Friday, January 23, 2015

Awards for A TIME TO DANCE

Delighted to share the news that A TIME TO DANCE, which was released to 5 starred reviews (*Kirkus, *Booklist, *VOYA, *SLJ and *BCCB) is an ALA Notable Book!
It has also been honored with other marvelous several awards and citations of many top of yr lists, listed in alphabetical order:
* ALA Notable
* ALA/Yalsa Best Fiction
* Booklist Editor's Choice Best Books of the Year
* Booklist Top 10 art books for youth
* IBBY OUTSTANDING books for young people with disabilities
* IRA Notable (NBGS)
* Kirkus Best Books of the Year
*New York Public Library Top 25
* Forever Literary Top 10 Character Driven Books
* Mighty Girl Best Books 2014
* 25 Books by Women to Diversify your Bookshelves

Friday, August 08, 2014

A TIME TO DANCE Author Events

ISBN # 978-0-399-25710-0

Released to 5 stars

*Kirkus, Starred review *Booklist, Starred review *VOYA, Starred review *BCCB, Starred review *SLJ, Starred review 

Booklist Top 10 art bk of the year; Forever Literary Top 10 Character Driven Books; Kirkus Best Books for Teens; Booklist Editor's Choice Best Books of 2014; New York Public Library Top 25; IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities; 25 Books by Women to Diversify your Shelves; Indiebound Summer selection...
A TIME TO DANCE received marvelous reviews in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post and the Providence Journal, plus rave reviews online. For details on the reviews, please see my previous post.

Very pleased to be doing several author events, most of which are free and open to the public. 

In 2015:
- Wed 4 Feb, Pratt Institute, NY (private lecture for class, not open to the public)
- Thurs 12-19 Mar, Hong Kong Youth Literary Festival
- Fri/Sat 19/20 Mar, Salve Regina University, March into Reading

In 2014:

April in the Caribbean
- Keynote address at Beach Pen Literary Festival

May in RI, CT
- 1:00 p.m. Saturday 10 May, Tomaquag Museum, Exeter, RI
- 4:00 p.m. Saturday 17 May, Books on the Square, Providence, RI
- 3:00-5:00 Sunday 18 May, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT

June in RI, NY, DC, MD
- 1:30-3:30 Tuesday 3 June, Coastal Institute Bookstore, GSO, Narragansett, RI 
- 11:00-4:00 Saturday 7 June, Curiosity and Mischief, Narragansett Pier, RI
- 1:00-3:00 p.m. Saturday 14, June Wakefield Books, Wakefield Mall, RI
- 7:00 p.m. Monday 16, June Willett Free Library, Saunderstown, RI
- 19th-21st June, Ocean State Summer Writing Conference, URI, Kingston, RI* 
- 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, 24 June Books of Wonder, New York, NY
- 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, 25 June Politics and Prose, Washington DC
- 2:30-4:30 p.m., Saturday 28 June, Govan's Branch, Enoch Pratt Library, Baltimore, MD

July in MA
- 10:00-12:00, Saturday 19 June, Wellesley Booksmith, Wellesley, MA
- 6:00 p.m., Monday 21 July, Robbins Public Library, Arlington, MA

July in RI
- 9:00 - 12:30, Wednesday 23 July, Tomaquag museum, Exeter, RI
- 2:30-5:30, Sunday 27 July, Symposium Books, East Greenwich, RI

August in CA
- 7:00 p.m. Friday 15 August, Books Inc., Mountain View, CA
- 2:00 - 4:30, Saturday 16 August, Saratoga Public Library, CA

Sept in RI, MD, VA
- 26-28 Baltimore Book Festival, Baltimore, MD
- 6:00 p.m., Sunday 14 September, Authors on Main, Wakefield, RI
- 18 September, Bookworm Central, Manassas, VA

October in RI, CT, MA
- Sunday 5 October, Island Books, Middletown, RI
- 4:30 p.m., Tuesday 7 October, RWU, Bristol, RI
- Fri-Sat 17-18 October, Lincoln School, Providence, RI
- Sun-Mon 19-20 October, NELA, Boxborough, MA

November in RI, MA
- 2:00 p.m., Saturday 8 November, Davisville Free Library, Davisville, RI
- Harvard University  (invited class lecture, not open to the public)
- Fri-Sun 21-23 November, NCSS, Boston, MA

December in NY
- 6:00 p.m., Wed 10 December, New York Public Library, NY (words without borders)

*I'm doing a workshop on writing YA novels at URI's Ocean State Summer Writing conference, so do register if you'd like to do a writing workshop with me :

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A TIME TO DANCE released to STARRED reviews in 5 journals - and more!


Thrilled to announce the release of my third novel, A TIME TO DANCE (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House) to starred reviews in 5 journals: Kirkus, Booklist, VOYA , BCCB and SLJ, as well as an IndieBound citation and marvelous reviews online and in major newspapers!

