mind, but he wanted to learn more. Luckily my granddad is still here today at a great age of 99 years, he would quench the inquisitive mind of my son, but this was not enough. I showed him some comics of what we read when we were little, but he was only 3 years old, and some of the stories were too complex and the demons slightly scary for him.
So I went to what we know best, Amazon and Google. After hours of searching, I realised there were very limited books and stories in the UK and internationally for younger children introducing them to Hindu deities, that were modern and engaging. That was my Eureka moment, “okay then I will make my own.”
What did you aspire to be when you were younger?
I studied Business Studies when I took my A-levels but initially did not think I would have the knowledge and skills to set up my own business.
My husband has a family business which has been going for over 40 years and he had been brought up in a family business. He was a great support and motivation.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the Hindu gods and goddesses Series?
I started reading Hindu scriptures Ramayan and Mahabharat and reading lots about all the different Gods and Goddesses. It was a total mind field with lots of information, contradicting information and some of the scriptures to a high level for children. At that point, I thought right, put your mummy and therapist head on. What engages children, what level of language is expected for pre-school children and start from there. Strip it all back and make it basic accessible and most importantly fun.
I started writing my first story “Ganesh”. Due to the validity of information on the web and the contradicting information in many books, I contacted a Hindu Brahman (priest) who was so endearing and engaging and supported me with what I was doing. One by one I started writing the stories, one became six. He verified all the text I had a written, to be appropriate to publish.
I realised I had written six books, but my illustration skills were limited! what was I going to do next?
Trying to be organised and coordinate my week around my family, on-going hospital appointments after my second child, speech and language therapy clients, developing training, writing more books, marketing the books, developing merchandise for the book, the food group, endless meeting the list goes on. I guess the answer is TIME! And money for taking the concept to the next level.
The first step was finding an illustrator, but thanks to the power of social media using facebook I posted that I need an illustrator, a Speech and Language Therapy Colleague introduced me to James who worked in a school as a teaching assistant but also had a passion for drawing.
The second step was trying to find a publisher, this has still been a challenge, UK publishers work through agents. We sent the concept and storyboards, but has lots of rejections as the agents were not interested, the knockbacks were so difficult with an inbox of “Thank you for sharing your lovely concept but at this time it is not something that we could support.” This was so disheartening.”
How was I going to get my lovely books to little hands for special moments for storytimes, I was lost?
I received lovely reviews and feedback parents have given about the books. One parent reported her child has ditched her favourite Julia Donaldson books for the “The Jai Jais.” So many parents have told us how much they have learnt and the children have learnt the books by heart and take them everywhere especially to their grandparents.
What is the reaction of the public to your Hindu gods and goddesses Series?
. Parents have told us the children always want to read their Jai Jai books before bed and take them to their grandparent’s house. Children have fallen in love with beautiful characters. We have sold over 12,000 books in the Uk and internationally. We have had some lovely reactions to our books from families. The feedback has been fabulous.
“My daughter and I are totally in love with the Jai Jai series and so excited for her fourth to arrive. We read the 3 books every night before bed, and she has ditched her Julia Donaldson collection for this. It’s more precious knowing that she understands the books and also celebrated Dhanterus by doing the Lakshmi Pooja at home with us. Thank you, Sunita and the team at Jai Jais, great creation”.
“Hinduism (as my boys call it Jai Jai) made easy to understand from a child’s eye. My boys love the first two books and are asking for some more.”
“Eases them into the very complex teachings of our wonderful religion wishing you guys continued success”.
“What a wonderful concept for all children, I am a school teacher, and my children in the class who are not all Hindu have loved these books. So creative well done!”
Which writers inspire you?
As a child, I just loved reading C.S. Lewis. I just loved how the books transformed to far away places with magic and mystery. The ease of the ability to read, and the visualisations made by your own mind when reading. I was a real bookworm as a child.
Always Roald Dhal, his books are simple, wonderful, fun and really grasp a child’s imagination. JK Rowling, well she has just smashed it! Truly amazing talent.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Just wonderful. I can’t wait to read it to my older child. Hungry Caterpillar a timeless class. Charlie and the chocolate factory!
What advice would you give other aspiring children’s authors?
Firstly, believe in yourself and your idea. Always ask a child for feedback through your stages as they are your audience. Give yourself time to evaluate and edit. Just got for it. In the world of books and imagination, anything is possible.
What do you think of self-publishing versus approaching a traditional publisher?
We had no choice but to self-publish. When you publish a book, you are not able to submit scripts and ideas directly to the publishing houses, they also work with agents. Many publishing houses turned our ideas down as it had “religious elements and was not mainstream”, I disagree as these books have been shared across nurseries and schools in which I work and all children have engaged and enjoyed the books. It’s all about embracing diversity.
I know from other authors they found using agents really impacted their profit margins. Being self-published I have full control over the whole decision-making processes of my creation.
What literary plans do you have for the future?
Watch this space we want The Jai Jais to grow with your child. We have a new series launching soon, and the book will be aimed at 8-12-year-olds. This has taken my writing skills to the next level, I have enjoyed it so much and learnt heaps in the process. Just a clue it’s going to magical, mystical and very exciting!
Click on the images to find out more about the Jai Jais.
Alhambra Women’s Network