Vasanti Unka is a popular author and illustrator and a favourite with teachers and students all over the country!
An integral part of our Writers in Schools programme for seven years, Vasanti has also completed various longer-term Writers in Communities projects for us, too.
We asked what she liked best about the work.
For me it's about meeting the kids, seeing their enjoyment of books and meeting the people who teach the kids. I love school librarians.
What does an average school visit look like – (do you read from your books, do writing or art workshops, etc?)
I read from my books, talk about reading, get the kids to help me draw, and sometimes we do art or writing workshops.
Any funny/memorable moments or anecdotes you can share with us from a school visit?
At question time, there are always interesting question and comments. After I had been talking about the importance of reading, a little girl put up her hand and softly said, ‘Love is the most important thing.’
Some feedback we received from a recent school visit said you presented a gorgeous and engaging slideshow. Can you tell us about that – what do you include?
I talk about growing up in an Indian-Kiwi environment and how I became a picture book creator. So I have images of my mum in a sari, cartoons of me growing up and I show my books, they look great, huge on a screen.
Art prints Vasanti donated to our membership drive last year
Feedback from another school mentioned the students loved hearing the stories about your childhood, especially the onions. Intriguing!
My parents were market gardeners who grew onions. At school, my friends had farms with animals.
I felt onions were very uncool. But as kids we worked in the market garden which was so boring and monotonous, I had to use my imagination to make the job more fun.
What would your dream illustration job be?
It would be working on a never-ending book.
Your work – its colour and style – is distinctive. How would you describe it and what are your inspirations?
I am inspired by everything around me: shapes, patterns, shades, people. I don’t go out hunting to be inspired but I take lots of photos of things like: sky and sea colours, building shadows, peoples faces, close-ups of plants, trees in all seasons. I suppose I like modernist design, so I tend to simplify rather than elaborate. I’ve always been drawn to clear bright hues. The text in my books always feels like it needs bright colours but I’d like to do a monotoned book one day.
I adore your book I Am the Universe. What was your inspiration for that particular work?
The book came to me while I was walking along Muriwai Beach, thinking about the sparkling black sand and how there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth. That thought made me feel tiny but grateful to be walking on a beach in Murawai.
What were your favourite books during childhood and who are the illustrators that inspired you growing up?
The few books I had growing up weren’t inspiring, to tell the truth, although I did love Grimm's Fairy Tales, which really should not be read by children who are prone to nightmares.
When I was a teenager I loved the Peanuts comic books by Charles M Schulz, everything by Maurice Sendak and Lynley Dodd’s The Nickle Nackle Tree. My Dad had a pile of Indian music LPs, and there was one that had a cover that I studied for ages. The music and the cover mixed the styles of jazz with Indian ragas. The LP is lost but I still have the cover, framed and hanging above me right now.
What are you reading these days?
I just finished two awesome books: From the Centre: A Writer’s Life by Patricia Grace, and Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.
Kia ora, Vasanti!
And of course, you can book for Vasanti to visit your school by using our online booking form.