ISBN #:  978-0-399-25710-0

National Book Award Winner, Gloria WhelanWith words that move with grace and elegance … In poetic imagery as graceful as Veda’s dancing, Venkatraman has drawn a vivid picture of contemporary India, and given a gift of faith and hope to all who, like Veda, find their dream slipping away.

* Kirkus, STARRED ReviewFlowing free verse tells the story of a teenage dancer in Chennai, India, who loses a leg and re-learns how to dance…. Venkatraman weaves together several themes so elegantly that they become one... The fluid first-person verse uses figurative speech sparingly, so when it appears … it packs a punch. Veda’s no disabled saint; awkwardness and jealousy receive spot-on portrayals…A beautiful integration of art, religion, compassion and connection.

* Booklist, STARRED Review: In Venkatraman’s delectably scented, sensual world, lyrically told through verse and through Veda, life is illuminated as a beautiful celebration of doing what comes naturally, as best as one is able. Veda's awakening of her gift throughout her altered body and revolutionary prosthesis provides a spiritually uplifting premise. …The acclaimed author of Climbing the Stairs (2008), Venkatraman deftly shapes readers’ comprehension of physical ability into a new arc of understanding. To even have a passing thought that Veda is disabled, rather than differently-abled, would be utter madness.

* VOYA, Starred review: "...The descriptions of contemporary India are beautiful and Venkatraman weaves images so divine that you can see the statues of Shiva, hear the ankle bells in the bharatanatyam dance, and smell the acrid scent of burnt rubber from the accident. Told in verse, this story is magnificently strong as Veda’s determination dances off the page and into the reader’s heart."

* SLJ, Starred review: "...This exceptional novel, told entirely in verse, captures beautifully the emotions of a girl forced to deal with a number of challenges and how she overcomes them on her way to becoming a confident young woman...It is sure to appeal..."

Horn Book: "Brief lines, powerful images, and motifs of sound communicate Veda's difficult struggle"

Denver Post: “...'A Time to Dance' by Padma Venkatraman is a great read ... It is sure to go on my 'Favorite Books' list. This book will definitely dance its way through your heart as it did mine."

Chicago Tribune“powerful depiction of a teen girl struggling to recover from an accident propels Padma Venkatraman's "A Time to Dance," a novel-in-verse… Venkatraman poignantly illustrates the break between Veda's old life and new…”

LitUp Reviews:  Every book I read leaves me with some kind of impression… it is rarer for me to finish a book and feel struck with a sense of utter beauty. Going beyond gorgeous prose, the novels that make me feel this way tell tales with rich settings and vivid emotions. A Time to Dance is one of these books, and every aspect shines... Venkatraman does not try to convert readers to any religion, but she weaves spirituality into Veda’s journey to recovery, making it an integral and fascinating part of the character…Watching Veda decide what her Hinduism means to her and discover that dance can be spiritual rather than cutthroat can only be described as magical.

Venkatraman accompanies her intricate dance of a plot with rhythmic writing that flows as mellifluously as music, perfectly accompanying the story’s subject matter…The beat created by the broken lines makes the words feel like effortless footwork…readers who like multicultural stories, lyrical verse, or tales about people gaining strength from tragedies have to read this book.

Newsday: "I loved this book. It transported me into Veda's life. Being a dancer myself, I was able to feel her struggle...This book is like a love story, tragedy and spiritual read all at once." reviewed A TIME TO DANCE twice. Sam Coale (Wheaton Professor) calls it a: "beautifully written novel novel...heartbreaking tale...Venkatraman has created a rich, exotic and fully human world that dazzles and delights. Her way with prose reflects Veda’s with dancing: “Nothing else fills me with as much elation as chasing down soaring music.” This novel accomplishes exactly that." 
Another review, by Kathleen Odean (also in the ProJo) says: "beautifully written...lyrical and compelling"

Summer 2014 IndieNext listThis beautiful book, written in verse, follows the life of a young girl who loves to dance. The struggles caused by her traditional Indian family's disapproval of her passion are compounded when disaster strikes and she loses a leg in a car accident. For anyone looking to be uplifted and inspired, this stunningly lyrical novel comes highly recommended!”
—Danica Ram, Townie Books, Crested Butte, CO This site has a video showing Bharatanatyam, in addition to a lovely review: "Told entirely in verse, this exploration of faith, resilience, and traditional Indian dance will surely inspire readers to reach for their dreams, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles...Venkatraman does a phenomenal job of describing the different poses and stances that Veda must learn to remaster after her accident...A Time to Dance shouldn't be missed. "

Quercus, Winding Oak: It's a book about many things: faith, friendship, family, young love, strength of conviction, feelings that rollercoaster realistically from despair to leaping joy. The sensory details pulled me deeply into the story as only a master storyteller can. A Time to Dance is set in India and Shiva is at the center of Veda’s faith. By accompanying Veda on her journey, we can’t help but look at our own beliefs, our strengths, the areas in which we can make higher leaps, learning to bring the audience in our lives to tears because we have expressed understanding and compassion.
As with all of Ms. Venkatraman’s books, I closed the covers reluctantly, knowing that A Time to Dance is a book that has become a part of me, one I will always remember.

