interview Laura Henry-Allain
Raising Antiracists “
Alice Ellerby talks to Laura Henry-Allain about her life and work. Laura is the author of My Skin, Your Skin and creator of JoJo and Gran Gran, developed by CBeebies
Laura Henry-Allain is an award-winning producer, writer, speaker and consultant. Her latest book for children, My Skin, Your Skin, encourages meaningful discussions about race, racism and empowerment. I ask Laura what inspired her to start writing books for children after 30 years working in early years education.
“Many years ago, when I was a teacher, if I had the children’s attention and there were no books available in the area of the classroom that we were in, rather than singing nursery rhymes I just used to freestyle stories. The children would listen intently. And when my grandmother passed away 13 years ago, while I was grieving, I was thinking of all the positive memories – all her warmth – and I thought that this would be a fantastic story: a little girl with her grandmother.
“I was born in Paddington and we then moved to North Kensington, and every Sunday my grandmother would visit us. She’d been to Portobello Road market and would bring us sweets and treats. I’d be at the window, getting super excited saying, ‘Mama’s coming! Mama’s coming!’ (In St Lucia, we call the grandmother ‘Mama’.) And so, the first story I wrote was that story, with my gran coming to visit me on a Sunday. My middle name is
Josephine, hence ‘JoJo’ and Gran Gran. It just developed from that.”
The core of the story is the relationship between JoJo and Gran Gran. “Intergenerational relationships are so important,” Laura says. “Every child needs a significant adult, whether that is a blood relative, a teacher, somebody in the community, an aunt or an uncle. It’s about learning from each other. There are things that a grandparent or elder can teach someone who’s younger. And then a young person can show an older person something. It’s the sharing of skills. That’s what I think is important.”
I ask Laura why she thinks the show has connected with people. “The first episode aired two years ago – the first week of lockdown – and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s been a success. During lockdown, people missed family members, and so the show resonated. It’s very relatable, that’s one response I receive from people. Viewers watch it with their children and tell me, ‘My 80-year-old grandmother loves it!’ It’s shown on children’s TV but whatever your age, you can get something out of it.”
JoJo and Gran Gran is the first British children’s animated television series to centre a Black British family. “The show is aired in Canada, America and different countries in Africa, as well as a few European countries. It’s just amazing. I’m looking at a picture of my gran now.