By Thushanthi Ponweera
Today we’re pleased to welcome Nizrana Farook to the WNDB blog to discuss her latest middle grade novel The Boy Who Met A Whale, out February 1, 2022!
A Sri Lankan fisherboy is swept up in a thrilling seafaring adventure, complete with a kidnapping, missing treasure, and a huge blue whale! From the author of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant.
Razi, a local fisherboy, is watching turtle eggs hatch when he sees a boat bobbing into view. With a chill, he notices a small, still hand hanging over the side.
Inside is Zheng, who’s escaped a shipwreck and is full of tales of sea monsters and missing treasure. But the villains who are after Zheng are soon after Razi and his sister, Shifa, too. And so begins an exhilarating escapade in the shadow of the biggest sea monster of them all.
Author Nizrana Farook has crafted another briskly paced, action-packed quest that swells with empathetic heroes, missing treasure, and a great beast lurking beneath. Set against a vibrant, authentic landscape inspired by Sri Lanka, this delightful caper will thrill young fans of adventure and fantasy.
Razi, Shifa, and Zheng go on a non-stop adventure in this riveting story, with their whale friend Maalu never too far away! Tell us a bit about what inspired you to write it.
I came to this story from writing The Girl Who Stole An Elephant, which is another Serendib-set adventure story. I began to think of an animal friend for the children to adventure with in this book and knew I had to find something that was comparable in some way to an elephant. Since an elephant is the largest land animal, I then went to the sea and chose the largest sea animal. I’ve lived by the ocean all my life before moving to the UK, so loved writing a coastal book! Like with my debut, this was a chance to put in all the things that I know and love about Sri Lanka in this book.
This book, like your debut The Girl Who Stole An Elephant is set in the island of Serendib, which in turn is based on your homeland Sri Lanka, and contains many historically accurate descriptions. What is your research process for each book?
It differs wildly between the three Serendib books I’ve written so far. I do allow myself a bit of license as Serendib is a fictionalized, fairytale version of Sri Lanka, which leaves things quite open for creativity. First and foremost, I tend to look at my memories and experiences. I look at old photo albums, speak to family members and reminisce, read articles, watch YouTube videos (I watched hours of whale footage for this book!), and just think, I suppose. Sometimes I go down a research rabbit hole that takes me days to emerge from.
I believe you are writing and releasing a book each year! How has the popularity of your work affected you as a new author?
A book a year is the plan for the moment! I try not to get too fixated on the idea of a steady stream of books as it’s a lot of pressure to put on myself. My debut was very well received by teachers especially, which I’m incredibly grateful for. Through them, and librarians and booksellers among others, the book reached many children. I must admit that I felt some stress when readers asked me about the next book. It was a difficult book to write, as second books tend to be, but we got there in the end and I’m very proud of it.
How has the experience of being published in the UK differed from your experience of being published in the US?
I wouldn’t say they were hugely different. I live in the UK so I can visit schools and bookshops and meet readers face to face, COVID permitting. But the pandemic has made us all experts at virtual visits! So that’s been great for connecting with people in the US.
What are some of your all-time favorite middle-grade books? And what upcoming titles are you looking forward to?
There are so many! Some of them are The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke, The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, Amari and the Night Brothers by BB Alston, The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell, to name a few. Some of my most looked forward to titles of 2022 are by AM Dassu, Sophie Kirtley, and Lesley Parr.
How does it feel to introduce a little-known place to thousands of young readers? Any advice you have to other writers who are wondering how to do the same?
It feels wonderful! I’ve had many messages from young (and old!) readers saying that they loved the location and would like to visit someday. Growing up in Sri Lanka, I only ever read books in English for pleasure. Because of our colonial past, British books were valued, and those were the books that the older generation bought for us children. So it feels amazing that having grown up on a diet of adventures by western children, I’ve now introduced a western audience to adventures by children from my part of the world. Feels like I’ve come full circle.
My advice to other writers is to be yourself. Remember that using your unique perspective means that your book is uniquely yours. No one else could write it. It took me some time to realize this. My early attempts were me trying to copy my favorite writers. Ultimately I came to see that being me was the best thing for my writing.
Nizrana Farook was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the beautiful landscapes of her home country find their way into the stories she writes. She has a master’s degree in writing for young people, and lives in Hertfordshire, England with her husband and two daughters.
Thushanthi Ponweera is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books and a WNDB 2021 picture book mentee with author David LaRochelle. She was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka where she lives with her husband and two children. She grew up reading and falling in love with stories about children and places that were foreign to her. She believes that someday children from around the world will read and fall in love with stories about children in Sri Lanka. She hopes to write those stories. You can find her on Twitter @thushponweera and on Instagram @bythush.