In Bed with Books Veda is a compelling heroine who undergoes a complicated personal journey, and Venkatraman's writing is gorgeous. "the spare writing adds so many layers of complexity and meaning with so few words. Throughout this verse novel, the voice is perfectly honest: the story never shies away from the most challenging or humiliating moments of Veda’s recovery, but it shows Veda’s darkest moments without losing its optimistic core. Veda’s relationships with her family and friends are authentically complicated, with every teenage mishap and embarrassment presented in its own unique context. The detail-rich setting creates a precise and interesting window into life in modern India without being heavy-handed. Most significantly, Veda’s tenacity, determination and growing spirituality are inspiring, as are the stories of other dancing amputees mentioned in the novel.But the novel isn’t just about being a teenage, dancing, Indian amputee. It’s about being a daughter and a granddaughter, a student and a teacher, a friend and (perhaps!) a girlfriend; and it’s about finding inner stillness through outward motion. At its heart, A TIME TO DANCE explores what it means to lose what you love most, and regain it again when you and it have changed for the better." wrote an inspiring and moving piece "I am well aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my life would not be what it is...When I read stories like A Time to Dance, I am reminded of how powerful access to prosthetics can be, how it can truly change people’s lives." recommends it as a book about embracing disabilities and differences: "...a story of India, of smells and scents, of dance and determination...(Veda's) struggle takes her to a new place within herself with an awakening about who she is and the future ahead." "a powerful and inspiring story ... Using riveting verse, Venkatraman shows how dance can help lost souls find healing and re-connect with their passion for life...Even if you have never taken a dance class before, thanks to Venkatraman's poetic writing, you too will walk away from this novel with a new appreciation for spirituality, culture and the triumph of the human spirit." gave it 5 hearts: "Told entirely in verse, this exploration of faith, resilience, and traditional Indian dance will surely inspire readers to reach for their dreams, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles...easily one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. I love the verse/writing and the sheer beauty of the setting and characters. It's simply stunning....From the beginning, the writing in this is so beautiful...I really like free verse novels, and this one blew me out of the water. A Time to Dance manages to convey so much depth, detail, and richness into small passages that left me in awe....Veda's character is incredible. Her emotions are so raw and real, and her bravery and strength inspiring. I love the growth she has in finding her peace with her new situation mixed with wonderful details about her culture and how religion often ties into their dance. The chemistry between her and Govinda is so intensely smoldering and their primary physical contact is just in dance (as opposed to intense make out sessions and such)...Overall, I can't recommend this one enough. It's beautiful, insightful, and it's a brilliant read.

Edelweiss Team (Indiebound): Highly recommended…A new novel from Padma Venkatraman always moves to the top of the reading list… this moving novel shows how completely "dance can let you enter another world,” … captures the spirit of love not just of dance but how each of her well drawn characters care for each other.
A TIME TO DANCE, * Booklist's Review of the Day, STARRED!
Online, a gorgeous re-enactment of the cover:

Wonderful citation as a Top 10 character driven book:

A Booklist Top 10 art book for youth:

Rabbit Readers Book Club: Stunning novel about spiritual awakening…

Children's Books Heal: This is not a story about disability, but one of ability...This book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

First Book called it a "seriously stellar book" and an "awesome title", listing it in an email blurb along with Kwame Alexander's The Crossover, John Green's Fault in Our Stars, Gary Soto's Novio and Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park.

One of the most moving reviews of A TIME TO DANCE, by a blogger who is one-legged, like Veda, and whose words about her own life are wonderfully inspiring, although she denies it. "I am well aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my life would not be what it is...When I read stories like A Time to Dance, I am reminded of how powerful access to prosthetics can be, how it can truly change people’s lives."…/the-difference-a-pro…/

An unexpected b'day gift - A TIME TO DANCE is the Calgary Public Library's pick of the month (Nov 2014): "...Veda perseveres and won't let her disability rob her of her passion to inspiring story ... told lyrically through verse, which beautifully depicts her life as well as what it is like for a middle class family in India. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I found myself rooting for Veda and her passion to dance from the beginning right to the end. I related to every emotion that Veda felt throughout the entire novel..." : "Padma Venkatraman has woven together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Bharatanatyam.  This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause... I highly recommend this beautiful novel... This book is a treasure..."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Process

