Welcome! We’re excited to celebrate the book release of one of our own members.
Sheela Chari’s VANISHED (Disney•Hyperion) launches today!
Publishers Weekly describes VANISHED as an “enthralling mystery,” and Kirkus Reviews writes, “Chari…strikes the right note with this engaging, intricate story that spans generations and two countries.”
To help celebrate her release, we asked Sheela to stop by to chat with us about VANISHED. To top of our interview, Sheela will be offering up a brand-new, signed copy of VANISHED to one lucky commenter. A winner will be selected at random and announced Thursday, July 28.
Here’s a little about VANISHED (description from publisher):
Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument used to be her grandmother’s—made of warm, rich wood, and intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.
When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, Neela is devastated. As she searches for it, strange clues surface: a teakettle ornamented with a familiar-looking dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing.
If she is able to track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?
If you like mysteries and Boston, and reading about an instrument from another musical tradition, we hope this book will make an enjoyable read for the last days of summer!
And now, let’s turn to Sheela.
Welcome, Sheela! Since the inception of The Mixed-Up Files, you and Brian Kell have been doing the New Releases every month. How does it feel to be a “New Releases” today?
On alternating months, Brian and I take turns rounding up the middle grade titles releasing during that month. I’ve been doing it for a little over a year, and now not only do I recognize some of the “regulars,” but I discover some debut authors along the way, too. It’s been eye-opening – sometimes I spot trends, or a book I think that’s going to touch lives. Regardless if the book is literary or commercial, a boy book or girl – whatever it is – all these books seem to have a special sheen. And maybe I feel that way because my book is releasing this year. I know all the work that goes into producing a finished book – not just the revisions and deadlines, but the hope that an author puts into his or her work. It’s a piece of ourselves out there. So being a New Release? It’s a very big honor for me.
Why did you decide to make VANISHED for middle grade readers?
I don’t think I ever chose to be a middle grade writer. But I wrote VANISHED for my niece, who was eight years old at the time. I fitted the book to suit her reading level. But the funny thing I discovered while writing was that I liked writing middle grade. It’s kind of like singing in a choir and discovering your range. Just like some people are sopranos or altos, my writing voice seems to fall in the MG register. When you find your natural voice, you’ll discover it’s so much easier to tell a story.
Can you share an excerpt from the book that gives us a flavor of your character’s voice? How did you find your character’s voice?
Well, here’s a little secret. The voice of my character is really the voice of me. Or maybe an eleven-year old version of myself. I found my character’s voice by letting myself be myself on the page. Except that I also gave Neela, the main character, the kind of traits I wanted to have at that age (and still do): a little boldness, a little humility, and a sense of humor.
This is an excerpt of Neela listening to her teacher, playing the veena, the instrument featured in the novel:
As Neela watched, she was struck by something strange and lovely in her teacher’s face — a kind of glow, as if she were lit from within. How was it that her teacher, who normally looked like a dried-up piece of fruit, cold look suddenly almost…beautiful? Play for yourself and it will come beautifully. Her grandmother’s words returned to Neela. Was that it? Would it ever come beautifully for her?
I like this passage because not only does it reveal Neela’s character, but it brings up the other mystery that’s at the heart of the novel – how does one become a real musician? It’s a question Neela needs to answer if she has to learn to face her stage fright and play in front of others.
Who is your cover artist? Is the character in the illustration as you imagined her?
I have to say that I LOVE my cover. The artist’s name is Jon Klassen, who is an animator by training among other things (he did some of the stop animation work for the movie, Coraline), as well as a children’s illustrator. The cover did go through some changes from the first one I saw. The original was set during the day, with a country side background, and the girl was shown with shoulder-length hair. I asked for the girl to have a ponytail, because I thought Neela’s long hair was an important part of her cultural identity. Jon added a city skyline to give a sense of the urban architecture of Chennai, the place where the train station resides. And he changed the scene from day to night, because it was felt this would convey a greater sense of mystery.
What I love most about the cover is that the main character on the front seems not someone distinctly Indian or American, but a girl who could be from anywhere in the world. The universality of her was something I felt strongly about throughout the writing of the novel. I didn’t set out to write a multicultural book – I wanted to write a mystery that anyone might be able to relate to. That Jon picked up on that, either deliberately or intuitively, made me feel so lucky. It’s like the story and the cover complement each other perfectly. I hope others feel the same way too when they read the book.
Congratulations, and thanks for stopping by, Sheela! VANISHED is available in stores starting today!
If you want to learn more about Sheela Chari or her work, check out her web site at: www.sheelachari.com. Sheela is available for school and library visits, and will be hopping on the Mixed-Up Middle Grade Skype Tour this winter, to do a virtual visit to one of your classrooms, libraries, or book clubs!