My interview of these two daring mothers, entrepreneurs and authors of a children’s book that I think rocks a super cool idea. First Published at Talking Cranes: Celebrating Names with Pooja and Deepa.
Celebrating Names with Pooja and Deepa
When Deepa said she was publishing her first book, I was excited as a friend and wanted to go out and buy it. Little did I know what the book was about. When I did see it during the Facebook Launch Party, I thought it was an amazing idea. This is a short interview with Pooja Pittie and Deepa Sethu to learn about their journey with GuruSkool and more about the book “Celebrate Your Name”!
Let’s start with introductions! Tell our readers a little about yourself!
Hi everyone, I’m Pooja – the founder of Little GuruSkool. I created this company to spread my love for Indian culture to kids all around the world! I’m a mom, I grew up in Bombay but I now live in Chicago.
… and I’m Deepa, co-creator of “Celebrate Your Name”. When I’m not chasing my two toddler girls, I craft strategy for an ad agency in a really tall building in Chicago.
You both came together and started GuruSkool? It’s a nice name, how did you come up with that? Were there intense brainstorming sessions?
Pooja: Thank you! GuruSkool is a play on the word Gurukul. We want our company to be a cultural gurukul of sorts. Where kids can be exposed to Indian culture and be curious and interested in learning more!
Deepa: Pooja came up with the name and I loved it. It is obviously Indian and talks to little people, which is what we are all about.
What was the reason for starting this company? One can say there are a lot of books for children, unless you are Maurice Sendak and believes there is only trash written for children! There are a lot of children’s books and writers out there… why GuruSkool’s latest book “Celebrate Your Name”?
Pooja: The reason for the company was to create products that would help kids learn about Indian culture in a fun way. A personalized book is special and we felt that if a child saw their name in the book, they would want to learn more about it. For example, if their name has a D for Diwali or P for Pongal, they would want to learn more because it is related to their name. We chose Celebrations as the topic for our first book because we felt that celebrations are a big part of Indian culture and it would be a great introduction to our brand.
Deepa: We think names are a big deal. Indian names are exciting and almost every name has a story behind it. There is so much thought and feeling behind a child’s name that we wanted to create a book that felt special and more importantly, personal. As immigrants, we miss desi celebrations and wanted to bring them to life in our first book.
What’s the idea of “Celebrate Your Name”?
Pooja: The idea is to create a journey through Indian festivals by taking the letters of a child’s name and weaving them into the story. In this book, the child helps undo evil Asura’s curse because they have a magical name. It’s educational but because it’s in a readable story, it holds the child’s interest till the very end. They will love seeing the letters of their name appear one by one as the story moves along. Different letters represent different festivals and no festivals are repeated. Each book is unique! Most importantly, our website features an instant preview–simply enter the name and see the entire book online in just a few seconds!
Deepa: Why don’t you buy a book with your name and discover the idea for yourself? We promise that you will smile.
Deepa, I was so tempted to. I did sample it out with my name online! But shipping to India is really expensive… So, is the first book of this company and for both of you too? How exciting is it?
Pooja: It’s very exciting to have launched a book that we’ve been working on for almost a year! This is not the first book for the company as such, rather it re-launches the Little GuruSkool brand that was started a few years ago. Back then, we only had picture books and DVDs for very young kids. We wanted to refresh the brand and we believe that personalization is a key element to get kids interested.
Deepa: Now that I have my name on a book, my job here on earth is done. It’s so insanely thrilling, I want to rename my kids after the book, go on a world tour and tell everyone’s aunt’s grandmother about it.
The concept of this book — that it’s customised one for each kid, with their name built into the story… I simply love it. Wondering why no one did it before? I’m curious about how you came up with that? Brainwave or arrived at it?
Pooja: There are other books that do personalization. Deepa had the idea first to incorporate cultural learnings into such a book. As she talked about it to me, I got very excited and I could see the vision clearly. I had taken a break from Little GuruSkool for a while but talking to her, I knew that this would be the perfect book to re-launch the brand! The other personalized books on the market – some of them are very good quality but some are not. There are no other books like this that incorporate cultural education into the story!
During your Facebook launch party I had asked why “Celebrate” your name and whether it came from an insight that desi kids dislike their ‘Indian’ names? Would like to hear your responses to that question again here for your readers…
Pooja: We don’t think desi kids dislike their Indian names. This might have been true for the last generation but given how popular & cool Indian culture is and how much more diversity there is, I think kids are ok with their names being different from their friends. Our book helps kids celebrate the uniqueness of their name ☺
Deepa: We mean “celebrate” both literally and figuratively. We wanted to pay tribute to names and throw in a fun pun because…why not?!
Anything unique or different usually comes with its bucket of challenges! What about you both and this book… Any obstacles? How did you overcome those?
Pooja: The biggest obstacle in creating the book was finding a good quality printing service that could offer quick turnaround at a cost that would enable us to sell the book to our customers! We have found a great printer right here in the US but costs are still very high. Each book is printed individually on demand so it’s quite a challenge!
Deepa: Finding one voice and look through the book, given that it has two creators was a bit of a challenge. Pooja and I are both open-minded and welcome constructive criticism so that helped us grow and achieve our common goal.
The team that worked on this book seemed diverse, each from a different background but you are bringing out a book for desi Indian children… How did you make it work? Was it tough to find those common experiences?Any fights — come on we love our gossip… we are ultimately all Saas-Bahu-ised!
