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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Srividhya Venkat and Kate Wadsworth + Review of Girls on Wheels

Srividhya Venkat - A children’s author and former early childhood educator, Srividhya Venkat strongly believes in the power of books and stories.

Author photo of Srividhya Venkat.

While she likes to write stories that bring out the nuances of her upbringing in India, she is also inspired by her experiences from living in three different countries. In addition, she enjoys performing oral storytelling for children.

When not reading or writing, Srividhya loves to listen to music, tinker with new recipes, and explore the world outside her window. She currently resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Collage of her two book covers

Srividhya is the author of several picture books, including Dancing in Thatha's Footsteps, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran (2021) and The Clever Tailor, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath (2019).

Kate Wadsworth - was raised on the beautiful east side of O’ahu, Hawai’i, where she currently lives as an illustrator and graphic designer.

Author photo of Kate Wadsworth.

She spent several years living on the East Coast where she received her BFA in Communication Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond – a multicultural city that strengthened her interest in figurative art and urban sketching. Equally inspired by the natural world, she loves to experiment with bold colors, exaggerated shapes, and purposeful line work to tell stories with subtle but deliberate symbolism.

Kate has had the privilege to work with a variety of local and international clients. She has created poster artwork for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, and the Sony Open in Hawaii; editorial illustration for Hawaii Business Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times.

This is Kate’s illustration debut.

Their picture book, Girls on Wheels, releases on August 8th.

Welcome and Aloha Srividhya and Kate,

Tell us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )

SRIVIDHYA I began to write for children about eleven years ago after a few life changes - becoming a parent, changing careers, and relocating overseas. The urge to write probably emerged from trying to raise children away from my home country, and also from a desire to create stories that I would have liked to read as a child.

Apart from stories inspired by my own culture which help me stay connected with my roots, I also like to write stories related to personal experiences or those that fascinate or touch my heart.

My writing currently happens in spurts through the day at my dining table which overlooks the backyard. But if I’m on a deadline, it can really happen anywhere and anytime.

KATE - I've been drawing ever since I can remember. While I usually work from my studio at home, I always have a sketchbook with me to jot down notes or sketch from life when I'm out and about. It sounds vague, but I love to illustrate people / doing things / in places, haha —more so than a static portrait of someone, or a still life of an object. I enjoy infusing my work with a little bit of narrative.

It is so wonderful to "meet" you both. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

SRIVIDHYA - I occasionally venture into bookstores or libraries, or even coffee shops with the hope that a change of ambience will help with my writing. However, that works well only if I’m not tempted to browse books or queue up for an extra snack (Haha!)!!

The most unusual place I’ve written in is on a local train! Having Google Docs to work with from a phone or tablet helps utilize those small pockets of time efficiently.

KATE - When I’m working on client work, I’m usually planted at my not-so-exciting computer desk… However, in addition to my sketchbook, I also carry around a tiny water color set. My husband and I often go camping, hiking, or to the beach, so I’ll bring along my travel art supplies and create a few little “plein air” paintings —I once did one of these from a big rock overlooking the ocean, while taking a break from cliffside rock climbing!

I think working on a train and a rock over the ocean both sound exciting! Srividhya, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Girls on Wheels?

Cover of Girls on Wheels - three girls riding skate boards.

SRIVIDHYA – Girls on Wheels is inspired by the skateboarding revolution in India. When I first learned about it (thanks to my former agent, Clelia Gore!), I was blown away, especially to see that girls in India were pushing boundaries and engaging in this daring sport. It was fascinating that skateboarding was empowering girls not only to surpass themselves, but also to help other girls take on challenges by creating safe spaces for them.

As someone who was born and raised in India where women are largely expected to adhere to prescribed gender roles, I was in awe of these girls who were doing what they believed in. I couldn’t help, but feel the need to find out more about their stories. And that’s how this book’s journey started.

I am so glad you discovered their stories and created this story. They deserve to be celebrated and encouraged. Kate, what about the Girls on Wheels manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Book Cover - green underside of a scratched skateboard covered with multiple stickers.

KATE - When I was first approached about illustrating Girls on Wheels, I was just so excited to be asked to draw more skater girls! The story immediately reminded me of my childhood (although my girlfriends and I tried our luck with BMX bikes).

It was a major bonus to learn all about the skateboard revolution happening in India as Vidhya mentioned. The cherry on top was being able to contribute to something that little girls could see themselves in and feel empowered.

