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The Cobra's Song

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About The Book

From the author of American as Paneer Pie comes an “absorbing” (Kirkus Reviews) middle grade adventure steeped in Indian folklore following a girl who learns how to find her voice and face her fears, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and Amina’s Song.

Ten-year-old Geetanjali doesn’t mind singing, but she knows she’ll never be as good as her mother, Aai, or grandmother, Aaji, famous classical singers from India whose celebrity has followed the family all the way to their small town of Deadwood, Michigan, where Geetanjali lives with her aai and her father, Baba.

After freezing on stage during a concert performance, Geetanjali adds “fear of singing” to her list of fears, a list that seems to be multiplying daily. Aai tries to stress the importance of using one’s voice and continuing to sing; Geetanjali hopes that when her aaji comes to visit this summer, she’ll be able to help her.

But when they pick Aaji up at the airport, she’s not alone. Lata, an auntie Geetanjali has never met before is with Aaji and their neighbor, Heena Auntie, who is acting strange and mean, and not like the warm auntie she normally is. Lata Auntie has heard all about Geetanjali’s family, growing up in India. She knows Aai and Aaji are the only ones who can sing raag Naagshakti. Aai plays it off, but Geetanjali thinks back to the raag in the binder that started with an N that had been torn out. She has never heard of Raag Naagshakti, which sounds like it is about the power of cobras.

Geetanjali is determined not to let her imagination get the best of her and add aunties to her list of fears, but she can’t help but wonder about the connection between the missing raag, Heena Auntie’s cold behavior, and their interesting summer visitor.


Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
It all started with a song. That was pretty much the way things worked in our family. When my aaji was born, she claimed she sang so loudly, the whole neighborhood could hear her voice trickling out the bungalow window in India.

I’m pretty sure my grandmother was exaggerating and that she was born crying, like most newborns. But she swore that the babies in our family came into this world singing. Including me. Besides, Aaji and Aai, my grandmother and mom, were two really famous classical singers in India. We came from a long line of Hindustani classical singers, going back centuries, so maybe there was a teeny-tiny chance Aaji’s story was real.

And maybe, in just a few weeks, my baby brother will arrive singing, I thought as my best friend, Penn, and I galloped in place, him on a big bad wolf and me on a pig spring rider, at Deadwood Commons, the park in the middle of our neighborhood.

Just ahead, under the wooden shelter with picnic benches that families could eat lunches on, three middle school kids were huddled around a cell phone, staring intently at it and laughing. I recognized the tallest one, Rohan, who had ridden the bus with us in elementary school, back when we were in third grade and he was in fifth.

“Did I tell you our Bark in the Park song got approved?” Penn asked, bunching his knees up on the wolf so he fit a little better. We had been playing on these old springy toys since we were in first grade, so I guess one of us was bound to outgrow them at some point. “I finally get to sing onstage and not for school. My mom even said she’d take time off work to be there for it.”

“That’s amazing,” I said.

“Guess I should get used to singing in public, huh?” Penn brushed one of his blond ringlets out of his eyes and cleared his throat. “Happy bark day to you,” Penn began to sing, a little shakily, and a lot off-key.

“Bark is for trees. Trees line the park,” I continued, controlling my voice despite the literal spring in the pig’s step. I beamed at Penn, proud of the lyrics I had written for this song full of words that had multiple meanings. Since kindergarten, figuring out the different meanings one word can have was kind of my thing. I already had filled two neon-yellow notebooks and was working on a third.

“Dogs like to bark at Bark in the Park!” we both sang loudly, together.

From under the shelter, Rohan laughed even louder, rolling back on the concrete until his shoulder-length black hair grazed the ground.

“What are you two singing?” he called out to us.

I looked at Penn, my palms starting to sweat. Rohan wasn’t asking in a nice way. He was asking it like he was ready to say something mean as soon as we answered.

“Geetanjali wrote it,” Penn replied, slowing down on his wolf. “We’re singing it at Bark in the Park.”

Rohan looked at his friends. “That makes sense. Because it sounds like this when you sing it…” He threw his head back and howled, “A-wooooo!”

His friends sneered; their laughs seemed to echo in the hollow shelter.

“Ignore them,” I muttered as Penn’s cheeks started to burn pink; I wished they’d stop laughing or that I had the guts to tell them they were being mean. “You were good,” I added, feeling my belly bounce around even more than it did when I was rocking on the pig.

Rohan and his friends finally went back to staring at Rohan’s phone and I breathed a little easier, trying not to think about how we would be going to school with them next fall when we were sixth graders. “You’re going to do great singing onstage at Bark in the Park, just like at school,” I said.

Penn forced a smile and nodded.

I wondered if he knew I had sort of lied about his singing. He wasn’t hitting every note like me, but I had been doing this all my life. Aai taught Hindustani classical singing classes in our basement every week, and each class performed at various Indian cultural associations’ events all the time. Unlike Penn, I practically grew up onstage. In fact, I’d be singing onstage with Aai at a celebration of the Marathi Hindu new year, Gudhi Padwa, tonight. So why was I suddenly feeling anxious about singing with Penn?

I looked at the middle schoolers. Rohan’s back was to us now, and he had clearly moved on to talking about other things.

Penn turned to me. “I’m nervous, but I know it will be good for me to go up there and do it, and you’ll be with me, so I won’t be as scared.” Penn seemed to be saying this more to himself than to me. “Plus, the winner gets a gift certificate to Good Doggy.”

“Wait. You’re getting a dog?” I asked with a quiver of jealousy. Penn had just gotten a creepy pet snake named Gertrude. She was Penn’s reward for getting good grades on his tests last semester. (And his mom-guilt present, since Mrs. Witherspoon had to miss yet another of his Rubik’s Cube competitions because of work.)

Penn adored Gertrude, but I didn’t get the fuss about a pet snake. It didn’t interact with you the way a dog would, which was my ideal pet, and one I’d been begging my parents to get me for ages. My parents decided to give me a little brother instead.

“No,” Penn replied, running his fingers through his blond curls. “Good Doggy sells all sorts of pet stuff. I’m going to get Gertrude a bigger terrarium if we win.” Penn groaned, turning his legs to the side. “Can we do something else now? I’m way too tall for the wolf and it’s really hurting my knees.”

I watched Penn turn his head to the Wall of Doom, a super-dangerous, not-up-to-code (in my expert opinion) rock-climbing wall that the homeowner’s association had just installed in our playground last week. It made me nervous just to look at it.

“How about we go home and play soccer in your yard?” I suggested, not wanting to test my luck on risky playground equipment.

Penn groaned. “We just did that yesterday.”

“Okay, then, how about we ride our bikes to the library?”

“We did that Thursday after school, when I wanted to visit the snakes at Reptile Rescue Center,” Penn countered.

I looked around us at the few clumps of snow left in the March grass. It was now my turn to sigh.

“So how about we climb the wall?” Penn asked, heading toward it.

“There’s a reason it’s called the Wall of Doom, you know,” I said to Penn.

Penn shook his head. “Nobody calls it that except for you. You always think of the worst possible things that can happen when you don’t like something.”

I frowned. “Do not.” Although, I kinda did. But it was sort of like Aaji’s exaggerating-things trait. Except instead of making a story better, my habit just made me more scared.

“Besides,” Penn continued, “Deepak told me he’d meet me here to climb the wall, so you might as well join us.”

I scrunched my face up and swung my leg forcefully over the pig. I suddenly didn’t want to be at the park anymore. Deepak, the new kid in our fifth-grade class, had just moved here last month and lived on the other side of the creek behind Penn’s backyard. He was good at everything, from my mom’s singing class to becoming friends with Penn to climbing the Wall of Doom, apparently. I didn’t feel the need to be around that show-off, either.

“Please?” Penn asked, reaching his hand timidly toward a pink grip near the bottom of the wall.

Behind him, Rohan and his friends were running past the bulletin board with the neighborhood announcements and jumping up to tap the lowest wooden beam on the roof. A gust of wind caused a neon-green flyer from the bulletin board to zip near us.

I dug my tennis shoe into the bit of snow crumbling away on the grass. “Why don’t you climb it while you’re waiting for Deepak, and I’ll time you?” I suggested.

Penn’s smile faded, but he quickly nodded and threw me his watch.

