THE cosy wee library space on the first floor of St Albert’s Primary is a-buzz with activity.

Zaid and Iggy are laying out books, Mahrosh is plonking cheerful yellow stools around a colourful rug, and Aisha, Tayiba, Emman and Faikah are explaining why We Can Be Heroes – inspired by the pupils’ own stories – is the best book series in Glasgow. Or the world. Ever.

“It’s just cool to see our culture and people like us in a book,” says Faikah, with a smile.

Tayiba agrees. “It was really exciting helping to write these books," she explains. "My story was about zombies in the school. I really like horror stories, and zombies especially, so I wanted to put them in a story.”

Aisha adds: “I thought it was amazing the first time I saw the book. I think it’s important people understand different cultures.”

Emman thinks other schools should follow their lead. "It would be good to inspire people," she agrees.

Glasgow Times: Aisha, Tayiba and Emman with the books they helped to write.Aisha, Tayiba and Emman with the books they helped to write. (Image: Newsquest)

It is safe to say the pupils, teachers and parents at this Pollokshields primary are already inspiring people, not just in their local area but around the city and beyond.

St Albert's is a finalist in the Best School category in this year’s Glasgow Community Champion Awards, organised by the Glasgow Times in partnership with Glasgow City Council, Wheatley Glasgow, Trades House Glasgow and Merck. The winners will be announced on December 8 at the Grand Final in Glasgow City Chambers.

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The school was nominated for its work in diversity and inclusion, of which the book project is an important part.

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Class teacher Alexis Pattie explains: “Shirley-Anne Brightman, who was a principal teacher here, was the real pioneer and the driving force behind this project – without her it would never have got off the ground.

“It started out of research we did on why there wasn’t a huge love of reading at the school, which revealed that the children just didn’t see themselves in the books we had in the library.

“We did a bit of digging, and realised it was actually quite difficult to find books that represented children who were Scottish through and through, but whose parents had settled here having come from other countries, bringing their rich culture with them.”

Alexis adds: “Equally, there are not many books where the superheroes are girls wearing hijabs with Muslim names. So, the school decided that if those books did not exist, we would just write our own.”

Glasgow Times: Mahrosh with the book she helped to write.Mahrosh with the book she helped to write. (Image: Colin Mearns, Newsquest)

The result is We Can Be Heroes, an awardwinning series of vibrant short story collections about aliens and zombies and friendship and love. Local authors of colour and young artists and illustrators from nearby high schools worked with pupils from primaries five, six and seven at St Albert’s to come up with the original stories which filled two books. The first print run sold out “incredibly quickly”, smiles Alexis.

“The launch was quite an emotional day – there was a proper buzz about it, with local councillors, booksellers and publishers all coming along,” she says.

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“For the next phase, we brought parents on board, and we now have nine books published, which is fantastic.”

Alexis adds: “Excitingly, the school has just heard the books will be trialled in two Glasgow libraries and if it’s successful, the idea will be to roll them out to all the city libraries. That’s really wonderful news.”

Glasgow Times: Zaid AslamZaid Aslam (Image: Colin Mearns, Newsquest)

The project has attracted a lot of attention and won many awards, including the Social Enterprise Academy’s Glasgow Dragon’s Den trophy and a National Social Enterprise Champion Award. It also helped St Albert’s win a Scottish Education Award in Curriculum Innovation.

Alexis says: “As a social enterprise, the money we make from the books is all re-invested into the library spaces we have created in the school – with a lot of generous help from Top Drawer and artist Spencer Stearns – and it allows us to maintain those spaces.

“We’ve completed an overhaul of our library to make sure it’s representative not just of people of colour, but of people with disabilities, of all ages, family background, religion….when you want children to consume everything about the world around them, the books they read have to mirror that world.”

The books can be bought from the school, or through its Etsy shop online, and Alexis hopes that next year they will also be available in some local bookshops.

There are other exciting plans for 2023 too, she reveals.

“We will be producing our first We Can Be Heroes comic,” smiles Alexis. “The plan is for an illustrator to work with some of the incredible young artists we have here in P7 to adapt one of the stories into a comic, and we can’t wait for that.”

Around 97 percent of pupils at St Albert’s Primary are children of colour, with most descendants of families from Pakistan and South Asia. There are also children from Polish, Russian, African, Swedish and Dutch backgrounds.

After First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted a picture of her visit to the school, pupils received thousands of abusive, racist messages online.

Alexis admits it was a heartbreaking time, but adds: “To be honest, it wasn’t the first time this had happened to us, but it was certainly the most high profile.

“Teachers here have been campaigning for racism to be properly addressed in schools for years, and We Can Be Heroes is just a small part of that work.”

She adds: “But this time, it felt like people actually, finally, said – hold on a moment, we have to do something about this.

“It’s sad it took this for something positive to be done, but we have been given a voice, and a chance to tell the Education Minister directly what we think needs to change to tackle systemic inequality, not just racism, in Scottish education. We feel hopeful things will change."

Alexis adds: “The most important thing we can do is empower our young people, and if We Can Be Heroes has done that, then we’ll be very proud.”

Headteacher Clare Harker agrees. “We just want things to change,” she says, simply. “We are really honoured to have been nominated for the Glasgow Community Champion Awards – it is a privilege just to be there.”