Monday, 15 January 2018

Zebra Crossing Soul Song - Read it with the playlist!


Published 15th January 2018
Barrington Stoke Teen Read
Edited by: Emma Hargrave 



What inspired Zebra Crossing Soul Song?



Fifteen years ago, when my son was four years old, a zebra crossing man saved his life. I wasn't a published author then but as I have been scribbling stories and squirreling them away since well before Lenny's age(18) I wrote this in my notebook.   

'Zebra Crossing Story'
A story about a Zebra Crossing man who saves a boy's life.. the crossing as a place of learning, growing, philosophy, psychology music, river, life.... 

In the story that has emerged all these years later Lenny looks back at his growing up through memories on the crossing from nursery to sixth form. As I wrote I myself was taken back to the hideous moment that every parent and carer fears of losing sight of their young child....only to find them heading for a busy road. 

The Zebra stripes are no longer accompanied by a crossing person but every time I walk across the zebra I thank the crossing man for saving my son's life...

While writing I found myself listening to some of my favourite music tracks to allay the sense of panic that comes whenever I think of that moment on the road.... The tracks I played have become the accompanying sound track of 'Zebra Crossing Soul Song'. 

Although I knew little about the crossing man who saved my son's life...the character of Otis came to me... his name of course borrowed from Otis Redding -  after all he had and has my true 'Respect'. 





"Man can learn a lat about hum-man nature right here on de crossin'. Lenny... It all about de way you cross... all about de manner of crossin', Lenny son. Why else you  t'ink I pass me life as a ferry man? It important work you know!" (3)



I wrote ' Zebra Crossing Soul Song'  to this playlist... 

There are no chapters in Zebra Crossing Soul Song... but tracks and a playlist to listen as you read...
Listening to 'Father and Son' by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) gave me the idea to create a lyrical dialogue between a boy and the Zebra Crossing Man who saved his life many years before. It also prompted me to create a different kind of family unit than that song depicts. Lenny has two dads in Kwame and David. Many people have influenced Lenny's growing up but it's Otis who has had the greatest impact...

'He taught me to think of words like songs
in my head
Otis was the best teacher I ever had
And now school's ending
No Island in the middle
Otis is gone
And I'm moving on
Otis was a crossing man
Otis was a ferry man
Otis was a river of thought
Otis was a river of words.'


Lenny is re-taking his A' Level Psychology....

Recently I listened to a radio programme about the increase in the search for 'perfectionism' among young people and the negative impact it's having on levels of anxiety and mental health. From what I gleaned the psychiatrist said the causes had interlocking spurs but were broadly:

  • Personal as public - The presence of the Selfie and the production of ourselves, and our bodies as a potential site of perfectionism targeted for improvement.  What's your best angle?'
  • Educational - The constant reaching for targets and  A * results rather than a focus on the process of learning.   
  • Societal - The need to bring order to a world that can seem increasingly unpredictable, insecure, fractured and chaotic... where plotting a future path may seem for many young people an impossible task 


As Lenny grows up... the pressure of life soars....
Lenny struggles with the pressures and challenges that growing up today places on all young people just stepping out into the world...He's re-taking his A' Level Psychology and struggling with revision on the subject of 'memory.'  There are so many questions and expectations... Why did Otis 'lose it' on the Crossing? Why has he gone away? What will Lenny do with his life after exams? He's drowning in the 'Career Fair' requirements to 'Plot his journey forward.' and he's lost the one person in the world he could really work things out with.

But Lenny, like Otis is growing into a songman... finding in music a place to be, to relax, to explore his deepest thoughts, ideas and aspirations for himself and the impact he can make on the world, but most of all Lenny is starting to find out that there is more than one way to make the crossing...