Thanks to Betty Cotter for inviting me to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour! Betty is the author of two novels ROBERTA'S WOODS and THE WINTERS. ROBERTA'S WOODS is set in Rhode Island - in the near future. It's a prophetic take on what may happen quite soon in America; in fact, some of what's predicted in the novel is already happening. THE WINTERS draws us into the recent past, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Rhode Island clan. You can read Betty's blog at

As part of this blog tour, I’ve been asked to answer the following questions:
1) What are you working on?
At the moment, I'm in an ADD mode - working on several different projects: 2 novels for grown-ups, 2 novels for young adults,  and a middle-grade (or younger) fantasy. I usually work this way for a while, waiting for a "voice" to grip me and possess me. At that point, I go from ADD to schizophrenic - I listen as well as I can to the voice, and at some point characters take me over and I feel like I can see a movie in my head, and that's when I know I'm in the writing "zone" and moving toward completion.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I think one thread that has, thus far, run through my work, is that at some level, the protagonists of my three novels (A TIME TO DANCE, CLIMBING THE STAIRS and ISLAND'S END) all seek to understand their spirituality. In my debut novel (CLIMBING THE STAIRS), this is subtle; in A TIME TO DANCE, it is one of the central themes - after she loses a limb, the protagonist's understanding of life, love, compassion, and faith are deepened, through the power of her art.  
3) Why do you write what you do?
I had a childhood I wouldn't wish on anyone - and parts of my adult life have been rather awful as well. Books were my saving grace. So was writing. I write because I have to. I'd probably go insane if we were forbidden to write. I fell in love with words early on, and although I wandered off into the world of mathematics and science for a while, I'm at last doing what I truly love to do. Writing is my form of meditation, it's catharsis, it is me. 
4) How does your writing process work?
Given that I have a little one, I don't get large chunks of writing time. In summer I get no writing time at all, in fact. My family - my husband and my child -  the family I have chosen to have - is  my top priority. That said, I use whatever time I can to write. I keep a notebook with me at all times - even by my bed at night - to jot down sentences, phrases, paragraphs any time they come to me. I don't chase after stories - I wait for characters to appear. When they do, I open my mind to them, so they can haunt me, and, as I get to the final stages of a novel, they possess me utterly. That's the point at which my family sometimes has to drag me back to this world by literally shaking me. 
Now for the three wonderful writers who'll be following me as part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour:  

Kashmira Sheth, like me, is an Asian American author. She is the author of several critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for young adults (such as KEEPING CORNER) and middle-graders (such as BLUE JASMINE). This versatile woman also writes delightful picture books (such as TIGER IN MY SOUP). Kashmira blogs at
Jody Lisberger's prize-winning fiction has appeared in Confrontation, Fugue, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Lousiville Review and Thema. She is the author of Remember Love, a collection of "ten perfect tales" (the Louisville Courier) that are "first-rate" (the Boston Globe). She is on the faculty of the low-res MFA writing program at Spalding University and blogs at

Rachel May blogs at She is the author of QUILITING WITH A MODERN SLANT, which has been hailed as "an encyclopedia of modern quilting" (Publishers Weekly). I'm not good - at all - at any kind of craft, but, May's book (which received a starred review from the Library Journal) is one that "nonquilters...will enjoy" (the Chicago Tribune), for sure!
And, if you'd like to know more about me and my process, here below are a few bloggers who were, recently, kind enough to do wonderful interviews about A TIME TO DANCE:

Monday, May 14, 2012


Delighted to report ISLAND'S END is A winner of this year's PATERSON PRIZE for young people and the winner of the SANOC South Asia Book Award (YA category).

 The novel also recd a Julia Ward Howe BOSTON AUTHORS CLUB young readers honor book (finalist) award - and several other honors for which I'm so grateful - an ALA Best Book of the Year, an ALA/Amelia Bloomer List selectcion, a CCBC Best Book of the Year, a BOOKLIST Editor's Choice Best Book for Young Adults, and first honor to arrive and of course thus so treasured - a KIRKUS Best Book of the Year!!!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Delighted to finally post the following good news about my second novel, ISLAND'S END, which was released in August, 2011 (I've had a hectic and hard time these past months, hence the delay in posting this information). ISLAND'S END  received *starred*reviews in KIRKUS, BOOKLIST, SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL and PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY. It's also been included on the following best book of the year lists: ALA's Amelia Bloomer; ALA and YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults; CCBC; KIRKUS, and BOOKLIST Editor's Choice, best books of the year. My publisher, Penguin, created a lovely YouTube video about ISLAND'S END featuring photographs I took from my time on the islands ( ), as well as a free downloadable discussion guide for the novel. I created a free downloadable powerpoint file which has several reader response journal ideas, discusssion questions etc. related to ISLAND'S END - available through my website: 
Here below are quotes from the starred reviews:
* "consistently engrosses...refreshingly hopeful and beautifully written"
 - Starred review KIRKUS
* "a lovely novel...offering an enticing blend of mystic tradition and imaginative speculation"
- Starred review PW
* "Vividly written and expertly paced ...a moving story that will stay with readers long after the end"
- Starred review SLJ
* "succeeds intricate yet wholly accessible story"
-Starred review BOOKLIST

