Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Valentine Nkoyo and Farah Khan are Back...On Brilliant Books!

Old friends of ours and part of the Brilliant Books "house" team, Valentine and Farah delighted the children of the Free School as we move towards half term and the conclusion of the first tranche of the Brilliant Books visit.

First Valentine.

Valentine's visit coincided with Black History month. For those of you who have recenty joined us, Valentine is from the Masai, a tribe from Kenya, who are governed by a strict, ancient patriarchal code. Her early life was spent fetching water from the well (a seven mile round trip), cooking for her brothers and looking after the family's livestock. Discontented with this, and full of desire to better herself, Valentine, who was prevented by tribal strictures from speaking to her father directly, and not content that her five brothers were all at school while she was ignored, wrote a poem.

It is WELL worth a watch. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when we all watched it. After hearing the poem underneath an ancient tree, her father wept. In order to send her to school, Valentine's father sold his prize bull. There, she read Alice In Wonderland and was instantly hooked on reading. 

She read the instructions on canned goods, sacks of grain, old leaflets, manuals, anything she could get her hands on. She read by candlelight in the tribal huts and by the dying of the light after the day's chores were completed. 

Naturally, the group was spellbound by this and by the tale of how Valentine left for Great Britain, to study Business at Nottingham University. Recently, she passed her MBA - and only a decade ago, she could barely speak a word of English. She is a famed - and passionate - advocate against FGM (still a major problem in some British cities) and regularly speaks at conferences about this. 

The kids asked all sorts of questions - this is the most vocal, inquisitive, lively group we've had so far - and Valentine answered them all and we were all spellbound by her journey.

 Mr Cleveley, who co-ordinates for us at the school, said that the kids got a huge amount out of this session and bear in mind, there are people here who have never read a book outside the classroom. 

We will be buying the school many copies of Alice In Wonderland as a tribute to Valentine.  Thank you, V - you were much appreciated :-)

Then, on Wednesday this week, Farah Khan returned. She's one of my favourite hosts. Lively, funny and a superb presenter, Farah is the Student Liaison officer for Nottingham City Council. 

What Farah doesn't know about community development you can write on a matchbox cover. She talked about how she ensures the safety of incoming students (over 60,ooo come to Nottingham from all over the world), how she talks about community responsibility, from being a good neighbour in areas like Lenton (which is about 60% student), recycling, bin management and how students and the local community relate. 

I wanted to ask a question about Student Wednesday Nights in town, but the kids beat me to it with a torrent of questions. 

The book she chose was seventies cult classic The Westing Game...

Farah read a short piece - and here she is, on video.

Though reluctant to read - and in some cases, reluctant to write - the youngsters are prolific communicators, racing to ask questions of our hosts and Farah was not spared.

I really enjoyed this session and I know the kids did too. Thank you, Farah - look forward to seeing you back in action at the next school.

This course was funded, as all our programmes in schools are, by the Big Lottery Fund

If you want to get involved - and there are stories Phil and me could tell you privately about young people and books which would make your hair curl - then you can do so in the following ways.

1) Share this blog far and wide on Twitter and FB

2) Come to our Benefit Night in Nottingham on November 13th and meet the regulars, with all proceeds to Brilliant Books.

3) If you cannot make it, then consider purchasing this little beauty - an Absent Ticket Book - containing eleven quality writers all mad passionate about intervening with #reluctantreaders and making them fall in love with reading again.

You can find the purchase details here - and also the details of the benefit night on the 13th.

It's not just writers - three guitar bands appear (and there's a discipline that needs a boost too in the modern era), including Phil's band, New Apostles.

Thank you for reading, everyone and remember - a society that doesn't read is a poorer society than one that does.



  1. Two hugely inspirational hosts here Mark and the kids sound as though they were completely engaged which is great - keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing who is coming next :-)

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