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: