It’s Empathy Day today, and I’m delighted that one of the books I co-wrote with Richard O’Neill, last year, illustrated by Hannah Tolson and published by Child’s Play, is on the list of 21 recommended books for the day (and beyond).
Ossiri and the Bala Mengro is the story of a young girl from the Traveller community, who longs to be a musician. She isn’t very good, yet she perseveres and has adventures on her travels with her loving family. We very much hope that this story shows that whilst people from a variety of backgrounds, such as the Romani and Traveller communities, may seem different, at heart people often have a lot in common. It was a lot of fun to write with my co-writer, the English Traveller Richard O’Neill, whose stories have been handed down in oral form through many generations.
Good books open doors onto other lives; they show the humanity in all sorts of lives (yes, even when authors shape-shift and become cats, dogs or aliens). We are experiencing migration across the world in increasing numbers, as people flee war, environmental crisis and terrorism. My own mother fled from Yugoslavia with my (then pregnant) grandmother after the Second World War, to escape Communist rule. They had lived through bombing, under Nazi occupation and had lost close family members. They had been internally displaced and, by the war’s end, had been deprived of almost everything. When they arrived at Croydon Airport they had one small suitcase (the size of Paddington’s suitcase) between them. They were lucky to be welcomed when they arrived here, with the assistance of the Red Cross, by distant family members and strangers alike. (You can read my mum’s story, ‘Becoming English’ in A Country of Refuge, published last year) So building bridges between cultures is very close to my heart and the natural, heart-felt kindness that children feel and show towards strangers is always a joy to see.
I hope that the books I have written for the last ten years all show an attention to empathy – whether it is towards disabled people, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers or yes, even wilful girls like my very own Fussy Freya (my first book for children) who refuse to eat!
Happy Empathy Day and congratulations to all the authors on the list, and heart-felt thanks to Empathy Lab for all their hard work.