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.






Friday, 16 June 2017

A round trip with many tracks from despair to hope.

This article is dedicated to the late Jo Cox MP and her vision of a just, equal and more united society. Her words will always walk with me.

'We are far more united than the things that divide us.' 


The dedication in the front of 'Tender Earth'
In the world of fast reaction, tweeting, facebook and sensational headlines I find myself drawn to reading longer editorial pieces that are not sound bites, but offer a deep consideration of someone's point of view and experience. I hope that if you stay with me to the end of this article you feel it is worth the read whether you are a young person, parent, teacher, librarian, publisher or fellow writer.

One of the questions that young readers often ask me is -

 'How do you keep going writing a book when it takes so long?'

The word 'motivation' always features in my answer.

It's why, when I have so much else to write I find myself HAVING to write this. For me, as with so many authors I know, writing is a compulsion. It's the way I express some deep elements of what I'm feeling and thinking, it's the way I attempt to distill and find some truths about some of the things in our world that sometimes seem to be too complex, too horrific, too painful to express in words.

Taken at the Vigil following the terror attacks on London Bridge
Over the past months with the terror attack on Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and now the continuing horror of the fire in Grenfell Tower I have heard many people say the phrase... 'There are no words to express....' but it is a writer's work to try and find words, to offer narratives and stories that may help people find a way to move forward in their lives.

A personal journey 

Journey:  London to Telford as part of Pop Up National Festival 

Yesterday, at just after sunrise I left my home and walked to the station. The local park was empty of people but full of crows. I, like so many others, felt and feel deeply troubled and saddened by the suffering taking place in Grenfell Tower.

My first employment out of university was with Kensington and Chelsea Council, in a job that spanned community work and expression through writing, I was seconded by the council to work with young people in the borough to give access to resources of The Royal Court Young People's Theatre (then located in Ladbroke Grove). I worked on community projects in youth clubs, under The Westway and in and out of school centre at the bottom of the famous high rise Trellick Towers. I remember fondly many of the young people I met there and their families. These same people and people like them are now experiencing the trauma of the hideous fire that took hold so violently in Grenfell Tower this week.

On my walk to the tube I wrote these words:

Sunrise on charred dreams
Embers float through London skies
Crow shrieks questions to the dawn
Hearts and prayers.

On my early morning tube journey people were reading the papers with the image of the burning tower block printed large on the front page accompanied by the words 'hell' and 'fire' as headlines. There was silence in the carriage.

I love visiting Telford normally as it's a place I lived for some years and went to sixth form college. It's where my community minded dad, who died 2008, had his GP practice working with my mum as practice nurse, but yesterday I felt heavy-hearted. Asking myself 'What would Dad have made of the world as it is today?'

In 'Tender Earth' the young people have to find a way to live with the images that they see in the news as well as what they experience day to day.  Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Carl Jung talked about the role of artists in tapping in to 'the collective unconscious' and that is what my journey with 'Tender Earth' is beginning to feel like.

'Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will control your life and you will call it fate.'
Carl Jung

On the tube I was reflecting on the last time I had visited Hadley Learning Community in Telford which was just after the Brexit vote when teachers at the school had spoken of how they feared the referendum, greater division and the way leaders and those in public life speak,  would impact on social cohesion and morale and the way they can teach in schools. Of course that was a whole general election away in the past!

It caught the 6.20 train from Euston carrying a bag of objects to share with young people with ' Kite Spirit' the name of one of my books embroidered on it. Much of that book is set in The Lake District where I went to Primary school.

I have practiced mindful meditation for some years and our ' homework' this week from the group is to focus on the visual world - what we see.

As part of this I was looking around the station in a way that I might not normally do. If I had not been doing my homework I would probably not have noticed the name of the train!


It cheered me because the Lake District has always been a place of great peace and comfort to me, as it is for Kite in my story ' Kite Spirit'.

I had a brief idea that I would get on the train and stay on....  I smiled to myself and in my mind's eye saw my Dad's smile. I could see him shaking his head at me!  I began to focus on the children I would be meeting in Telford.

On the train I had an email correspondence with Dylan Calder, founder of Pop Up Festival - an organisation with 'a vision of a more literate, creative society where reading, writing and storytelling are widely valued, enjoyed, practiced and celebrated.' We discussed the power of stories to tap into the collective unconscious and to find something there that might serve to provide hope.

I fell asleep on the train and had a nightmare that Pari (the child of Iraqi refugees who lives in a dilapidated tower block in 'Tender Earth') was stuck in the Grenfell Tower and a woman was screaming for the child to come down. I walked towards the woman and she turned to me. She had my face.

Dreams are a big part of the creation of stories... the conscious and the unconcious and how they flow together have throughout time always been a rich seam in all forms of art, and after I awoke and started thinking about my dream I realized that what I had done was imagine myself to be one of the mothers who are searching for their lost children.

Why am I telling you this? I am not that mother. Those are not my children. I am safe. I have my family. They are safe. I have a home and garden I can walk out into, breathe and plant flowers in. I am privileged, educated, I have a voice. We all have nightmares... mine are no better or worse or more worth sharing than anyone else's.

My point is this  - I am an author for young readers who tries to write stories that can help them navigate their way through this world with a sense of hope, warmth, laughter, imagination and joy. I hope my stories give young people a sense of agency, purpose and potential. I have lived a good few years on the planet. I have experienced many things, met many people. I have a safe home, a close and loving family and a voice to speak the words i want to say... and I am struggling to find a place of equilibrium. How then are young people coping?

There is a crisis in mental health among young people in this country and resources are woefully limited. I awoke from my nightmare with these pressing questions running through my mind.

What will be the impact of these international and national traumas on young people feeding on fears both real and imagined?

What legacy are we sowing for the future?

Street Wishes inspired by the children in 'Jasmine Skies' The wish words showing through are ' I wish for a home'

I find working with young people a truly joyous aspect of my work. I began the session by putting on my hat and introducing them to the voice and character of Grandad Bimal in 'Jasmine Skies' and I was away on another storytelling journey.... we travelled to the orphanage in Kolkata to where Mira volunteers and the students from Hadley, Telford with their diaspora roots and tendrils from all over the world, became those children, took on their roles and parts and stepped into their shoes. They showed me the wishes of the street children encased in re-cycled rubbish, and in those wishes they expressed their own hopes for the world. We explored together reading and writing as a treasure hunt of the imagination.... and, as so often happens when working with children and young people, my sense of hope returned.
A still from the patchwork of storytelling animation by Grace Emily Manning - a creative writing resource based by
 Sita Brahmachari for Pop Up Festival

On the way home at Wolverhampton I was feeling much more light-hearted as I remembered  Diwali and Durga Puja festivals we attended there as children. My mind was full of the wonderful children and inspiring dedicated educators I had met.

I got on the train from Wolverhampton to London, found my seat and then heard the announcement that I was heading for Oxenholme and The Lake District! (I clearly by then had forgotten my mindfulness homework!)

'Perhaps you should stay on!' The woman sitting next to me suggested.

The next available stop to return me to my family, friends, safe home and community - was Crewe. Instead of giving myself a hard time for being such a day-dreamer, I looked out of the window and enjoyed the unexpected re-routing of my journey. The evening sunshine and the countryside opened up in front of me.

Eventually... back on the homeward track and the tube I read articles about how members of the multi-faith  Kensington and Chelsea community had spent another day in a communal outpouring of support and common humanity as they face the still unraveling tragedy of the fire in Grenfell Tower.

I tweeted this:

Moving away from politics of immigration. What we see in #GrenfellTower humane, multi-faith community response is what makes Britain great.

Being an Amnesty Ambassador and conscious thoughts...

In the schools in and around Kensington and Chelsea  and Manchester educators are now having to work with young people ...  to  help them to cope with their unfolding trauma. I hope that some of the funds collected and most importantly - public funding - will go towards desperately needed increased resources for mental health provision in schools, and ensuring that the investigation that takes place after #GrenfellTower will address that young people, like my character Pari, will never have to live in sub-standard and unsafe housing or go hungry at school again.


I was honored to be invited to be one of the Amnesty Ambassadors and to speak up for the universal human rights of young people.

When I met with Kate Allen, Director of  Amnesty International UK and Nicky Parker, Human Rights Publisher to talk about how I might explore this role, I spoke of my wish to highlight: poverty inequality among young people and poverty of opportunity.

