Yokki And The Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby

Values: Imagination, Creativity, Hope and Pride.

Yokki and the Parno Gry is a traditional Romani tale told by two authors who are able to provide an insight into storytelling in the Romani community that others may not be able to. Richard O’Neill is a powerful storyteller who grew up in the traveller community who has written another book already on this blog – The Lost Homework. Katharine Quarmby has written fiction and non-fiction, and spoken about the marginalisation of traveller groups and therefore they are a dynamic duo of authors! They have also provided resources and activities based on the book on the publisher’s website, Child’s Play.

In this traditional tale, Yokki is a young boy with a brilliant imagination. He is known for telling his stories to young and old around the fire in the evenings. In the day time, his family pick fruit, make crafts and sell them at the fair. However, one year the community experience hardship – the harvest was poor, the farmers who had employed them before had new machinery and their usual camping ground had been fenced off. As the winter approaches, Yokki and his family feel hungry and despair over the turn of events. Yokki, however, uses his vivid imagination to tell stories and cheer everyone up. One night, he wakes everyone up… Parno Gry – a beautiful white horse – has arrived and takes them away to a land that is rich in crop and had enough firewood to make crafts and build their storytelling fires! To this day, generations of Yokki's family believe that valuing children’s imagination will lead to creativity and inspiration even in their darkest hour.

I love sharing this book with classes for several reasons. One, it is full of imagination and magic that children love! Secondly, it is about a community in our country that we don’t have a lot of literature on and it can open up some really interesting conversations. Thirdly, representation matters! Let’s give a voice to all the children in schools including traveller children – some of whom may be able to tell you this story before you read it to the class. Lastly, Romani words are used and there is a glossary at the front to help translate some of the terms. It is a really inclusive and empowering book in this sense.

There are many Values you could discuss. Firstly, the Values of imagination and creativity. This story has a clear message and that is children’s imagination can inspire hope, bring about change and encourage others to find solutions in the darkest of times. What a powerful message! It isn’t often that a book explicitly outlines what adults learn from children and I think this is a really positive end to the story. Storytelling is such a vital part of Romani and traveller communities and is encouraged from a young age. This is something we could all embed more into our daily lives as children love being the makers of adventure and curiosity when given the chance! And there are no right or wrong stories so it truly is an inclusive practice.

Secondly, the Value of hope is strong in this book. The community go through a hard time and are shown to be hungry and scared. However, they (and especially Yokki) remain hopeful and keep doing things, like listening to Yokki’s stories, that remind them of better places, better times and how to be positive. Hope often goes hand in hand with positivity, resilience, determination so you could easily adapt this angle for different age groups and a different Values focus.

Thirdly, I think you could open up a conversation around pride with this book as a starting point. Yokki is proud of his family, his community and their lifestyle. He enjoys making and selling his crafts, telling stories and watching the Phuri Dai dance in the evenings. He is also proud of his role as storyteller and how he helps to bring happiness with his imagination. You could ask children what they are proud of, or what they like most about their family or community. The conversation could make a really nice assembly or circle time or bedtime story!

The beautiful illustrations by Marieke Nelissen help bring this enchanting traditional tale to life and could inspire some lovely artwork or even poetry. There are so many ways to use this book that I’m not sure is as widely known as it should be. Richard O’Neill goes into primary schools for storytelling workshops and I’m sure his sessions are truly inspiring!

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