Pooja: Deepa and I have different backgrounds for sure, but obviously, we both grew up in India so there was a lot of common ground there. It was fun learning about South Indian culture from her, as I am Marwari and grew up in Bombay so it was a different experience for me. I’m so happy that we both brought our perspectives to the book to make it well-rounded. Our illustrator Alexia is Israeli-Spanish and we had to teach her a lot about the culture. The great part was she was so eager to learn and so fascinated by the culture that in the end, it was not difficult for us to have common enthusiasm to create the book together.
Deepa: HUSHH…so you know what? There was this one big fight that got pretty nasty and we are going to make it a saas-bahu TV serial. Sorry to disappoint, Bhavani, no fights. We just made it work because we both love books and tried to be as professional as we could!
Non-fiction is not easy… You need to be so accurate in your story, and ensure the facts are all in place. But in a children’s book you also need to be fun! How did you manage to balance the two? Tell us about the process.
Pooja: You’re right, it was a balancing act. We often had debates about how much artistic license we could take – both for the illustrations and the rhymes. We decided to be accurate first and not compromise on that. Our illustrations and rhymes involved extensive online research and also reaching out to friends and family to clarify doubts. It was easy to put in the fun element because Indian celebrations are actually fun anyway! And our story is mythical so we had some leeway there ☺
Deepa: We also asked for feedback from people around us and most people are pretty honest. If they like something, it shows. If they don’t, that also shows. We went back to the drawing board several times and created things from scratch when either of us wasn’t happy with the work.
It is a very unique concept but isn’t the cost high? Do you think it will be a barrier? You must have thought about this a lot before finalising the price, so tell us about it.
Pooja: Compared to other personalized books on the market ($28-$35), we are priced very reasonably. There is no other book out there that incorporates a cultural element into their book. And each book is printed on demand as per the individual child’s name in just 5 days. We also offer Free shipping in the US. Given this, the price is not high for US, Canadian and UK customers. For Indian customers, perhaps it is more than what you would pay for a book. We are working to find a printer in India and if that happens, we might be able to offer it at a better price for the Indian market.
Deepa: The Indian buyer is extremely price savvy but they always pay for something that holds true value. In our case, the book is actually priced less than competition since we are new entrants in the market and so far, so good.
So how have the reactions been? What are people saying… Importantly children and parents?
Pooja: Oh, we are thrilled with the response! People can’t believe that they can enter a name online and see the entire book in just a few seconds. We have received many positive comments from happy customers. We’ve also had several re-orders, people buying these books as gifts for friends. Kids love the excitement of seeing their name in the book and they enjoy having the book read to them at bedtime, since it is a magical story book!
Deepa: Our own kids love the books too so we think it’s the best compliment a book loving parent can receive!
Are there plans for more books? What is the way forward for Guruskool?
Pooja: We wanted to test the concept of personalization with Indian customers with this book. If successful (which it seems to be so far!), we want to create many more books – about Indian art, music, sports etc. We can’t wait to get started!
Deepa: Any ideas? What would you love to see in our future series?
Parents want children to read, but it’s getting so tough with so many distractions. You are both mothers so how do both of you manage with your kids? Do they like books?
Pooja: My son loves books and I enjoy sharing my love of books with him. It is distracting with school and iPads etc but we often have no screen time and use that to make art or to read. It’s easier when there are always books lying around – I buy books all the time! I have also started to read (and re-read) many of the books my son reads now so that we can talk about it together.
Deepa: My husband and I argue about which books we will pass on as inheritance to our future generations…we definitely have a strong focus on books and reading in the family! My daughters both love books. My older one is just beginning to string letters together and read and my younger one loves to chew on books for now.
What your favourite authors and books for your children? Can you give us a list? (Give the age with it, so it’s clear) What’s their favourite, do they agree with you? 🙂
Pooja: My son is 12 years old now. Our favorites are:
Harry Potter — age 10 and up
Roald Dahl – age 9 and up
A Series of Unfortunate Events – age 10 and up
I tried to get my son to re-read some of his childhood picture books when he was older (Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus, If you give a mouse a cookie etc) but he wasn’t too excited about them. Maybe when he is in his 30s!
Deepa: My kids are 2.5 and 1.
Knuffle Bunny – age 1 and up
The Tiger Who Came to Tea – age 1 and up
The Paper Bag Princess – age 2 and up
We discovered Robert Munsch, he writes the not-so-typical fairy tale stories that are perfect for today’s empowered little women. We love books from Tullika and Katha for a taste of Indian stories.
What books were your childhood favourites and why? How different are those stories from the ones we get today for children… any take?
Pooja: This is a tough question because I was a total bookworm when I was a kid. Growing up in India, I read a lot of Enid Blyton, I think she was my favorite then. We also had the Grimm fairy tales, which I loved. I think for me, I wish I had some of these picture books that I see in the bookstores here. I don’t remember having too many of those in my school library. But I am enjoying them now! Authors like Enid Blyton are timeless though, even my son has read them!
Deepa: Another Enid Blyton fan here along with Jane Austen and Amar Chitra Katha.
Any final message to all our readers… apart from the fact that they should just BUY the book?!
Pooja: Yes, please just buy the book and support us!! Seriously though, thank you for reading this and for your interest in our story. We would love to hear from you and your thoughts about the book and any comments that you might have. Please share with your friends! Thank you!!
Deepa: Thank you for reading! If you like us, spread the word. Support Indian writing and writing about India.
All Photos by Deepa Sethu. Please do not use without permission.