'Listen up now, man, if you waan be a 
musi-shan
Tek a lyric down
Catch dem word dat hinspire
listen deep inside de music
See what plays thru ya
See what plays true to ya'
(38)




Zebra Crossing Soul Song is available to buy here:
https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/zebra-crossing-soul-song/


Poster available:



Want a poster of all four Barrington Stoke titles for your class or library?
You can download the poster here;

https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/sita-brahmachari-poster/



References:
https://reading-well.org.uk/books/books-on-prescription/young-people-s-mental-health/general/3872747




Sunday, 31 December 2017

Note for New Year




In the time between Christmas and New Year... while walking in Queen's Wood where my novel 'Red Leaves' is set, I came across this sign. To the old signpost that used to contain directions to a frog pool and the locality have been added quotes from literature and music from creative voices singing through the woods from yesteryear.

This sign - and the jigsaw being made on our table...got me thinking about the possibilities that New Year always brings... for re-building, renovating, and creating new directions. This jigsaw map of London will soon become dated as street names, sculptures, memorials and new buildings are added...



Creativity is possibly the most underrated and difficult-to-measure force for good and change. By its nature it is fluid and flowing as a river, and the new directions in Queens Wood where ancient woodland, frog ponds, literature and music are all contained within the same signpost gives me hope that 2018 will be a year to celebrate creative thinking.

Happy New Year and go 'Dance By the Moonlight!'

Monday, 11 December 2017

Hands of Friendship #Grenfell Tower



On 8th December I attended an Authors for Grenfell visit to St Thomas More Catholic School in Wood Green. The school had bid for an author visit offered as part of the Authors for Grenfell auction that saw hundreds of authors and publishers bid for lotts to raise money for the survivors of Grenfell immediately following the tragedy.


That was over five months ago and still so many families have not yet  been permanently rehoused. The spectre of Grenfell Tower looms over the West London landscape and is a constant reminder of the tragic losses faced by so many fellow Londoners and their families whose roots spread far and wide over the world.

Macmillan Children's Books offered thirty free copies of 'Tender Earth' to St Thomas More Catholic School who bid for the offer and we organised for a  Christmas event based on the theme of  ''Sanctuary'.  Like the children in 'Tender Earth'  the year seven students wanted to reach out in friendship and empathy to children in another borough who still do not have  permanent homes following the fire.

A central theme of 'Tender Earth' is that Laila discovers that she is not powerless and can act together with her friends and community to show solidarity and stand up for what they believe in.  In the workshop we discussed the rights of the child enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Haringey children wished their contemporaries in West London the gift that should be their right... a home.  I spoke about Amnesty's Write for Rights campaigns and what impact a letter, message of support or post card can have on individuals whose rights are being threatened.




Students  created hands of friendship with great care and wrote ..
.
' We all have the right to a stable home'

' I give you my hand to hold onto.'

' Although I haven't experienced  what you are going through, I feel very strongly. I wish everyone could do something to help you this Christmas..'

In a further act of friendship, St Thomas More's Librarian Margaret Brownlie has decided to share the free copies of 'Tender Earth' with a school in Kensington and Chelsea where students have been directly affected by the tragedy.

We discussed the power of collective action. Here is a  letter to Kensington and Chelsea Council. If and when the children receive a reply I will publish it here on this blog.



Dear leaders of Kensington  Council,

We, year seven students are writing to you about the people of Grenfell Tower who lost their homes  and everything they had six months ago in the tragic fire. It is unacceptable that they have not been given permanent new homes. How would you feel is you and your family were in this situation?

We have discussed together and the action we would like to see you take is:

- Make these people's lives a priority.
- Permanent  homes built to a good standard in the area of Kensington and Chelsea
- Compensation for people who have lost  so much
- Therapy for young children and families  experiencing trauma
- Give children health and safety advice about fire

The most important thing is we are children in year seven and all children need somewhere to call home so that they can have a future.

Please can you reply to our questions,

Blessing (On behalf of Year 7)


Further Reading:

New human rights commission for Grenfell Fire
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/09/human-rights-commission-to-launch-own-grenfell-fire-inquiry?CMP=share_btn_tw

To take part in Amnesty's ' Write for Rights'
Write a letter and make a difference

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/write-rights-2017

Background to Authors for Grenfell
https://authorsforgrenfelltower.com/

Monday, 27 November 2017

Barrington Stoke Titles - Celebrating quiet angels



Askews & Holts Library Day - November 2017 

I was delighted to be able to talk about my Barrington Stoke books to librarians at Askews & Holt Library day.  I joined inspirational fellow authors Robin Stevens, Anabelle Pitcher, Sally Nicholls, Jonathan Meres, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson and Laura Dockrill.

