Q&A With Mitali Perkins, Author of Rickshaw Girl

Mitali Perkins is the author of numerous books for teens and younger readers, including Monsoon Summer and Secret Keeper. Her latest book, Rickshaw Girl, is now playing live on stage at the Children's Creativity Museum Theater in San Francisco, April 16-May 1, and Osher Studio in Berkeley, May 7-22. Rickshaw Girl was also selected by the New York Public Library as one of the best 100 children's books of the past 100 years. I extremely excited to share an exclusive interview with Bay Area author, Mitali Perkins. 

Q. Are your characters based on someone you know?

I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh for three years and rode rickshaws and played with the children of rickshaw pullers, so they definitely inspired me. But in the back of my mind, I was imagining my grandmothers (both of whom grew up in Bangladeshi villages) with access to microcredit. What innovations might they have pursued if they'd had the chance.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

I read voraciously and always scribbled stories, but becoming a professional author was not on my mind until I became a Mom. At that point I connected the dots between fiction and formation in my own life and in the lives of our boys, and I began to realize the power of storytelling.

Q. The rickshaw takes on an important role in your book. Can you tell me more about the importance of the rickshaw in Bangladesh society?

It's a cherished, eco-friendly mode of transport and adds color and life to the streets of cities and villages. If only pulling a rickshaw paid more!

Q. I spoke to Susie Jaramillo author of "Little Chickies/Los Pollitos." She said there were few resources to share her Latin culture with her kids in America. Did you find it hard to share Bangladesh culture in the U.S. with your family?

Bengalis have always formed clubs and societies in the U.S., and there is a rich tradition of literature for adults written by Bengali authors (like Jhumpa Lahiri, for example.) I am hoping to share the richness of the culture through children's books. Did you know that Bangla (or Bengali) is the sixth-most commonly spoken language on the planet? 

Q. In Naima’s village, boys can work for pay, but girls are expected to stay home and help with the cooking and the cleaning. Naima desperately wants to help her father earn more money, and comes across a woman owned business who employs her. Are women owned businesses growing in Bangladesh? 

Yes, thanks to microcredit. If you want to learn more, check out Grameen and Kiva, both excellent organizations that focus on microfinance and loans for women.

Q. What is it about writing for the 7-10 year old age group appeals to you? 

Perhaps this is my maturity level? Just kidding. At that age, the heart and mind are wide open to languages, cultures, and stories. It is a fertile time to plant a story that might affect someone for life.

Q. Why did the Bay Area Children’s Theatre choose Rickshaw Girl to turn into a play?

I don't know why but I am thrilled. Obviously they care about stepping outside the box as well as representing the wide array of cultures in the Bay Area.

Q. I love the way children’s theater connects the importance of reading for children. To see a live play of a beloved story jumping off the pages and coming to life is magic. Were you involved in writing the play or have any input on set design, costumes, and character development?

Aditi Kapil adapted the play brilliantly. I didn't have any input other than cheering like crazy for all the creative people involved and bringing my Mom to a rehearsal to teach the cast how to draw alpanas. 

Q. How does it feel to see your books come to life on stage?

Lovely but weird. At several points while I was watching I completely forgot I had written the story and caught myself wondering what might happen next!

Q. Speaking of what happens next.....what’s next for you?

I have a picture book and a novel for middle-schoolers coming out in 2017 and 2018. My newest novel, TIGER BOY, set in the villages of India and appropriate for ages 7-10, will be coming out in paperback (it's available in hardcover now.) And last but not least, RICKSHAW GIRL is going to be made into a movie! It's set for release in 2017. I'll keep you posted, but here's the website with the gorgeous movie poster: http://sleeperwave.com/portfolio/rickshaw-girl/ 

Thank You Mitali for gifting us with wonderful stories.