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Launching the StoryBridge Family Bookclub with multi award-winning author A M Dassu and her acclaimed novel Boy,Everywhere.

Hello readers, this is Jasmine, Founder and CEO of Storymix. Earlier this month on World Book Day we launched our new StoryBridge Family Bookclub which is called StoryBridge.

I've started the StoryBridge book club to encourage conversation in families about stories, histories and the world. I want to to provide the tools and inspiration for families to start their very own book club and I hope it will build bridges between children and the grown-ups in their lives and foster the habit of reading outside of school. Why StoryBridge? Because stories have the unique power to keep us connected, allowing us to share our feelings and opinions. You can sign up here.

Graphic showing boy and girl reading, with illustrations popping out of the page

Each issue of the book club newsletter will feature a book recommendation and will be followed up with conversation starters, discussion questions, and exclusive sneak peeks into the creative minds of the authors and illustrators behind the books.

Our first book for the StoryBridge book club is Boy, Everywhere by A.M Dassu. This book opened up a profound dialogue between my son and me about refugees, war, and displacement, demonstrating the incredible impact of storytelling and it was the inspiration for starting the book club. With no further ado then, I am delighted to introduce you to A.M Dassu so we can learn a bit more about the inspiration, research and process of writing the incredibly powerful book Boy, Everywhere.

A.M Dassu standing with school children reading her book
World Book Day 2023 free books given out on the Metrolink system A. M. Dassu with children from Manchester Academy close up. Picture credit

What inspired you to write "Boy, Everywhere," and how did your personal experiences or observations shape the narrative and characters of the book?

I wrote Boy, Everywhere in response to the media’s and politicians’ divisive rhetoric. For years we’ve been bombarded with images of refugees in rubber dinghies or in muddy camps or standing in front of grey rubble on the news. Images that have made it that much harder to imagine how people might have lived before. It’s so easy to forget that they had settled lives just like ours, and that the media’s focus on refugee journeys isn’t the full story.

In 2015, while watching countless news broadcasts on the global refugee crisis, it was clear to me that there’s more to the lives of refugees than their current traumatic conditions. I wanted to challenge the narrative that refugees are needy and desperate by showing the reality of their lives, along with the choices they’re forced to make. I wanted to focus not only on the terrifying journey that a refugee has to take to get to safety, but also on what and who they leave behind and how difficult it is to start again.

The stereotypes that have taken hold over the years from media reports are entrenched and continuing to impact refugees even after resettlement. I wanted to challenge them and show real people – people I knew, who wouldn’t have left home had their lives not been upended by war, people with a wide range of occupations, backgrounds and skill sets, people who had dignified lives and were not simply victims of war with a political status reducible to their ‘refugee’ label. I wanted to explore people's identities before their lives were disrupted and show the determination and desire refugees have to work hard and re-establish themselves and their hopes for a better, safer life.

While I was born in the U.K., my family story is also one of cross-cultural relocation and immigration, so this was already a topic close to my heart. I know what it’s like to come from a wealthy, educated family that’s forced to leave everything behind and start again. My family originated in Iraq until my great-great grandfather left and like Sami’s family moved across countries and continents. Decades later, my grandfather’s first wife and daughter drowned on a boat journey to Tanzania. My mum was highly educated and when she arrived in the U.K. she had to work in a factory and sew garments, which was a huge shock to her. It took her years to top up her qualifications and reestablish herself just like Sami’s dad has to when he gets to the U.K. 

My grandparents had left behind a life that included nannies, drivers and businesses in two cities, only to arrive to a cold, unwelcoming country, forced to live in a small terraced house with no heating. My grandfather got depressed before finding the energy and drive to establish himself once again but his family lived much more humbly thereafter. All of these experiences in my own family meant I was encouraged to appreciate everything I had and to give support to others whenever they needed it in whatever capacity I could, because the sad reality is that a cruel twist of fate can bring loss on such a devastating scale upon any of us.