It was so great to meet fellow authors and wonderful librarians who have such a passion to enthuse young people to read for pleasure. I explained that these Barrington Stoke stories are dedicated to the 'quiet angels' who work with young people transiting through the often rocky seas from childhood and adolescence to adulthood.

I hope readers enjoy these diverse stories of young people's meeting with adults and elderly people (eg. Nursing home Care workers  or  a Zebra Crossing man) and discovering life lessons in kindness, resilience,finding a sense of purpose, and the the inspiration to follow their dreams. The lessons learned from these quiet angels stay with my characters Amy May, Rima, Hudson, Zeni and Lenny... forever. In the moments we lack confidence we can all think of and call on the quiet angels who have helped us get through some challenging moments in life.


No such thing as an ordinary life...

Like Lenny in 'Zebra Crossing Soul Song' (to be published January 2018) young people are asked earlier and earlier to choose exam options and think about their futures. Celebrity lifestyles are very present in young people's lives but the value of less starry work may not be so understood.

In these books I set out to tell the stories of seemingly unremarkable people, doing ordinary jobs but bringing extraordinary changes to the lives of young people.

On Friday my copy of the first printing of 'Zebra Crossing Soul Song' dropped through my door. I was so delighted to see Lenny's face looking back at me along with letters from readers saying what it means to them to have diverse representation in books.

At Askews & Holts library day I spoke of the need to invite children to become readers by reaching out and welcoming them. I think the covers of these Barrington Stoke books gathered together in this one poster offer an appealing invitation to enter the worlds of these stories and through them explore wider vistas.


 I leave you with Lenny's voice.

'You wouldn't think you could learn so much from just crossing backwards and forwards across a road. Maybe some people would think you couldn't learn much from [a zebra crossing man] But Otis is one of the best teachers I have ever known. He taught me  how to think, he taught me about life, and he taught me how to write songs.'

It was great to re-connect to some librarians I've met along my story writing way and to meet and chat to new ones. I guess that there is more than one writer in the world whose quiet angel was a librarian!

Thanks to Jane Walker of Barrington Stoke for inviting me to showcase these books.

Poster
Want a poster for your class or library?
You can download the poster including all four books here;

https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/sita-brahmachari-poster/

Article
John Bird - Founder of The Big Issue speaks out against Government Library Cuts.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/14/house-of-lords-attacks-government-library-closures-john-bird-gail-rebuck




Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Reviews and launch response for 'Worry Angels'


This papier mache angel was made for my daughter by Margaret Stowe a teacher inspiration behind 'Worry Angels' 

'An important, tender and vital story about dealing with and overcoming worry from Sita Brahmachari (Artichoke Hearts), who handles complex emotions in a pitch-perfect way for young readers. Illustrated by the legendary Jane Ray.'
 The Bookseller 


'It's great to have stories featuring young refugee children.' Young Roots  (Supporting Young Refugees)


Year 4, 5 and 6 at the launch of 'Worry Angels' in response to the question 'Who sometimes has worries?'
'My daughter devoured this book in one sitting.' Sally Vanderpump - parent


'Got sent a little gem of a book. The story and characters really stayed with me.'
Karen Mc Combie - author

'Lovely little book. Good for exploring feelings.' Empathy Lab

With Margaret Stowe - an inspiration behind the teacher Grace in 'Worry Angels' holding her favourte childhood book about angels and Jane Ray whose beautiful illustrations grace the pages of  'Worry Angels'.
‘A wonderfully sensitive and emotive story. Amy’s experience of anxiety provides children with an excellent opportunity to develop their own empathy skills. The journey that Amy and Rima take towards being happier , more confident girls is an important one. All children would respond to the characters and issues presented in the book, of course children with dyslexia and the learning anxieties that can bring and  I would especially love to teach this book in an SEN context to a small group of children identified as having  anxiety,   emotional literacy and mental health needs. The teaching resources are very effective and will prompt some excellent discussion.’  
Roseann Arrowsmith  - Primary SEN Teacher

