Q&A: Mahtab Narsimhan on magic wishes and Genie Meanie!

When eight-year-old Kiara discovers that her recently deceased grandmother left her a genie, trapped in a bottle of garam-masala, she’s elated. She’ll be a modern-day Aladdin and have someone to do her bidding. And Kiara could really use a little magic. Third grade is just about to start and she’s spent the summer worried about being in class with Matt, a bully who seems to have nothing else to do but make Kiara and her best friend Bai’s lives miserable. Unfortunately, the genie has decided he’s on vacation after working for ten thousand years and is looking for someone to do his bidding. A battle of wills ensues, and Kiara realizes that you don’t really need magic to solve your problems.

Genie Meanie will be out on February 16! In a new interview, author Mahtab Narsimhan explained where she got her ideas for this story and what it was like to write a powerful, magical character.

You can also hear more from her in a bonus video at the end of this post, which includes a reading from the book!

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What inspired you to write a story about a genie who’s “on vacation” from granting wishes?

I’m sure we all have, at some point in our lives, wished for a genie or some magical intervention to solve our problems. I love science fiction and fantasy, and magic fascinates me. (Aladdin remains a favourite!) However, for a story to work there has to be conflict and challenge. If all problems were solved by magic, there would be no character growth. So, I wrote a story where young Kiara inherits a genie from her grandmother but realizes that magic can’t solve all her problems because the genie is on vacation. She has to find her own solution. What I’m hoping to convey to my young readers is that we all have the strength and resources within us to solve our problems.

How would you describe the main characters in Genie Meanie to someone who hasn’t read the book yet?

Kiara is extremely shy but love for her friend makes her brave and strong.

Bai is a good friend, and brave, but disappointed with Kiara’s lack of courage.

Zayn the genie is an over-the-top mischievous spirit who, by refusing to use his powers, is trying to get Kiara to resolve her problems on her own, thereby making her more confident to face any challenge that might come her way. This story rests on the old adage: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll never go hungry.

Were there any challenges writing a character with magical powers? Was it more fun?

Not really. I’ve been a fan of fantasy fiction all my life. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is my favourite book ever! Ever since I read Aladdin and saw the Disney version of it, I’ve been enamoured with genies. But I didn’t want my genie to be a stereotype who always grants wishes and wants to be set free. Rather, I wanted him to be rebellious, over-the-top and frankly a pain in the butt. Of all the characters, he was the most fun to write.

How would you describe Genie Meanie in three words?

Fun. Imaginative. Inspiring.

Genie Meanie has several illustrations. Do you have a favorite?

They’re all so good! Michelle Simpson has done a fabulous job. I do love the one on page 50 where Zayn is consoling Kiara. A close second is the one on page 83 when Kiara and Zayn are doing the bhangra dance.

If you found a genie, what would you wish for?

I’d wish that all my household chores were completed and meals cooked/served. This would give me enough time to read. My biggest lament these days is that there isn’t enough time to READ! When I was younger I would often dream of being adrift in a spaceship with a huge library (hence no disturbances) or sneaking into a library and hiding there for a few days with a sleeping bag and cookies so I could read, uninterrupted, to my heart’s content. Books have been a huge part of my life from the moment I could hold one.

In Genie Meanie, Kiara wants the genie to help her with a bully, but she has to learn to solve her problems on her own. Is there a lesson you hope kids will take away from this?

Courage comes from within. You need to believe in yourself and keep going, no matter how hard the journey. If we dig deep enough, we will find the strength to overcome all problems life throws at us.

Mahtab Narsimhan is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Embrace the Chicken (Orca), Mission Mumbai (Scholastic), The Tiffin (DCB) and The Third Eye (Dundurn), which won the Silver Birch Award. She was a Writer in Residence at the Toronto District School Board from 2015-2016. Born in Mumbai, Mahtab immigrated to Canada in 1997. She now lives in Vancouver.

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