Krishnaswami, Uma 1956-
Krishnaswami, Uma 1956-
Born June 27, 1956, in New Delhi, India; daughter of V. (an Indian government official) and Vasantha (a homemaker) Krishnaswami; married Sumant Krishnaswamy; children: Nikhil Krishnaswamy (son). Ethnicity: "Asian Indian." Education: University of New Delhi (India), B.A. (political science), 1975, M.A. (social work), 1977; University of Maryland—College Park, M.A. (counseling), 1982. Religion: Hindu. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, birdwatching, reading.
Home—Aztec, NM. E-mail—[email protected]
Author and educator. LEAP, Inc., Silver Spring, MD, rehabilitation counselor, 1981-86; Epilepsy Foundation of America, Landover, MD, employment specialist/program administrator, 1986-88; University of Maryland, College Park, project coordinator in special education department, 1988-97; freelance writer, 1997—. Leader of workshops, teacher of online writing courses for Writers on the Net, and codirector of Bisti Writing Project (local site of National Writing Project). Writer-in-residence, Aztec Ruins National Monument.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC, PEN West/PEN New Mexico.
Young Readers Award, Scientific American, 1997, for The Broken Tusk; International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society designation, for Naming Maya; Bank Street College of Education Best Book designations; CCBC Choice honors.
(Reteller) Stories of the Flood, illustrated by Birgitta Saflund, Roberts Rinehart Publishers (Niwot, CO), 1994.
(Reteller) The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha, illustrated by Maniam Selven, Linnet Books (North Haven, CT), 1996.
(Reteller) Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India, illustrated by Maniam Selven, Linnet Books (North Haven, CT), 1999.
Yoga Class (nonfiction), illustrated by Stephanie Roth, Bebop Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Hello Flower (picture book), illustrated by Stephanie Roth, Bebop Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Holi (nonfiction), Children's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Chachaji's Cup (picture book), illustrations by Soumya Sitarman, Children's Book Press (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Monsoon (picture book), illustrated by Jamel Akib, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
Naming Maya (novel), Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story (picture book), illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2005.
The Closet Ghosts (picture book), illustrated by Shiraaz Bhabha, Children's Book Press (San Francisco, CA), 2006.
Bringing Asha Home (picture book), illustrated by Jamel Akib, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2006.
Remembering Grandpa (picture book), illustrated by Layne Johnson, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2007.
Beyond the Field Trip: Teaching and Learning in Public Places (for teachers), Linnet Professional Publications (North Haven, CT), 2002.
Contributor of poems and stories to children's magazines, including Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, and Skipping Stones, and adult magazines, including Bulletin of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Tumbleweeds, Bookbird, and Writer's Carousel. Contributor of book reviews to Children's Literature.
Writer and teacher Uma Krishnaswami credits her son, Nikhil, with inspiring her to become a children's book author. Drawing on her Asian-Indian heritage, Krishnaswami writes in a variety of genres and gears her work for many age levels. In Stories of the Flood, The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha, and Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India she retells traditional tales from around the world. Honing her storytelling skills with these anthologies, Krishnaswami quickly made the move to original stories, winning critical praise for picture books such as Chachaji's Cup, The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story, and Bringing Asha Home.
Krishnaswami was born in New Delhi, India, and traveled throughout the Indian subcontinent, including Wellington, the southern Nilgiri Hills, Delhi, Pune in western India, and the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. "A Remington manual typewriter is responsible for my entry into the writing life," she once recalled to SATA. "My father owned it when I was a child in India…. With its squat silhouette, it is the VW Beetle of typewriters. It has the clean sharp smell of inky ribbon, and when you strike the keys, the metal letters fly up to hit that ribbon and place an imprint on the paper. You never have to figure out how to turn it on." As a grade-school child, Krishnaswami wrote sequels to books she liked, such as the original "Winnie the Pooh" stories she read while perched in her favorite reading spot, a banyan tree.
"Between the ages of five and eleven, I hammered those keys as if I was possessed," Krishnaswami wrote on her home page in describing her development as a writer. "I took a brief detour in an experiment with Wall Writing (green crayon on wall), but quickly learned that was not the way to get grownups to appreciate creativity. So I remained true to that typewriter. I wrote stories and typed them up. I stapled them together and hid them in drawers and bookcases with warnings that read ‘Danger’ and ‘Enter at Your Own Risk.’ At ten, I began sending my writing off to magazines. At thirteen, my first poem was published in Children's World, a children's magazine begun in India by a farsighted man named Shankar who drew cartoons and believed in kids. I don't remember that much about that poem, except that it tried very hard to sound grown-up. But I do remember the thrill of seeing my name in print."