'I am moved by Sita's appreciation of sand play.  This delightful story speaks to the heart of the lonely, worried  child. I hope it is discovered by the many young people who can be gently  helped by it.'  Maggie Barron - Sand Play Therapist


Mrs Alam, Rima and her family, recently arrived from a refugee camp in Syria, breathe in 'The smell of welcome' 
'Sita Brahmachari handles the girls' emotions with a great deal of sensitivity: there's never any sense that one girl's worries are more valid than another's or that they should be able to cope.' The Book Bag

'Worry Angels is a lovely, moving story, current and straightforward touching on the many facets of change, transition and upheaval that affect young people. It touches on so many truths about the need for greater welfare care in our school systems and the fact that there are so many young people in need of a Grace. Every school should have at least one Grace'and the fact that we don't have people like her already in place makes me realize just how many students we are potentially letting down. If I look at my own 'box' at school it is full of students of different ages and needs - they find connections and build friendships simply by sharing a safe 'space'. I see the changes in my students and how their confidence grows just like Amy May. I welcome the fact that ' Worry Angels ' raises the misconception that if students can't make it over the threshold into school it means they are refusing  and being defiant. They are not strong and determined children - far from it! The story also raises  awareness of how detrimental the pace of modern living can be and how children need space to process that. I often feel sad that living in a large city means we very often don't have extended family near us - an aunt or granny or someone our children can just wander down the road and share a cup of tea with.' Tracey Copley - Student Welfare (Highgate Wood School, London)

Teacher Resources for 'Worry Angels' are downloadable here:
https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/worry-angels-resources/

To buy the book:
https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/worry-angels/

Click this link to view this animation Book Trailer for 'Worry Angels' by Grace Emily Manning.


http://www.minervareads.com/worry-angels/



With book loving angels!
With thanks to the angels: Margaret Stowe, the librarian and teachers of Rhodes Avenue School, Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill, Kirstin Lamb, Emma Hargrave and Jane Walker of Barrington Stoke for a magical book launch for 'Worry Angels' 





Friday, 15 September 2017



'Worry Angels'
(Barrington Stoke Publishers)
Published September 15th 2017

'Every school should have a Grace' 
(Tracey Copley - Student Welfare, Highgate Wood School - Full review below)

'Amy May knows about webs of worries - so many people she meets are caught in them, from her own artist dad to newly arrived refugee Rima and her family. By being brave enough to open up her worry box, Amy May helps all those around her find a way forward.' 
 (Super Readable - Barrington Stoke aged 8+)

On publication of 'Worry Angels' I have been thinking of some of the wonderful people who inspired it. This blog post is a homage to two Margarets.

Sand Play

The first Margaret is called Maggie Barron. She is a sand play therapist and I met her about seventeen years ago while researching a theatre production and discovered what Sand Play Therapy is all about. I created pictures in the sand with her collection of miniature objects, followed thought paths of moments of my life and talked of what was on my mind.

I had young children at the time and encouraged them to play out their stories and worries in the sand. One day, when working with Maggie I placed a giant egg in the sandpit and Maggie asked me what I thought it contained...  I didn't know! But I've thought a lot about the sand play over the years and how placing objects and drawing those lines in the sand hatched a creative expression that a little while later led me to do what I had always dreamed of doing... writing my own stories.

Papier Mache Angels

A few years later I met a wonderful teacher called Margaret Stowe. She was the nursery and early years teacher for all three of my children. Like Grace in my story she is a truly creative and talented teacher who is able to engage children with her huge capacity for kindness and empathy in learning about themselves through art and play. Margaret was a maker of beautiful papier mache angels that looked like the children she taught.

