Zana Fraillon Interview: Books give people a way of entering another existence

Published on: 19 January 2017 Author: Katie Webber

Zana Fraillon is the author of The Bone Sparrow, which was published in July 2016 and was shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction prize and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017. The paperback is out early 2017.

Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow is a beautiful, vivid and deeply moving story about a refugee boy who has spent his entire life living in a detention centre. This novel reminds us all of the importance of freedom, hope, and the power of a story to speak for anyone who's ever struggled to find a safe home.

We spoke to Zana about how books can inspire empathy in readers, the bravery of children, and the importance of making time to read.

How do you think books can inspire empathy in readers, especially younger readers?

Books give people a way of entering another existence, another world, a way to step inside the shoes of someone else. And through reading you can do all of this in a way that is incredibly safe, because you can step out anytime you want.

Why did you choose to approach the issue of the refugee crisis from the point of view of a child?

Children are so brave. Often they don't realise how brave they are. Even little things like going to school for the first time, that takes an incredible amount of bravery and strength, and kids just do it.

The main character, Subhi, has spent his whole life is inside a detention centre. I realised that for a child like that, and there are real children in that situation, they would have to maintain hope, because sometimes when you are growing up in a situation and you don't know anything else, you don't realise how bad it is.

For lots of kids their whole world is what we give them, and they are stuck in it, and they have to survive it the best way they can.

If you are constrained in your environment, you are desperate to know what the world is like and reading can be a way to show you more of the world. A child's mind is so open to possibilities, and stories only encourage that.

What inspired The Bone Sparrow?

The refugee crisis is something we are all hearing more about, and it can be hard for children to understand. Children are always trying to understand the world they live in, and and books give them a sense of understanding about the world.

With something like the refugee crisis, children would be hearing about it but might not understand what it is, or understand that kids just like them are being impacted. I wanted to bring the voices of children impacted by the refugee crisis to life, to make the people behind the numbers real.

Which authors and books have inspired you as a reader and as a writer?

The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer; anything by David Almond, Isabel Allende or Siobhan Dowd. Definitely A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd. I'd also recommend Barrington Stoke books because they are so accessible and engaging

As a parent, how do you make time to read with your children?

Making time to read is so important, especially continuing to read out loud to children because you can share books with them that might be above their reading level, but not their comprehension level. And it is such a lovely way to end the day.

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