Despite her early publishing success, Krishnaswami's ambitions changed as she grew older. Enrolling at the University of New Delhi, she earned a master's degree in social work. Married, she and her husband immigrated to the United States, where she earned a second master's degree in counseling. Raising her family while working as a counselor and as a program administrator for special-education programs, she once again felt inspired to write creatively. In an interview with Cynthia Leitich-Smith for Children's Literature Resources, Krishnaswami recalled her return to writing, noting: "It was all a lark at first. My first book [Stories of the Flood] was a collection of stories I began writing for my son to read to him." In the process of researching the tales, she talked to people and pored over microfiches and documents at museum and university libraries. "I submitted it because my husband said he thought I should, so I was quite surprised when it got accepted as soon as it did, with only three rejections, one of them a personal one. So I had a relatively painless entrance into publication."
In Stories of the Flood Krishnaswami retells nine tales that focus on the worldwide flood which occurs in many ancient sagas, among them an ancient Sumerian tale and obscure Asian, North American, and African stories. While describing these stories as "short and readable with few obscure words," School Library Journal contributor Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan took issue with the lack of sources provided in the book. Krishnaswami corrected this omission corrected in her second story collection, The Broken Tusk.
The Broken Tusk contains stories about Ganesha, the Hindu god of new beginnings who has the head of an elephant. In addition to documenting her sources in this work, Krishnaswami includes a pronunciation guide and glossary. The Broken Tusk attracted the attention of reviewers, among them Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, who remarked on the rarity of finding a Hindu folktale collection geared toward middle-grade readers. In Kirkus Reviews a critic deemed the volume "elegant and eminently readable," as well as a "vital addition" to library collections on non-European cultures. Janice M. Del Negro, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, suggested that The Broken Tusk "would be very useful as part of an introduction to Hindu culture," a view echoed by Patricia Lothrop-Green in School Library Journal.
In Shower of Gold, published in 1999, Krishnaswami focuses on stories with female protagonists. Here she collects and retells tales from Hindu and Buddhist mythology, ancient literature, and legends, all of which feature women as central characters. Because the heroines act differently than many of the heroines of Western fairytales, readers might find the stories in this "worthy" collection "intriguing," a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, while Carol Fazioli concluded in her School Library Journal review that Shower of Gold is a "wonderful collection" that would serve as "a fine addition to any library."
With her 2002 book Hello Flower, Krishnaswami moved into picture books, a genre where she has won fans and gained critical accolades with books such as Chachaji's Cup, The Happiest Tree, The Closet Ghosts, and Bringing Asha Home. Chachaji's Cup deals with the 1947 partitioning of India into two countries, a move that created the nation of Pakistan. In Krishnaswami's story, a young boy named Neel enjoys listening to Great-uncle Chachaji's enchanting stories about Hindu gods, and then is told a somber tale about Chachaji's childhood experience as a refuge. Following the partition, Chachaji and his family were forced to relocate within the new boundary of India, and could only bring what they could carry. While others laughed at Chachaji's mother for bringing along a teacup, she replied that if the fragile drinking vessel could survive the journey, then so could she. Pointing out that the partitioning of India is presented in a manner easily understandable to children in Chachaji's Cup, School Library Journal critic Nancy Palmer claimed that Krishnaswami's de-
piction of young Neel "lends immediacy and a warm family feeling to this graceful story." A Publishers Weekly critic also praised the book, writing that "the author smoothly handles the issues of loss, alienation, and assimilation" in her gentle tale.
Another young boy is the focus of Bringing Asha Home, which finds eight-year-old Arun awaiting the arrival of his adopted sister from India, excited that he will now have a sibling with whom to celebrate Rakhi Day. Praising the book for presenting a biracial family, a Kirkus Reviews writer also cited Krishnaswami's "warm, clear text." Life in India is brought to life in Monsoon, as Jamel Akib's "richly colored illustrations" provide a backdrop to Krishnaswami's "lyrical" story about a girl and her family awaiting the start of the country's monsoon rains, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer.
The author tells a multigenerational story in Remembering Grandpa, in which young Daysha helps her widowed Grandma deal with the first anniversary of her beloved Grandpa's death, and in The Happiest Tree yoga helps eight-year-old Meena gain the coordination and confidence she needs to perform in an upcoming performance of a play about Red Riding Hood. In School Library Journal Laura Scott described Remembering Grandpa as a "beautiful story of remembrance," and Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist that The Happiest Tree features a "warm, encouraging story about overcoming challenges." "Krishnaswami occasionally dabs the text [of The Happiest Tree] with Hindi words and expressions," observed School Library Journal reviewer Be Astengo, the critic noting that the exotic vocabulary gives the story "a delightful Indian flavor."