Friday, October 23, 2009


I have been extremely fortunate to cooperate with my wonderful colleagues at the University of Rhode Island to put together some excellent resources for teachers who wish to use CLIMBING THE STAIRS in the school classroom.
A handout I presented recently at the RI Educational Media Association is given below. More resources are present at my main website

Climbing the Stairs:

Teaching nonviolence through literature


Kathryn Lee Johnson, EdS
School of Education, University of Rhode Island

Diane Kern, PhD
School of Education, University of Rhode Island

Bethany Lisi, MEd
Reading & Writing Tutor, New York City

Padma Venkatraman, PhD

Climbing the Stairs (published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin) is the winner of the 2009 Julia Ward Howe Award and has received several other honors and awards, including ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, Booklist Editor's Choice Best Book of the Year, NYPL Book for the Teen Age, CCBC choice, Bank Street College of Education Best Book, NCSS/CBC Notable SS Trade Book, Capitol Choice, PA School Library Association Top 40, CLN Top 25 07-08, ALA/Amelia Bloomer Book, Starred Reviews in Booklist, PW and VOYA, Shortlisted for RARI, UT and ME state awards, Booksense Notable, Booklinks Best New Book, and PW Flying Start.

BACKGROUND OF THE NOVEL - A STATEMENT BY Dr. Padma Venkatraman: When I started writing Climbing the Stairs, I was head of a school in the United Kingdom. I saw students faced with different kinds of violence, overt and subtle – name calling, bullying, and caste-like cliques. At that time, I decided to become an American citizen and was thinking deeply of the issues facing our nation. We were at war with Iraq then, and we still are. As I grappled with the question of whether a person should ever act violently, and when and if and why a nation should engage in a war, my mind flew back to a different era, a different circumstance, a different culture, and a family – my own - that had debated the same two questions, many years ago in India, 1941. Climbing the Stairs is loosely based on my family's history and inspired by the timeless question of the role of nonviolence in our lives and its impact on today's society.

When I read from climbing the stairs, I often follow this presentation outline to help readers make a personal connection with the nonviolence-violence theme in my novel.

I begin by asking

1. Have you ever witnessed something you disagreed with?

2. When you witnessed this, what action did you take?


3. How did appa voice his disagreement in this chapter?


4. Did Kitta and Vidya’s disagree peacefully? Discuss levels of violence and subtle (verbal) vs. physical abuse.

5. Think back to the incident you remembered at the beginning. Did you disagree nonviolently? If yes, would you like to share that – with the rest of the class? If not, can you think of a nonviolent way to act in that situation?

6. Discuss hypothetical situations in which students might find themselves and nonviolent strategies they might use to diffuse tension in those situations.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS, suggested by the author
(focus on fundamental and universal themes in Climbing the Stairs)

1. NONVIOLENCE THEME: Have you ever stood up for something you believed in? What do you think of the way Appa stood up for his beliefs in the Protest March chapter? What is your understanding of “nonviolence?” Does peace impact your daily behavior? Do you think nonviolence can work against injustice today, and what are some situations after the Indian freedom struggle in which Gandhian nonviolence principles were successfully used as a means of political protest?

2. WORLD WAR II: Did you learn anything new about World War II through reading the novel? Do you agree with Vidya’s or with Kitta’s views on war in general? How does Vidya deal with Kitta’s choice? How do you react when you disagree with your friends or family? Do you think it is necessary for a person or a nation to sometimes act violently? If so, what, in your opinion justifies violence and what degree of violence do you feel is justifiable?

3. SPIRITUAL AWAKENING: What specific principles of Hinduism does Vidya learn from Amma, Appa, and the books she reads in Thatha’s library? Give examples of Vidya’s actions that reflect some of her stated Hindu beliefs reflected by Hindu scriptures quoted in the novel. How do the Indian traditions observed in Thatha’s house differ from the true ideals of Hindu philosophy cited in the text by Vidya? In what ways does the novel demonstrate the distance between the spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of the Hindu religion and some of the banal customs followed by Indian society? Is there any distance between the philosophy of your religion and its observance?

4. SOCIAL JUSTICE-EQUALITY What role does Vidya’s meeting with the Gypsy woman play in the story? In what way is the house in Madras a prison and in what way is it a safe place? Is the society in which you live completely egalitarian? If not, what do you think is the underlying cause of inequality? What are some ways to overcome stereotypes and prejudices? Is there a caste- like system in your school, family or community? Do you and those around you always treat everyone the same way? Have you ever indulged in bullying, name-calling or joined an exclusive group?

