The Children’s Book Review Interview in partnership with Vasavi Koka, author of Kokan and Zoya
Vasavi Koka is an Art Educator, a trainee Therapeutic Play Practitioner, and a Therapeutic Story writer. She writes for children of all ages. After studying her BA in Art with English Literature and her Masters in Art, Design and Visual Culture she went on to complete her Postgraduate Certificate in Secondary Art Education at The University of Cambridge. Vasavi has since embarked on a successful teaching career and during this time has discovered the importance of play, both in terms of learning and discovery and also as a medium for children to explore difficult feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
This inspired her to commence a Postgraduate Certificate in Therapeutic Play Skills, the first part of a qualification in Play and Creative Arts therapy, in addition to her continuing teaching career. It was during her training that she discovered the magic of therapeutic stories. She believes, through the power of metaphor and story, children can detach safely from an experience allowing them the space to regulate their behavior and achieve perspective and balance. She is a firm advocate of the healing nature of these stories and their ability to empower young people to find their own way to heal trauma. Kokan and Zoya is the first story in her series: Vasavi’s Therapeutic Stories and Play.
The Children’s Book Review: Kokan and Zoya is a children’s story designed to teach children about embracing their emotions. Will you please share why it was important for you to share this story with the world?
Vasavi Koka: The Covid Pandemic has been such a tumultuous time for children and adults alike but as an educator and in my therapeutic work, I have witnessed children struggling to contain and express their emotions. Many children have bottled up their feelings and have needed a cathartic outlet to help them deal with and express their feelings. I created this story, as a healing narrative, using creative metaphors as a tool to help children name and validate their feelings. The accompanying tool kit is very much an intrinsic part of the story and is designed to help children consolidate what they have learned.
The main character is a ‘cloud’ and a metaphor for anger. How did you come up with the concept of using a cloud to tell this story?
Vasavi Koka: I many a time seek inspiration from nature. I believe that all answers can be found in the natural world. I often carry a sketchbook with me and jot down any thoughts and ideas I have, especially when I am inspired to create. When I initially came up with the idea of ‘Kokan and Zoya’, I remember looking up at the sky.
The initial three months of lockdown felt stifling and claustrophobic. I constantly felt the need to escape and seek solace in nature. As I looked up above, I was fascinated by the endless and ever-changing shapes and forms of the different clouds– they almost seemed like large pillows in the sky. As I continued to watch them scudding across, I noticed how the light from the sun interacted with the clouds, especially the grey ones. After this, endless metaphors played out in my mind and Kokan was born. I wanted the narrative to almost move through the book as weather flows through the sky.
Your story identifies the significance of Zoya the sun and her powerful presence in casting light over darkness. Will you tell us about some of the shared qualities that Zoya and Kokan have and how these qualities help tell the story?
Vasavi Koka: Zoya is a metaphor for light and warmth, the unconditional and unending source of love. Kokan is on a journey and is like Zoya in so many ways but does not realize it at first. The emotions he experiences are part of his journey and his growth towards wholeness and balance. He experiences anger and his ego is personified in the book. Despite, this Zoya gently guides him with faith and compassion. Towards the end of the story, we see Kokan accepting his feelings and Zoya becomes ‘a part of him’, This is to show that there is light and faith in all of us.
Your goal is to convey that there is great value in children accepting and processing their feelings. Will you speak to your belief that the art of storytelling is the greatest tonic for our souls?
Vasavi Koka: During my therapeutic training, I fell in love with the power of storytelling. I realized that metaphors are a powerful tool in helping children detach safely from their experiences and enabling them to process their emotions in a fun and playful way. Storytelling also helps readers conjure up powerful images from the story which embeds them into their subconscious. As humans, we often construct narratives to help us make sense of the world in which we live. Imagination is one of the greatest tools we have and helping children nurture this through storytelling, I believe, is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow upon our children.
There are many metaphors sprinkled throughout the story. Will you share one or two of your favorite ones?
Vasavi Koka: My favorite part of the story is the merging of the two natural elements. I think it is quite beautiful in terms of imagery and message.
“As Kokan allowed Zoya’s rays to move through him, it made beautiful patterns of light on the ground. Kokan would always remember this time. He had learned how to pause, by thinking of the calmness and warmth of Zoya. A part of her belonged to him.”
I also love the fact that all of life’s lessons can be witnessed in nature if we take the time to pause, listen and observe.
“For I am night but would make no sense without the day. Kokan must see this too and know that to stand too long under shadow would make even the best of us sad.”
If readers were to take away just one thing from reading this book, what would you want that to be?
Vasavi Koka: I would like children to gain an appreciation of how to process emotions, particularly the often misunderstood and multiplex ties of anger and its associated feelings.
I use the image of a cloud to represent the ever-changing shapes of our thoughts. I also connect this metaphor with a simile that subtly compares the weather patterns with the different moods Kokan experiences. I hope to use these literary devices to highlight how emotions are essentially transient and go through cycles of change much like the weather.
The carefully curated activities have been meticulously designed to complement the story and to work in unison with its message. The activities highlight the therapeutic impact of the creative arts in helping children understand and improve their mental health and wellbeing.
What was your experience like in collaborating with illustrator Kristy Ligones?
Vasavi Koka: Kristy Ligones has been a wonderful illustrator to collaborate with. First and foremost, she understood my vision for the book and my ethos for the label I have created. Her empathy and understanding have been pivotal to the success of the story. From the outset, I shared how important it was for me to create a story that nurtures a child’s understanding of complex emotions. Kristy worked assiduously throughout and tirelessly to match the characters to what I had envisioned. It has been an amazing journey working with her.
Kokan and Zoya has an accompanying tool kit to aid young readers in exploring their emotions through creative arts-based activities. Can you share a little bit more about the toolkit and what readers can expect to find?
Vasavi Koka: The tool kit has been carefully crafted to complement the narrative. Each activity has been underpinned by neuroscience, sanative qualities, and therapeutic research. Readers can expect to find activities that are gentle and playful. These include a beautiful 6-color rainbow breathing exercise to help children relax and reduce any tension.
Following on from this activity, I have created a rich and evocative creative visualization; a deep relaxation exercise that creates a space in the child’s head. Having this sacred space allows them to reflect on their situation and realize that they may be feeling these emotions. The intricate guided imagery provides children with an imaginary escape to a safe place where they can process how they are feeling.
In addition to these activities, there are illustrated popsicle puppets that have been carefully designed and crafted to give children the opportunity to detach from the experience and play out their own angry cloud story. At the very end of the book, there are three creative mindfulness activities which include a variety of drawing pages and a coloring page. Each bespoke activity is unique and composed with the intention of highlighting the importance of play.
Are you working on any more books for children that we should know about?
Vasavi Koka: Yes, I most certainly am. I am very excited to share with you a little bit about my new book. The story is set in one of my favorite cities in the world and is all about food and its delicious wonders and is subsequently filled with delectable and tantalizing metaphors. The book is called ‘Burnt Orange’. Like ‘Kokan and Zoya’, the book is another therapeutic story. It is a poignant tale that gently paints a bittersweet portrait of life; a reminder that you cannot savor sweetness without sampling the bitter. The lessons are gently woven into the story and told through the ambrosial, syrupy, and piquant prism of food.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Vasavi Koka: Yes, by buying a copy of this book you will also be donating to a noble and amazing charity; Young Minds. This wonderfully worthy organization is always in need of additional support and £1 (or its equivalent in another currency) from the sale of each book will help support the Young Minds Charity, via Work for Good, between December 2021 – December 2022.
I live in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and wanted my book to reach a wider audience so ‘Kokan and Zoya’ has also been translated into Arabic. I am hoping it will help and empower many children.
In addition to the book, I have created my own YouTube channel. There is a full animation of the story which I have narrated. I believe that this may appeal to visual and auditory learners.
Finally, I hope that this book will inspire young people emboldening them to find their own voice and to recognise that ultimately, kindness and self-belief will always triumph in the end.
For more information, visit https://www.vasavitherapeuticstoriesandplay.com/.
About the Book
Written about Vasavi Koka
Illustrated by Kristy Anne Ligones
Ages 4+ | 82 Pages
Publisher: Vasavi Koka | ISBN-13: 9798784742193
Publisher’s Synopsis: Deep past the fast-moving white clouds, floats an angry cloud named Kokan. Kokan is a wild, dark cloud who rages through the sky casting a shadow everywhere he goes. He has a strong and uncomfortable presence.
‘Kokan and Zoya’, is a therapeutic story designed to help young children process and understand the complex nature of anger. The book is designed to help children aged between 7-10 and also contains a selection of creative arts and therapeutic play-inspired activities which will help children explore their emotions, manage their anger, and alleviate their stress in a fun and playful way. It is the first story and activity pack, by Vasavi’s Therapeutic Stories & Play.
Buy the Book
This interview—Vasavi Koka Discusses Kokan and Zoya—was conducted between Vasavi Koka and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Emotions & Behavior, Picture Book, and Social-Emotional.