IMAGINE being sent abroad, away from your parents, as a child. Imagine fleeing a war in your home country, with a sibling to look after.
Imagine coming to a strange land, where you don’t speak the language, where everything is different, and being placed in the care of a distant relative who considers your presence a burden.
This is the basis for a new, award-winning book by Camden primary school teacher Tom Avery. He provides a fictional look at the lives of two young asylum seekers as they struggle to find their feet in a London that offers them little help.
Tom, who teaches at Torriano Junior School in Kentish Town, scooped the 2010 Frances Lincoln “Diverse Voices” award for literature for his book Too Much Trouble, which was published last month as part of his prize.
It tells the story of brothers Prince and Emmanuel, who have been forced to leave their family and home country – an unspecified, war-torn central African state – and stay with an uncle in London.
“I wrote Too Much Trouble when I heard the story of a boy and his sisters who had been sent to live in England without their parents,” he says.
In the book, the pair of brothers, aged 10 and 12, are sent to live with their uncle. But things do not go well: their uncle finds them too much to handle, and they both end up running away. They are then faced with the dilemma of how to survive – and find petty crime is a way to keep themselves alive.
It is here that Tom draws on one of the great classics for inspiration as the two youngsters fall in with a gang of pickpockets, a modern day Fagin gang.
“It borrows some scenes from Dickens,” he says. “There are some allusions in the book – for example we see Emmanuel reading Oliver Twist.
“I want contemporary literature to talk about contemporary issues – just as Dickens did. And I do not believe there is enough literature for young people today that deals with issues [such as] asylum seekers.”
Tom is also aware that English not being spoken as a first language in many people’s homes can act as a barrier to reading. Furthermore, much of children’s literature deals with a white British experience, making it even harder for those who need a little extra help with reading to engage with books.
All of these issues Tom has seen first-hand in many of the schools he has taught in.
“Research shows that some children simply do not own any books,” he says. “I thought about this, and wanted to write a story that was relevant to this group, and, hopefully, encourage them to read and engage them in literacy this way.”
• Too Much Trouble. By Tom Avery. Francis Lincoln Children’s Books, £5.99
Published: 14 July, 2011
by DAN CARRIER