Another story featuring a young girl of Indian descent, The Closet Ghosts finds Anu conquering her fears of a suspicious closet in her bedroom in a new home by drawing on the power of Hanuman, the monkey god. Calling The Closet Ghosts a "delightful story," Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan added in her School Library Journal review that, despite its "familiar theme," Krishnaswami's "upbeat" tale benefits from "the addition of Hindu mythology and the twist of having the protagonist herself discover a way out of her dilemma." In Kirkus Reviews, a critic cited Shiraaz Bhabha's "color-drenched" illustrations and recommended the picture book as "a unique tale that is worthy of a wide audience."
Krishnaswami addresses older readers in Naming Maya, a middle-grade novel. Here a preteen leaves her home in New Jersey to stay with her mother's family in Chennai, India following her parents' divorce and the death of her grandfather. Through Maya's narration, readers gain a sense of everyday life in hot, dusty, yet beautiful southern India. With the help of a cousin and the family housekeeper, Kamala Mami, Maya grows up in many ways during her visit, learning to deal with her anger at her divorced parents and also build strong, loving relationships with her Indian relatives. Praising the story's "memorable" setting, a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that Krishnaswami's "language is lush and Maya's observations are piercingly honest," while Engberg cited the author's use of "rich, poetic imagery" in her insightful story.
In addition to her writing, Krishnaswami teaches writing to young students at the Aztec Ruins National Monument, and also helps direct an affiliate of the National Writing Project. An outgrowth of her work as an educator, Beyond the Field Trip: Teaching and Learning in Public Places assists teachers in making the most of learning opportunities.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1995, Janice Del Negro, review of Stories of the Flood, p. 1001; October, 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha, pp. 335-336; October 1, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin and Ilene Cooper, review of The Broken Tusk, p. 373; March 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Chachaji's Cup, p. 1332; May 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Holi, p. 1062; September 1, 2003, Abby Nolan, review of Monsoon, p. 129; April 1, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Naming Maya, p. 1363; October 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story, p. 63; October 15, 2006, Linda Perkins, review of Bringing Asha Home, p. 54.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1996, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Broken Tusk, p. 66; May, 1999, review of Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India, p. 319; June, 2003, review of Chachaji's Cup, p. 408; January, 204, Deborah Stevenson, review of Monsoon, p. 196; June, 2004, Hope Morrison, review of Naming Maya, p. 424.
Daily Times (Ottawa, IL), March 19, 2002, Verlie Hutchens, "Exploring the World with Uma Krishnaswami."
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1996, review of The Broken Tusk; March 1, 1999, review of Shower of Gold, p. 377; April 1, 2003, review of Chachaji's Cup, p. 535; October 1, 2003, review of Monsoon, p. 1226; March 15, 2004, review of Naming Maya, p. 272; August 15, 2006, review of The Happiest Tree, p. 917; April 1, 2006, review of The Closet Ghosts, p. 350; August 15, 2006, review of Bringing Asha Home, p. 845.
Publishers Weekly, April 21, 2003, review of Chachaji's Cup, p. 62; November 24, 2003, review of Monsoon, p. 63; April 19, 2004, review of Naming Maya, p. 62.
School Library Journal, February, 1995, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of Stories of the Flood, p. 99; July, 1997, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of The Broken Tusk, p. 107; August, 1999, Carol Fazioli, review of Shower of Gold, pp. 173-174; June, 2003, Nancy Palmer, review of Chachaji's Cup, p. 110; December, 2003, Liza Graybill, review of Monsoon, p. 118; June, 2004, Laurie von Mehren, review of Naming Maya, p. 145; November, 2005, Be Astengo, review of The Happiest Tree, p. 96; June, 2006, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of The Closet Ghosts, p. 120; November, 2006, Julie R. Ranelli, review of Bringing Asha Home, p. 98; April, 2007, Laura Scott, review of Remembering Grandpa, p. 110.
Scientific American, December, 1997, Phylis Morrison and Philip Morrison, review of The Broken Tusk, p. 124.
Skipping Stones, November, 1999, review of Shower of Gold, p. 32.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2002, Deborah L. Dubois, review of Beyond the Field Trip: Teaching and Learning in Public Places, p. 467.
Children's Literature Resources Online,http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/ (March 12, 2003), Cynthia Leitich-Smith, interview with Krishnaswami.
Uma Krishnaswami Home Page,http://www.umakrishnaswami.com (August 27, 2007).