Celebrating the Islington Centre Book Group on World Book Day

The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants’ Book Group meets every week to read together, and to discuss the themes and ideas arising from the books that are chosen by our amazing volunteer tutors, Elaine and Monica. We have members from all over the world including Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon and Sri Lanka. The Group helps members to improve their fluency in English, as well as providing a safe and welcoming space to discuss ideas around belonging, community, and exile.

A key challenge is to identify suitable books for the Group; we need books that are relatively easy to read as members are still learning English, but that have sufficiently adult and intergenerational themes to hold interest and provoke discussion. The tutors make careful selections of books and are generously supported by a number of publishers, including IBBY UK, Walker Books, Barrington Stoke Publishers and Oxford University Press.

The Book Group is privileged to have had visits from wonderful, award-winning authors and artists including: Sarah Crossan, Gill Lewis, Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray (who are both involved in running the Centre’s Art and Writing Group). We would like to take this opportunity on World Book Day to thank the authors and publishers who so generously help refugees and asylum seekers at the Centre to explore literature in English for the first time.  

Exploring ‘A Story like the Wind’ by Gill Lewis
Elaine and Monica on reading ‘A Story like the Wind’ with the Group: “We read this very beautiful story early in 2017. It is a powerful tale of freedom, humanity, love and friendship set among a group of refugees in a small boat on the sea.  It describes in detail the language of music which transcends nations. Rami is the main character who plays his violin to tell a story of a stallion that could run like the wind. There are many themes in this book which prompted discussion, and wonderful illustrations and poetic themes run through the book.

We were so delighted when Gill Lewis, the author, visited us in May 2017. She brought with her a musical instrument much like the one from the book, a horse head fiddle or morin-kuhr. Our group members enjoyed  having a go at playing and loved meeting the  person  who had written this inspirational story.”

Gill Lewis on meeting the Book Group:I must admit to feeling nervous when Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray invited me to visit the Islington Centre for Refugees. What could I offer, what could I say to people who have undergone unimaginable hardship leaving their homes and families? Yet, it was an extraordinary feeling hearing one man read from a passage in the book and how it mirrored his journey in a truck across the desert. During my visit we shared stories and music. Many spoke about the new challenges of trying to integrate into the local community. The work The Islington Centre does enables people to share their stories through language learning, art, writing and music and to have their voices heard is an integral part of that journey for all of us.”

Book Group members describe how they felt reading ‘A Story like the Wind’, and the resonances they found in the book:

‘This story understands what it is like to make this journey, even if you have not travelled here by sea’

‘Music is a good way to cross borders’

‘We have an instrument like this in my country. Music travels in different lands. There are no borders’

‘This story feels true to me and I like the poetry style’

Our Book Group is an important part of the wider programme of arts activities at the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants: these include writing, creating art, a choir, and engaging with art and literature through visits to museums, galleries, and other partner organisations. This World Book Day, we are pleased to launch our arts fund, which will support this programme and enable asylum seekers and refugees to continue to engage with literature in all its forms, as well as helping them to develop their own writing and art skills. You can donate to the fund here.

If you have any questions, or need any further information, please contact us.