These are the universal human rights that the young characters in 'Tender Earth' their families and teachers are struggling to uphold in today's world. These are the hard fought for, precious rights enshrined in the United Natiions universal rights of the child that must be upheld.

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.'


Some more tracks to follow! Who knows where they will take you!

On activism

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/youth-activist-toolkit

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/13/protest-persist-hope-trump-activism-anti-nuclear-movement

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/14/local-heroes-saved-lives-helped-residents-grenfell-tower-fire/

https://www.channel4.com/news/david-lammy-mp-remembers-friend-grenville-tower-fire-london

On empathy

http://justimagine.co.uk/2017/06/09/walking-this-tender-earth-in-empathy-shoes-by-sita-brahmachari/

https://didyoueverstoptothink.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/9859/

http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/at-the-worlds-first-empathy-museum-visitors-walk-a-mile-in-another-persons-shoes-literally-20150821/

http://www.empathylab.uk/

In celebration of the life of the late MP Jo Cox

https://www.bing.com/news/search?q=Jo+Cox&qpvt=Jo+Cox&FORM=EWRE

Stories of hope to reach children

http://pop-up.org.uk/

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

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

I will speak more on this subject at The Guardian Teacher Conference.
https://www.theguardian.com/gnmeducationcentre/2017/apr/21/reading-for-pleasure-teacher-conference-20th-century-literature-thursday-6-july-2017?CMP=share_btn_tw





Thursday, 1 June 2017

June 1st - Reflections on not letting the nettles grow and Tender Earth

Writing is a lot about thinking, walking, not reacting, thinking again, imagining, dreaming, making discoveries, picking up threads of characters and story lines and finally, many days (or years!) of walks, dreams and word weaving later... a book emerges. 
Tender Earth published June 1st is edited by Venetia Gosling


Tender Earth is Julia Eccleshare's One of picks of the month

'A sharply observed and warm-hearted story about change and transition in adolescence, Tender Earth also carries a powerful message to all young readers about tolerance, integration and the need to stand up for what you believe in.' Julia Eccleshare/ Good Reads


'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

I am lucky enough to live near a park where there is a beautiful statue of Oliver Tambo for many years Leader of The African National Congress who lived in exile in Haringey. The memorial was erected following the death of Mr Terry OBE who was the executive secretary of the British Anti-Apharteid Movement from 1975 - 1994 and also a teacher in my community at Alexandra Park School.

I love this statue and the words written there by children of Rhodes Avenue Primary School and Alexandra Park School.


Occasionally, on a dog walk  I'll go out with a pair of shears and cut the nettles down so that you can read the words that young people have written.


'There is no black or white
Instead we fight for the deed of equality 
Which shall be written
Upon books, upon land, upon the mind
For all human kind are equal'

Excerpt from a poem by Sitara Amin-Tilly - Alexandra Park School 


Sitting in the sunshine reading these words on the publication day of Tender Earth I reflected, as I have done in writing Tender Earth on what a long walk to freedom it truly is, how hard fought for these freedoms were and are today and how proud it makes me feel to write for young people who are willing to walk that walk. 


On the 'Refugees Welcome' march
For these reasons I am honoured by Amnesty's endorsement of Tender Earth 


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

Yesterday I was so moved to be invited to be an Amnesty Ambassador, a platform I will use to speak up for the freedoms of young people. There are many people in my life who have inspired me to do this in my stories, the spirit of these people inspire Laila Levenson and I hope that they inspire readers too. 

Rosie Harrison my bohemian artist mother in law who inspired Nana Joise in Artichoke Hearts  (her Anti Apharteid membership card) and our family friend Simon Gould  the inspiration behind  'Protest Simon 'who Laila meets in  Tender Eatrh 

Tender Earth is a book that I offer with all the layers of my heart to young people growing up today.
There are plenty of reasons why this generation may look at the world and feel disempowered, but there are also plenty of examples of where people have stood up to injustice. In Tender Earth  twelve year old Laila Levenson hears the chime of an older generation of protesters calling to her across time. With their guidance she explores what it means to stand up for what you believe in.... not only on the noisy march but also through small acts of kindness, friendship and quiet vigils where we all have the power to tend the earth and stop the stinging nettles from taking over.


