Interview about Bradley Banana: Robert Yehling and Lila Devi
For nearly the past 40 years, Lila Devi has been known in therapeutic and holistic circles globally through her proprietary flower essence products and her company, Spirit-in-Nature Essences. Beyond that, she is a deeply talented and creative musician, artist, teacher and author of books in three different genres. In this first of a two-part interview, she talks with writer Robert Yehling about the processes of her books, most especially her recent children’s book release, Bradley Banana and the Jolly Good Pirate and her forth title, the memoir From Bagels to Curry.
RY: From the flower essences, you developed the master plan and characters for your 20-children’s book series. This is fascinating. How do you go about creating personalities, characters and storylines for flower essence products that resonate with kids?
LD: Children nowadays, for the most part, are absolutely brilliant and keenly tech-savvy. Often, they possess an accelerated awareness. This children’s book series needs to be strongly plot- and character-driven in order to engage their full attention and take them on adventures that will hold meaning for them. The 20 main characters have sprung from the flower essence qualities themselves, as in my first published book, Bradley Banana and the Jolly Good Pirate. Spirit-in-Nature is the first flower essence company to present its essence line in this format, for children of all ages.
Over 4 years ago while running errands in the nearby town of Nevada City, I decided to catch a matinee of the latest Harry Potter movie. Children packed the theater. There was Harry, performing magic for his classmates. Something within me seemed to open. Suddenly, I wanted to practice magic too, and to share it with kids—to help them discover, and hold forever, the highest octave of the childhood within themselves. I knew then, in that crowded theater, that it was time to write these books. The series had been conceptualized many years back; it felt like time to materialize the magic of these flower essences as children, for children.
Also, I believe that, to write for kids, you have to be a kid. And that’s never been a problem for me!
RY: Can you share a bit about a few of your title characters with us?
LD: Happy to! Calvin Corn embodies mental vitality. Darla Date is all about tender sweetness. And Sally Spinach personifies simplicity and guilelessness.
Children resonate well with these concepts from Nature, and parents seem to get drawn in as well to this non-intellectual avenue for understanding flower essences. I like to call them “bottled affirmations,” which is partly why I say that I keep my children in bottles!
Moms have mentioned to me that their children have memorized Bradley’s text from listening to the 17-minute CD, played in the car or at bedtime. One mother told me today that “my 3 girls love Bradley and are waiting for more books!”
RY: How far along are you with the full 20-book series?
LD: Bradley Banana is published, and another 12 are in the queue, waiting for a good publisher/home—which leaves 7 more to complete. Currently, I’m finishing Tommy Tomato and the Mighty Storm Dragon. Just like a pregnant mum often senses the energy of her unborn child, I try to tune in to these little boys and girls; to their entangled sagas and mischief; and to what they have to say or do in order to to represent their corresponding flower essence qualities.
RY: To me, Bradley Banana and the Jolly Good Pirate exemplifies everything good about children’s books – a memorable title character whose personality reflects many qualities (not to mention one of the flower essence products), along with a good storyline and the wonderful illustrations that young Indian artist Chitra Sudhakaran provided. Can you discuss how you viewed the illustrations in relation to the story line, and how you used them to drive the story at times?
LD: Chitra is brilliant. She’s a very gifted artist who was able to draw forth the true essence of Bradley Banana. With her intrinsic understanding of the subtle energies of Spirit-in-Nature Essences, she has breathed life, almost effortlessly, into Bradley’s character and form. Our little giggle together is that she’s Bradley’s godmother.
Have you ever watched children being read a bedtime story? They go straight to the pictures, with the text serving more as background music. Thanks to Ms. Sudhakaran, the subtle interplay between the storyline and the visual representation of Bradley Banana and the Jolly Good Pirate is alive with color and life force.
Chitra and I shared many connective moments in the text-illustration creation. At one point while working with the storyboard—on the page where you see a closeup of Bradley for the first time, with a butterfly planted on his nose—I asked her to stand on a chair while I crouched down and looked up at her, to demonstrate the angle of his face that I was looking for. You’ll see that every page has something delightful and surprising.
RY: What have been some memorable responses to Bradley Banana thus far from kids, teachers and parents?
LD: “This book has really good words!” my 6-year-old nephew said.
Marianne Post, a Child Development Research Specialist, commented, “I think it is very well put together. This kind of meaningful book is what works for children. It speaks to them on their level, and captures their imagination.”
Darshan-Jan Lotichius, a father of 2 young boys and also the director of the Education for Life School in Assisi, Italy, said, “Lila Devi has taken this age-old virtue out of the closet and gracefully removed from its surface the dust of listless piety and morbid hypocrisy, restoring it to its natural status of harmony with life, clear vision and yes, even fun and convenience! A fruit containing a virtuous energy…doesn’t this make spirituality even more natural, more intimate? We simply have to refine our awareness and feel it, and that is what Bradley invites his little friends to do—an invitation into hidden worlds of beauty and harmony, humorously wrapped in a bedtime story to which children from all ages and countries will naturally relate!”
RY: As a children’s author, what do you feel we need to do in the classroom, at home and otherwise to promote lifelong love of reading and exploration of imagination among children? What needs to happen so kids don’t become glued to games and devices so early in their lives?
I wholeheartedly recommend that schools practice the Education for Life methods developed by J. Donald Walters, also known by his Indian name, Swami Kriyananda. This is a system that prepares children in their formative years to live rightly, joyfully, and cooperatively, with schooling that addresses the needs of their bodies, minds, and souls. Their website is a good starting point for more information: livingwisdom.org.
Flower essences, too, are a beneficial tool for young minds, as expressed by a mother of two who says that “essences affect them even more than us because they’re little and sensitive. Children are psychically more open. They haven’t gotten hardened by the world. Yet. They cry when they’re sad, they have tantrums when they’re mad and upset. Their energy’s moving. They’re just open that way.”