Casey Elisha is a London based children’s author, best known for her debut title, Love Thy Fro. She is also the co-writer and Executive Producer of the musical adaptation of the book: Love Thy Fro: The Musical. Casey is passionate about diversifying the scope of children’s literature, and promoting positive, accurate representation in all avenues of entertainment so children can see themselves in books, on stage, and on-screen. Over the summer, Casey organised the I Am… Short Story Competition for children and youths between 9-18. The winning entries were compiled into her new book, I Am… Short Stories.
What inspired you to start this competition? Why is it important to you?
This competition stemmed from my passion for children to see themselves in books. Children reading stories, seeing themselves in it, and being able to relate to what they are reading is so important. It helps instill self-worth within them and encourages aspirational goal setting. As adults, we have a responsibility to produce such content and make it available for children and parents. We are responsible for nurturing the next generation of writers to contribute to that work. The purpose of this competition was to do just that; to bring together children who are already on this journey and begin to hone their skills from now so they can continue the work we’ve started so that it doesn’t stop when we stop. Plus, children know what other children want to read better than we do!
What can adults do to encourage the children in their lives to write?
Start by encouraging them to use their imagination. The pressure to write can get real, so encourage them to create first. Tell stories, make outings an adventure, challenge them to think of traditional things in new and interesting ways. Eventually, they’ll want to start documenting their interesting tales!
What advice would you give to young writers?
Read! Books, articles, blog posts. Whatever you find interesting, read! And then just start writing. The first thing you write won’t be your best piece of work but the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Just go for it! I believe everyone has a story to tell.
As a writer, is there anything you wish you knew or had access to as a child or young person which would have helped work?
I think knowing about more accessible writing competitions would have encouraged me to be more active in writing growing up. As far as I remember, I only ever entered one book-related competition as a child and I think that’s probably why I didn’t really consider it as a career or passion worth pursuing at that age.
What can we expect from I Am.. collection?
A collection of stories from some talented young writers that reflect aspects of their reality or things they can relate to! Some of them have taken aspects of their realities and interestingly turned them into stories in ways you might not have considered. I hope the book will allow readers to learn about others while also sparking creativity.
What books would you like to see more of in children’s publishing?
Normal, everyday stories featuring multiple diverse characters! Non-white characters shouldn’t just be in niche books (like those about hair or race) and they shouldn’t just be found in supporting roles. If we encourage more non-white literary agents to get into the industry, I think we can tackle this.
What is one book you think every child should read?
I think every child should read Noughts and Crosses when they’re a pre-teen. Younger children should read my book, Love Thy Fro! (Yes, a shameless plug!)
What do you see for I Am… in the future?
I Am… started as a children’s literary festival so I hope to be able to bring that back again and grow it into a highly recognised event for discovering diverse and empowering literature. I also hope I’m able to facilitate the short story competition again to find and encourage more young writers. It’s a lot of work so I’d need to build up a team to support, but I think it would be worth it as a way to invest in the next generation.
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