I had just begun writing my first novel 'Artichoke Hearts' and I remember at the time thinking that if I did get my stories published I would one day like to write a story including a maker of papier mache angels. Such a story would need to have beautiful illustrations and it's such an honour, all these years later to have 'Worry Angels' illustrated by Jane Ray.  We have worked together for several years at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. The art room she has created in the story feels like the one we step into each week. As Amy discovers in 'Worry Angels' it is not only children who find solace in expressing themselves through art.

Impact of News

In the last few years there has been a growing awareness of the impact of world events on the mental health of children and young adults and a concern for how children are coping with what they hear on the news, witness or experience in their daily lives. Children are not immune to the world in which we live and in 'Worry Angels' my young characters Amy May, Rima and their families don't bury their worries in the sand, but find a space to talk across culture and language even though their stories span home lands from Syria to Manchester. In Grace's 'Sandcastle Support Centre' they find a place to play and talk together, to meet each other, to make friends and angels...  As Amy May, my young narrator says...

'When I sit with Rima I understand that most of the things we want to build in the sand are the same.'

Teacher Review  - 'Every school should have at least one 'Grace'
'Worry Angels is a lovely, moving story, current and straightforward touching on the many facets of change, transition and upheaval that affect young people. It touches on so many truths about the need for greater welfare care in our school systems and the fact that there are so many young people in need of a Grace. Every school should have at least one Grace'and the fact that we don't have people like her already in place makes me realize just how many students we are potentially letting down. If I look at my own 'box' at school it is full of students of different ages and needs - they find connections and build friendships simply by sharing a safe 'space'. I see the changes in my students and how their confidence grows just like Amy May. I welcome the fact that ' Worry Angels ' raises the misconception that if students can't make it over the threshold into school it means they are refusing  and being defiant. They are not strong and determined children - far from it! The story also raises  awareness of how detrimental the pace of modern living can be and how children need space to process that. I often feel sad that living in a large city means we very often don't have extended family near us - an aunt or granny or someone our children can just wander down the road and share a cup of tea with.' 

Tracy Copley - Student Welfare (Highgate Wood School, London)


With thanks to editor Emma Hargrave and Kirstin Lamb of  Barrington Stoke for producing wonderful parent and teacher resources to promote conversation around the reading of 'Worry Angels' including a beautiful animation of the story by animator Grace Emily Manning.

'Worry Angels' is available to buy in book shops and at:
https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/worry-angels/
Resources:
https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/worry-angels-resources/

To view the beautiful book trailer by Grace Emily Manning visit:
http://www.minervareads.com/worry-angels/


Further articles and resources that resonate with Amy and Rima's story in 'Worry Angels' ....

https://www.unicef.org.au/blog/news-and-insights/september-2015/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-the-refugee-crisis

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/files/webfm/Documents/Education/1introduction_to_the_resource.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jun/27/stories-power-hopeful-world-sita-brahmachari-brexit

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/jan/12/books-breed-tolerance-children-read-errorist-attacks-paris

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-children-and-young-people

https://senmagazine.co.uk/articles/articles/senarticles/the-roots-of-school-refusal

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/conditions/anxiety/

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

'I believe that everyone's voice deserves to be heard and everyone's big starts from small'


Yesterday, World Refugee Day, was the community launch day for 'Tender Earth.' It was full of emotion as young people from Fortismere School and Archer Academy expressed their feelings about our world.

Following a moving speech about being heard and finding your voice with the wonderful Nina Mansourian Year 9 student from Archer Academy. She and her friend Avisha Patel helped with the research for the book back in year seven.  Nina and Avisha were awarded their new roles as Inclusive Minds Inclusion Ambassadors. 

What did I do to deserve this?

I write inter-generational stories that I hope will be read by young people and shared across the generations...The following quotes are taken from young readers, parents, grandparents, librarians, authors, teachers, editors, literary agents, directors of refugee organisations and journalists attending the Archer Academy Book Launch .. written in response to the opening quote of 'Tender Earth.' 

'Days are scrolls: Write on them what you want to be remembered.' Bachya 



'In times like this,when it's so hard to make sense of painful and unjust events, truthful stories are ever more important. If these stories can give hope , meaning and agency to young people are vital.'