My stomach dropped as I hit the timer. Penn scaled the wall, going higher and higher. The word “scale” has lots of different meanings. It could mean the bumps on the skin of a snake. It could mean a musical scale. It could mean climbing higher. The list went on and on. And so did Penn, climbing up and up, till he was almost to the top.

But what if his palms were sweaty and he fell? What if the wall was slick from some tiny remaining drops of the rain-snow mix we had last night, and he lost his footing and fell? What if he got dizzy at the top and fell? What if he got distracted and… yeah, fell?

I shook my head, doing my best to throw out the bad thoughts and stop my imagination from getting the best of me.

“Whoa,” Penn squealed, just missing the grip and almost losing his footing along with it.

Or maybe I should let my imagination do its thing. Clearly, it was better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario than surprised by it.

“You should probably come down!” I rushed toward Penn.

Penn furrowed his eyebrows at me and sighed, slowly making his way down. “Thanks for cheering me on, Geetanjali,” he grumbled sarcastically. “You can stop the timer; I didn’t make it all the way up, so it doesn’t count.”

I cleared my watch and pulled the sleeves of my hoodie down past my hands. What was he talking about? I always cheered Penn on. I was the one who agreed to sing onstage with him in June, despite how embarrassing it might be since he couldn’t sing really well. “You should be thanking me for saving your life. This is why we should stick to doing things I suggest, like soccer. It’s just safer,” I retorted. Then a staticky announcement shouted at us.

“Attention, everyone!”

Startled, Penn slipped and fell a couple feet, landing hard on his bottom in a pile of mulch.

“You okay?” I asked, rushing to his side.

Penn nodded, brushing himself off as we turned toward the sound.

It was Lark Conovan. Her mom was mayor of Deadwood. They lived on the other side of the neighborhood, where the woods were the thickest, and where all the big, sprawling homes in Deadwood were, with their spaced-out yards and acres of privacy. She was a grade younger than us, but Penn and I saw her on the bus every morning, sitting alone in the first seat.

“Friends and fans, you’re invited to the show of the century. Gather round for my latest hit song!” Lark announced into a blue portable microphone that amplified her voice and matched the navy-blue stegosaurus bike helmet she wore on her head.

Apparently, everyone had decided today was the day to sing in the park.

I bent down to pick up the neon-green flyer and watched as Lark threw her head back and began to belt out the latest Skye Suh-Oliviera hit into the microphone. Except, unlike super-famous pop star Skye, Lark couldn’t hold a tune. Not like Penn, who missed a note here and there. Lark didn’t hit any note. That didn’t seem to stop her, though. She sang loudly, off-key, her voice cracking.

“What is she doing?” I whispered to Penn as we neared the impromptu show, my ears burning in embarrassment on her behalf.

Penn shrugged. “I’ve seen her sing into her microphone on her bike before. I think she just likes to sing.”

Lark added some dance moves to her song, twisting and twirling, making it even harder on herself to sing. The kids in the shelter began laughing hysterically. Rohan was wiping tears from his face. Next to him, a girl was holding her ponytail in front of her eyes to cover them and was cringing as she laughed. The other kid took out his phone and began to record her.

This was even worse than when they laughed at me and Penn. What if they sent the video to the entire middle school and everyone teased Lark for the rest of the year? I barely knew Lark, but I didn’t want her humiliated by these bullies.

Penn shook his head. “We have to stop this.”

“Go tell her to stop singing so they’ll stop laughing,” I whispered.

“What?” Penn whispered back angrily as Rohan’s high-pitched laughter almost drowned out Lark’s song. Her lip was trembling in fear, but she kept going, looking at me and Penn for help. “No. One of us needs to tell Rohan and his friends to stop laughing so she can keep singing.”

“Oh. Right,” I replied as Penn gave me a small frown, like he was disappointed in me. He was right. I hadn’t stopped them from laughing at Penn earlier, either. Obviously, I was the wrong candidate for the job: I wasn’t brave enough to speak up.

Lark’s face was flushed and she was stumbling over her lyrics, but she kept going. I opened my mouth but froze. What if I told them to stop and then they started laughing at me, too? Or what if they had a comeback and I didn’t have a comeback for their comeback? I was able to tell Penn he was good and try to undo the damage of Rohan and his friends a few minutes earlier, but this was different. This involved me stopping Rohan and his friends, and I couldn’t find the words to do that. Even if I did find them, I wasn’t sure I could get them out. I nudged Penn. “Do it.”