I love your illustrations of these girls. Readers - if you liked these two images, wait until you see the rest of this jacket and amazing case cover! Srividhya, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing Girls on Wheels?

SRIVIDHYA - That’s a great question! The biggest challenge about writing Girls on Wheels was to write about a sport I didn’t know anything about. I am NOT a skateboarder. Once I had the initial drafts of the story sorted out, I needed to bring in elements that would make the story come alive with the movement and energy that’s so much a part of skateboarding. So, I delved deeper into my research, learning the basics of skateboarding, reading relevant books, watching how-to videos, and observing and talking to skaters at the local skatepark. Since the focus of the story is the emotional arc of the main protagonist, Anila, I tried to draw parallels with my own life experiences in an attempt to make the story and voice more authentic.

Finally, my critique group’s invaluable support throughout this manuscript’s journey also helped me shape it into Girls on Wheels as you see it.

I think you did a great job conquering this challenge! Kate, as your debut picture book, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about illustrating Girls on Wheels?

KATE - Oh man, illustrating a full picture book felt like a few steps shy of a full animation! The whole process was a crash course in things I either hadn’t done before, or haven’t practiced in a really long time: character design, composition, lighting, word building… I also illustrated the whole thing on my iPad which was relatively new to me.

Like Vidhya, I am not a skater, so I had to do extensive research on skateboarding, skate culture —not to mention the countless hours I spent researching anything and everything about India!

You did a wonderful job putting us in India and within the kid's skating world! How many revisions did Girls on Wheels take for the text or illustrations from the first draft to publication?

SRIVIDHYA - I usually don’t keep count of the number of revisions. But I can tell you that this project went through several edits, rewrites, and revisions. I took the very first draft of this manuscript to my critique group in January 2020. It took about six months of weekly meetings (with several breaks due to the pandemic) to make it submission ready. Then with a rewrite request from the publisher in September, it took me another six months to have a newly submittable draft ready. By August 2021, the contract had been signed. Thanks to my agent and my critique group, the editor had no major changes for the manuscript!

KATE - It’s hard to say… in general, there weren’t too many major revisions, but we worked in a few main phases (character design, book dummy/rough sketches, final sketches, color study, final art), with some minor edits in between. One thing that took a bit more time and thought was the character’s outfits. We wanted the color/styling of their clothing to gel together as a group, that also celebrated them individually with respect to their lifestyles/backgrounds. I had an awesome art director and creative team that were able to give great, and culturally appropriate, feedback.

Kate, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Girls on Wheels? If so, could you share one or more with us?

KATE - I was really excited to learn the story takes place in a small beach town, because I also live in one (however many miles away!). In my research I also found out that some of the things that are so iconic here in Hawaii are native or thrive in India! For example, myna birds and plumeria/frangipani flowers.

My sister-in-law and niece helped bring the character of Sana to life by modeling how to properly wear a hijab, and with skateboarding references photos. It’s special to have little hints of them shine through some of Sana’s expressions.

I also hid my friend’s cat on one of the pages 😊

I found the cat and the myna birds! What's something you want your readers to know about Girls on Wheels?

SRIVIDHYA - I’d like readers to know that many of us are a bit like the girls in Girls On Wheels – passionate about something, yet fearful of failure. This book is a reminder to keep doing (or trying to do) what you love, even if you don’t get it right. It’s important NOT to be bogged down by failure and self-doubt because they can pull us back from what we are capable of achieving.

Last but not the least, if you see others in your situation, join hands and support one another and you will emerge stronger as you head down your path with unwavering passion.

KATE - I think Vidhya said it better than I ever could!

If you’re falling or feel like you’re failing, remember those are growing pains, you’re also learning and growing! It can be frustrating at times, but it takes time to learn something new. Be kind to yourself and others through the process - encouragement and compassion can be contagious!

You both said it beautifully! Srividhya, when you first saw Kate’s illustrations in Girls on Wheels, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

SRIVIDHYA – The first artwork I received from the publisher were Kate’s character sketches. It was an indescribable feeling to ‘meet’ the three girls whom I had nurtured and known only in my imagination!

Internal spread - left side a girl tiptoes out of her house, right side she rides her board through town  toward a glowing sunrise.

Text © Srividhya Venkat, 2023. Image © Kate Wadsworth, 2023.

A few weeks later, I was delighted to see Kate’s illustrations as well. I cannot pick one favorite spread. I love how Kate has brought to life a fictional seaside town in India with much authenticity. Her color palette, composition style, and portrayal of motion and energy are amazing. She has also inserted several easter eggs to enhance the story being conveyed by the text.

