Saturday, 16 June 2018

#RefugeeWeek2018 Diary: poetry, events, exhibition, publication and football!

Exhibition: 'Essence of Welcome'

Celebrating Refugee Week (18 – 22 June), an exhibition of poetry and images from the Art and Writing Class held at the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. The class is run by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray, Writer and Artist-in-Residence at the Centre. 
South Library, 115 Essex Road, N1 0ST Monday 11 – Saturday 23 June
Monday and Wednesday 9.30am-8pm, Friday and Saturday 9.30am-5pm. Closed Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Free


Through the doors of the library
Into the marble foyer
We come
To find our poems and paintings welcoming us
We sing our song of what it means to learn to speak, laugh, play, write and read in your mother
To sing in Lingala
Lingala is the language that my heart first heard
Lingala is the language that my voice first spoke
Lingala is the language of my heart and soul
Oh! Lingala, Lingala, Lingala

This is a good place to find our words and paintings
This is a place to plant ideas
Where no book is censored
Where you will not be placed in prison for expressing what you think, what you believe, choosing the
wrong books
For painting an image that the government does not like
This is place of freedom
Of independence
Where you can choose the books you want to read
This knowledge you can reach for with your own hands, unforced
Libraries are not free in all countries
They are not open doors for everyone
You can go, only if you have the money to pay
Here you can enter
On a grey winter’s day
Use the computer
Drink a cup of tea and read a book
Here you can sit in peace and warmth

Here you can quench your thirst for knowledge
Join a group
Here you can paint the colour of ideas
Hear a child’s laughter
Here you can spend your energy reading a book,
Journeying wherever you wish
Not only to improve your English
But to nourish your mind
Here is a place
To fly free in your imagination
To lose and find yourself again in words
Slide your mind across the marble floor
Up the spiral staircase
To where the sun shines through a globe window

The library is a place of light
When we walk out onto the pavement
We see a woman is spending her time to see our exhibition
It is a good feeling
To see her looking at our paintings
Reading our stories

Post cards of art and writing are available from:   @RefugeeWeek    @IslingtonCentre

Saturday 16th June
Harberdasher's Girl's School Invites Islington Centre Members to a family day out incuding swimming, art, drumming and a barbecue.

Monday 18th June
Islington Libraries school events with Jane Ray and Sita Brahmachari

Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray will be working with specially invited classes of Year 3 or Year 4 children to explore refugee experience of people living in their community. 

Wednesday 20th June
Archer Academy (Patron of Reading School) Year 10 assembly. Talking of the depiction of refugee characters in my stories and how my work in community over the years feeds into writing.

Sunday 24th June
Amnesty International #Familiestogether #Footballwelcomes
Come and have a family day and enjoy football fun and art. I'll be offering the welcome and writing a poem about why it's vital that children should have the right be reunited with their families. Enjoy a sunday with your family and lobby for people like Amal and Muhammad to do the same.#

Publication: 'A Country To Call Home'  Ed. Lucy Propescu ' Published by Unbound following June 2018 Launch. With contributions from many authors in  the YA book world about the experience of refugee children.

'A Country to Call Home implores us to build bridges, not walls. It is intended as a reminder of our shared humanity, seeking to challenge the negative narratives that so often cloud our view of these vulnerable young people, and prevent us giving them the empathy they deserve.'

There are so many extraordinary stories here. My contribution is 'Amir and George' (First published by Stripes/ Crisis in 'I'll Be Home for Christmas). It tells the story of Amir, a young refugee child integrating into a city school. He enters the George Orwell Public Speaking Competition and finds himself at the finals at Eton where George Orwell went to school. The story, as the title suggests, is a meeting between Amir and George Orwell.  Lucy Prosescu set up a wonderful scheme in which authors could bid for Chris Riddell's wonderful illustrations. Authors were then able to select a school library to benefit by receiving copies of the book. Getting these stories into children's hands feels vital in our times.  Writing this story made me think deeply about my purpose of being a writer for children and young people. Chris Riddell recalled his seminal  image of Alan Kurdi captioned by the words ' Swarms' forcing David Cameron to experience his own de-humanising language.  I'm proud to have Chris Riddell's wonderful portrait of George Orwell as a reminder of why so many writers for young people are carrying our notebooks with us too... and insisting that the individual stories are told. 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Empathy Day 2018 #ReadforEmpathy

'What if no one can tell if they're living in a time that's losing its heart?'

Laila Levenson (aged 12) Tender Earth (Macmillan Children's Books) A #ReadforEmpathy choice

Empathetic Learning is the best kind... when I think of the things I remember from my young years it is always the moments of learning where I was moved by something or someone that have stayed with me.

So too the books that made me laugh or cry, or took me on a rollercoaster of a journey, are the books from childhood that I remember still today.

For Empathy Day 2018 I'm heading to Sheffield Libraries where my day will start by asking people to share a story of a moment of learning through empathy that has had an impact on their lives.

With Mary Lea of Sheffield Libraries at the Empathy Cafe
“We’re pleased that people have come along to participate in this project and it is our hope that everyone who gets involved in our Empathy Day activities will become an Empathy Ambassador, using their empathy skills to help others.” Mary Lea (Cabinet member for Culture, parks and Leisure) 

I've been working closely with Sheffield Libraries to look at how empathy can be increased through characters we meet in stories. The science shows that it can. The beautiful thing about empathy is that it can grow in us... and the more we step into the shoes of another who we may feel we share little empathy for at the outset of a story... the more profoundly we grow. In my experience the Empathy tree is nourished through reading and writing!

I'm often taken aback that a character I can have decided is a secondary character at the mapping out stage then become the ones I empathise with the most. This has happened to me so many times now that it reveals what we all have...unconscious bias.... why empathy is magical is because by truly exploring a character's life from the inside out, by walking in their shoes, you discover so much about the world and about your own world view, and your ability to expand both.

That's why I am delighted that 'Tender Earth' has been selected as one of this year's #ReadforEmpathy books.

Sheffield Libraries have chosen themes in 'Tender Earth ' that are key issues in their communities. Their aim, in inviting me to work with them, is to explore how reading about characters and situations that are relevant in their own community can help people to increase empathy for one another across generations, cultures and religions.

In 'Tender Earth' young Laila Levenson asks the question
'What if no one can tell if they're living in a time that's losing its heart?'

She can't stand the idea of that but at first she's overwhelmed by navigating through some of today's very present realities that impact directly on her and her friend's lives. Poverty inequality, racism and religious intolerence. Laila doesn't know how she can change things but once she starts to feel true empathy for the people around her, a portal opens that leads her to understand how her feeling for others can be transformed into empathetic action that can change her community for the better.

Published by Macmillan Children's Books 2017 

The Read For Empathy Titles

Walking in Empathy Shoes

Tender Earth nominations and awards:

Endorsed by Amnesty International UK
Chosen for the IBBY UK Honour List ( Novel)  2018
Longlisted for: Carnegie Medal 2018
Longlisted for the Shrewsbury Book Award 2018
Selected by Empathy Lab for their 2018 Read for Empathy Guide
Shortlisted for the Little Rebel Awards 2018
Shortlisted for the Haringey Book Award 2018
Shortlisted for the Southern Schools Book Award 2018

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 
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'

Zebra Crossing Soul Song is available to buy here:

Poster available:

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


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 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

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

Background to Authors for Grenfell

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.

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

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

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:

To buy the book:

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

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'