Wednesday 18 August 2021

10 year anniversary copy of 'Artichoke Hearts' - An inheritance of hope on World Humanitarian Day

'Artichoke Hearts' was written in homage to an extraordinary bohemian artist and humanitarian grandmother Rosie Harrison, pictured here exhibiting her art.

 10 year anniversary copy. Published August 19th 2021 on World Humanitarian Day

Thank you to two of my favourite contemporary writers and humanitarians, Onjali Q Rauf and Jasbinder Bilan for their love of 'Artichoke Hearts'.  

"Heart-healing, deeply enriching and utterly chaotic, Mira is a heroine after our own multi-layered hearts: being one perpetually teetering on the cusp of all that life throws at her, as she confronts the whole spectrum of experiences - from deep grief, to the blossoming of a first love to the security of lifetime-old friendships. Who can't help but be mesmerised by the hilarious, dear characters which all work to leave a permanent mark on both Mira and her readers - from the curt Nana Josie to the elusive Jide to the ever-present Millie, and ultimately, not have us fall in love with them too? A deeply unforgettable, gorgeous story.  Be ready to have this one stay with you."

Onjali Q Rauf

‘I first read Sita’s wonderful story when I began studying for an MA in Creative Writing. I was at the start of my own writing journey and it had a deep impact on me as a children’s author. The themes of family loss and coming to terms with change resonated hugely with me on a personal level. It was also an incredible inspiration – it wrote confidently about our diverse landscape and experience and in this sense was breaking new ground with its very believable and admirable characters.

This is heartfelt story-telling at its best – of goodbyes and new beginnings, of fierce family bonds and the wonder of first love. I tucked in close to Mira through all the ups and downs, sharing every emotion as she does. A very special book and so very excited that this celebratory 10 Year Edition will bring Sita’s powerful story to new readers.’

 Jasbinder Bilan

Over the last few days I’ve been looking back and reflecting. Here I am in the cottage in Suffolk counting holey stones and years, where the real Nana  Josie’s inspiration found so much comfort, peace and joy. The walls are no longer painted pink but if twelve year old Mira were in this room today she would be outraged to see the unfolding refugee crisis in Afghanistan just as she was horrified to discover the history of her class mate Jide Jackson, a Rwandan refugee.

 I’m remembering the beautiful launch at The Halesworth Book Shop just days before, to my amazement, ‘Artichoke Hearts’ won the Waterstone’s Children's Book Award ten years ago and I’m wearing the charm that my wonderful husband Leo presented me with on that day.

We all gathered together ten years ago in The Halesworth Bookshop and paid homage to a beautiful grandma who had stood up to the great moments of inhumanity she had lived through and acted for change. She left a legacy in book form in ‘Artichoke Hearts’ to so many more children than my own.  I could not have dreamed when I wrote this gentle diary through the eyes of a twelve year old Mira that it would have reached out to so many hearts.

It is thrilling to think that the editor of this anniversary edition Sim Kaur Sandhu read Artichoke Hearts for the first time as a teenager. I’m so happy to have been given this opportunity to re-visit the novel ten years on and am moved by Sim’s heart-felt response.

 'I was at school when I first read Artichoke Hearts. It was the first time I'd ever read a character I could really identify with as a young brown girl. So much about Mira's honesty and vulnerability especially about the changes her body was going through felt really familiar. Coming back to Mira and her wonderful Nana as an editor was like coming home, and it was wonderful to help bring Artichoke Hearts up-to-date so another generation of readers can learn from Pat Print, fall in love with Jide, and celebrate Nana Josie's incredible life.’ Simran Kaur Sandhu

The charm is passed on through this book and way beyond as the family and the world change... it can be traced forward in time to 'Jasmine Skies' and 'Tender Earth'… charging young readers with its spirit of love of family, friends, community, empathy, justice and courage. I am so happy that it is reaching new generations of readers.

This has been a time of great loss when so many people have not been able to say goodbye to loved ones in the way that they would have wanted. Part of the launch ten years ago was a reading in the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead where Nana goes to spend her last days. 