“They’re seventh graders. You do it,” Penn whispered back as the humiliating laughter grew louder and louder.

“Stop it!” said a voice from behind us.

Lark abruptly stopped singing as Penn and I turned to see Deepak standing behind us, his black hair glistening in the sunlight rather heroically.

“Stop laughing at her,” Deepak said to the older kids so forcefully, his lips almost got snagged in his braces. “Haven’t you heard of being inclusive and empowering each other?”

“Oh. Well, can’t we all just get along?” Rohan snorted, mocking Deepak.

The other kids snickered.

“Let’s go. Let the little kids play at the park,” Rohan added, walking away from us with his friends.

“How long was that going on?” Deepak asked Lark.

“Oh, just, like, half my song,” she announced into the microphone so it echoed loudly in the shelter.

“Why didn’t they listen when you told them to stop?” Deepak asked us.

“We didn’t actually get to that. We were trying to figure out what to say,” Penn answered, a trickle of sweat making its way down his cheek.

“And how to say it,” I added.

“What’s there to think about?” Deepak asked. “You just speak up.”

Lark turned to me with a look that seemed to last forever. One that made my stomach churn with guilt and my throat feel kind of tight.

I broke her stare and quickly turned to pin the neon flyer for the Mayor’s Community Grant that had landed next to my foot back to the bulletin board.

“We’re climbing the wall,” Deepak said to Lark. “Did you know static friction is formed when your hands or feet make contact with the grip? That helps rock climbers climb. And some scientists even climb to monitor bat populations,” he added, like he didn’t know how to make Lark feel better, so he just decided to throw a bunch of random facts her way. “Want to climb it with us?”

“No thanks,” Lark said, her eyes gleaming like they were about to spill over with tears. “My voice teacher is coming by in a few minutes for my lesson. See you around.” She gave Deepak a sad smile and took off on her bike, heading down the path and out of sight.

As Penn and Deepak started climbing the wall, I stared back at the shelter where Rohan’s laughter from just minutes earlier still haunted the air. What did Lark expect from me and Penn? We were just fifth graders. Rohan and his friends were older. It isn’t easy to stand up to middle schoolers or we would have. I think. A queasy feeling was rising in my throat. Sure, we were fifth graders. But Lark was a fourth grader. She must have been even more scared than us.

I slid my hood over my head, wishing I could disappear into it. Was Lark going to cry when she got home? Was she going to tell her voice teacher what happened and quit singing?

Anytime something bad happened, I thought about the moment over and over. That time in January when my dad hurt his ankle trying to help me? I can’t look at his feet anymore. Or that time when I was in first grade and tried to speak Marathi to my cousins in India and everyone laughed? There’s a reason I don’t speak Marathi now.

Had I just helped Lark form a memory like that, one that she would never forget? This wasn’t doomsday thinking. I knew this feeling from experience. And the thought of having played a part in making someone else feel bad about themselves felt gross, like a thick, sludgy soup of guilt stuck in my throat.

Reading Group Guide

Curriculum Guide

The Cobra’s Song

By Supriya Kelkar​

About the Book

From the author of American as Paneer Pie comes a magical middle-grade adventure steeped in Indian folklore following a girl who learns how to find her voice and face her fears, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and Amina’s Song.

Discussion Questions

1. Geetanjali comes from a long line of Hindustani classical singers going back centuries. Do you have a family or cultural history that affects who you are? This does not have to be something publicly known; it can be an interest, profession, belief, family name, or any other identifying feature or practice.

2. Geetanjali tells Penn that he is going to do a great job singing at the Bark in the Park event, even though she doesn’t believe that. Is this an acceptable lie because it protects her friend’s feelings, or should she tell him that she has concerns about his singing? Is there an option between a lie and an unkind truth that is both honest and kind? Should people always tell the truth, or are there times that we need to lie to protect people’s feelings?