5. DIFFERENTLY ABLED PERSONS Do you know anyone who is differently abled, and if so, how has knowing them changed your behavior? What purpose does Appa’s mental disability and his extended family’s treatment of him have in the story? How would the novel be different if he had died (given that Vidya’s family would have had to move to Thatha’s household and that Appa’s demise would not have changed the major incidents that fuel the plot after the beating)? Why do you think Periappa and Periamma treat Appa so badly? How does this practice conflict with their stated belief in non-violence? Have you observed people choosing to ignore traditions that do not further their agendas? How does one’s treatment of those who are less empowered reflect on one’s character?

6. LANGUAGE: List some of the themes in the novel. How does the title “Climbing the Stairs” work as a metaphor to fit these different themes? Pay particular attention to abstract meanings the title acquires that do not involve Vidya directly. In the first chapter, Vidya and Kitta discuss the swastika symbol – which has a very different significance in India (especially in 1941) as compared to the Western world today (in the post-World War II era). What role do symbols play in our everyday lives, if any? How are the symbols used in your culture and language different or similar to other world languages and cultures? What symbols and metaphors does the author use in this novel? How does the metaphorical image of climbing a staircase into the unknown work to fit the various themes (such as social justice, national independence, coming-of-age, nonviolence, spiritual awakening) in the novel?

7. RACISM: The British are an important presence in Vidya's world as both oppressors of the Indian people and as fighters against the Nazis. How are the British characterized at the beginning of the novel? How does this change by the end? How do Vidya’s various personal encounters with kind British officers contribute to this characterization? What books does Vidya read in the library that help her understand the similarities between Indian and Western cultures? How does the idea of universal experiences challenge the foundations of British racism and Colonial rule? What are some other ways in which the novel provides counter examples to a one-sided view of the British and White racism?
Where does World War II era Japan fit into this discussion of racism?

8. CHARACTERIZATION How does the author create dimensionality in the characters? For instance, how is Appa’s character deepened by his action of sending the family servants away when his brother visits (at the beginning of the novel), instead of showing upfront how he runs his household? What does Appa gain from hiding his beliefs and in what ways does this indirectly support maintaining the caste system? Have you ever suppressed your beliefs in the face of social or familial pressure?

9. Why do you think the author chose to leave the novel open-ended? If you had the chance to write a sequel to the story how would you have it continue? Would you try to answer the debate on violence versus nonviolence or would you leave this open-ended as the author did?

For more discussion questions, virtual lesson plans, and other resources, please visit the author’s website:
(schools/libraries; teachers/librarians tab)

High school student teacher responses and lessons are posted at Dr. Diane Kern’s Wiki site:

Six Principles of Nonviolence: The Kingian Philosophy

1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

Nonviolence is an active resistance against what is wrong. It requires the courage to stand up for what is right and just, sometimes in the face of strong social pressure to “just go along,” and the courage to resist impulsive “lashing out.”

2. The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.

The goal is not to humiliate others, but to win them over to a new, shared view. At the end, you want to be able to join forces. Pursuing justice and truth together brings the “beloved community” closer, where everyone lives together in peace.

3. Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil.

The goal is to solve problems, not to attack people. People who seem evil are also victims of the conditions that make up the problem. Attacking them personally can lead to more problems.

4. Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause.

Nonviolent people are willing to “put themselves on the line” in order to stop the cycle of violence and create better conditions. Remember that there is already a lot of suffering going on. Let suffering be for a worthwhile purpose, but never inflict it on others.

5. Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.

Physical violence starts with attitudes and feelings of anger, hatred, and resentment. The person who has those feelings is hurt first and most by them. Feelings are contagious, and also affect many people who are not the “target” of the moment.

6. The universe is on the side of justice.

Justice inspires people, and injustice does not. Dr. King said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The outcome of the struggle will be justice. It may not be today or tomorrow, but eventually faith and justice will prevail.

Example of Student Response
Climbing the Stairs Connection Guide Sheet
The purpose of this activity is to develop ideas about teaching nonviolence to teenagers by using young adult literature.

1. In small groups, select a scene from Climbing the Stairs that connects to the one nonviolence principles you have been assigned.
2. Think about the book and what it might mean in connection to the theme of nonviolence and how you might teach it to children.
3. Complete the Book Connection Guide Sheet using the following specific guidelines.


Principle of Nonviolence:


Summary of scene:

How does this scene connect to the Principle of Nonviolence?

What nonviolent character traits does the character from the above question exhibit?

