KONNIE Huq says standing up to racism is the WRITE thing to do.
Virgin Radio’s Chris Evans is relaunching the 500 Words writing competition for kids aged five to 13 this year after the BBC dropped the contest after ten years.
And the former Blue Peter presenter has hailed this year’s theme Black Lives Matter to draw from personal experiences of racism and prejudice.
Entries will be selected by judges Chris, TV presenter couple Angellica Bell and Michael Underwood and Noughts and Crosses author Malorie Blackman.
Winners will receive a behind-the-scenes TV experience as well as their masterpieces read out on the radio.
Now children’s author Konnie Huq says writing about our differences is the way forward – especially for the next generation.
- There are two entry age groups – five to nine, and ten to 13. Submissions are open until July 3 at 11.59pm. For info and full T&Cs, visit 500words.me.
By Konnie Huq, presenter and children’s author
WHEN I was growing up there weren’t many children’s books with people of colour on their pages.
The protagonists who looked like me were always in the “international” section at the back of my local library.
Even then, these books would often be about a girl in a village picking mangoes for her mum – which although great was hardly relatable for an eight-year-old Londoner.
Embarrassingly for an author, I was a reluctant reader but my breakthrough book was Superfudge by Judy Bloom.
The story is about New Yorker Peter and his little brother Fudge who move to the suburbs.
While I’m definitely not a white American boy – as a pre-teen I was gripped by their trials and tribulations.
Because that’s what a great story does it helps you relate to the characters and then you’re rooting for them through the twists and turns of the story.
That’s why this year’s 500 Words is such a brilliant opportunity for kids to learn about empathy and prejudice – no matter what background they are from.
The theme for the competition is Black Lives Matter and stories and poems can be about race, equality or even just celebrating difference.
What’s really important is that we all start having a conversation and address prejudice in our society – as it’s something we definitely aren’t born with.
To kids, it doesn’t matter if people are thin or fat, short or tall or black or white.
They have no preconceptions of what people from different backgrounds should be like – children are effectively a blank canvas.
Sure, kids are inquisitive and will ask questions about why some people look different but that’s because they are learning everything for the first time.
They love difference and they find it interesting and intriguing.
With open conversation and more representation we can work to help the next generation get rid of these biases
Prejudice comes with age and sadly kids pick it up unwittingly from adults.
We’re all guilty of this – it might be judging someone on their race, their social status or even the clothes they wear or how they speak.
But with open conversation and more representation we can work to help the next generation get rid of these biases.
When you don’t see people like you in the pages of your books, on the TV or as politicians running the country – it makes you believe that these careers are not open to you.
When I was small, I remember being surprised hearing a woman on the radio.
It had never occurred to me that girls like me could get into broadcasting because I was so used to hearing men on the airwaves.
That isn’t a problem nowadays but I like to think women like that presenter paved the way for other women to join her ranks.
When I first joined Blue Peter, I felt slightly embarrassed when the press heralded me as the show’s first Asian presenter.
I just wanted to get on with my job but now I can see why it mattered: you’ve got to see it to be it.
What’s wonderful about writing is that it’s a tool you can use to challenge these perceptions or break the status quo we are all used to.
When I was writing my book, Cookie, I knew that people who like science subjects were often portrayed as very uncool, slightly nutty professor types.
But for Cookie, she’s just a normal – at times sassy – nine-year-old who wants to win the school science contest.
WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW
I wanted kids to know you don’t have to choose between being mathematical or artistic – you can be both and that’s perfectly ok.
So to write about prejudice or equality you don’t have to write something historic or delve into the ins and outs of structural racism.
What the judges will be looking for is a page-turner which addresses the themes.
I’d recommend starting off by writing about what you know.
If you like karate, write about karate or if you like football, think of a story based around that.
Maybe you don’t know much about Black Lives Matter or prejudice or inequality.
Don’t be put off by that – you can always use that to your advantage.
Perhaps your story is about someone who only lives with people who are the same as them or someone who discovers prejudice for the very first time.
Start by setting the scene – where do they live? Who are your characters? What do they like? Are they brave or shy?
This will help you out when you introduce your plot as you’ll know how all your characters will react in different scenarios.
INEQUALITY IN OUR SOCIETY
Then you can start going off on tangents – maybe your characters are actually cats who live on a different planet.
Next you want something to happen to get the plot going – there has to be a twist or a challenge to overcome. This is what is going to make people keep people reading.
What about if your cat planet is thrown into chaos by an invasion of dogs?
Then the plot has to be resolved – what happens in the end?
Maybe your alien cats and alien dogs both find out that they love chasing mice after all.
But what’s even more important than a storyline is that we all start thinking, talking and writing about inequality in our society.
The more we confront these issues and make discussing and eliminating prejudice part of our daily lives the better the world will be for the next generation.
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