3. When Rohan and his friends are making fun of Lark, Penn and Geetanjali are afraid to speak up, and they waste time trying to figure out how to protect Lark without having ridicule turned on them. Deepak arrives and simply tells them, “‘Stop it!’” When he learns that Penn and Geetanjali have not yet figured out how to say something, he asks, “‘What’s there to think about? You just speak up.’” (Chapter one) Discuss how Deepak is right, but also how it might be hard to speak up for yourself or others.

4. Can you think of an instance when you or someone you know took a stand? Share the story. What did it feel like to do this or watch it happen?

5. Early in the novel, Geetanjali tends to think catastrophically. Penn says to her, “‘You always think of the worst possible things that can happen when you don’t like something.’” (Chapter one) What are the negatives of this tendency to think catastrophically? What are the positives?

6. Geetanjali thinks a lot about forming memories even as she is having an experience she’d like to remember. How does this thinking ahead to how she will remember an experience affect her engagement in the experience?

7. Geetanjali worries about forming unhappy or negative memories. What can be done to counter an upsetting or unhappy memory with a positive one?

8. Heena Mavshi has a large painting of a cobra and a mongoose, two natural enemies, hanging in her living room. Geetanjali says that the painting “‘isn’t about snakes being bad, or about fighting your enemy.’” Instead, “‘It’s about conquering whatever is in your way in the moment. Whatever is stopping you.’” (Chapter two) How are these things different?

9. Throughout the book, Geetanjali does not speak up. She describes this as “swallowing” her words. She also has trouble singing and “swallows” her song. Have you ever swallowed your words? What did it feel like? How is this different from not having anything to say?

10. Geetanjali’s dad, or Baba, tells her that he wants her to excel at math because it’s a real-life skill and her word tricks aren’t going to save the day the way math can. At the end of the story, she does use math to save everyone. However, she also uses words as a playful way to stall by asking questions. In what ways are both Geetanjali and her father right about math and word tricks being useful skills?

11. Aaji retells to Geetanjali the Indian story of Tansen and Akbar. Tansen was a famous musician from India, and his story is a reminder that talent can bloom even in the face of danger. This story seems to be intended to encourage Geetanjali. Is this a good tactic? How can we draw power and inspiration from stories?

12. After Aaji and Geetanjali cover their family portrait with a collage version of the family, Geetanjali realizes that a few simple changes, or approaching things from a different angle, can really make things different. Discuss ways that you can begin to change a situation with one small change. How can you change a situation by looking at it or thinking about it from a new perspective?

13. Geetanjali has lost her confidence as a singer and knows that she must do some serious work to get it back. She reminds herself that doing so slowly is not giving up and remembers the adage, “slow and steady wins the race.” In what ways do you agree or disagree with this idea? Is slowly measured progress a recipe for success? Does that progress have to be meaningful or deliberate? What about doing something fast and furious: Can that also “win the race”?

14. At several points in the story, Geetanjali is upset because her parents laugh at her. Is their laughter good-natured or unkind? Is she being sensitive, or are they being unfair to her?

15. Geetanjali is growing from childhood to adolescence. In chapter sixteen, she recalls a day trip to Canada to eat a mango. That day is an example of Geetanjali being in an in-between stage. She is still a child but growing and maturing and becoming more independent. What are examples of things about this day that show Geetanjali’s growth?

16. Geetanjali has Trypophobia (trip-uh-FOE-bee-uh), an aversion or repulsion to objects that have repetitive patterns or groups of small holes. Examples from the book are honeycomb and snake scales. She thinks this is an embarrassing, irrational fear, but Deepak recognizes that it is real. This makes her feel better about it. At points in the story, she has to overcome her fear. In what ways is she able to do this? What is the difference between a phobia and an ordinary fear? How can friends support one another if one or more of them has a phobia?

17. In what genre (category) would you place this story? Is it mystery, fantasy, horror, adventure, science fiction, magic realism, or something else? What parts of the story led you to believe The Cobra’s Song best fits that genre?

18. Since Heena Mavshi unexpectedly lost her husband, her neighbors and friends assume that she is moving through the stages of grief. There are five defined stages of grief, and they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Why do you think people grieve in stages? When someone reaches acceptance, are they done grieving?

19. One of the themes in this book is not staying silent from fear. Geetanjali must learn how to find her voice and use it to change things for the better. What change would you like to see in the world? If you could use your voice to make a change, what would it be? How can you start?

20. This book is written in a way that evokes each of the five senses. The five senses are sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. What are some examples of words, sentences, or passages that evoke a particular sense?

Extension Activities

Snake Acrostic Poem

An acrostic poem is a poem that uses the letters of a focus word or phrase to begin each line of the poem. The word or phrase is written vertically on the left side of the paper and each line of the poem follows the established first letter. Acrostic poetry looks easy, but can be challenging.

1. Ask students to choose the word SNAKE, the word COBRA, or the name of another snake of their choice and write it vertically so that each letter has a line after it.

2. Next, ask them to choose a type of figurative language. Depending on how recently you have worked with figurative language, this may require a short discussion about the types of figurative language. These include:

- Simile

- Metaphor

- Alliteration

- Personification

- Onomatopoeia

- Hyperbole

- Idiom

3. Each line of their poem should:

a. Begin with a word that begins with the letter on that line.

b. Follow the type of figurative language they selected.

c. Be about snakes in general or the specific snake they selected. This can be literal traits, things it represents, or feelings it evokes. If time is allowed, a classroom library visit or a selection of provided books about snakes is a good idea.

4. Before students write their own poems, the class should work together on a few acrostics. Choose another category to not “use up” any type of snake or snake poem ideas. Food categories and book titles often work well. Write the selected word vertically on the board, and ask student volunteers to come up and add single lines.

Poetry Explication

As a class, read the poem “The Snake” by D. H. Lawrence. This is easily available online or in poetry anthologies. Read it aloud once and then ask several student volunteers to read it so that the students hear the poem a few times. Discuss the poem’s words, meaning, and the feelings it evokes. Assign students a line-by-line explication of the poem. A brief discussion on the meaning of explicate—to analyze something to reveal its meaning—will be helpful to students.

Directions for students: In a document, create a two-column table with as many lines as are in the poem. In the first column, place the poem lines, each on its own line. In the second, write your explication, analyzing the meaning of each line and expressing or explaining it in your own words. Take note of the relationship among the lines and take that into account in your explication.


Photo Collage Project

Re-create a photo using collage materials just as Aaji and Geetanjali did with the family photo.


● Base paper—can be colored paper

● Pencils

● Fine point markers

● Cards, magazines, wallpaper scraps or samples

● Scrap paper, wrapping paper, scrapbook paper

● Glue sticks

Directions to students:

1. Choose a photo (school pictures may work well).

2. Look at the shapes in the photo and the placement and size differences among people, background objects, things they are holding, and other details.

3. Plan your picture on a piece of paper.

4. Use pencil markings as necessary to plot where you will glue shapes.

5. Cut or tear your paper into shapes and create your collage by gluing down pieces.

6. Draw on a face or faces with fine point markers.

Math and Science

Rangoli Science

Geetanjali and Aaji make rangoli on the front porch. Rangoli is folk art made on the floor by hand using brightly colored powders. It is composed of geometric patterns and floral designs. Rangoli can be celebratory, meditative, or religious. Remind students that just like other cultural and religious symbols, rangoli has different meanings for different people and should be treated with respect.

Rangoli can be made using a pendulum. A pendulum is a weight suspended from a fixed point so that it can swing freely. When a pendulum is not swinging, or in a resting position, it is at equilibrium position. When it is displaced from this position it will accelerate back toward the equilibrium position due to gravity. As this particular pendulum swings, in either a linear or circular motion, if it releases a colored substance it creates a pattern, like rangoli.


● Colored salt or sand (this can be dyed with food coloring)

● 10–12 empty plastic water bottles

● String

● Tape (painter’s tape works well)

● Black paper or board

● Funnel (for filling bottles)

● A place for hanging the pendulum (The pendulum can hang from a pole balanced across the back of two chairs, a hook in a doorway, or a tripod made from three tall poles lashed together. You can also utilize outdoor climbing equipment.)


1. Poke a small hole in the bottom of each water bottle.

2. Remove the bottle lids and set aside.

3. Cut strings of different lengths and tie big knots in the end of the string pieces.

4. Thread the untied end of each string through the open top of a bottle and through the hole until the knot is inside the bottle, against the hole. The bottle will hang with the top pointing down.

