Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A great half term literary festival

This morning I ran through Queen's Wood where 'Red Leaves' is set. It was a glorious start to the day. The sun played through russet, mustard and golden leaves which wafted down through the thinning branches. Leaves scrunched underfoot and I fancied that if I looked up I would hear my ancient character Elder intoning her chants in praise of autumn.

'Time to light the fires. The year's turning and the wood's stirring.' 

I picked up a leaf, took it home, traced around it and made twenty paper leaves for the young writers who attended Storystock at the Bush Theatre today. There are wonderful literary events on all week and today I was privileged to see the great Michael Morpurgo there (though I was not brave enough to say hi!)

In creative writing workshop today twenty young people imagined that they, like my characters in 'Red Leaves' were hiding out in an air raid shelter on the eve of Halloween. They threw red leaves in the air, caution to the wind, let their imaginations flow and produced some beautiful writing.

 'Red Leaves' draws on some harsh real world realities but the young lives who find their way to the air raid shelter in a London wood discover a place where magic and transformations are possible, where young people can return to the simple pleasures of building dens, enjoying fireworks light up the sky, catching a falling leaf and making new bonds of friendship.

See the whole programme for the rest of the week at:


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Reviews and endorsements of 'Red Leaves'

Here are reviews and endorsements on 'Red Leaves' from reviewers, educators and young readers:

Julia Eccleshare :'Red Leaves' is LoveReading4Kids Book of the Month

'Award-winning Sita Brahmachari has a great gift of understanding for the confusions and loneliness of adolescents and their need to be gently nurtured and cherished.'

'Sita Brahmachari has created a beautiful tale of modern multicultural Britain.' 
The Book Trust Review

'Red Leaves' was published on 25th September 2014 by Macmillan Children's Books.

Red Leaves is endorsed by Amnesty International UK 
 "We are proud to endorse Red Leaves because of its sensitive depiction of diversity and the human need for somewhere to call home. It's a novel that encourages readers' empathy, which is a big step towards understanding, tolerance and kindness - all values that help us to uphold human rights.''
(Nicky Parker, Publisher at Amnesty International UK)
'If I was a Year 6 or Year 7 teacher, I’d order a copy of this book for my classroom or school library right now. Why? Because it’s ambitious in its scope, but gets away with it spectacularly. On the surface, the story involves a small gang of kids having an adventure and solving a mystery with a bit of magic thrown in. But look deeper and you’ll find issues like divorce, working parents, homelessness, domestic abuse, looked-after children, refugees, mental illness, multiculturalism and wars past and present packed into its pages. And Sita Brahmachari does it in a way that seems entirely natural and not in the least didactic.'
It's not often that once you have finished reading a book you need to sit down and simply say “Wow.” This is precisely what I did when I finished reading Red Leaves. It’s not often that a book can redefine your way of thinking and provoke thought about the things we take for granted: family, community, culture, home and the people in the world around us. This is a really poignant book, one which carries a very important message.
'It's about telling stories, weaving tales from past and present, far and near around the world, and bringing them all together in a wonderful crescendo.'

Teacher endorsements: 

Amnesty International UK will be creating education resources for 'Red Leaves' and a number of teachers have recommended the book as a class reader.

Annie Birch , Leader of Literacy at St Paul's way Trust School London

'From the first paragraph onwards ‘Red Leaves’ is visually rich.  My recent teaching has highlighted how students quickly understand this story on a symbolic, as well as a literal level, as a result. It is a seemingly simple tale and yet it holds within it a depth of meaning. It is a story for our times and yet for all times, for young people and yet for all people.‘Red Leaves’ is also emotionally and linguistically rich. Beautifully written, both boys and girls in my lessons immediately empathise with the lives of the carefully observed central characters. As with all of Sita’s books, these represents a rich range of cultural backgrounds and experience, both similar to and different to their own; this makes very fertile territory for dialogue and developing deeply empathic and moving writing. Readers can grapple with the impact of significant issues faced by young people in the story which are also so prevalent in all of our lives; divorce, fostering, bullying, isolation, homelessness, history, war and also family, community, friendship and love- all permeate the pages. 

Great literature should enable us to reflect on society, understand it a bit more and in the process change ourselves. ‘Red Leaves’ does this. The setting of ‘Home Wood’ can be seen as a microcosm of 21st  century society, an arena in which to explore modern life with all its multi-layered, complex cultural issues. ‘Red Leaves’ reveals beauty in nature, diversity and struggle and within the conclusion of the plot, it highlights what people have in common across cultures

At a time when PSHE is too often squeezed out of the curriculum in favour of subjects that yield more point scores or test results, the emotional relevance of this text alone is a strong argument for using this as a must-read text, not only for KS3, but across the school. Of course students will learn about fantastic writing in this book ; setting, character, imagery, plot and description. But literature can also teach us about life. The issues explored in the dialogue and dynamic between characters enable readers to have greater insight into the lives of others, make connections with people who may initially appear to be different to themselves and hopefully to overcome prejudice or limits in viewpoints and judgements. 

‘Red Leaves’ is a special treasure. It is moving, magic and meaningful on many levels. Isn’t it 
time to allow young people to experience some magic back at the heart of the curriculum?
Catherine Coles English Teacher, Fortismere School. London.

'I would choose 'Red Leaves' for a reader for year 7 or 8 for the following reasons: It has interesting contemporary themes that are also timeless - identity, conflict and coming of age that provide good comparative themes to other work eg, poetry. This will work really well with the new ' Comparing text' requirement in the National Curriculum beginning Autumn 2014. The structuring devices with parallel narratives and time frames would be interesting to explore with a year 7/ 8 class. The book offers many possibilities for creative writing. There are also strong links to PHSE, Citizenship, RE and Literacy  The length of the novel is manageable and could be read as a whole class text. The length of the chapters can be easily read in one class sitting and the text is rich enough with a range of stylistic uses eg. dreams, poems, multiple narrative to be analysed in detail. The style of writing is beautiful and accessible '
Catherine Coles English Teacher, Fortismere School. London.

Joanne Chadwick Head of Social Sciences at Alexandra Park School, London. 

'What a great read! A lovely book, truly easy to access and relate to.

In terms of Citizenship:’Red Leaves is a relevant book to modern multicultural Britain. It explores three teenage lives through their varied problems, yet draws together the underlying similarities facing young adults today. Life for young people is a struggle, no matter their background and upbringing. Red leaves enables us to relate to and have insight into these modern day struggles, whilst making important connections to the past. There is a shared humanity and human desire in Zak, Aisha and Iona that despite their differences and troubles, unites them.

Red leaves can be used to explore the impact of conflict outside of the ‘war zone’ (be that Somalian conflict or domestic violence in the UK) how young adults make their way in British society, how they fit in, but are wrestling with multiple identities. They are part of the fabric of modern British society but still feel excluded at times from the expectations, routines and bureaucracies of British life.
Red leaves could be used to make the connection between conflicts old and new and the impact and scars that these leave on children. Red leaves allows these connections to be subtly made and could be used as an exploration or starting point to gently ease students into the study of conflict and its impacts.

Young Reader Reviews

In my opinion ‘Red Leaves’ is the best of Sita’s books. All of her books have a light heartedness to them that intrigues younger readers but this book addresses something a lot more serious. The way that Sita writes about the unity in different cultures teaches young readers about the sense of community we have in the UK.

My favourite thing about the book is that Sita brings together histories of three culturally different teenagers without the help of technology. The setting of the ‘Home Wood’ - which I visited in Highgate – is perfect for uniting the ancient and the new. The woods are very old with an air raid shelter which is where Aisha, Zak and Iona hide out. I really loved this idea because we know that people hid in the air raid shelter when they were escaping from war but the 
characters hid in the air raid shelter to escape from their problems which was a very interesting parallel. The woods also had a conservation area to allow new, diverse fauna and flora to grow which represented the children that were still yet to grow.

My favourite character was Iona because despite being a young, homeless girl she still took great pride in her artwork. In spite of not having seen the drawing of her dog – Red – I really loved the way that Sita described the artwork as sophisticated and detailed which is a distinct contrast to Iona’s life. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who feels out of place for the older and younger readers.
Mymona Noor, St Paul's Way Trust School

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

We Need Diverse Books

I spent publication day for 'Red Leaves' with the amazing students of St Paul's Way Trust School in London. If you look in the acknowledgements of 'Red Leaves' you will see that girls at the school helped me to step into the shoes of my character Aisha who arrived in this country as an unaccompanied refugee.

I was invited to go back to the school on publication day to give a talk to year 7 and 8 about the inspiration for writing 'Red Leaves.'

I talked about Aisha and was able to personally thank the girls for their contribution. I talked about researching characters who may be very unlike yourself... and the act of stepping into someone else's shoes.

I talked about Iona - the homeless girl from Scotland who nobody in the story is looking for. I talked of the ancient homeless woman Elder who lives in a den in a city wood.

I talked about Zak from a wealthy background who might seem to have everything except a secure home. His father and mother have recently divorced.  Zak's mother is a war journalist reporting about the refugee crisis in Syria.  

We discussed how young people feel the weight of what is said in the media about their religion, culture, identity and right to belong.

'Red Leaves' is set in a wild city wood and as we roamed the paths of the story together we agreed that what all humans share is a universal need across culture, religion, age and economic difference to build ourselves a safe and secure home where we can be ourselves.

Why do we build dens? I asked

'To feel safe, to feel protected, to find a place where you can be yourself,' answered a year seven boy.

Writing with the aim of having your young readers empathising with people and stories they may never usually connect to, feels to me to be both a huge responsibility and a privilege.

On the final session of working with the Somali girl's advisory group I invited them to name my character... they said they didn't want anyone to be put off by finding her name too difficult to pronounce and they unanimously named her 'Aisha'.

I was reminded that my own dad used to sometimes shorten his name from Dr Brahmachari to 'Dr B.' As a strident teenager I used to tell him off . I would say 'Why should you compromise your name... people should learn to say it.' I still think I was right! But I understood the instinct of the teenagers I have worked with. At a time when young Muslim people feel the weight of negativity in the media the group I worked with wanted 'everyone, not just from our background miss!' to love Aisha.

For myself, for the girls who advised me on Aisha's character and I hope for 'Red Leaves' readers, Amnesty's endorsement means so much.

"We are proud to endorse 'Red Leaves' because of its sensitive depiction of diversity and the human need for somewhere to call home. It's a novel that encourages readers' empathy, which is a big step towards understanding, tolerance and kindness - all values that help us to uphold human rights."
Nicky Parker (Publisher. Amnesty International UK)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Red Leaves Book Trailer

Here's the official trailer for Red Leaves made by amazing Grace Manning with sound by Julian Portinari for Macmillan Children's Books.

The Big Issue

Here's the link to the article I wrote about why I have young and old homeless people in ' Red Leaves' in last week's Big Issue.


This week marks the 23rd anniversary of The Big Issue. I had bought the magazine from this local seller before but didn't know his name, now I do.  This is Jonathan Gregg If you buy a Big Issue from a seller stop for a chat.

Jonathan had read my article and agreed with the description of 'invisibility'

He said he would like to read my book - so i gave him my copy and he's going to write a review which I will post here.