' Everyone should read children's and YA fiction and remember what it was like to be a child and learn what it is like for children now.' Venetia Gosling ( Editor of 'Tender Earth')

Grenfell Tower
'I was very moved this evening. I can't wait to wrestle Sita's book from my daughter and have a read myself!' 

'Roses are red
Violets are blue 
Voices are many
But the heard are few!'

' I believe that everyone's voice deserves to be heard and everyone's big starts from small' 

'What a very special event, seeing a wonderful inclusive book being launched and meeting one of the young people who helped inspire it.' (Alex - Inclusive Minds)

'Looking into the children's eyes and knowing that they, I and Alex as well as Sita who brought us all together will never forget tonight. Words change the world, they bring us together' # Everybodyin Joanna Sholem (Inclusive Minds)

'I've really enjoyed your books so far, they have inspired me to write...'


'So far the book has been powerful and flabbergasting. There's a snake in the kitchen!????'

'Sita's speech was very inspiring and the book is very well written with carefully thought through humour.'


'Everyone laughed at the part of the opening when Laila was contemplating whether a snake was all tail!' 


'I was very moved this evening. I can't wait to wrestle Sita's book from my daughter and have a read myself!'

'At my age of over eighty I sometimes remember things I had forgotten . A shock sometimes!' Bill Tyler

'Sita's speech was very inspiring and the book is very well written with carefully thought through humour.'

' I wish humans hadn't evolved to act negatively to those who are different.'

'I wish for all the world to be happy and for everyone to love each other as equals one day.'

' No one should be alone'

'My grandmother came to this country in 1896 from Russia, married happily and produced nine children, her husband my grandfather died early and she raised her family under such difficult circumstances. She could not read or write. Their youngest child,who was born an uncle,became a best selling author and won a Diamond Dagger Award. How proud  my grandmother would have been, and how proud of her children and grandchildren who have benefited not only from the far reaching liberal politics of this country, but also from her and my grandmother's energy, philosophy and wisdom - and their hard work.'


"This book fills me up with hope'

"Listen to the children" #Tender Earth @Fortisilibbie

"This books sounds serious and really funny too."

'Don't think that your individual votes don't matter because you're only one person'



'You only have one life, make it count.'

'So wonderful to bring a book ' home' to us, in our lives. Inspiring, powerful message of community in these divisive times. Thank You.'

'Both my son and I will read your books and compare our experiences.'




'Hope for better news to have a future with peace, community in London will be re-built'

'Our world will never be perfect'

'I was very moved this evening. I can't wait to wrestle Sita's book from my daughter and have a read myself!' 

'This has been really inspiring and it made us realize how important it is to find your voice'


Amnesty Banner

Thank you to two inspirational librarians Gill Ward from Fortismere School (where I was Patron of Reading) and Gill Wolfe of Archer Academy (where I will be Patron of Reading from Autumn 2017) 

Librarians are our national treasure. Without them young people like Pari in 'Tender Earth' who have no books at home will be all the poorer... and as a consequence the whole world will be poorer. I leave you with Pari's voice.

'I'm telling you so you know this is why we're here like this. I'm going to be the best at things. I'm going to be a teacher like Mrs Latif and find somewhere good to live for my mum and dad."  Pari

Pari, like all the children I worked with on World Refugee Day hold banners up for a better future for all the families in their community... 
  



Thanks to Pickled Pepper Books, Crouch End who provided books for the workshop at Fortismere School and Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill for selling books and supporting the book launch event at Archer Academy.

Resources on 'Tender Earth' and other novels about our contemporary world published by Macmillan Children's Books are available to all schools:  

Tender Earth 
'Tender Earth is a book of our time. Sita Brahmachari’s words offer comfort and hope and a tangible way to heal our bruised and tender earth.' Gill Lewis - Author

Inline image 1   Inline image 2Inline image 4

Tender Earth is endorsed by Amnesty International UK '
because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right to protest against injustice.'


Thanks to Pickled Pepper Books, Crouch End who provided books for the workshop at Fortismere School and Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill for selling books at the book launch at Archer Academy, and their beautiful display in the shop window.