Children's book challenging perceptions of immigration to launch

16 Oct 2017

Academics at the University of Winchester and a local artist are launching a new illustrated book designed to tackle the subject of immigration with primary school-aged children.

The Boat Story challenges cultural attitudes towards refugees, aiming to shift the perception of asylum seekers through simple words and images. The story, which is beautifully illustrated with abstract, quirky images, follows the journey of a baby who sets sail on a boat to find a better life.

Funded by Arts Council England, the project is a collaboration between writer Andrew Melrose, Professor of Children's Writing at the University of Winchester, and illustrator Stephanie Morris, with research overseen by Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Winchester, Jonathan Rooke.

The book was developed in collaboration with a number of local schools, which saw students shape the book's narrative and story. Participating schools were Winnall Primary School, The Crescent Primary School, Four Lanes Community Junior School in and Merton Junior School and teachers Ali Roberts, Peter Roberts, Poppy Light, Dan Wakefield and Victoria Laker contributed to the project.

Professor Andrew Melrose from the Faculty of Arts in the University of Winchester said: "In the early stages of the project, Jonathan Rooke, as a Senior Lecturer in Education with a strong interest in child literacy and story, was supported by the University of Winchester to research the viability of the 'art' material as an education tool in schools to 'humanise the debate'. In doing so he encouraged student engagement with the education material for schools, the conclusions were excellent and our thanks go out to them."

Victoria Laker, KS2 Leader Winnall Primary School said, "I found the entire project inspiring. The Boat Story allowed us to touch upon an important yet delicate issue. The children responded brilliantly. They openly discussed the issue sensitively and maturely. Everyone in the class, regardless of ability, produced emotive writing showing a true empathy and understanding of the refugee crisis."

As part of the project's development, a teaching resource pack has also been produced to be used in Key Stage 2 and 3 classrooms for ages 8-11. Using the relatable story as a springboard, the pack includes a number of exercises to help children engage with the experiences of refugees, in addition to developing their comprehension skills of empathy, questioning, inference, evaluation and creativity. All resources and a text edition of The Boat Story are available for free online at the project website.

It is hoped that the project will aid children in seeing the humanity of those escaping from adversity.

Illustrator, Stephanie Morris, adds: "As adults we remember illustrations and characters from story books we grew up reading as children, and with them the moral messages they represented. Children's books have the power to influence perspective and leave an impression that can last a lifetime - we wanted to create a children's story book that explored the subject of immigration in a way that was gentle and unbiased, allowing the reader to question what they hear."

The Boat Story will be launched on Tuesday 24 October at P&G Wells Book Shop, 11 College Street, Winchester, SO23 9LZ.

Showcasing a limited edition print of the book, the event aims to raise awareness and gain feedback on the book, and attract the attention of commercial book publishers and literary agents. Limited edition copies of the book and screen prints will be on sale, with all proceeds from the event going to Rural Refugee Network. Tickets are free and all are welcome.

For more information, visit www.the-boat-story.com

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