Author Lubaina Bandukwala on her latest book ‘Who is Afraid of Z?’ and her love for the letter Z
The story is a fun little tale of a mother whose ‘Z’ letter on the keyboard does not work due to coffee spillage
Some ten years ago, Lubaina Bandukwala spilled coffee on her computer keyboard and in doing so, found a story worth telling. Not one with lofty messaging or preached values, but a flurry of “rhythm, rhyme and alliteration” nonetheless. Who’s Afraid of Z? Not Me... is an ode to the forgotten ones. A fun little tale of a mother whose ‘Z’ letter on the keyboard does not work due to coffee spillage and a daughter who is haunted by the alphabet and its unappreciated role in the English language.
In reality, Lubaina found the importance of its oddity the hard way. “When my girls were young, I was working at a table and one of them came to hug me, knocking down a cup of coffee on the keyboard. It messed up my Z key and it did not work for a long time but I just thought I’d let it be. When would I ever use Z? But then, when it came to these Captcha (security measures), all of them invariably have z and y and I could never enter those. Suddenly, the story came to me. Now, I’m extremely fond of the alphabet and take care of it on my computer,” shares the Mumbai-based author.
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Painting a picture
Lubaina’s words may be the ones to give the letter its due diligence, but it is Allen Shaw’s illustrations that bring the story alive. With only a few lines of rhyme occupying each page, the onus of driving the eye across the page falls on the illustrations and Allen delivers. Interesting fish-eye point of views and dramatic silhouettes give the story a refreshing look, especially for a young reader. “I like giving a perspective that is a little different than what you see (in reality). We had to establish the character and there is no such description in the book so it was my responsibility to define the space of the character…
And since I am an animator, I show the various stages of the fall. For example, when her (the mother’s) hands are moving, they are drawn four times,” he elaborates. This is the duo’s second stint together, after their book Leopard in Mumbai and while speaking of the partnership, Lubaina had only good things to share. “He was really fun to work with. I like that dynamic look that comes on each page, it’s not static. It looks like the images are flowing from one page to another,” she shares.
On first glance, the 32 pager may seem like a speedy read, but there is much to be noted between the pages. Apart from the clever interpretations of the wordplay into images, Allen, a huge fan of Mario Miranda, also buries several elements in the background. Every time you come back to a page, you may find something different. “When it comes to elements in a space, I have a trick. I keep drawing things (and those are added here). For example, there is a bunk bed in the book which is actually one that my friend assembled with his son. The chair and a few other elements are from my daughter’s room. There is also a small ball in a corner that looks like the coronavirus. I think, 10-20 years from now, it will be like a tribute to the virus,” Allen giggles. Fun fact: The coffee depicted in the book may look very realistic. As it should, considering he chose to use strong espresso as paint instead.
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Influence and inspiration
In its whimsy and jollification, the book is reminiscent of several children’s books we grew up with. But surprisingly, the author did not find herself nose deep in a children’s picturebook till her college years.
“One of the reasons I went into children’s literature is that I was entirely living in the world of Enid Blyton. She created magical worlds that were completely immersive. But picture books, oddly enough, we didn’t have that many growing up. The ones that are vibrant in my mind are the beautifully illustrated Russian books that were amazing folk tales. When I went to the US for my Masters and was working at a daycare, that was the first time I came across things by, say, Eric Carle and wondered, how come we haven’t had these while growing up? So, yeah, my love of picture books came to me when I was a graduate student. I had no exposure to them as a child,” she informs. Allen, too, finds his interests in illustration rooted in Russian picture books that he received as a child. Small world, after all. Smaller than the consequence of a non-functioning Z.