For Sohan Chunduru, a Del Mar resident and senior at La Jolla Country Day School, storytelling is a way to open minds to different cultures. At 17, he’s authored five children’s books and recently created a prototype app that lets kids around the world connect to tell stories collaboratively.
The creation of this application, called Whale Tales, earned Sohan one of the three finalist places in the 2022 National High School Design Competition presented by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum At New York.
The competition drew more than 700 entries from across the country and named finalists and honorable mentions on April 7.
Get the Del Mar Times delivered to your inbox
Top stories from Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Del Mar Times.
Sohan is the third La Jolla Country Day student named finalist since the program launched in 2016.
Renee Wang, a sophomore at Bishop’s School in La Jolla, earned an honorable mention this year for her self-sufficient, eco-friendly, deconstructable tiny house for the homeless.
As a finalist, Sohan will take the competition to the next stage with a virtual “mentoring weekend” with lead mentor Kenneth Bailey, co-founder of the Design studio for social intervention in Boston, and on judging weekend, when the finalists will present their creations to a panel of judges. The winner will be announced in June.
This year’s participants were tasked with designing something that contributes to “a more peaceful and just world”.
Whale Tales is designed for children around the world to create stories together. With the app, children can add text and images to a digital storybook and share their storybooks with their peers.
“Whale Tales exposes children to different cultures and teaches them the values of teamwork and cooperation, creating a community of future, empathetic global citizens,” according to Sohan. “Allowing children to interact with peers from other countries increases cultural awareness and gives hope for a more peaceful and just future world.”
“I worked pretty hard to create the app, so I’m happy to have been named a finalist,” Sohan told the La Jolla Light. He said he was introduced to the competition by a teacher and the concept sparked his interest.
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures and always enjoyed getting to know them,” he said. “Children are more willing to engage in this type of learning than adults, so I wanted to showcase this [in my submission]. Many recent negative events have their roots in ignoring other cultures, so getting to know others is a good way to combat this problem.
He said learning about other cultures has made him more “open-minded” and he wants the same for the next generation. As part of this mission, Sohan has written five children’s books focusing on different cultures and countries.
“I always liked to write in a journal about different countries when I was traveling,” he said. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions were imposed on travel, his options were limited.
“A lot of recent negative events have their roots in ignoring other cultures, so getting to know other people is a good way to combat this problem.”
Additionally, he said, he has witnessed an increase in hate crimes targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. In response to this, and to feed his need to write, he wrote “Ni Hao, China!” about two children who travel the world to learn about Chinese cultures, customs and languages.
“Shalom Israel”, “Namaste India”, “Kia Ora New Zealand” and “Ola Brazil” soon followed.
“I like the idea of using books to expand the reach of cultural awareness,” he said. His next book will focus on Kenya.
Beyond that, Sohan will be attending Stanford University in the fall. Although he has yet to declare a major, he said he plans to pursue a degree in design or political science.
Learn more about Whale Tales or Sohan’s books at sohanchunduru.com. ◆