"Boy, Everywhere" touches on many sensitive themes, including migration, family, and the search for belonging. How did you approach writing about these complex issues in a way that is accessible and engaging for young readers?

I wanted to show a different viewpoint that I hadn’t yet seen in children’s books and to make Sami as relatable as possible. Boy, Everywhere looks at the refugee crisis from a middle class perspective, and what it seeks to do is connect young readers in the West to war and displacement in another part of the world, specifically the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, where people are deemed to be unworthy, uneducated and desperate, when in reality they only leave when they have to. Otherwise, they’d never consider it. Sami is a typical teenager who loves hanging out with his mates, going to the mall, playing football and on his PlayStation. He goes to an English-speaking school and loves eating pizza and burgers, and so when his entire world is turned upside down and he’s forced to pack his belongings and leave Syria, you viscerally experience how someone is uprooted overnight. I wanted readers to be in his head, and see everything the way he does and really connect to him, from missing his iPad, to being terrified of getting on a boat. I also wanted to highlight issues that he as a middle class boy wouldn’t have experienced, but many refugees would, so I brought in stories such as Aadam’s, and showed how these two very different boys, with contrasting upbringings find friendship and a connection through football.  

Boy, Everywhere shows how hard it is to leave your friends, your home, your entire being and go into the unknown. Young people today are exposed to all of the toxic narratives adults are, via the news, their parents, YouTube, Whatsapp,, Newsround, Tik Tok and Snapchat etc and there are also children who have experienced these struggles. I wanted them to see a character that hits rock bottom and survives, and to leave the book feeling empowered and hopeful that they too can overcome challenges. 

I didn’t hold back when writing it –I treated the subject as I would for adults. I went into detail and showed what it’s like to experience displacement as a young person. And if I’m honest, I was really worried young people wouldn’t like it, but thankfully they really connected to Sami and it seems young people do want stories that are truthful and real. 

How do you view the role of diversity and inclusion in children’s literature today, and what impact do you hope "Boy, Everywhere" has on this ongoing conversation?

I think it’s crucial not only to a young person’s wellbeing, but also to the fabric of our society.

It’s so important for young people to feel seen in books. School is a microcosm of society. It can be your first experience of stereotyping, of bias, of hate. Childhood is a time in your life that can really shape the choices you make. Young people want to understand the world they’re in and their own place in it. And books can really help them to understand and tackle difficult themes that they will be aware of through the news, their peers and perhaps their own experiences.  Unfortunately, there are lots of kids who experience discrimination, stereotyping, microaggressions, live with violent or controlling family members, get name called etc. A book can literally be life-changing if they can see themselves in it or if they realise they have something in common with those that seem different after all. It’s also hugely empowering when you see yourself in a story, it gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of place. 

It is only through adequate representation and allowing people from diverse backgrounds to authentically voice their lived experiences that we can learn about and from different lives and cultures, and hopefully bring people together. This is what drives me to write, the hope that my stories will do just that, show children - alongside their families, carers and educators - that there are indeed other sides to the stories they are being told, ones in which they can see themselves portrayed, and through which they can aspire and dream, and that there is nothing to fear. 

Children’s publishing has come a long way since I first started writing. While we see more books with characters of colour and diverse lived experiences on shelves and

publishers have opened their arms to diverse creators, their work isn’t always given an equal footing when it comes to marketing and product placement and books can easily fall into the ‘niche’ category because of this, or be deemed unsuccessful. For books and authors to succeed, they need support and marketing, to be given the same investment as commercial books that are propelled onto bestseller lists by the sheer scale of resources behind them. That is what I hope the industry will focus on and improve next. 

What message do you hope young readers take away from "Boy, Everywhere"? How do you envision the story bridging the gap between children from various backgrounds and their understanding of each other’s experiences?

I really hope readers will connect with Sami and see how easily this can happen to anyone. No one sets out to become a refugee. I hope they see that no matter who you are, or where you’re from, we have many similarities; we all have the same hopes and fears. Our basic needs are to be safe and warm and around family and friends. I hope Boy, Everywhere will help readers to focus on what we have in common instead of our differences, and Sami’s story will build empathy, help to challenge stereotypes and break down barriers in our increasingly fractured and judgmental society.

