I’ve loved and admired Marsha‘s books for as long as I can remember. They make for great bedtime stories and humor is one of her trademarks! No need to say that I was over the moon when she agreed to be interviewed. 🙂
Marsha Arnold is the author of titles such as Metro Cat (2000), Hugs on the Wind (2006) and Roar of aSnore (2006), but today the interview will focus on one of my favorite books, Heart of a Tiger (1995). Heart of a Tiger is a story set in India. It casts light on the importance of names, through a naming tradition that actually exists in several cultures throughout the world.
Hi Marsha, thank you for your support to Multiculturalism Rocks!, and for sharing part of your journey as an author with us.
MA: Thank you for the opportunity, Nathalie.
Heart of a Tiger is a timeless tale that takes place in India and features cats! Marsha, let’s say that, like Little Four, you’re going to attend a naming ceremony in a few days. Which name would you choose and why? 🙂
MA: Since my character, Little Four, chose Heart of a Tiger, perhaps that’s what I’d choose too. Little Four’s story is a bit autobiographical, as all stories are. In writing the story, I was trying to teach myself to have the courage to follow my dreams, although I had no idea that’s what I was doing as I wrote it.
The Bengal tiger represents wisdom, bravery, and strength of spirit. Isn’t that what we all dream of having, of being?
Heart of a Tiger was published in 1995. In 1997, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m well today, but that experience taught me to be happy in the moment, in all the beautiful moments we experience each day of our life on earth. So perhaps today I would choose the name “Joyful” or “Thankful” because that’s what I remind myself to be, every day.
The focus of your book is interesting; do you think names given to children make more of an impact than we are aware of?
MA: They certainly can have an impact. A child wouldn’t want to be called “Stupid Silly” or “Ugliest of All”. Of course, no parent would name their child that, but yes, names are important.
However, who we are is more important than a name and that’s really what Heart of a Tiger is about. Little Four is not so much deciding on his name as on who he will be in his life.
One of my favorite lines in the book is: “Being the runt of the litter, Four supposed he should name himself Smallest of All. But he was afraid if he named himself that, it would always be so.” The names are a metaphor. We must believe in ourselves, in who we want ourselves to be in our deepest heart.
When I visit schools, teachers often have students name themselves in a Naming Celebration before I visit. Each child chooses a name they’d like to have. They are also thinking of who they are or who they wish to be: Speedy Soccer Player, Music Maker, Wise Writer.
Bullyism is a delicate topic to write about, yet you handled it with much tact in your story…
MA: Thank you, Nathalie. I saw the taunting of the langurs and parakeets more as teasing, making fun of Four and provoking him playfully. Teasing, to me, is less threatening than bullying. But both are hurtful. I wanted my reader to follow Four’s example of not listening to the taunting, of continuing on his journey.
At some point, one of the characters might be in mortal danger. Do you think the mention of death has become more controversial in today’s picture books, in America? I’m asking because it doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue in multicultural books in general, especially in folk tales.
MA: Beautiful Bengal is in danger as the beaters frighten him toward the men with guns. Little Four bravely puts himself in danger too, when he jumps from a high rock onto Bengal’s back, in an attempt to save Bengal’s life.
Yes, it’s about life and death, about a choice between cowardice and courage. These are big issues and amazingly, this rather long picture story book is the book many teachers tell me is mesmerizing to kindergarteners through junior high kids. Even adults buy this book for other adult friends. These are issues we all must deal with in life, no matter what our age.
I’m not sure if the mention of death has become more controversial in picture books. It may be of more concern today because picture books are being directed to younger and younger children, while older children are reading chapter books and novels at an ever earlier age. But all children need comfort when separation happens in their lives, whether it’s mom going off to work, grandma moving to another state, or a pet dying. The subjects of death and separation should be handled with care and caring.
Hugs on the Wind, which I wrote with Vernise Elaine Pelzel, is a young picture book about separation. We worded it very carefully so a child who was missing her mother at work or whose father was in jail or whose grandfather had just died could all relate to Little Cottontail and how he used nature images to stay in touch with his grandfather who had gone far across the Great Green Meadow. We never said if the grandfather died or not. We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. The reader imagines whatever they need to imagine.
May I ask about the promotion process for Heart of a Tiger? Did you find promoting a multicultural book more or less challenging than your previous publications?
MA: Heart of a Tiger was my first book, published in 1995; I was very naïve about how to promote it. Fortunately, my editor, Diane Arico, loved the story and did a great job of getting the word out. It was honored with a number of awards; that helped it find its audience.
I believe multicultural books have been of interest for some time and thus, relatively easy to promote. I’m currently writing a multicultural book that takes place in South America; both agents and editors express interest when I mention it.
I read on your website that you love traveling! If you could be in any place in the world at this moment, where would it be? 🙂
MA: I would be with my son in NYC (even though I just got back from a fabulous week there) or my daughter in Florida, because more than all the traveling in the world, I enjoy being with my family most.
But if I could take my family with me, I’d return to beautiful Lake Lugano, Italy. A friend and I visited there with our two sons 12 years ago. I’ve always wanted to return. I remember the hotel on the edge of the lake, kitchen workers singing opera in the kitchen, our sons learning games from Europeans in the gathering space, a boat ride on the lake and a picnic in the mountains where grain was being cut with scythes. Magical.
If I were to travel to a new place, it would be to Madagascar to see the amazing lemurs. I’m a jungle girl at heart.
What is the best fan letter you have ever received?
MA: I’ve received so many wonderful letters during my time as a writer. Knowing we are connecting in meaningful ways with our readers is one of the main reasons writers keep writing. But since we’ve been talking about Heart of a Tiger, I’d like to share part of a recent email from a 17-year-old. He’d seen me 10 years before! He wrote:
“Thank you. That’s the best thing I can say. I can only thank you for the effect your book Heart of a Tiger has had on me. I remember when I was in second or third grade and I was so excited to have you sign “Choose the name that’s in your heart”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that golden, cursive handwriting and that signature that makes me feel connected to another writer as great as yourself. I still have it to this day and being 17 now, I’m glad I kept it all this time. It has always instilled in me a sense of honor, courage, and dedication. I have so much gratitude for you putting this true work of art into the world. Please keep on writing wonderful stories, influencing and inspiring the kids of our future, just like you did for me.”
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Best wishes to you Nathalie and all writers to keep writing “wonderful stories, influencing and inspiring the kids of our future.”
Dear Marsha, thank you so much for everything. I’m touched by your kindness and generous spirit. I am excited about the multicultural project you mentioned and I look forward to your next publications! 🙂
Thank you all for reading. I wish a wonderful week! 🙂