Our Stories ed. Dr Randa Abdel-Fattah
The new Our Stories series of junior chapter books has a clear purpose and is engaging, character-driven and well-written. Ideal for children, the books feature large print, plenty of illustrations and even humour.
When Granny Came to Stay by Alice Pung, illustrated by Sally Soweol Han, celebrates Pangzi’s Chinese granny and other things made in China.
Maku, written and illustrated by Wongutha-Yamatji man Meyne Wyatt, also respects grandparents and highlights the importance of First Nations’ family, culture and land.
These two books kick off the series, which is published by Pan Macmillan Australia.
Interview with series creator and editor Dr Randa Abdel-Fattah
Thank you for speaking with PaperbarkWords, Randa.
What is your vision for the Our Stories series? Where do you hope the series is in a year’s time?
That the series will really honour children’s worldviews, their points of views, their thought processes and ways of knowing and coming to know themselves and each other. I want them to see themselves, their families and communities. To celebrate and reflect on cultural and religious diversity, what it means to live and respect diverse ways of being, in the playground, in school, in community. Above all, that all of this is framed within the context of understanding we share and tell our stories on First Nations’ land. I feel very much this is a responsibility as a settler minority trying to teach my children who they are.
Who is the intended readership of these books?
Children. Adults can enjoy the beautiful stories but the audience is first and foremost children.
How do you select your contributing authors? How do you match illustrators with the stories?
When I thought about the series and spoke to my editor at Pan Macmillan, we wanted diversity not just in terms of cultural heritage, but also diversity in form and style. Prose and verse novels, maybe even a graphic novel. Diversity in the illustrations. The authors and illustrators have been selected because I feel a connection with their work, their own artistic vision, their political commitments, their authentic brave voices. It’s a ‘checklist’ based on being in and of a community of diverse artists.
What brief are you giving your authors?
Write something my kid will read! Only joking. I share my vision of the series, including its fundamentally and unapologetically political vision of reframing conversations about multiculturalism and diversity in classrooms and then leave it to the writers.
How do you or your authors manage to balance the complexity of the stories and issues with their genuine child appeal?
By ignoring adults. Ignoring their point of view, their critique, their gaze. Truly seeking to embody the lived experience of diversity in childhood. So, for example, my story is about a kid who wants to fast at school during Ramadan. His mum reminds him he doesn’t have to, he’s too young, how about he fasts until recess only? In writing the story, I thought about every line from my own children’s point of view. When a teacher asks the child what Ramadan means, would my character answer as a 7 year-old, or offer an adult response? An adult answer would satisfy my adult readers but a child reading the book would see through that. We tend to think that a child’s perspective is less complex than an adult’s perspective. But sometimes children distil the most raw and honest essence of an issue and reveal a more sophisticated view of the world than any adult.
What particularly impressed you about the first two books in the series?
They are beautiful, tender, achingly real in such different, unique ways. I love the sense of place in each, the specificity of each story. Those tiny details that make you feel you are sharing a part of a world within a world. And any story that involves grandparents is instantly a story that I connect with.
What is upcoming in the series?
The next two books in the series are out in August. My book is called ‘The Very Best Doughnut’ and is beautifully illustrated by the brilliant Amani Haydar. It’s a book about fasting in Ramadan from the point of view of a child. The ‘rules’ he bends, the temptations he resists and gives in to, the stories he tells himself, the friends who support him, the traditions he tries to honour, the communities he dips in and out of. I also wrote it out of pure self-interest. With characters based on my youngest two children (7 and 5) I would instantly look cool in front of my kids and also interest them in reading it!
The next book also released in August is a brilliant verse novel, ’29 Things You Didn’t Know About Me’, is by Solli Raphael. Yes the Solli Raphael who at aged 12 won the 2017 Australian Poetry Slam national final. I’d shown the video performance of Solli’s performance in school talks and even to my children so many times. Solli’s verse novel is truly something special and again captures the authenticity of a young person’s voice, the craving to fit in and be accepted and to accept oneself.
Our Stories is a ground-breaking series. When Granny Came to Stay and Maku demonstrate its scope and quality. You’ve created something very special, Randa. Thank you very much, and also, for your responses here.
When Granny Came to Stay at Pan Macmillan Australia
Maku at Pan Macmillan Australia