Can you share a bit about your creative process in writing "Boy, Everywhere"? Additionally, what are you working on next?

I wrote the first draft of Boy, Everywhere pretty quickly, because I knew what I wanted to say. But it took a long time (five years) and a lot of determination to add layers that would make Sami’s story compelling, exploring his guilt and his motivations to go back to Syria. 

I knew the story I wanted to write immediately after I’d seen a news interview showing refugees talking about what they’d left behind. I knew that Sami’s dad would be a doctor and his mum a teacher and they’d lose everything. I did lots of research online; I looked at articles and footage about life inside Syria and in refugee camps, interviews of children sharing their experiences of the bombing, the trauma, the bad dreams, and their hopes to live like other children. But this research was not enough to make my story authentic. So, I watched videos online of Syrian teenagers chilling out in cafes, in schools, and on social media. I looked at photos shared by Damascenes on Instagram. I watched rap songs by Syrians on YouTube. 

Through my fundraising, I was already aware of the stories of some Syrians, but I asked various charity workers to connect me with Syrian families resettled in the UK so I could personally support them. I spent time with various Syrian families in my community. I spoke to many refugees, some who’d spent time in detention centres and went out of my way to go meet them in London and connected with them via Twitter to check what I’d written and then went back and edited the story to make sure it was as realistic as possible. 

Friends from Damascus in the UK and still living there read the book. My friend in the UK connected me with her friend in Damascus, who spent an unbelievable amount of time answering my questions and fact-checking my book. It was serendipitous that her family in Damascus mirrors the family in my novel: she is a teacher; her husband a surgeon and they have a son who was twelve at the time and a younger daughter. My friend in Damascus then passed the book on to her students and son, who also gave me encouraging feedback and told me that the characters in the story could be them, and the book said exactly what they wanted the world to know. 

I felt a deep responsibility to write the story authentically, so even after line edits were done, I kept rechecking things in the story and friends in and from Damascus would share pictures via Whatsapp of their neighbourhoods to reassure me I’d depicted Damascus correctly! 

I’ve just launched the standalone companion novel to Boy, Everywhere, entitled Kicked Out which shows the cast now settled in the UK and the challenges they face here. And I’m now working on something completely different for younger children, which spans five countries and this time has animal characters. It’s lighthearted but still reflects subtly on our inner and outer journeys. I’m really excited about it!

A. M. Dassu with children from Manchester Academy close up. Picture credit


About A.M. Dassu

A. M. DASSU is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere and Fight Back, which have collectively been listed for 48 awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Week Junior Book Award, the Carnegie Medal, The Little Rebels Award for Radical Fiction, the American Library Association Notable Book List and Jane Addams Peace Book Award.

She is a director at Inclusive Minds, which is an organisation for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature; a patron of The Other Side of Hope, a literary magazine edited by immigrants and refugees, which celebrates the refugee and immigrant communities worldwide, an ambassador for new charity Inclusive Books for Children, which reviews hundreds of high-quality inclusive children’s books, and one of The National Literacy Trust’s Connecting Stories campaign authors, aiming to help inspire a love of reading and writing in children and young people.

A. M. Dassu grew up in the Midlands dreaming of becoming a writer but studied economics instead and worked in marketing and project management before realising her dream. She writes books that challenge stereotypes, humanise the “other” and are full of empathy, hope and heart. Her most recent book, Boot It! was a bestselling World Book Day novella, published in March 2023. Her latest novel, Kicked Out was published in October 2023. You can also find her on Twitter/X @a_reflective or Instagram @a.m.dassu or on her website.


Subscribe to the StoryBridge Newsletter to start your family book club. Our carefully chosen books will help create quality time in busy lives, reflect the world around us and open up discussions that build bridges to understanding. We’ll help you run your family book club by providing discussion questions and extension ideas.


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