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Getting to know Sharna Jackson And Nadia Shireen: The Authors Dedicated To Bringing More Stories To Children

This week marks the 25th annual World Book Day; a celebration of the joys of reading and a continuing mission to ensure every child in the UK can have a book of their own. World Book Day is working with dozens of publishers to make this vision a reality by distributing books through the National Literacy Trust, using £1 book tokens to make books affordable to all.

Each year, a host of books are chosen for children of all ages to enjoy for free with their £1 book tokens. Amongst the selection, Sharna Jackson’s Peak Peril: A High Rise Mystery and Nadia Shireen’s Welcome to Greenwood were both chosen this year, so we caught up with the authors about the power of storytelling, how literature can introduce children to difficult conversations and what the mission of World Book Day means to them.

What does it mean to you to have your book be chosen for World Book Day and what are your hopes for the impact it will have as a £1 book?

Sharna Jackson: Being a World Book Day author, especially on its 25th anniversary is a dream come true. Before becoming a full time author, I had a range of jobs – from being a curator and art director in museums and galleries to a creative director for children’s apps. What drew those roles together for me was a drive to encourage young people’s interest and participation in the arts, media and culture while trying to make those sectors as accessible as possible. World Book Day is one of the finest examples of this kind of work. The organisation distributes over 15 million £1/€1.50 vouchers across the UK and Ireland every year. To think that Peak Peril and all the other incredible titles are available to that many young families, for free, is an incredible thought. I hope having access to these books drives families to seek out more stories they love, in whatever formats they prefer.

Nadia Shireen: I’m just really excited that children all over the country will be able to access this collection of books. To have mine included in there is such an honour. I was lucky – my family enjoyed reading so I had access to books and my mum took me to the local library. However there are loads of children who, for various reasons, don’t get the chance to hold a book in their hands. I love the idea that a child can pick up any of the £1 books and then might be inspired to discover more.

Sharna, the arts are so often the first things to be cut by governments, schools, and other organisations due to financial challenges. Why should creative arts and reading be prioritised, or even promoted, for children in every community?

Sharna: The creative arts and reading must be protected, prioritised and promoted to all children – it is incredibly short-sighted that creative activities are often viewed as frivolous and lacking value – their impact and importance is almost immeasurable. The arts – especially reading – open up children’s worlds, expand imaginations, increase confidence and resilience and, possibly most importantly, promote empathy – something we incredibly need in today’s world.

The National Literacy Trust, a World Book Day partner, reports that 1 in 11 children in the UK do not own a book of their own. Sharna, can you tell us about how you are working to promote the arts and reading in disadvantaged communities?

Sharna: I try to promote the importance of the arts and reading through all the work that I do. In my fiction books, I make sure I mostly feature young Black girls as main characters, where they are always smart, funny and resourceful. I recently wrote a non-fiction book Black Artists Shaping the World to celebrate and promote the work of 26 artists creating exciting and important work.

I curate an annual exhibition called Ensemble for London Games Festival, highlighting the achievements of Black, Asian and minority ethnic talents within the UK games industry. I often buy class sets of the books for schools whose budgets are unable to stretch that far. I love visiting schools – it’s actually my favourite part of the job. I also deliver at least two virtual sessions a week, prioritising schools in areas with the most need at a reduced rate or for free. It’s important for pupils to meet an author, who speaks quite frankly about the reality of the work. I want to show them that if I can grow up in Luton and work in the creative industries, they absolutely can too.

Nadia, what are some unique ways in which illustrations can be used to communicate with children?

Nadia: It is so important to remember that we read images as well as words – and that can give great confidence to those who feel less confident with the written word. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs in one of the most popular children’s books in this country – it is entirely wordless! However it still tells a story. Many adults try to push children away from reading illustrated books, which is a great shame. Be proud of our access to illustrated books, comics, whatever – images are an amazing way to tell stories.

How can books be used to introduce important or more difficult topics into children’s lives and minds?

Sharna: Books can be a gentle but incredibly impactful way to empathetically introduce uncomfortable, difficult topics to children. If they can see other children go through similar situations to them – or indeed situations that are very much out of their current realm of understanding – they can provide a window and important insight into one another.

Nadia: Sometimes it’s just really reassuring to curl up with a book and realise that other people (or animals!) have felt the same way as you, or have overcome difficult odds. I like books which maybe don’t explicitly ‘talk at’ the reader, yet introduce difficult themes in a more subtle way. I think books are a great cure for loneliness- whatever age you are.

Can you share some books that you think do an excellent job inspiring children and their imagination?

Sharna: Look Up! and Clean Up! by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola for the youngest readers, and anything by Malorie Blackman and Michael Rosen.

Nadia: I love The Wind in the Willows, the Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton, and the Barry Loser series by Jim Smith.

In celebration of 25 years of World Book Day, Whistles donated £1 to the World Book Day® charity from each global sale from Whistles standalone stores and online via whistles.com between 12am to 11.59pm GMT on 3rd March 2022 to get £1 books to more children.

World Book Day® changes lives through a love of books and shared reading, promoting reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person the opportunity to have a book of their own, that they have chosen for themselves.

World Book Day is a charity sponsored by National Book Tokens.

FIND OUT MORE

Registered charity number 1079257.

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