Interview with the Author: Sangu Mandanna!

By: OwlCrate Jr

Greetings, readers! In July we included the wonder Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna! This book is packed full of creativity and adventure!

Want a copy for yourself? Extras of our 'CREATIVITY CONQUERS ALL' box, as well of extras of our exclusive edition of the book are available for purchase in the OwlCrate Shop!

Photo by @lostinbookworld

Hi, Sangu! Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is such a fantastical adventure with some very realistic and emotional roots. What were the major influences that contributed to the creation of this story?

I've always loved funny, exciting fantasies with quirky characters and an emotional heart, like Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and the incredible Studio Ghibli film based on it, so I knew when I started writing this book that I wanted it to be funny, quirky, magical and full of heart. Quirky and magical are adjectives that fit many of the books I read as a child, like the Magic Faraway Tree books or Harry Potter, but those books were almost always by white authors with white casts, so I think that also had a huge influence on me in that it made me want more than ever to write fantastical adventures and cram them full of BIPOC characters so that my younger self might feel more seen. And finally, of course, one of the biggest influences on the creation of Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom was the pantheon of wonderful, lesser known myths and folklore I grew up with in the south of India, particularly the tale of Chamundeshwari, Mahishasura and the Kingdom of Mysore.

The importance and power of creativity is such a core element to Kiki’s story. Can you tell us a bit about how her character developed?

From the very first draft, I knew Kiki's journey was going to be a lot like mine. She's a creative, anxious child struggling with the fact that she's neurodivergent and has a mental illness. She doesn't know the right words for the way her brain works, and she finds her thoughts frightening and exhausting a lot of the time, and so she questions her own strength. Does she struggle so much because she isn't strong enough to control her own mind? Does she fact that she's afraid of so many things make her less brave than other people? Is there something wrong with her? Because of the power of her imagination, she transforms the parts of her that she doesn't trust or understand into a monster, which is something I did for a very long time. It took me years to understand why my brain works the way it does, and to accept and take pride in myself just as I am, and I wanted Kiki to come to that understanding much sooner than I did. And I wanted her love of art, her creativity and her love and trust in the people closest to her to help her make that journey.

Kiki is able to work through her anxieties through her art. Can you tell us why you decided to make that a key element to the story?

Like Kiki, I was a very young child when I started to make up my own stories and my love of art, writing and creating stories started out as something that was purely for fun. A passion in the truest, purest sense. And, like Kiki, as I grew older, I found that I was having a hard time with my brain. More and more, I found I was turning to storytelling as a way of escaping the chaos inside my head and as a way to make sense of all my feelings. I don't exaggerate when I say that art saved me. So I knew, when I started writing about the folklore of my childhood and an anxious girl who is very much like me, that I also wanted to write about the joy and power of a child's imagination.

Are there any other stories, myths, or legends that you wish would come to life?

As a child, I absolutely, 1000% wished the Greek gods, heroes and monsters were real, but I'm not so sure anymore! They weren't very nice people, and I don't think I'm cut out for their world! I think I'd still love some of my favourite characters and elements from beloved stories to love to come to life: like the wings from the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, or the character Karna from the Mahabharata, or the Firebird from the classic Russian folk tale. There are so many incredible, beautiful stories from all over the world and I'd love to get a glimpse into all their worlds (of course, I'd also want a very convenient portal to get right out of there when things get a little too dangerous!)

Are there any middle grade books you’ve read recently or childhood favorites that you would recommend to our readers?

I'm absolutely obsessed with the Nevermoor books by Jessica Townsend, as well as Eiko Kadono's Kiki's Delivery Service. I also recently read and loved the Chocolate Heart books by Stephanie Burgis, The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, and Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne.

Want to dive deeper into the adventures of Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom? Check out our discussion posts!

Discussion Posts:
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Graphic by Michelle Gray.