 ‘Artichoke Hearts’ sits somewhere between a fairy tale and a family story. In Mira and her fabulous Nana Josie we see a beautiful counterpoint between the two distinct life processes of growing up and saying Goodbye to life. We are shown how in heartbreak and sadness, the strongest colours of communal spirit and family relationships can shine bright. A life- affirming book. 

                                                                                         Sarah Jane Fenton, child psychotherapist. 


Thank you to Belinda Rasmussen and the whole team at Macmillan Children’s Books for producing this beautiful ten year anniversary copy.  A huge thanks to Simran Kaur Sandhu who has edited this updated edition for contemporary readers with such care and love and for remembering how much reading it impacted on her as a young reader. Thanks to  Jo Hardacre and Sabina Marharjan for their work in publicity.  I am in awe of Rachel Vale who has designed three incredibly beautiful copies of the book with illustrations, doodles, talismans and daydreams by illustrator Kate Forrester
Heart-felt thanks to: an editor and friend I have worked with so creatively over the years Samantha Swinnerton who picked up the story as a junior editor and championed it and to Dominic Kingstone, publicist whom I am still hugely privileged to work with and to my agent and friend Sophie Gorell- Barnes from MBA Literary Agents with whom I have published so many books since and to Tanya Rodriquez the amazing actress who is Mira's voice.

Holey stone and charm.... carried still on Walberswich Beach where Pat Print walks too!

I'm incredibly grateful to Waterstone's for recognising this story, launching my writing journey and for Book Trust for always championing my work and making Artichoke Hearts one of their top 100 books over the last century (pinches herself!). Thanks to all the amazing teachers and librarians who have championed the book too. It's incredible that excerpts of it and now part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum. 

This copy feels like it is wrapped with love in the purple blanket that Nana wore on her ‘schlumfy sofa.’ I hope a new generation of  readers find comfort in curling up with it and the strength that Nana passes on to stand up for what they believe to me right..

Here is a beautiful 'hearth' painting from the late Rosie Harrison, my mother in law who was the inspiration for Mira's beloved bohemian artist grandmother in 'Artichoke Hearts.'  It's a source of great joy to our whole family that the essence of her courageous and human rights respecting spirit is still inspiring readers today... and is passed on to  Mira's younger sister Laila the ant-racism protester in 'Tender Earth'. So the inheritance of hope passes on.... and the stories from the hearth keep their charge,  needed in every age.

                                                    Rosie's hearth dolphins that captured my imagination in the story 

Sita X

10 year anniversary copy. Published August 19th 2021 

In Waterstones, Independent Bookshops and Online.

Winner of The Waterstones Book Prize 2011

Named by Book Trust as one of the top 100 books in a hundred years. 

Named by The Guardian as one of the top 50 books championing diversity in the last 50 years.

Currently under commission for theatre. (Bhuchar Boulevard)

'Follow The Swallow' story trail.

'Brilliantly celebrating the power of community and friendship' MamaFilz

'Swallow's Kiss' is just one of 10 stories to make a difference published by Pop Up Projects.

What a pleasure it is to see 'Swallow's Kiss' inspiring a story trail in Islington this summer. 

This story is dedicated the refugee and migrant people whom Jane Ray and I have worked with in the Art and Writing Class at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants for many years as Artist and Writer in residence.

Swallow's Kiss tells the story of Blessing who finds a bag of beautiful, bright wishing birds under a table at the cafe where her mum works. The birds come alive in her empathetic hands and she knows she has to fly the wishing birds back to their makers... but how does she find them? 

Written in free verse this story was hatched on a London bus  on our way to and from the refugee centre.We are proud that it has been endorsed by Amnesty International as a book that upholds children's rights to play, learn and safety.

Now the National Literacy Trust have commissioned a story trail for August as part of Get Islington Reading. I'm proud to be working on projects over the next three years to help ignite the spirit of adventure in stories.

It starts at Islington South Library, Essex Road with an exhibition of work from the Art and Writing Class. This is where you pick up your story trail clues!

And borrow a copy...

Then set out on the trail to follow the swallows' clues in word and art collecting words from each swallow's wing on your way! 

Can't tell you where this 'Friend' bird was found... you'll have to hunt yourselves!

