Readers of The Other Side of Truth
After months of tucking myself away to finish a book, I was reminded yesterday of the pleasure of visiting young readers in school. Thank you, Year 5s and your teachers at Childeric Primary School in Deptford, south London - and thank you, Julia Hope (lecturer at Goldsmiths College who organised the visit) and The Merry Trust.
Julia is researching children's literature about refugees and is following how the children respond to my novel The Other Side of Truth. Aged 10, they are among the novel's youngest readers, in contrast to the 18-year-old French students from J B de la Salle College in Rouen who came to Bournemouth this year to interview me. The young adults were preparing for their English 'Bac' exam on the novel. Here they are outside their hotel - overlooking the sea - with their intrepid English teacher Julie Bertholle (at the back, 4th from the right).
What interests readers is often very similar, despite differences in age. Most readers want to know my own connection to the story. One of the Rouen students asked, 'Do you see yourself in Sade?' Yesterday, a child asked whether some of my own experiences were in the story.
It's fascinating to see the novel being read by such a wide range of ages and backgrounds. An 11-year-old reader from a Glasgow school once wrote, 'I shouldn't tell you this but our teacher had to stop reading to hold in tears.' An adult reader at a Bournemouth Book Group recently waited until after our discussion to tell me, very quietly, how she had cried. It was something she hadn't expected. She had never imagined what it might feel like to be suddenly turned into a refugee.
Yesterday, when it was time to go home, a girl with deep enquiring eyes came up to me. 'Have you ever written a story about a child in a refugee camp?' she asked. I replied, 'Have you ever been in a refugee camp?' Yes, she said softly. She had stayed in a camp when she was five years old. One day, I suggested, why not write about your experience? Unlike the students from Rouen, or the members of the Book Group, many children at Childeric know first-hand, or through others, about lives being uprooted overnight. Perhaps when they read the chapter 'Mariam's Story', they might share some stories of their own.
My husband Nandha came with me yesterday. He was full of admiration for the way the children listened so attentively for well over an hour, with such engaging questions, as well as sensitive, intelligent answers to the questions I posed to them. He was hugely impressed by displays on the walls of the classrooms, including the ideas on learning how to learn and suggestions on how to get the most out of reading.
Childeric readers, aim high, go far and go well!