I am delighted to introduce Aruna Khanzada’s Harrison Braves The Hill, a beautifully illustrated book that teaches children the power of courage and hope through the anxious journey of the main character, Harrison, a young bird. When I first read the book, it totally blew me away with its gentle but persuasive story about transformation. It perfectly illustrates how we must lose something to gain something better — to always have a little hope to massage our fear, allowing courage to come forward and transition to the next chapter in life, whatever that is.
What led Aruna to writing this book? And why did she select the characters she did to represent, hope, courage, change, loss? Here’s our Q&A with Aruna herself to expand on these questions and more.
Q: Where did the story idea for Harrison Braves The Hill come from?
A: The idea just evolved. I’d be lying if I said I had a plan. I realise now that Harrison is probably my own inner child watching my own children learn self confidence and courage to face the unknown: first days at new schools, performing in concerts, travelling alone and going off to Uni. It doesn’t stop for any of us in life; I still find myself taking deep breaths and climbing new hills!
Dolly Dog, I think, is the parent I for one aspire to be — quietly supportive, gently guiding without forcing parental will (Kahlil Gibran On Children in The Prophet is a beautiful, powerful poem that guides me to understand my children’s lives are their own).
The caterpillar and egg and their metamorphosis are consciously included as subtle symbols of evolution in nature running in tandem with the story of our own emotional development.
I didn’t have a clue about digital marketing and I felt the time had come in my little business In indie publishing to learn the basics so I did a diploma in digital marketing to help clients.
Harrison Braves the Hill was not meant to be any more than a personal project in digital marketing which I combined as a christening gift and a memory of Dolly, a wonderful local Westie my family had known for sixteen years.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on fear and courage as the central theme of the book?
A: I think that is answered to a certain extent in the first question. Curiously, the original bird was a watercolour painting of a bubble gone wrong in which I saw a scared little bird I called Brave Purple. The expression on his little face was one of fear and I think I ran with that. I did warn you: I had no plan!
Q: The illustrations are gorgeous — why did you choose the animal characters that you did?
A: Thank you! As mentioned above, Brave Purple was the original bird and he started off on paper as a watercolour bubble! He was too sad a character for my marketing project.
Harrison is a jollier but still vulnerable looking character. His shape is actually the silhouette of my friend’s baby’s head turned upside down with a beak, eyes, wings and legs added!
Dolly was an exercise in tearing paper into a character. I thought of the real dog Dolly and tore her out of paper and she came to life!
Q: Did you train as an illustrator too?
A: I have no formal training in writing or art or self publishing for that matter! I was a criminal barrister and left the profession to bring up my two children. I started using the self publishing platform Blurb.com for my own projects and with encouragement from Blurb, created a niche business helping people self publish. It was through that that I had requests to illustrate and design covers for books and then people who had written stories and seen some of the designs wanted me to have a go at illustrating.
After doing a few books I decided to do a short course on illustration at The House of Illustration to understand some of the industry formalities (not that I have followed any of them in this book!).
Q: What impact would you like the book to have on your young readers?
A:To overcome fear, keep climbing, discovering new worlds of experience!
Funnily enough, the book has touched many adults who have said the message resonates with them. I am so proud of the fact that a child psychotherapist has left a review to say she is recommending the book to students to use to help children with self confidence issues.
Q: Are there any other children’s books on bravery that you would recommend?
A: I am by no means an authority on children’s books. I read to my children every night growing up but cannot remember any that touched on bravery as such. I’d love to know from you what books there are out there on the subject!
Q: Are you writing any more children’s books that we should be aware of?
A: Last year I had a conversation with a lovely woman and could feel her pain at losing her brother. It inspired me to start a book on grieving. The illustrations are evolving with the story of a little elephant who loses his father and the main message of it is that whilst life comes to an end, the memory lives on forever.
Harrison is also dealing with new issues which will evolve in my haphazard way! I am also on the look out for a literary agent as I was advised at the Children’s Media Conference that my illustrations are original and lend themselves to animation and I should look to getting the book into mainstream publishing.
Aruna’s book also been included in our children’s book prescription titled ‘Being Brave’.
If you enjoyed this interview, you might also enjoy some of our other Q&As with up-and-coming children’s authors of colour:
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Originally published at https://www.booktherapy.io on January 23, 2020.