Then make your own empathy wish bird for refugee children. like Hani and Blessing in the story. 

Signed copies of the book are available at Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill and through Pop Up... where Blessing welcomes you with her wishing birds! 

Look out for Blessing's wish birds flying to welcome Little Amal in the Autumn at the South Bank too.

To find out more about the story trail visit:

To find out more about the work of Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants and how you can contribute much needed support visit:

National Literacy Trust Interview with Jane and Sita and how to make a wish bird!

Interview for Swallow's Kiss:

Reviews of Swallow's Kiss here:

Information on how to browse and buy all the 10 stories to make a difference are here:



Thursday 4 March 2021

Have a whale of a time this World Book Day!

 Happy World Book Day 2021 from Sita and Billie! 

Today find someone to read aloud to... on the phone or cuddled up on the sofa. I've been reading my new World Book Day story, The River Whale to my Mum over the phone and our lovely dog, curls up beside us to share in the story. Billie has been a popular visitor to quite a few book groups and libraries and he's very encouraging! He wags his tail when you read different voices for the characters!  Why not show your book shares by posting a picture of what you're enjoying reading. Share in your love of stories and reading for pleasure this #worldbookday.

I am so happy to be a World Book Day author this year, of all years, with my £1 story The River Whale. It's a dream come true for me that on this day I might have written a story that begins a life-long habit of reading for pleasure. That journey led me to becoming a writer. Who knows where that journey can take you... or Immy and Cosmo in The River Whale.

Here's Immy diving into her imagination. Have a whale of a time diving into yours.


Poonam Mistry's beautiful illustrations float through the pages

The River Whale is an astonishing piece of lyrical writing; powerful and deep, it questions belonging, identity and dreams for the future. Humanity and protection of the natural world are the beating heart of Brahmachari’s stories.'

Author Gill Lewis

Where did you get the idea to write 'The River Whale?'
In the build up to World Book Day 2021 I have met many young people through virtual events who have wanted to know the answer to the above question. Authors are often asked it, but because stories flow from so many places, there is usually more than one answer.  Here are five! 

1. I thought about the kind of story I would like to read at this challenging time.

I was invited to write it especially for World Book Day. It was written in lockdown and I dreamed it up from my own imaginary dreaming top deck (in reality a tent sized writing alcove.) I thought about the kind of story I would like  to read at this time if I was Immy's age in year seven of secondary school.  As I wrote I too was yearning  to swim free, to open windows onto a wider world. Stories have that superpower. This story is written in a combination of prose and free verse because when Immy is dreaming or diving the words go diving too and when she's awake the language goes back to  the way she would normally chat to her friend Cosmo at school.  Warning!  You might meet some strange creatures in Immy's dreams!  Poonam Mistry's beautiful illustrations float through this story taking you from dream-diving to reality.  

2. Watching  Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet in Lockdown.

Since I was a child David Attenborough has been an inspiration to me and especially during this lockdown. His life long work inspires Immy too when she dreams of swimming into 'Blue Planet, Ocean Light.' 

3. The characters of Immy and Cosmo wanted a new adventure.

I got to know Immy (Imtiaz) well from writing When Secrets Set Sail (published in the summer of 2020) but some characters won't be contained  within the pages of one story... and Immy's one of them! So Immy and her friend Cosmo sailed right out of one story and into another!  

The Dreaming Room by Evan Hollingdale, Illustrator of When Secrets Set Sail

4.  From the dreaming room in When Secrets Set Sail to The River Whale.

Immy hasn't always known how to find a dreaming room and since childhood she has found it difficult to sleep. She worries about: fitting in, what school will be like, whether she'll pass her exams and how she'll get on at school without her sister Usha by her side. But staring at her much loved whale poster (spot it on the wall at the end of her bed!) and listening to whale song or to the sea in the ear of a conch shell, helps her to sleep and when she finally drifts off she goes wild-diving with whales.

5. The real world gives me stories and a twist in the gut to write.

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The idea for The River Whale came from reading this newspaper article of a whale that became disorientated and swam up the Thames. Despite the light-hearted pun of the headline the poor whale was in great danger.

I remember that day so clearly because it was surreal to think that a Humpback whale should have lost its way  and be swimming into London. Scientists think this may be happening more because of changes to the ocean currents due to global warming and pollution of the seas or even sound and light pollution. While this whale was swimming towards us into the city people were going about their business as if all was well with the world.  That's sometimes how it feels when we are so slow to act for the good of our planet.. like we're sleepwalking. 

5. Young people inspire me. 

My water-borne stories 
Where the River Runs GoldWhen Secrets Set Sail
The River Whale

Like Shifa and Themba in Where The River Runs Gold  Immy and Cosmo cannot sit back and be bystanders when the things that they know need to change are takiing place before their eyes, like polluting this beautiful planet and Climate Chaos. 

Just as Shifa and Themba could not live with the lies and inequalities in the near-future Kairos Lands, Immy and her friend Cosmo too have to DO something, to ACT for change. Immy dives in, in her own Immy way, to see what she can do to save the whale. 

It's not every day after school that you go diving in the Thames and come face to face with a river whale. But then it's not everyday that you find the confidence to face your fears and learn exactly what you're going to do with your life. In Immy's case to become a marine biologist .. but then this is not every day!  

It's World Book Day!

Who knows where a book you open today might lead you. It's time to dare, dream, believe and imagine in Blue Planet, startling, sparkling light! Time to pick up the book of your dreams and step through the dreaming portholes of The Globe Window!  


Happy World Book Day!

Sita x

Looking forward to sharing more creative inspirations with you at our event on Friday with the wonderful Katherine Rundell and Jess French hosted by Jessie Cave.  

Huge thanks to Poonam Mistry for the beautiful illustrations that run through this story. To the whole team at Orion Children's Books: Tig Wallace, Senior Editor and Sam Perrett, Designer who have taken such care with this story and to Dominic Kingston and Felicity Highet for all your work in helping it swim into the world. Thanks to my agent Sophie Gorell Barnes of MBA Literary Agents for loving this dream-time story so much and to Dominic Kingston and Felicity Highet for all your work in helping it swim into the world.  

Enormous thanks to The World Book Day team for working so hard to make sure that every child has the chance to hold a book in their hands and to believe that their dreams can come true. World Book Day changes lives through a love of books and shared reading. The World Book Day mission is to promote reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person the opportunity to have a book of their own. Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income.  

One of the many great thing about the World Book Day stories is that they introduce you to another story and author. When you've finished The River Whale you can start the first chapter of Amy Raphael's compelling story The Forest Moon and Sword.

If you, like Immy, want to know more about how to help clean up the rivers and oceans visit:

Sunday 2 August 2020

When Secrets Set Sail - patchwork pieces to publication

 When Secrets Set Sail

20th August
Hachette Orion

You're invited to step through the Globe Window in my story.
This window at The Children's Bookshop Muswell Hill is painted by illustrator and author Jane Ray. 

‘Truly unforgettable … deserves to be read and studied by all’ – Onjali Q. Rauf, bestselling author of The Boy at the Back of the Class

A gorgeously timely story of heritage and belonging and ghostly voices that won’t rest until their secrets are uncovered –  it had me mesmerised!’ 
Jasbinder Bilan, Costa award winning author)

'A wonderful, big-hearted story that shows how history connects with the present. Multi-layered, it upholds rights to identity, justice, equality and community.'
(Nicky Parker, Publisher, Amnesty UK)

When Secrets Set Sail is a scintillating adventure and a superb introduction to complex historical themes. (Waterstones says...)

'So much of our time and yet for all time. Sita weaves such magic in her writing. I absolutely loved it.  'When Secrets Set Sail' will be super for stimulating oral histories. It will be a gorgeous stimulus for looking at buildings, places and the history they can hold and unlock across generations.' Kate Agnew 

'Beautifully structured, magically told, this story reflects our times as different groups demand to be heard with equal merit in our society.'  Miriam Halahmy (Award Winning Author)

My childhood doll, conch shell and notebook on the steps of Ayahs' Home, Hackney. 
(Photo credit Farzanah Mamoojee)

Photo 1962 On arrival to work in NHS with fellow doctors. Illustration by Jane Ray from  'Gift of Time' in
 'Book Of Hopes' Ed. Katherine Rundell 

The dedication for this story is to my parents and their tireless work in the NHS.

