Red Leaves by Sita Brahmachari

A topical and moving novel about family, love, community, the tangled roots of history and searching for a place to call home. By the Waterstones Prize-winning author of Artichoke Hearts.


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Aisha is a thirteen-year-old refugee living in London. Happy for the first time since leaving her war-torn home, she is devastated when her foster mother announces that a new family has been found for her and she will be moving on. Feeling rejected and abandoned, Aisha packs her bags and runs away, seeking shelter in the nearby woods.
Meanwhile, a few doors down, twelve-year-old Zak is trying to cope with his parents' divorce. Living in a near-building site while the new house is being refurbished, he feels unsettled and alone. Discovering a piece of rubble with the original builder's signature set into it, he starts researching the history behind his home - and in doing so finds a connection with a young soldier from the past, which leads him to an old air-raid shelter in the same woods.
Both children, previously unknown to each other, meet in the heart of the ancient city woodland as they come into the orbit of Elder, a strange homeless woman who lives amongst the trees - and, as helicopters hover overhead and newspapers fill with pictures of the two lost children, unexpected bonds are formed and lives changed forever . . .

ISBN: 9781447262985
Number of pages: 384
Dimensions: 20 x 13 cm

From the first paragraph onwards ‘Red Leaves’ is visually rich. My recent teaching has highlighted how students quickly understand this story on a symbolic, as well as a literal level, as a result. It is a seemingly simple tale and yet it holds within it a depth of meaning. It is a story for our times and yet for all times, for young people and yet for all people. ‘Red Leaves’ is also emotionally and linguistically rich. Beautifully written, both boys and girls in my lessons immediately empathise with the lives of the carefully observed central characters. As with all of Sita’s books, these represents a rich range of cultural backgrounds and experience, both similar to and different to their own; this makes very fertile territory for dialogue and developing deeply empathic and moving writing. Readers can grapple with the impact of significant issues faced by young people in the story which are also so prevalent in all of our lives; divorce, fostering, bullying, isolation, homelessness, history, war and also family, community, friendship and love- all permeate the pages.
Great literature should enable us to reflect on society, understand it a bit more and in the process change ourselves. ‘Red Leaves’ does this. The setting of ‘Home Wood’ can be seen as a microcosm of 21st century society, an arena in which to explore modern life with all its multi-layered, complex cultural issues. ‘Red Leaves’ reveals beauty in nature, diversity and struggle, and within the conclusion of the plot, it highlights what people have in common across cultures and times. At a time when PSHE is too often squeezed out of the curriculum in favour of subjects that yield more point scores or test results, the emotional relevance of this text alone is a strong argument for using this as a must-read text, not only for KS3, but across the school.Of course students will learn about fantastic writing in this book ; setting, character, imagery,plot and description. But literature can also teach us about life. The issues explored in the dialogue and dynamic between characters enable readers to have greater insight into the lives of others, make connections with people who may initially appear to be different to themselves and hopefully to overcome prejudice or limits in viewpoints and judgements.
‘Red Leaves’ is a special treasure. It is moving, magic and meaningful on many levels. Isn’t it time to allow young people to experience some magic back at the heart of the curriculum?
Annie Birch. St Paul's Way Trust School, London.

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