Meeting my hero, Eileen Browne

20130709_174128 They say ‘don’t meet your heroes’.  I beg to disagree.

Last year, I was lucky enough to work with the illustrator and writer, Eileen Browne, on a project to promote literacy in prisons.  Even though my daughter is now 14, we still flushed out her old copy of ‘Handa’s Surprise’, to get it signed.  However, it was the books about Jo, a child with a black mother and white father, just like my daughter, that I am grateful for.  According to the vast majority of children’s picture books, families like ours didn’t exist.

 

Wait And See Tony Bradman & Eileen Browne

 

Eileen delivered a workshop on writing for children to young fathers in a London prison.  Many of these men were not accessing the prison education service and approached the workshop with great caution.  The impact was considerable and many saw the workshop and the stories it inspired in them as a way to link with their families and children.

Now Eileen, along with other writers, is challenging the publishers on gender.   There is is still a perception that while girls will follow protagonists of both genders, boys are only interested in boys.  Better get Katniss on to that.

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Tanya Byrne: “At last, here’s a teenager of colour with a story to tell…”

Tanya Byrne: “At last, here’s a teenager of colour with a story to tell…”

Rummaging through the internet, I just found this impassioned article by the young adult writer Tanya Byrne.  She talks of the impact of Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’ and the emotional power of seeing protagonists of colour in the pages – and, maybe one day, on the covers.

China, Jamaica, Trinidad – London Caribbean Literary Salon

China, Jamaica, Trinidad – London Caribbean Literary Salon

Kerry Young, Kevin Le Gendre and Ronnie McGraith – stories that span the islands. 

Kerry is reading from ‘Gloria’, the recently-released second book in an anticipated trilogy.  The first book, ‘Pao’, is, in a sense, the story of Jamaica told through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant who sets up home – and – business in Kingston’s Chinatown.  Kerry is herself Jamaican, of Chinese and African heritage and ‘Pao’ is inspired by her father, who migrated from China to Kingston.  

It is always fascinating to come across the distance between Caribbean islands’ perceptions of themselves and how they are pictured from far away.  People in the UK still assume that ‘Afro-Caribbeans’, or now ‘African Caribbeans’ are the sole residents of the islands, when, of course, most Caribbean islands are shaped by migration (forced and as good as forced), economic churn and colonialism.  All have left their legacy.

While Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana take this multiple heritage as said, across the Atlantic, there remains considerable ignorance.  (Certainly, when I tell people my father’s name was Singh, it raises a few eyebrows…) Kerry wanted to tell tell the story of Chinese-Jamaicans – and how better to reach out then through fiction?  

Multiheritage stories…

Multiheritage stories…

Purloined from Saturday’s ‘Guardian’, the peer Oona King talks about her multi-heritage family experiences.  African-American, Jewish, London, Italian – her family stories span the globe, rather like mine.

Families in the UK are incorporating increasingly diverse national histories, ethnic identities, skin colours, hair types.  Do our children and young adult books reflect this?