Diary to publication....

In the lead up to the launch and publication day on 20th August I discussed the historical background to the  story at  a Webinar with Farhanah Mamoojee @ayahshome and Natasha Junejo founder of #SouthAsianWriters . The conversation explored the journey from fact to fiction followed by a Q&A, fielding questions via twitter. Thank you to South Asian Heritage Month for hosting this event.  

Look out for a Book Trust Blog about readers setting sail on their own local histories and research journeys during the summer holidays. I hope that this book will be a catalyst for young people to explore their own histories and untold stories and a generator of new diverse voices. Libraries and librarians are an important part of my character's Imtiaz and Usha's adventure and  I'm looking forward to engaging with libraries around this story with the fantastic resources being created by Felicity Highet at Hachette.

On the steps of Ayah's Home, Hackney with Farhanah Mamoojee @ayahshome 
(Photo credit Farzanah Mamoojee)


For families, libraries and school projects. Discover your own local/ global histories with this
downloadable #WSSSBluePlaque resource available from The Reading Agency:

Sincere thanks to the inspiring author Rozina Visram whose lifelong research into the Ayah's Home and South Asian people in Britain I credit in my book. To Natasha Junejo at #Southasianwriters and  Farhanah Mamoojee @ayahshome and Sanchita Basu De Sarkar and team at Children's Bookshop Muswell Hill and for  Jane Ray for painting the beautiful launch window. For Amnesty International for endorsing this book. The Book Trust and The Reading Agency. ( There are many more friends and family thanked in the acknowledgement of the book)

With huge thanks to my agent Sophie Gorell Barnes of MBA Literary Agents and the whole wonderful creative team at Orion in particular my editor Tig Wallace and desk editor Ruth Girmatsion, Designer Samuel Perrett  Publicist Dominic Kingston and Marketing Felicity Highet. To Sam Swinnerton for our early brainstorming.  So many thanks to Sarah Lambert, Ruth Alltimes,  Emily Finn, Hannah Cawse, Helen Hughes, Rachel Boden, Tracy Phillips, Annabel El-Kerm, Eshara Wijetunge.  It matters that you're all named... and placed in the story of the making of this book.

Finally thank you to illustrator Evan Hollingdale for creating this beautiful top deck of the ship house... the perfect launch pad for the imagination to roam.

Happy Dreaming ...

When Secrets Set Sail

Available in paperback, kindle and audiobook 

The first signed copies  at:


Sunday 14 June 2020

Lockdown readings from Sita and Billie in #Refugeeweek2020

Getting ready for storytime in #Refugeeweek2020
Thanks for the serious hand from my film crew (Steady iphone cam - daughter and a patient companion here!)

In #RefugeeWeek many children's and Young Adult authors who have written into  the experiences of child refugees past and present, would be in schools or libraries reading and talking about their work.

In lockdown I have decided a read short extract from one of the refugee children or adult characters in my stories each day. I'm doing this in the knowledge that teachers, parents and carers home schooling children may be looking for opportunities to discover alternative stories to those they may hear in the news.

Last week was Empathy Day and many children's authors talked about the power of deep listening and the importance of facing rather than shying away from events in the real world, and that fiction provides us with a way of nagivating the world, and of  growing empathy for our fellow humans.

The wonderful activist and author of 'Boy At The Back Of The Class'  Onjali Q Rauf and i spoke about the power of reading stories to grow empathy and putting it in action. I'm missing the energy of meeting readers so I thought to  read from refugee characters in my stories. You'll find a new one each morning on twitter..

If you enjoy them I ask you to use this as an opportunity to discover how to support groups in your area and I hope these discoveries  might even lead you to see how you might help in your school or community.

I offer you.... my storytime schedule each morning on twitter and a few surprises thrown in:

Monday -  From Baba Suli the beekeeper in 'Where The River Runs Gold (Hachette Children's Books) whose knowledge may save food production in the world.

Tuesday - From the short story Amir and George - where the ghost of George Orwell comes to hear Amir speak. ( In ' A country to Call Home'  Ed. Lucy Propescu , Unbound - an anthology of writing by Young adult writers First published in 'I'll be Home for Christmas.

Wednesday - Readings for younger readers Years 2 and Upwards from 'Worry Angels' (Barrington Stoke) and  short story ' Rabina's Robin' from ' One snowy night'  ( Stripes)


Thursday - Bubbe Dara - a Kindertransport refugee reflects on the treatment of child refugees today.
'Tender Earth' - Macmillan Children's Books - endorsed by Amnesty UK and IBBY.

Friday - Aisha, a Somali Refugee survivor wishes people could understand what she's been through. Set in an ancient city wood 'Red Leaves'  ( Macmillan Children's Books- endorsed by Amnesty UK Resources:

Saturday -  Back to my beginning as a novelist. Jide Jackson tells his story of loss during the Rwandan genocide in 'Artichoke Hearts' (Macmillan Children's Books)

My ask of you...

In return I ask you to explore these links to a few examples of Refugee Charities whose work makes such a difference to the lives of refugee people and see if and how you can affect change.

This centre is where the wonderful illustrator and author Jane Ray and I run an art and writing class. Currently resources are being sent through the post - you can find out more on the video from actress Juliet Stevenson and discover the beautiful poems and art by members of the group on on the website now.

Find out about...#FamiliesTogether

And at this time when we are all missing seeing and connecting to our families -  find out more about the #FamiliesTogether campaign supported by a coalition of refugee organisations.

Saturday 8 February 2020

'Where The River Runs Gold' - a forest of creative responses

Since publication of  Where The River Runs Gold in July 2019 I have been overwhelmed by the creativity that it's brought forth. From the beautiful window displays by Waterstones stores to the incredible creations by students, librarians and teachers at festivals and in classrooms. 

 I have been asked to put together a sample pallette of activity inspired by the book.

Trafalgar Square window boxes July 2019

I hope this selection of  creative responses inspires readers and to feel empowered to make a difference to improving their own environments.

Shifa and Themba, the brave, bold and true young protagonists of my story, are right there with you. Warning! Once you enter the story hive the creative potential for reading, writing and art for pleasure are endless and can be far-reaching...

Actions so far....

  Bee hives set up
Banners made
School Environmental Manifestos drawn up
Seeds scattered in window boxes, gardens, allotments, railtracks, unused land and meadows 
Seed packets made and used daily
 For every Graffitree created in school a tree has been planted. 

A hand painted tree by Waterstones artist

Seed Packet making

'What Shifa loved most about the path between the warehouse and the Orbitol Bridge was that the street clearers could never keep speed with the pace at which the weeds and wildflowers grew between the cracks. There was always traces of green shoots growing among the crumbling buildings.'
Page 23 Where The River Runs Gold

Origami seed packet making is catching on.... these decorated with scenes from the story

'From one random page she'd learned how to make a flower shaped origami envelope out of scraps of paper, When she squeezed the top the flower head opened like a mouth allowing her to place her precious seed finds inside.' 
Page 57 Where The River Runs Gold

Graffitree Art

Trees are springing up everywhere ... I'm hoping to collect them together to form the
  Where The River Runs Gold Graffitree Forest.

'Shifa thought she understood why the artists took the risk of breaking ARK Law. These trees took up space and could be enjoyed by everyone. Except for the private parks and gardens of the paragons where her papa worked, it was ARK policy that all other land in Kairos City be turned into housing compounds or Freedom Fields allotments to grow food.'
 Page 20 Where The River Runs Gold

Amy Willoughby from Beck school Sheffield with the first ever school Graffitree

Empatree hands... children reaching out to the natural world

Jane Ray touring Graffitree  first outing at Imagine Festival 2020

At Little Green School, Buckinghamshire

A beautiful golden river by  Krishna in Wood Green, London

Shifa had heard about an underground movement of artists breaking ARK Law by painting trees, flowers, plants and bees on walls all over the city.' 
Page 19 Where The River Runs Gold

Banner Making

'Nabil and Lottie dropped a rainbow-coloured sheet over the ledge; on it, in deep blue paint, were written four enormous words.
Pg 94 'Where The River Runs Gold' 

Banner inspired by Where The River Runs Gold  made by Friday for Future protesters.

Banner making.... The first banner was created by Friday For Futures Campaigners and since then many banners have been made, some of which have been carried on marches by young people and others displayed in schools. Students respond powerfully to the urgency of the environmental call for action in the book as in the real world they are inspired by the bravery of young activists like Greta Thunberg and Maya Rose Craig in villages, towns and cities all around the globe. 

Beautiful banner spied on The People's Walk for Wildlife 2019

Story Hive building

Shifa and Themba escape some of the harsh realities of their world  by creating a safe storytelling haven. Students have started creating such spaces in classrooms and around the school inspired by their own beautiful imagined landscapes from stories or their own lives.

'Here they had read contraband pages that they had discovered in unlikely places around the city, and with these finds their story hive had expanded into wild deserts, alien planets, raging rivers, bird and butterfly aviaries, the tallest snow capped mountain ranges and the sweetest flowering meadows  - a world away from the rules and regulations of Freedom Fields.'
Pg 57 Where The River Runs Gold

A necklace depicting the 'Hare in the Moon' story. The allegory told to them by their father that keeps Shifa and Themba strong throughout their perilous journey

It's been a real joy to see Story hives being created to inspire creative writing of new allegories based on the natural world.

Creating a secret language/ signs

A skep is a small hand woven bee hive.... 

In Where The River Runs Gold Shifa and Themba and other 'Outlanders' make the 'skep-heart' signal as part of a secret language. Readers have enjoyed inventing their own secret languages. 

Making the skep-heart sign of environmental protection

Enjoy creating and storytelling.... in the storytelling hive. 

Sita X


Where The River Runs Gold:
Longlisted for Blue Peter Book Award
Nominated for Carnegie
Waterstones Book of the Month ( July)
Times Book of the Week

Sunday 17 November 2019

Where does the river run gold for children's rights?

In this the thirtieth anniversary year of the declaration of the Rights of The Child, I have been thinking of how central an exploration of children's rights has been to my writing journey over the past decade or so. 

My Rites of Passage stories have one thread in common, they all explore the journeys and struggles of children and young people with diverse diaspora roots as they navigate our world. It's a search that, against the backdrop of politics today can sometimes feel like an odyssey I share with many children and YA novelists.... a seeking for commonality, empathy, fairness and humanity and doing this through the eyes and sensibility of the young ... for them.. can feel deeply charged...even urgent. 

A decade of stories and contributions to YA anthologies that have grown from our times

From beginning writing my first novel for young people over a decade ago, my stories have not turned away from the larger struggles we face in the world today, like racial and religious intolerance, mental health, grief, poverty inequality, homelessness, the treatment of refugee people and environmental complacency.

I have not explored these stories through the eyes of children because I set out to tackle 'issues' but because in beginning each new story  I  discover child characters I want to journey with... young voices whose vision and realities are struggling to be heard.

A lot has changed for children's rights in the decade or so that these three stories span.

It was a beautiful moment for me to discover the journey-thread for Jide Jackson, from his desperate plight in the Rwandan Genocide in 'Artichoke Hearts' (2011) to his becoming a trainee doctor, re-visiting the land of his birth family in my later book 'Tender Earth' (2018).

Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies, Tender Earth ( Published by Macmillan  Children's Books)

When I began writing 'Artichoke Hearts' the politics of the world did not intrude too deeply on the Levenson family to the extent they do in my more recent novels. Rightly or wrongly, the Levenson parents wished, and were more or less able, to shield Mira and Krish and their new baby Laila from having to learn about some of the more brutal events in world history ' before they were ready'. But they were protecting their children from a story that their fellow class mate was facing.

In 'Jasmine Skies', as Mira travels to India her activist eyes are opened and the novel that completes this book-family 'Tender Earth' sees Janu, a young man who runs an orphanage in Kolkata returning to a London in which the inequality, homelessness and racism are shockingly present. Laila (the baby in 'Artichoke Hearts') becomes the narrator in 'Tender Earth' and she must navigate her story through a time in which the disruptions of the world are mirrored in her own classmates and community. She finds she cannot stand by and see hatred and discrimination grow. The racist attack that Janu experiences, or the defiling of Bubbe Dara's husband's grave with swastikas is tragically, no act of the imagination.

