Author Jeffrey Boakye shares his experience of a school visit: 'It's something I’m going to cherish’
Published on: 05 December 2022
Author Jeffrey Boakye visited a selection of secondary schools in the Croydon area as part of BookTrust Represents author visits. He shares what his 15 years’ teaching experience has taught him about engaging children with the benefits of reading.
“It’s amazing when you think about how many stories are in this room right now,' says Jeffrey Boakye, gesturing out at the audience of hundreds of Year 7 students from Woodcote High School who have gathered in the Main Hall to hear him speak. For many of these students, it might be the first time they have met an author or seen an author who looks like them.
Throughout Jeffrey’s BookTrust Represents author talk, the school hall speakers blast out tracks from Craig David, Eddy Grant, Estelle, and So Solid Crew. Pupils chatter excitedly to their friends, bopping in their seats and singing along – they’ve heard these songs before. Each one of them has been gifted their own copy of Jeffrey Boakye’s book: Musical Truth by BookTrust. They’ve listened to the playlist that goes with it in their English lessons. This author writes about places in London they know, he grew up close to here and they are captivated.
When it’s time for questions, hands shoot up in the air, eager for Jeffrey to respond to them with a friendly: “Great question!” Some sit transfixed, thinking, soaking up what he says about why he wanted to write a book about his upbringing and about Black British culture. He tells the students:
“You’ve definitely all got a story. And one day it’s going to come out. And it’s going to be amazing.”
After speaking, Boakye reflects on his experience delivering BookTrust Represents author talks in schools, and what he hopes the impact will be on the children he meets.
How children reacted to the author visit
“It was just amazing to see children who had responded well to my book. You write a book and you hope they will engage with it, that it will get them thinking and feeling. To see that engagement, that’s the impact you want.
“On the way out, students were saying: 'I really love this book!' They just had such a positive reaction to what I’ve written, to the point that they want to tell me. That is very special to me, it’s something I’m going to cherish.”
How can teachers engage students who don’t see themselves as readers?
“Nobody is a reluctant reader of the world around them. Sometimes it’s the idea of a book that people are reluctant to engage with. But what are the ideas in the book? That’s a gateway into reading.
“Don’t worry about the book itself or what is that book saying? If you can see something important in a particular book, then bring it into your conversations. Get into a conversation because no-one is a reluctant conversationalist.
Talking about representation in books at school
“When you teach, you’re right at the front of the motorcycle with kids who are experiencing the world in real time, and teachers are in that journey. There’s an appetite for truth, there’s an appetite for honesty, which can be quite scary.
“Schools are essentially sites of exploration. They are sites of curiosity where people are really working out some of their own struggles with identity and the way the world constructs them.”
Harriet Cox, Head of English at Woodcote High School, says:
“We’ve never had an author come and visit us before! To see the kids’ reactions – and my staff’s reactions as well - was fantastic.
“The minute we saw Jeffrey was from Brixton, the students were like: “Miss! That’s round the corner!” His history resonates with us and it resonates with a lot of the kids’ parents’ history. For some of our teachers, it matches where we’ve grown up as well. That similarity, it makes us all feel closer to the book.”
As well as visiting some schools, Jeffrey also recorded a virtual author visit that schools can play in the classroom at a time of their convenience to give all children the opportunity to hear him speak.
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