Photo of Kate and Srividhya looking a final art work.

Kate and Srividhya – so much fun to go over the proofs together!

Thanks for the great picture of the two of you! You both look so happy. Kate, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Title page for Girls on Wheels - legs of a girl riding a skateboard  with a tiger-striped underside.

Text © Srividhya Venkat, 2023. Image © Kate Wadsworth, 2023.

KATE - I’m not sure if I have a favorite, but I love the simplicity of the title page. It's a close up of Damini’s feet planted on her skateboard charging forward. You can see the tiger stripes on the underside of her skate deck and the dust getting kicked up behind her.

I loved pushing the forced perspective (and no pressure to illustrate her face!). I think it's a dynamic and exciting visual that entices the reader to turn the page and continue reading.

Can you think of something you wish you’d known before you started the publication journey with Girls on Wheels?

SRIVIDHYA – I wish I had known about the skateboarding revolution in India earlier (than four years ago) because I could have visited some of the places and skateparks, and perhaps even met a few of the amazing skater girls before the pandemic struck. But because my work on this project began at the end of 2019, most of my research had to be done online. On the bright side, I was still fortunate to be able to visit a local skatepark (in Singapore where I was based at that time) to do some ‘field work’ - observing the action at the skatepark and talking to skateboarders - which helped me improve my manuscript and make the storytelling more effective.

KATE - I think I would’ve saved myself a lot of time and effort had I known I was going to end up illustrating the whole book digitally. I had originally set my heart on illustrating each page traditionally, with paint and colored pencil. I very quickly realized how long that was going to take, and how inefficient it would be for any revisions. Now I have a ton of illustration board I need to put to good use!

Hindsight is often 20/20, but you did a fantastic job Srividhya. And Kate, I have no doubt you'll find a use for the illustration boards! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

SRIVIDHYA - My next project is Seeker Of Truth – Kailash Satyarthi’s Fight To End Child Labor, a picture book biography that releases in 2024. It is the story of Kailash Satyarthi, a child rights activist from India who has been working to end child exploitation for over 40 years. The book is being illustrated by Danica Da Silva Pereira and published by Little Bee Books.

KATE - I’m currently wrapping up a couple of mural and logo projects, but I think a recent mural I painted is pretty on brand:

Back in May, I participated in Hawaii Walls, an annual mural festival that happens here in Hawaii (and worldwide!). I painted an interactive mural of a skater girl riding through a curly cue coconut tree. The wall is pretty low and wide, and meets the front stairs/ramp to the entrance of a gym. If someone stands behind it just right, they look like they are the skateboarder!

Collage of photos of Kate's mural of skateboarders,in Hawaii.

You can see more photos of the mural here.

Your mural is awesome. But I adore those models of yours! We'll have to keep our eyes open for projects from both of you. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Hawai't Volcanoes National Park - volcano errupting. @NPS

SRIVIDHYA – I really enjoyed my recent visit to the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island where the Kilauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes are located. It was an exceptional experience to hike on the Kilauea Iki trail which goes through a lush rainforest and down to a solidified lava lake formed from a volcanic eruption in 1959. Standing atop the crater floor of the once active volcano, I felt the goosebumps pondering about the prodigious powers of nature.

KATE - Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is definitely a good one!

Havasu Falls  by © The

A few years ago, my husband and I went on a cross country road trip from the east coast to the west coast, and tried to see as many national parks as we could. A few hours away from the Grand Canyon, we did a 10 mile backpacking trip into Havasu Canyon to Supai Village, inside the Havasupai Indian Reservation. We hiked to Havasu Falls which is a true oasis in the middle of the scorching hot rocky landscape. We only spent one night and woke up early to hike back out the very next day, but it's probably the most amazing trip we’ve ever been on!

Thank you Srividhya & Kate for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your new picture book.

To find out more about Srividhya Venkat, or to contact her:

To find out more about Kate Wadsworth, or to contact her:

Review of Girls On Wheels

While this empowering story was written as an ode to the skateboarding women and girls in India blasting through gender stereotypes, it is also a wonderful story about facing fears and doubts, friendship and compassion, and the determination and persistence needed to achieve any goal.

Cover image three girls riding skateboards.

Girls on Wheels

Author: Srividhya Venkat

Illustrator: Kate Wadsworth

Publisher: Kokila Books/Penguin Books (2023)

Ages: 4-8



Determination, confidence, persistence, defiance, skateboarding, compassion, friendship, and bravery.


