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.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Publication Day Celebration - Waterstones Book of the Month

Dare, Dream, Believe, Imagine....

'Where The River Runs Gold' 

Orion Children's Books
Edited by Sam Swinnerton

Endorsed by Amnesty International 

Published July 1st 2019

Waterstones Children's Book of The Month
Blackwells Display pick

How wonderful and exciting to see the beautiful displays inspired by 'Where The River Runs Gold' emerging in Waterstones Bookshops. I'm looking forward to seeing many of them. 

To celebrate 'Where The River Runs Gold' publication day I am so happy to present this beautiful textile art. It is made by #FridayForFuture environmental activists in response to the story and includes patchwork pockets and origami seed envelopes full of re-wilding treasure from the book.

It's pictured with:

🌻 'Where The River Runs Gold' notebook (containing world building maps/sketches)
🌻A hessian save the bee bag (no plastic is permitted in the Kairos Lands)  
🌻A painting pallet I imagine belonging to a Forager 'Graffitree' artist 

These Publication Day patchwork pieces are scattered in my wild flower garden of daisies, lavender and golden evening primrose... On a sunny Sunday I've been imagining  my character Shifa on the secret, forbidden 'Flower Tracks' making her daisy chains and turning the evening primrose and lavender into healing oils for her family.

In near future Kairos Lands where I've been roaming the world is divided into 'Paragons', 'Freedoms' and 'Outlanders' and it's clear that ...'All that glitters is not gold' but Shifa and Themba and their fellow environmentalists must search for what truly is...

As we approach the summer holidays I hope this story will inspire much re-wilding of wildflower tracks in the earth and in storytelling imaginations too.

In the landscapes I love most you are always discovering new paths. I have been lucky enough to work with great creative teams in children's publishing from the start of writing stories for young people with 'Artichoke Hearts' (Macmillan Children's Books). Since then there are so many golden threads to this storytelling journey - all of them written from the heart and it has been a great joy to work with Sam Swinnerton (Senior Editor - Orion Children's Books) once again.

Screen shot of my books created by Concord College, Shropshire
In 'Where The River Runs Gold' I have slipped out of time present, entered the story-hive of mythical lands and discovered a new river path in my storytelling garden. 

Art from the Art and Writing Class run by Jane Ray and myself
(As artist and writer in residence at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants)
Our artistic work together is referenced in the acknowledgements of 'Where The River Runs Gold.

Over the next few weeks I'll be touring around with the wonderful Dom Kingston 
(Head of PR at Orion Children's books) and talking more about world building in the Kairos Lands ... but for now I just want to say a heartfelt (skep-heart!) thank you to the whole team at Orion Children's Books and my agent Sophie Gorell Barnes at MBA literary Agents for their great enthusiasm, creativity and care in publishing this story. I can't wait to hear how it grows in reader's imaginations.

So thrilled with this publication day news. Thanks to all the wonderful staff at Waterstones for their book love.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Why calling Greta Thunberg 'a girl in pigtails' is so deeply troubling

All children's and YA authors will have been on the receiving end of the question 'When are you going to write an adult novel?' Maybe one day I will, maybe I won't but what I think is at the core of the question is a perception that writing for young people is somehow of a lesser quality or importance than novels written solely for adults.

I know I'm not alone in hearing from adults who have picked up my inter-generational stories that they spoke to them powerfully, but sometimes this is said with an element of surprise.

I fear that what is deeply embedded in our society is an attitude towards children and young people that denigrates their abilities and by extension those who create work for them. As an author and Amnesty Ambassador I am constantly inspired by the young people I meet, their vision, clarity and bravery. I have often written  young women characters who put themselves on the line and stand up to inequality when they see it.

As Greta Thunberg has stated again and again... she has not mobilised children throughout the world to leave school to make governments of the world listen.... for fun! She has done so because time is of the essence.... she is a young woman with all her life ahead of her... and that life will be compromised by lack of action.

So for adults to denigrate a young woman who has ( unlike so many world leaders) used social media as a force for good and speaks to power with clarity, passion and wisdom.... is for me a deeply troubling sign of disrespect to young women and young people in our society.

It disrespects girls, women and  childhood.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Rights of The Child.

I've heard people talk negatively about young people knowing their rights countering the argument by the suggestion that 'they should know their responsibilities.'

In a week where children experiencing hunger in this country spoke in Parliament of the shame of child poverty I am incredulous at some of the commentary I read by adults in relations to children and childhood.

In my mind it is the children today who are showing responsibilty with great dignity and honesty. When adults choose to respond by calling one extraordinary young woman 'a girl in pigtails'
it speaks volumes to me of who needs to learn some respect... and it's not the children.

I for one am proud to be a children's and YA walk side by side with them, help with the power of the imagination to speak to their humanity in these tender present times and to narrate them into a brighter future.


Greta Thunberg - ' You're never too small to make a difference'

Greta Thunberg - Full Speech to UK Parliament

Friday, 22 March 2019

Where The River Runs Gold

Receiving a proof copy of a story born in the wild, meandering paths of your imagination never loses its magic. I'm so looking forward to introducing readers to the 'brave and true' Shifa and Themba and their family. 

The knitted bee below was a birthday present from my lovely friend Sarah and is just the sort of thing that Shifa would make because in the lands in which she lives the bees appear to have flown our world. 

Where The River Runs Gold is published by Orion Children's Books and is to be published on 11th July 2011.

Here's a snippet...

Reading through the proof I’ve been thinking about the process of writing and the winding paths of life, time and art and loved landscapes, all central themes in this story set in the mythical Kairos Lands.. in Kairos Time regenerative possibilities still remain open...

Dr Ryad Alsous  world renowned bee keeper and refugee from Syria  whose story inspired the character of Nabil (Shifa and Themba's father) and his ancestors and to consider the very real threat to our bees.

In Where The River Runs Gold I've been exploring how we're caring for the rights of children and our environment, the rivers, forests, the bees, the urban parks… and I've been asking what thresholds present and future generations might have to breach to make governments of the world protect this planet and change the way the worlds resources and economies are organised and shared. 

In writing I have been mindful of the number of adults and children around the world (some of whom I meet at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants) who become refugees because of environmental devastation due to climate change, mismanagement of land or unwillingness to share the world's resources.

Stories sometimes wait to be born in you and into the right time. My daughter (now almost fifteen years old)  and her friends along with millions of young people  were inspired by amazing activists like Greta Thunberg to strike... to leave school to show leaders of the world the urgency of their cry. Because of generations of denial, apathy and intransigence young people are now mobilising, as my young characters Shifa and Themba must to pressurise governments to save their planet, to think of new ways of living where the world's resources are shared more equally… for in my novel as in life it is young people who pay the heaviest price…

Where The River Runs Gold begins with the cry of a baby....and this story is dedicated to my wonderful editor Sam Swinnerton's baby, Ada. I worked with Sam on my first novel 'Artichoke Hearts' (Macmillan Children's Books) and it has been a real joy and adventure to work with her again, exploring new tributaries in my storytelling journey. As we met for editorial meetings and Ada grew, I thought deeply about what sort of world she would be born into and about writing a story containing the wonders of the natural world, a time portal of regenerative possibilities and a cry for the urgent need to protect this planet.

For inquiries contact: 

If you have not heard Greta Thunberg's cry for action at the Extinction Rebellion Rally in London (April 2019) Here it is in full.

Links to things that have inspired me: