Mike Rosen on a book that takes us right back to what books are for…<!–break–>
When I talk with teachers and children about writing, I try to make the point over and over again that it should matter. The absurd thing about the last ten years of literacy initiatives is that they have succeeded in creating activities in schools that make literacy important and literature boring. In the face of all this, Benjamin Zephaniah has produced a book that takes us right back to what books are for. Every day the news is full of lies and hysteria about asylum-seekers, refugees, foreigners and immigrants. Politicians who should know better (as opposed to the racist ones who don’t) have pandered to the uninformed by talking about ‘swamping’ and blaming immigrants for the racism they experience. Here, in Refugee Boy, Benjamin takes us on one boy’s journey through the immigration system in this country. It’s a simple idea, simply told with no complicated narrative techniques or purple passages. When the boy is threatened with deportation, the solidarity of a motley teenage crew rally round and the situations he finds himself in, give Benjamin a chance for moments of wry humour at the expense of, say, kids who argue to the death over who’s top dog or funnier still the taste in grunge music of a particular kind of well-meaning white kid. This isn’t a bleak or strident book, its modesty is utterly appropriate to the character of its hero. This is writing that is about now, for now and in now and speaks straight back to the government front bench. I can only hope that no teacher reduces it to worksheets and asks kids questions about what adjectives Benjamin uses.
Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy is published by Bloomsbury (0 7475 5086 7, £4.99). Mike Rosen’s latest book is Lovely Old Roly, ill. Priscilla Lamont (Frances Lincoln, 0 7112 1488 3, £10.99).