5. Puncture holes in each bottle cap, big enough for the sand or salt to flow through. This may take some testing. Once the hole is right, put a piece of tape over it.

6. Fill the bottles about halfway with different colors of sand or salt.

7. Hang a bottle from the suspending point with black paper beneath it.

8. Remove the tape, keeping a finger over the hole in the cap until it is time to release the pendulum.

9. Push the bottle in either a circular or linear motion as you remove your finger from the hole in the cap and watch the pattern it creates on the black background.

10. Repeat the process with a new color and new motion, giving students turns to release the pendulum swing until a vibrant pattern is created.

11. Make several rangoli so that everyone has a turn to release the pendulum.

Note: Once you have a place to hang your pendulum, affix an S hook there. Tie a generous loop in the free end of the strings extending from the bottles. Loop these over the S hook each time you change colors. This avoids having to tie and untie bottles. Experiment with different lengths of string and notice how the height of the bottle changes the pattern.


Modern Folk Tales

The Cobra’s Song is built around Indian folklore about ichchadhari naagin, mythical shape-shifting cobras.

1. As a group, explore a variety of folktales in read-aloud format, videos, audiobooks, and independent reading. Talk about the oral tradition of folktales and what can happen to stories that get passed down orally.

a. This discussion can be enhanced with a few classroom rounds of the telephone game [see next activity].

2. Ask each student to choose a folktale or idea from folklore and write a contemporary short story built around that tale or idea. Set parameters for student stories based on the amount of preparation and writing time available.

Telephone Game

This is not a writing exercise but a great way to discuss oral tradition while having fun together as a classroom community.


1. Arrange the whole class in a circle or long line. Students need to be close enough that whispering is possible, but not so close that players can hear each other whisper.

2. Have prepared cards with short phrases. Adages work very well for this game.

3. Show a card to the first player. If students are in a line, this is the person at the end of the line. If in a circle, this is a volunteer or randomly selected person.

4. The first player leans to the next player’s ear and whispers the phrase. They should carefully articulate their words. The phrase is whispered once and without repetition.

5. The game continues. Players whisper the phrase to their neighbors until it reaches the last player in line.

6. The last player says the word or phrase out loud. The first player then reads what was on the card so everyone can hear how much it has changed from the first whisper at the beginning of the circle or line.

7. After several rounds of the game, have a class discussion about oral tradition stories. This can also be related to stories they hear about classmates or things they read on social media.

Movement Variation:

1. First, establish some guidelines about the number of movements in a pattern and the importance of doing something everyone in the class can do. If there are students with physical limitations, create guidelines that take those into account without naming the student.

2. Arrange students in a line. This can be the whole class or smaller groups of approximately ten.

3. The person at the back of the line taps the shoulder of the person in front of them. That person turns around. The first person shows them a short series of movements. Example: raise arms in air, twirl in a circle, stand on toes.

4. The movement series is shown once without repetition. Everyone else in line remains with their backs turned so they cannot see the movement until it is their turn to turn around. The person “receiving” the movement turns back around and taps the shoulder of the next person, showing the movement to them. This continues down the line until the last person demonstrates the movement for all.

5. The first person shows what they did so everyone can see how much the pattern changed.

Guide prepared by Deirdre Sheets, former teacher and editor at the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Born and raised in the Midwest, Supriya Kelkar learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. She is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Supriya’s books include AhimsaThe Many Colors of Harpreet SinghAmerican as Paneer Pie, and That Thing about Bollywood, among others. Visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 16, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665911887
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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An absorbing story that has music at its heart."

– Kirkus Reviews

"Kelkar’s (That Thing about Bollywood, 2021) latest middle-grade adventure is colored by magic, mystery, and a lovable, fierce heroine in 10-year-old Geetanjali, whose adventures readers will enjoy following as she discovers more about herself and takes pride in her achievements...[f]illed with Indian folklore and mythology and memorable characters, this voice-y middle-grade romp will be relatable to anyone who’s ever felt nervous about new experiences or family expectations."

– Booklist

"Kelkar (Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame) centers Indian culture and folklore in a first-person narrative that keenly describes oppressive feelings of guilt and anxiety. Seemingly random details culminate in a layered conclusion that vindicates a persevering heroine realizing her own strength."

– Publishers Weekly

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