Interview: Sanjay Patel

A couple of months ago I read and fell for the book Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth illustrated by Sanja Patel. I am super stoked to interview Sanja today on my blog.

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is unlike any legend that I have ever read. What made you decide to write this book? (I meant to say illustrated. I’m thankful that Sanja rolled with the question.)

After spending so many years working on the Ramayana I wanted to do a smaller, lighter story. I told my editor and friend, Emily Haynes, about a Ganesha legend of how he breaks his tusk to write down the story of the Mahabharata. I approached her as collaborator to help write and develop it. She turned it into a fun and original take on the legend, which I then illustrated. Much, if not all the writing credit goes to her (and, of course, the source material).

I did a little research on the tale of Mahabharata.You have done an amazing job making it assessable to readers today. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of taking a story like Mahabharata and modernizing it?

Sweet Tooth only tells the story of the scribe (Ganesha) and narrator (Vyasa) of the Mahabharata – it tackles how the Mahabharata came to be written, but not what it is about. I love that in this way Emily wrote an introduction to the Mahabharata without going into the details in any way. Her introduction gave me the opportunity to do a full spread of iconic moments of the Mahabharata, without getting bogged down in the entire mythology. Hopefully readers’ imaginations will be sparked when they see that spread and they will want to learn more!

 

I think that it is so cool that you are an animator and storyboard artist for Pixar Animation Studios. How has your work in that media helped you as an illustrator of children’s books?

Working at PIXAR certainly toughens you up to constant criticism and critique. Learning to be flexible and to collaborate can really help the editor/author/artist relationship process flow.

My students are not required to write legends, but they quite often give it a try after we study them in reading. What tips would you have for young writers attempting to modernize old tales?

The best tip I’d give is to reintroduce the legend in a way that feels relateable. Highlight moments that you and I can empathize with today. Then reintroduce them in a way that feels familiar, while retaining the core message or events.

 

My students are always looking for book recommendations. If you had to recommend three books to young readers, what would they be?

That’s a really difficult question. Books can be so personal, unless I know the person very well I find it hard to recommend things. Plus I’m much more of a comic book guy. Especially the ones that have illustrations that speak louder than the words. You know what, I just came up with one. I feel pretty safe in recommending any of the Calvin and Hobbes collections by Bill Watterson.

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