Mark Arrigo and Steven Chatterton are writer-directors who have dedicated many years to making a change. Mark set up the charity A Home for Winter in 2016, building shelters for refugees in the Calais Jungle, and Steven has worked for many years with children’s charities encouraging creativity in kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Before this story was a book, it was written as a film, also called Adnan, which collected multiple awards. Every year millions of children like Adnan have to leave their homes because they are not safe, and Mark and Steven wanted to tell a story about these children and the people most affected by war.

Here they share a little more about this special book, and we also got the chance to speak to Choose Love, a charity dedicated to caring for refugees and displaced people. Choose Love receives a donation for every copy of Adnan sold, plus you can also donate via a special fundraising page below.

Q. What were the challenges, or the synergies, of creating the picture book Adnan from the original short film?

A. The main challenge was to translate the complex narrative of the film into less than 500 words and ultimately 17 spreads. Obviously, picture book format is a very different way of telling a story, but the key beats and the arc from the film were essentially the same. It was then about finding a simple, lyrical and poetic language that linked it all together. As the film is solidly from Adnan’s perspective, we decided to keep the book in his first-person voice too (with the exception of one spread), to really anchor our connection to him. As with the film, Adnan doesn’t understand mental health issues, he just knows that Mummy is sad, and that Mummy doesn’t remember; and that he must heal her with his love. The synergy came from working with Diala. We’d translated our filmic images into words, from which she could then dive into her own creative process. Her results, we’re sure you’ll agree, have a gentle beauty that both warms and breaks your heart at the same time.

Q. Tell us a little about the book and the message it shares.

A. At its heart this is a story about a boy and his mother. Two figures on a new frontier, survivors facing fresh challenges, forging towards their future. Although a fictional story, it represents a reality faced by so many in the world today. By engaging on this most personal, intimate level, we hope to contribute in our own small way to raising awareness about the issues at its core and the people affected. We want this book to tell a human story, far from politics, of a boy trying to heal his mother from the damage caused by a war they never asked for. We hope it will contribute to a message of choosing love over seeing difference. A book that breaks down barriers and reminds us that we’re all just people.

Q. Where did the idea for the film originate?

A. The idea for the film originated back in 2017, when the news was full of horrible, dehumanising headlines and statistics about displaced people fleeing war zones. We had both been volunteering with charities that worked with children and refugees, and wanted to put our creative energies into a project that would challenge these dominant narratives. We wanted to engage people’s hearts with this very human story, through a project that would act as a welcoming gesture to little Ayham (who plays Adnan) and his family. A creative project that brought together so many people from different backgrounds. The book was born during lockdown, with many people suggesting it would work well for a younger audience. Although the film was very much focussed on Syrian refugees, we wanted to widen the book, so Adnan represents all those who are forcibly displaced from their home countries.

Watch this fascinating short film, with a behind-the-scenes look at the experience of Ayham, the little boy who played 'Adnan' - 

Q. The illustrations by Diala Brisly are powerful and beautiful, and essential to the storytelling. How did you choose the illustrator and what was your working process together?

A. Our publisher found Diala, and we are so glad they did. She's a true artist who brought the story to life in ways that we could have never imagined. Working with her was mainly about giving her space to follow her own instincts, to interpret the words in her own way. She brings to the story her own experience, both as a Syrian refugee herself, and also someone with a long history of using art for social change. We exchanged thoughts and feedback throughout the process, but overwhelmingly we were in awe of the beautiful work she was creating.

Q. Using his imagination and his storytelling skills is crucial to Adnan's plan to help his mother recover her memory, and deal with the trauma they have experienced. Why do you think storytelling is so powerful, and why is it so important for children (and adults)?

A. Stories and storytelling are at the heart of who we are as a species. Since the very beginning, it has been the way we transferred information and knowledge between us, and from one generation to another. It is a fire that burns in us all, to communicate, no matter where you are from. Essentially, we need fiction to understand reality, to empathise with those who have very different lived experiences to our own. Storytelling is particularly powerful for children because it fuels their capacity to imagine, whether through reading, or writing their own. The ability to engage with one’s own story, or the story of another, feels a key element of personal growth.

Q. How did you become involved with the charity Choose Love?

A. We have been working alongside them since the very beginning. The work they do is incredible and so vital. They are making change, they are helping people. Their two-word mantra of ‘Choose Love’ is something we can all be reminded of on a daily basis. We’re so happy that the film, and now the book, can help to raise awareness and support all their on-the-ground work.

A message from Philli Boyle, the Director of Partnerships at Choose Love;

"The story of Adnan is important because whilst it reminds us that every displaced person seeking sanctuary has their own unique story, often including devastating reasons for leaving their home country, it also reminds us that people who arrive in the UK bring a huge variety of incredible gifts to our society - in Adnan we see his immense creativity and artistic talents, we see his resilience and kindness. And of course, in the book, we see the love between a child and his Mum, something many of us can relate to and a force that transcends language, nationality and religion. At Choose Love, we support displaced people at all the different stages of their journeys, working to ensure that people have the support they need at the moment of crisis, while on the move and then also, crucially, as they begin to rebuild their lives in a new place. This last phase, as shown in Adnan's story, can be the hardest in many ways and it can easily be overlooked. The incredible ongoing support of Steven and Mark, through their journey with the film and the book, is helping us to continue this work all over the world. There are more displaced people in the world than ever before and we are constantly working to ensure that communities' needs are met so anything that readers are able to donate will be gratefully received." 

Choose Love work in 36 countries

Choose Love have supported over 5 million people in 9 years

Meals served: 6.1 Million

Legal cases supported: 156,000

Evacuations from conflict zones: 50,000

You can donate to Adnan Supports Choose Love here - Every penny you donate will go to one of the 220 projects they support in 36 countries, providing everything from food to nappies, search and rescue boats, legal support and schools.




Adnan, written by Mark Arrigo & Steven Chatterton illustrated by Diala Brisly, is published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books, and is available to buy now. You can read more about the book and download the first few pages here.

You can find more books that raise awareness about refugees and explore what it really means to escape your home and seek refuge elsewhere - Refugees - 60+ children's books to raise awareness for Refugee Week 17-23 June.