Skip to Main Content

Listen To An Excerpt

0:00 /

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.

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

About The Reader

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

"Dutt modulates her characterizations deftly, voicing Geetanjali and her friends with Midwestern accents, Geetanjali’s immigrant parents with distinctly South Asian inflections, and her grandmother, visiting from the subcontinent, with a stronger Indian accent."

– AudioFile Magazine

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Supriya Kelkar

More books from this reader: Reena Dutt