Children must find a way to grow from these tender times
'Tender Earth' ( Macmillan Children's Books) 

A 'Tender Earth' it is for Pari, the child of Iraqi refugee parents who must every day experience the racist abuse in her substandard housing conditions (written pre-Grenfell tragedy but all too poignant now). The inequalities deepen as Pari is too proud to tell her new best friend, Laila, that she is hungry at school. In writing scenes in this book I wanted to speak to Pari and say 'it is not you who should feel ashamed.'

I am often asked where all these stories have come from... and keep coming from! It's simple... it's children who inspire me...and a deep wish to see their rights protected and respected. As the ghost of George Orwell says when I imagined him showing up to hear the story of a refugee child, notebook in hand 'Speak Amir, I came to hear you speak.' ('Amir and George', Stripes. I'll be Home for Christmas).

In 'Red Leaves' Iona, a homeless girl from Scotland has been abandoned on the streets of London and her rights are really only protected through the random kindness of a Sikh family-'The Kalsis' who attempt to guide her and offer comfort and shelter. These children, holding diaspora journeys from Somalia, America, Scotland and London... meet in ancient woods that have historically protected them.

Red Leaves ( Endorsed by Amnesty)  Published by Macmillan Children's Books

The rights of children.... holding courage keys to the story hive!

In writing my latest novel 'Where The River Runs Gold' (Orion) I asked myself where does the river run gold for children's rights? What kind of society can we build in which the rights of the child are truly honoured and protected. I have imagined a near future world in which environmental damage has brought forward a crisis in food production, leading to the decimation of bees, pollinators, tree and plant life..... and of course into this world children are born. Greta Thunberg is such a bright beacon in our times and, like Greta, my young characters Shifa and Themba must fight for their rights to be  protected.  In my story The Emergency Ark Government has suspended the laws to deal with the immediate climate and food production crisis.... and as a result the children must trust in the promises of leaders.       

Where The River Runs Gold ( Published by Orion) Carnegie Nominated.

“It’s becoming all too clear that climate change will have a devastating impact on human rights. Where the River Runs Gold explores a not-too-distant future where children are enslaved so that their small hands can be used to pollinate plants
. Their rights are multiply denied because of the greed of corporations and governments. It’s a bleak prophecy, but author Sita Brahmachari, as ever, pays tribute to the power of solidarity and friendship and this book has a warm and glowing heart.”

Nicky Parker, Publisher. Amnesty International UK

Children and young adults today understand how deeply words used, the truths they hold and the narratives we tell matter in helping us face our biggest challenges. In the near future world The Ark  authorities know what they are doing when they close the libraries and remove the books from the majority of 'Freedom' children, discouraging them to paint or draw, read stories, question the status quo or imagine a different future.

But stories are powerful forces indeed and Shifa refuses to stop sewing re-wilding seeds! For Shifa and Themba access to the pages they can hold is denied them and the portal to their broad education is closed, they protect their story hive because they know it holds the courage keys to their future.

In imagining the world through children's eyes, I pause long and deep to try to see what they see, feel what they feel and time and again the question that comes as I write is how are we protecting these children's rights: to have a childhood, to be safe, to have a home, to be treated fairly, with equality....the right to breathe fresh air, to access nature, to play, to express themselves, to follow their faiths  and cultures and have them represented, to be included, to drink clean water, to eat, to be educated, to enter the story hives of their imaginations and to look forward to a brighter and more beautiful future?

Where The River Runs Gold  (Endorsed by Amnesty ) is published by Orion (Hachette Children's Books)

Rights of The Child Resources and Information:

'Tender Earth,' 'Corey's Rock,' 'Red Leaves' and 'Where The River Runs Gold' have been endorsed by Amnesty International.

'Tender Earth' was honoured by The International Board of Books for Young People ( 2018)  commenting that this depiction of contemporary childhood resonates in the Britain of today.