Inspired by the skateboarding revolution in India, Girls on Wheels follows three friends who support one another through the ups and downs of learning to skateboard.

Anila is on her way to her favorite place: the skate park. She longs to glide on her board and feel the thrill of catching air. But when she arrives, the ramp looks like a concrete sea monster! Fear creeps in, making her once-broken arm ache. But Sana’s smile and Damini’s laugh wrap Anila in courage. Her friends remind her that in skateboarding, sometimes you fall—but sometimes you fly!

Srividhya Venkat’s lyrical text and Kate Wadsworth’s vibrant illustrations capture the energy and movement that make this picture book soar.

Opening Lines:

Damini sneaks out early

after her chores, careful

not to wake anyone

She jumps over bumps

and potholes,

whizzes down the street.

Some people gasp. Others glare.

Damini rides on.

What I LOVED about this book:

This opening is so intriguing. Combined with the stunning details in the soft, digital illustrations of the snoring ox and the early morning details of the city waking up, it transports the reader to this 'make-believe' seaside town in India and draws you immediately into the story along with the daring, adventurous Damini as she "whizzes down the street."

Internal spread - left side a girl tiptoes out of her house, right side she rides her board through town  toward a glowing sunrise.

Text © Srividhya Venkat, 2023. Image © Kate Wadsworth, 2023.

As a story about three friends who love to skateboard, I love the way Srividhya and Kate use the next two spreads to not only introduce us to the main characters, but give us a sense of their individual personalities.

On the second spread we see a bazaar on the outskirts of town and meet Sana, who interrupts her excited "glide against the wind" to compassionately share her food.

Internal spread - left side girl feeding dogs, right side riding skateboard past a bizaar to the park.

Text © Srividhya Venkat, 2023. Image © Kate Wadsworth, 2023.

Last, we're introduced to Anilla, from the unique point of view of a rear-view mirror, as she is driven to the skate park after healing from a broken arm. Though longing to "feel the trill of catching air," she's worried and nervous." The bird (phoenix ?) seen on the bottom of her skate board is an important hint about Anilla, as are the tiger stipes (hinted at in the first image and very visible on the title page) on the bottom of Damini's board. I love how each of the girls are all heading toward the glorious, glowing sunrise of an exciting new day.

Internal spread - right side girl in backseet of car, as seen in rear-view mirror. Right side car passing a sunrise refelcted on the ocean.

Text © Srividhya Venkat, 2023. Image © Kate Wadsworth, 2023.

There are so many lovely details to linger over within the illustrations, such as the sunrise's reflection of the pavement, stream, and ocean, the details in the coffee/tea shop and the bazaar shop, and the gorgeous vegetation. The clothing style and colors, as well as their skateboard designs beautifully highlight the personalities of the girls.

When they all arrive at the park, Anilla's worries ease a little with the enthusiastic, joyous reunion with Damini and Sana at the "No Rules Park!" I appreciate that Srividhya and Kate don't shy away from showing that mastery of skateboarding (or any craft or sport) requires lots of practice - "They fall. They fail. CLUNK! But they're back on their boards." I adore the subtle use of graffiti in the skate park to specifically reflect Anilla's moods. Such as when she remains on the sidelines, worried about falling and breaking something again, faintly painted on the walls below her are "WHAT iF?" and "NO FEAR."

Sana and Damini remind Anilla how to fall, roll, or jump off her board. Then rising to the taunts of some boys, Damini drops off the wall to a wonderful onomatopoeia of "WHIRRR-WHOOSH-CLACK!" and Sana succeeds on her second try. When Anilla's nervous timidity results in a "THUNK!," her friend's unwavering challenge to the boys' taunts, compassion, and encouragement (plus a sweet treat) convince Anilla to try again.

Determination ultimately pays off, but as with the mastery of any skill, falls and failures remain inevitable. But that doesn't diminish the fun. This is a succinctly worded, powerful story about the friendship of three daring, caring, and brave girls with the enthusiasm, grit, and persistence to absorb the falls and plunks in their pursuit of the trill, freedom, and rush of flying along on a skateboard. The author's note offers a little information on women and girls who are exploding into the sport of skateboarding throughout India.


A photo of a popsicle skate board craft.

- make a popsicle mini skateboard (by the New Children's Museum, San Diego) or try a slightly harder one from cardboard.

- what designs and stickers would you make for the top and bottom of your skateboard? What do you think the designs in the story say about Damini, Sana, and Anilla, What would your design say about you?


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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