Other activities or guided questions you might use with your students:

1. Discuss an alternative that readers might have been hoping for, such as: “Appa pulled the officer down off his horse, thrown him to the ground, and kicked him to save the woman and himself.” Why did he not do this? What message does Appa’s sacrifice send to Vidya, and the reader? In what ways does this scene show Appa’s strength? What impact do his actions have on others at the march? When is it appropriate to challenge the beliefs of a society? What are the most effective ways to take a stand against an injustice?

2. Together with students, find six different scenes in CLIMBING THE STAIRS to demonstrate each of the six principles of nonviolence. Direct students to write in their reader response journals about an everyday situation (either one they have faced or a hypothetical situation in which they might find themselves) in which they could use one of the nonviolence principles.

3. Choose one Principle of Nonviolence and write an essay defend how the principle is displayed through the actions of one character in CLIMBING THE STAIRS, citing three pieces of evidence from the text.

4. Create a poster centered around the quote “Appa could have pulled the officer down off his horse, thrown him on the ground, and kicked him. But he did not.” (Place the quote at the center and paste student responses to this quote around it to create a large poster that could be hung on the classroom wall). AND/OR use this quote to spark a Socratic seminar.

5. Set the theme for a discussion on nonviolence by downloading and playing the YouTube Video of rapper Common singing “A Dream”. Teaching nonviolence is important in the high school setting and vital to the global environment. Help your students identify how different artists (Common, rapper, YouTube, music vs. Venkatraman, author, CLIMBING THE STAIRS, novel) interpret Mahatma Gandhi’s and Dr. King’s dreams of nonviolence.

6. Vocabulary activity. Brainstorm words that describe nonviolent or violent actions taken by characters in CLIMBING THE STAIRS and words that describe their character traits. Help students explore connections between these behaviors and subtle forms of violence they may indulge in such as name-calling or bullying, to heighten their awareness of violence and make text-to-self connections.

Character Traits Associated with Nonviolence:

Attentive, Aware, Bighearted, Brave, Calm, Caring, Cheerful, Clever, Concerned
Conscientious, Controlled, Cooperative, Courageous, Committed, Compassionate, Considerate, Curious, Daring, Dedicated, Determined, Devoted, Eager, Empathetic, Encouraging, Endurance, Exuberant, Fair, Faithful, Forgiving, Friendly, Generous, Gentle, Giving, Grateful, Helpful, Honest, Hopeful, Hospitable, Humane, Humble,
Humorous, Imaginative, Independent, Industrious, Integrity, Interest, Intelligent, Kind, Logical, Loving, Loyal, Optimistic, Patient, Peaceful, Pensive, Persevering
Persistent, Pleasant, Polite, Positive, Rational, Reliable, Respectful, Responsible,
Responsive, Reverent, Risk-taker, Self-confident, Scrupulous, Selfless, Sensitive,
Sincere, Skillful, Smart, Sociable, Strong, Sympathetic, Supportive, Talented, Tenacious, Thankful, Thoughtful, Tolerant, Trusting, Trustworthy, Understanding, Useful, Valiant, Versatile, Vigilant, Warm hearted, Wise

Cross-curricular connections:
Theater arts: CLIMBING THE STAIRS readers theater play (Weekly Reader, January 2010 issue; or contact Padma Venkatraman and visit for tableau and other acting suggestions)
History: CLIMBING THE STAIRS lends itself to connections with the American Civil Rights movement (explore the MLK Jr. Mahatma Gandhi connection)
The novel also provides a unique (non-European) perspective on World War II by discussing the contributions of the British colonies including the world’s largest all-volunteer WWII force
Music: invite Padma Venkatraman to sing “We Shall Overcome” in Hindi with your students, Common rapper “A Dream” music video Indian classical music
Fine Art: Draw Kolams and Krishna footsteps on the classroom floor
Mathematics: Invite Padma Venkatraman to speak about ancient Indian mathematics.



