28th May 2019
On Wednesday the 22nd of May, Relationship Manager Grace attended the yearly finale event for Prism Collective Fund, Young City Reads. A recent addition to Prism, Young City Reads works on raising reading aspirations in young children in the Brighton & Hove areas. By selecting a focus book each year, schools far and wide are provided with ten weeks’ worth of thought-provoking resources and content to inspire conversations based on the chosen class-read. The annual ‘Big Read’ works on the simple premise of one book by one author being chosen and then read, explored, discussed and creatively engaged in by all the participating children and their teachers.
Announced on World Book Day, the 7th of March 2019, this year the chosen title was ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’. The debut novel from Onjali Raúf who has now gone on to win The Blue Peter Book Award and The Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize for 2019. Fast forward eleven weeks and yesterday saw the coming-together of over a thousand children and their teachers, along with local partners supporting both the schools, the author, Young City Reads and Brighton Festival. Joined together in the spectacular Brighton Dome building, all the young children who were part of the project excitedly awaited the much-anticipated presentation from Onjali Raúf, on her motivations to write, the key themes from the story and the writing process she undertook.
Raúf’s novel, ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’, tells the story of the refugee crisis and highlights the key necessities of friendship and kindness for children whom find themselves displaced. Where once was an empty seat at the back of the class there now sits Ahmet, with the story told using humour and humility to remind us of the importance of human compassion.
Following an introduction into Raúf’s life and career up-to this point, she informed her captivated audience that the devastating pictures we all remember of Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015 ignited the start of her focus working with refugees. This work took her to refugee camps in both Calais and Dunkirk and ultimately motivated her to tell Ahmet’s story in her novel that then followed. Her fascinated audience of years four and five children sat quietly and still in reflection of the topic Raúf passionately discussed. Their measured and matured responses showed they too had understood the story of Ahmet and what it means in terms of the wider society they themselves live in today.
The room then once again came to life with excited chatter as Raúf asked the children if they had heard of Harry Potter, Paddington Bear and Superman? In chorus they let her know that they had, with Raúf then explaining these characters we love and know so well are refugees too. Brilliant questions, asking what it is they can do to help and how best they can support children like Ahmet then followed, allowing Raúf to offer the children three simple suggestions they too can use: Be an inclusive friend, don’t ever be afraid to ask questions and raise awareness or funds when you can. It was clear that the children left Brighton Dome feeling motivated and engaged to be the change Raúf and themselves want to see.
As Young City Reads ‘Big Read’ finale drew to a close for 2019, the success of the book and the engagement during the event spurred on the conversations for what 2020 will hold. Through creating a reading programme open for all abilities and with a focus on fun, the team at Young City Reads excitedly know that there are many more stories to be read, more passionate discussions to be had and that there are many more children who they hope can partake.
More on Young City Reads:
More on Prism’s Collective Fund model: