Sir Lenny Henry opens up about school bullying and how it inspired his new children’s book

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Sir Lenny Henry. Photo: Jack Lawson / PA.

Young Henry realized that making bullies at his school laugh kept them from attacking him, so he used his mind as a shrewd defense. And now the comedian has included bullying in his new children’s book, The Boy With Wings, in which the hero is targeted by school bullies – but realizes that saving the world is a higher priority than his tormentors of wasting space.

“I was bullied at school – mainly because of racism. At some point in my school career, I was bullied every day and it went on for centuries, ”Henry recalls. “But I’ve found that if you make jokes about the bully and get bullied, you might get people to be on your side. Jokes are like a sword and a shield, you can defend yourself with them. In Henry’s book, which is aimed at children aged around nine, the hero, Tunde, grows wings and learns that he is everything between earth and total destruction. “Tunde, who is bullied because he’s black and has a nose in beak, makes jokes,” Henry says. “But he’s good at sports and he can run, and he has friends who support him. If you can, you have to be able to communicate and make friends because it makes a big difference – I did it out of humor.

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Henry firmly believed that his central character should be black, since none of the characters in the books he read looked like him.

Sir Lenny Henry at South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2019 at The Savoy, The Strand, London. Photo: Alamy / PA

“I grew up reading things like Just William, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and Jennings,” he recalls, “and although I loved those stories and could put my mind to them, there was never anyone like me in them – there were never any African-Caribbean British children in them. I was very aware, although I didn’t really care at the time, that there was no one like me in these stories.

“So cut yourself off to me with my daughter, reading all these stories to her almost every bedtime, and realizing that even in the ’90s there weren’t a lot of stories with black kids. So when this opportunity presented itself, I just decided that there would be a black protagonist and that they would have colored friends, and that someone would be in a wheelchair – this was going to be an inclusive story, so kids could go “Wow, I’m in it!” ”.

Henry “loved” writing the book, which took him about a year, and says it “just came out of me. There are more stories of where this came from – love the process. “He has already started writing his second children’s book.

The 63-year-old comedian – who co-founded Comic Relief and is now also an accomplished actor – has spent much of the past two years filming The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, and is currently filming the prequel to The Witcher.

Like many children’s books, The Boy with the Wings subtly contains a handful of important life lessons that kids would do well to absorb, including that bullying is bad and it’s important to be kind. But Henry certainly didn’t want to ram moral codes down children’s throats, pointing out that escape and adventure are important parts of his book.

“You have to try to grab the child as quickly as possible with the story, and if there are messages like ‘be nice to people’ and ‘don’t bully people’ he should be overwhelmed. don’t wanna do this in the middle of an adventure story, “he points out.” You don’t mean ‘Remember to wash your hands kids!’ in the middle of an adventure – kids just want to know what happens next, although hopefully at the end of it they’d be like “Hey, you said that thing about washing your hands…”.

Lenny Henry’s Winged Boy is published by Macmillan, £ 12.99.


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