Read With Me: Icky, Yucky, Mucky!

From selling coffees, pizzas and watches to eco-awareness sessions with kids, Natasha Sharma has had a very interesting entry into the world of kid books. A cheerful chat with the humour loving author.

What happens when Maharaja Icky, the messiest King in the world, and wife Yucky, are about to be blessed with a child? You get children squirming in their chairs and yelling with delight, and maybe a lesson or two in table manners!

From being a brand manager selling coffees, pizzas, watches and what have you, to working with children on environmental awareness, Natasha Sharma has had a very interesting journey into the magical world of children’s books. A chat with the author of Icky, Yucky, Mucky:

What made you come up with an unusual idea of portraying such a messy family?

Icky, Yucky, Mucky! started with the idea of writing about terrible habits. There is always enough inspiration around for that kind of stuff! However, I knew I didn’t want to present it in the form of talking down to children. For a subject as icky as this, it needed whacky treatment.

To portray over-the-top messiness, an Indian royal family would be the least likely candidate. Hence it had to be Maharaja Icky, Maharani Yucky and Princess Mucky! They have done me proud by being gloriously messy in the book and resulting in many a child saying ‘yuck – I don’t want to be like them!’

When and how did the shift from the corporate world happen?

A lot of changes including a change in location and expecting my first child happened simultaneously in my life. I knew I wanted to work in the creative space. After a period of angst trying to figure out the road ahead, I knew I wanted to write. Children’s literature was what came naturally. I’d always written small bits for friends, family and myself but this was the first time I seriously thought of myself as a writer!

It was a two year journey from there to figuring out the industry, rejection letters for some stories I wrote earlier, writing, reading on writing, more writing… and then Icky, Yucky, Mucky! happened.

At a fun-filled storytelling session of Icky, Yucky, Mucky!

Are you kids the first ones to read and “approve” your books?

They are definitely the first to read my stories. If they lose interest while reading, I know I have a serious problem on my hands! Luckily, that hasn’t ever happened and they are delightful in their enthusiasm with every story.

I wish it were as easy as to use their views as a yardstick on whether a story is good enough for publishing! They are a biased audience and I have learnt with time to self evaluate my writing. They are however a good sample to gauge understanding and age appropriateness.

Did you always want to write for kids? Why?

Writing for kids was really what came naturally. I love the space and the freedom it gives me in thought and imagination. There are no limits to ridiculousness! My writing style has a lot of humour and that works well with children.

Zippy, a zebra, trotted into my head in a cramped waiting room of a doctor while my son was getting bored out of his wits. While Zippy and her gang of friends are still filed away in my drawer, she sparked off a flurry of ideas for kids’ writing. That is probably where it all started.

Your top 10 children book recommendations

There are too many! I am going to use as a filter, the stories that I have really enjoyed with my children recently. For 6 to 8 year olds:

Matilda by Roald Dahl (actually pretty much any book by him!)
Where the wild things are by Maurice Sendak
Pierre, A cautionary tale in five chapters and a prologue by Maurice Sendak
Today is my day by Anushka Ravishankar
Spells by Emily Gravett
Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day by Judith Viorst
The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Emil and the clever pig, and more in the series by Astrid Lindgren
Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton – I have very fond memories of the memorable characters in this series
How to train your dragon by Cressida Cowell

Some of the funniest things children have said in your sessions.

There are always a lot of yucks and eeeks and ooohs as I read out Icky, Yucky, Mucky! The funniest bits though have been what I’ve observed kids do at a session. I’ll be reading out the part about bitten off fingernails, the skin on their fingers nibbled raw, observing all the while a number of kids nibbling their nails. When I ask them if they do the same, they all solemnly shake their heads and say ‘Nooooo’. Invariably, they go on to name their brother, sister, cousin, aunt or uncle as a nail biter.

I’ve also had a child try to identify the parallel characters in her family.

In readings of my other book Kaka and Munni, we’ve had lovely mooing, woofing and much else by the kids.

Who is your favourite children writer?

Too many to name here – Roald Dahl, Maurice Sendak, Emily Gravett, Oliver Jeffers, Julia Donaldson, Eric Carle, Lauren Child, Munro Leaf, Shel Silverstein, Anushka Ravishankar are but a few.

Suggestions/advice to the young and younger reader and their parents

To young readers: Read, read, read! Read books, comics, children’s newspapers, magazines, fiction, non fiction … anything that interests you.

For the still younger, if you can’t read independently as yet, follow these steps:

Grab anyone that you can corner – your parents, sibling or grandparent. Even your dog if he happens to be a superdog that can woof out a story.
Squash yourself into their lap.
Turn off their phone/ computer/ television.
Screech if you need to. It’s for a good cause.
Plonk book of choice into their hands.
Bung on reading glasses (if they use them).
Make puppy dog eyes for additional effect to get them going.
Give sloppy kisses in gratitude.
Plonk the next book into their hands. You’ve got them started now, so why stop?

For parents: Follow all the above and give your children a great headstart to loving books and reading. Explore online review blogs and recommended reading lists for children to discover new authors, titles, themes, cultural contexts for your children. There is tremendous variety available and all accessible today with a little bit of searching.

This piece is published as part of Read With Me – August Special on The Alternative.

As parents, educators, readers and writers, we know how important it is to get children – from infants to young adults – to be readers, and readers for life. Read With Me all this month looks to encourage children to read more. We are also talking about reading that goes much beyond a good tale – as vibrant, fun and effective ways to get children to connect to themselves, their roots, accept difference, understand people and places and be more sensitive. All of August, The Alternative says Read With Me – read more and read for change.


Shreya Pareek is a development journalist who is passionate about grassroot change and sustainable living. Follow her on twitter @shreya08 more


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Shreya Pareek is a development journalist who is passionate about grassroot change and sustainable living. Follow her on twitter @shreya08 more
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