Excerpts of reviews from Institutional Review Journals
• …Venkatraman makes a memorable debut with this lushly evoked novel set in India during World War II…More than a feisty Cinderella story …this novel vivifies a unique era and culture as it movingly expresses how love and hope can blossom even under the most dismal of circumstances…
o Starred review, Publishers Weekly
• …In her first novel, Venkatraman paints an intricate and convincing backdrop of a conservative Brahmin home in a time of change…
o Starred review, Carolyn Phelan, Booklist
• …Climbing the Stairs is the coming-of-age story of a young feminist who witnesses both violence and peaceful resistance in India during the WWII era…Venkatraman achieved her goal of interweaving threads of Indian culture, diverse religious beliefs, feminism, war and peace into a compelling story…”
o Lynda Brill Comerford, Publishers Weekly, “Flying Start”
• …In an author’s note, Venkatraman comments on several elements of the novel, including Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution, Indian volunteers in the British Army during World War II, and her family history…
o Booklinks, Best New Books for the Classroom
• …Opening with the festival of Krishna Jayanthi, Venkatraman so skillfully weaves Hindu words, traditions, and religious festivals into her story that readers understand the vocabulaty and appreciate the beliefs…Vidya achieves the psychological distance to ponder cultural and religious similarities and differences by way of her philosophically minded appa and her Jewish best friend…With a delightfully strong female protagonist who struggles between tradition and the values she holds dear, this novel will capture the imaginations of many readers…
o Cynthia Winfield, VOYA, 5 Q 4P S
• British-occupied India during World War II is the setting for this impressive debut novel.... Thought-provoking and deeply moving.
o Booksense, Notable
• …A welcome addition to the small but growing body of historical fiction about growing up female in India…This novel excels in its detailed depiction of a Brahmin girlhood and family life during a time of intense social and political change…
o Kirkus
• …a poignant look at a young woman’s vigilance to break from expectations and create her own destiny amid a country’s struggle for independence…
o Rita Soltan, School Library Journal
• With Climbing the Stairs, Venkatraman fills an important place in YA historical fiction… The book is well researched, politically balanced, and based on real experiences. Climbing the Stairs is a valuable book because of the way it engenders cultural understanding. It is a primer in Indian culture with its history, religion, and traditions."
o Sandra Udall Crandall, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy

Excerpts of reviews from Newspapers and Magazines
• Climbing the Stairs… is a passionate story…In the novel, books serve as a saving grace…The central theme of the novel, violence and nonviolence, will appeal to an international audience…
o Michelle Reale, India Currents
• After reading this fine, often heart-breaking novel, I noticed that it’s for “young adults”. Well, I’m a 'youngish adult,' and I loved it.
o Sam Coale, The Providence Journal
• “Sam Coale is a Wheaton professor, a frequent reviewer and constant reader – but a 'youngish adult'? Well, in spirit, certainly.
o Editor, Arts Section, The Providence Sunday Journal
• …Padma Venkatraman’s debut novel works on many levels. Marketed for young adults, it’s a story complex and rich enough to hold an adult’s attention. Its setting in colonial India during the early days of World War II brings to mind our current occupation of Iraq. And the heroine’s struggles for freedom can be taken at face value, as a young girl’s coming of age, or as a deeper exploration of oppression…The story becomes one of emancipation – a young girl’s growing self awareness, her struggle to be treated as an individual with dignity, her yearning for education. This parallels the Indians’ determination to shake off the yoke of colonialism, and the wider struggle to stop Hitler from exterminating the Jews. The thread connecting these themes is the Hindu religion’s commitment to nonviolence, and the inevitable conflicts that result. All of this is woven simply but artfully together. The beauty of Venkatraman’s prose is that it can be read on all these levels. A young adult can understand the story and the issues it raises, while adults will appreciate the subtle intersecting of plot and theme.…This novel is an important story about the human struggle for freedom and dignity that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages…
o Grace magazine
• …A bestseller may be born in Westerly on Thursday…
o Marshall Williams, The Westerly Sun, Front Page article
• …Climbing the Stairs is already climbing the charts and its official publishing date isn’t until May… In a letter that accompanied a special galley mailing of the novel, Douglas Whiteman, executive vice president of Penguin, called the book “ a beautifully written story of love, loss and the power of one’s beliefs” and a “truly special book” which is “fascinating and heart-breaking, but redeeming at the same time.”…”
o Jan Wenzel, Quad Angles
• …Young Adult novels are difficult to review for several reasons…the genre “Young Adult literature” is in itself a tricky label because it assumes that the book will be predominant read by just one particular narrow cultural subset…Thankfully, Padma Venkatraman has put a few of these issues to rest, or at least rendered them temporarily irrelevant…one of the most successful aspects of the novel is…open-ended…allows her thematic questions to resonate more fully and widely…Venkatraman should encounter success, I suspect, since her first foray into fiction is an enjoyable addition to the genre – whichever genre you choose to put it into, that is.”
o Evan P. Schneider, Newport Mercury
• The book explores many themes – a young girl’s coming of age; feminism, colonialism;
and the Hindu tenets of nonviolence. Venkatraman did not intentionally write an allegory
of the war in Iraq, but she recognized that the book can be read that way…Marketed by G. P. Putnam’s Sons as a young adult novel…[i]n its language and subtlety, it reads like an adult novel…Readers who ignore such labels will find a rich, complex story…”
o Betty Cotter, The South County Independent
• It is not everyday that someone who’s made a professional career out of field science becomes a book author…But…Despite pursuing a career in decidedly left-brain oriented disciplines, Venkatraman says fiction writing has always been her passion…Climbing the Stairs has already received several positive reviews, snagging a Book Sense “notable pick” …as well as …starred reviews from Booklist magazine and Publishers Weekly. It has also been nominated for Reading Across Rhode Island, a state-sponsored project that promotes reading…
o India New England, 2008 Woman of the Year Finalist Supplement