by E.L. Norry
Our Reflecting Realities report is an annual survey that reviews the quality and extent of ethnic minority presence in children’s literature published in the UK. In each report we provide data and analysis of the books produced and consider the extent to which the books reflect the realities, as well as, broaden the outlook of their readership. We address the shortfalls of poor portrayals and highlight examples of great books we encounter as part of the review process. This year’s report celebrates your book as an example of a high quality inclusive and representative book...
What does the term Reflecting Realities mean to you?
Consider how reflect has more than one meaning.
Our reality in the UK includes diversity. Even if you live in a small rural village and may not see any black, or brown people - the UK, and world at large, is a big bustling place. When we come together to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, we also discover our human similarities. Through this we become stronger - more reflective.
If you don't see yourself reflected in a mirror, as a child for example, then you begin to doubt your existence. You might think you don't matter, or that you have nothing of value to say. If you don't see, or can't find, your reality reflected in the every day things around you - the world you see, the TV, books, music, games you take pleasure in... Then you go inward and parts of you fade away.
All about Son of the Circus:
Son of the Circus came about after my agent asked if I’d like to become involved in Tony Bradman’s Voices series. As series editor, he was looking for stories, exploring previously hidden communities throughout history, to be written by UK BAME writers.
It was clear that the series was a vital and important one. I’ve struggled to explain to my own two children that black people have inhabited UK shores for thousands of years, and that although their faces and stories may not always be prioritised in our history books, we are an important part of British history. I was thrilled to become involved; it would have been fantastic to have access to such a series when I was younger. I’d have found it inspiring and am positive it would have made me feel less isolated, too.
I had a choice of time periods to write about: Vikings or Victorians. I’ve always been interested in the Victorian period because it was a time of such growth.
Months previously, a writer friend had told me about Pablo Fanque, (William Darby) the first Black Circus owner from Norwich. I considered how I enjoyed blending fact and fiction and it occurred to me — I could write about Pablo!
My original idea was to write about Pablo as a young boy himself, with the story set in the workhouse, but it became clear that because he was born in 1810, the dates wouldn’t quite work. So, I delved into more research, hoping further knowledge might spark other ideas. Reading about the terrible tragedy of his first wife’s death, and learning that he married so soon after, and had a further two children, my hero and my story arrived pretty quickly.
The most useful research came from reading factual biographies from the 1880s, because the language seeped into me and I almost heard my characters speaking. Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, by Thomas Frost, Seventy Years a Showman by Lord George Sanger, and Recollections of an Equestrian Manager by Charles W. Montague were all hugely helpful and very enjoyable.
After I had my own idea, I then read two middle grade books about the circus: Noel Streatfeild’s The Circus is Coming and Emma Carroll’s The Girl Who Walked On Air. In both, the circus and being a part of it, is presented as an exciting, desired thing, but my imagination kept asking ‘What If’ over and over. What if you hated the circus? What if a man you’d never met suddenly turned up on your doorstep and revealed that he was your father? What if he was a week-known circus owner and demanded that you join him? But what if you were scared of the thing everyone thought you’d be good at? That’s how Ted’s story was born! All of those ‘What If’ questions gave me many aspects I was interested to explore: not only identity, but themes such as belonging and family, expectation and our ideas of ‘home’ too.
E.L. Norry is an author, she wrote Son of the Circus as part of Scholastics Voices series. This book is showcased in our Reflecting Realities report as an example of good practice from the 2019 output. Find out more about E.L. Norry...