I don't take for granted even for a moment what the right to speak of a young girl's freedom, the right to be educated, to dance and sing in safety and protest against injustice means to so many young people living in the world today.

At Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill on Publication Day admiring the beautiful banner display by Grace Emily Manning.


Reviews:

"Inclusive Minds are delighted to welcome the arrival of Tender Earth on the children’s book landscape. We embrace a book like this that has been so throughly researched and demonstrates such authentic inclusion.” 
Alexander Strick (Inclusive Minds) 



Julia Eccleshare's One of Picks of the Month for June 2017
A sharply observed and warm-hearted story about change and transition in adolescence, Tender Earth also carries a powerful message to all young readers about tolerance, integration and the need to stand up for what you believe in. Moving to secondary school coincides with big changes at home and Laila finds herself struggling with all the differences she now faces. Her best friend is striking out on her own; her new friend has secrets which Laila doesn’t know how to unlock. When Laila discovers her grandmother’s ‘Protest Book’, a listing of all the protests she attended, Laila decides it is time for her to get her own voice heard. Leila’s coming of age experiences intelligently reflect today’s society while her gradual realisation of her own opportunities will inspire others. Julia Eccleshare - Good Reads

Tender Earth - How young people will be the ones to defeat hatred through empathy & protest. Gill Ward Senior Librarian at Fortismere School.


"Each layer in this beautifully written book peels back to reveal another, challenging assumptions about ethnic origins, family ties and the stories from the past which affect the present day. Running through the book like a golden thread are Kez’s preparations for her bat mitzvah. The ceremony in the Reform synagogue, so well-drawn and integrated into the story by Brahmachari, is possibly the first time a bat mitzvah has appeared in such detail in a UK children’s book.  Kez has also been on an important journey and bringing together all the parts of her life for the ceremony allows Kez and Laila to renew their friendship on more mature terms. A book about friendship and the power of protest, this book will have a wide appeal across age groups in our bewildering times. Thoroughly recommended. "

Miriam Halahmy YA Author,  June 2017.


"I love this big, beautiful and important book with wonderful and diverse characters at its heart.  Sita explores the complexities and joy of friendship, growing up and realising how you can find your own voice in a world that is sometimes be cruel and difficult.  One of the main characters, Pari, is a refugee.  For young refugees to be able to see themselves in a book is so important, and encouraging empathy and understanding by others for children like Pari is crucial.  Being an asylum seeker or refugee in the UK can be very hard.  Many have escaped war and terrible human rights abuses.  They have often had terrible journeys.  Once here, there are immense practical and emotional issues to overcome.  Friendship and acceptance from those in your community can really help.  All young people should have the chance to get to know Pari! " 


Jo Cobley Director of Young Roots Refugee Organisaton, Croyden, London.  


June Events Diary:


Last week I was invited to be on a panel by the Children's Book Circle with fellow Waterstones winner Catherine Rundell at Waterstones Kensington about the place of politics in children's fiction.

June 1st ( Publication Day) I am off to the Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill to sign some copies and see the human rights window that my friend and artist Grace Emily Manning has created banners for.

I'll be taking part in an election month blog tour talking about my character's exploration of racism, women's marches,  child poverty, refugee experience and empathy in Tender Earth organised by Publicist Nina Douglas.

On June 13th I will raise awareness around the much needed world's first Empathy Day on 13th June in support of Empathy Lab
http://www.empathylab.uk/

20th June is World Refugee Day and I'll be at Fortismere School in the morning and The Archer Academy in the evening for a  celebration of  young people's contribution to the research for Tender Earth.

22nd Jun , as part of Refugee Week I will take part in a panel focusing on sanctuary and refugee experience in my stories as part of a week long programme of events.
https://www.quaker.org.uk/events/refugee-week-sanctuary-in-fiction


Blog Posts:

How reading can change your world
http://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-blogs/blogs/booktrust/1145

On Racism and religious intolerance in Tender Earth
http://daydreamersthoughts.co.uk/2017/06/

On the Women's Marches in Tender Earth
http://www.neverjudgeabookbyitscover.co.uk/2017/06/blog-tour-guest-post-tender-earth-by.html