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Inspirational book which challenges negative stereotypes of teenagers published in Welsh

17 Aug 2023 14 minute read
Author Margaret-Rooke. Photo Alex Lister

Martin Shipton

An award-winning book that celebrates how teenagers across the world have coped with challenges in their lives has been translated into Welsh.

Gelli Di Newid Y Byd – published originally in English as You Can Change The World – was written by London-based author and journalist Margaret Rooke, who began her career as a trainee reporter on the South Wales Argus in Newport and Cwmbran.

The book won a gold award in the USA for multicultural non fiction in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.

It carries in-depth interviews with more than 50 teenagers, all of whom have made a positive contribution to their local community, their country or even the world.

The teenagers’ stories have a huge and diverse range, from a girl in London who kick-started the debate about period poverty to another in South Africa who campaigned against violence and a girl from Sheffield who persuaded supermarket chains to stop selling eggs from chickens who were kept in cages.

Other teenagers had to deal with bereavement and serious health conditions affecting themselves or members of their families.

Merthyr Tydfil

Two 14-year-olds – Corie and Jac – were both pupils at Pen Y Dre High School in Merthyr Tydfil.

Corie said: “When I was in primary school I was bullied, and I never had the chance to make friends. No one wanted to talk to me. No one saw me as a suitable friend. There were so many preconceptions about me and what I was like. I would get angry and kick off and still no one wanted to talk to me. My reputation got lower.

“Looking back, I think this was mostly because of my interests, as I love trains, and my autism. I think they may have made a bad assumption – that I was childish and not to be taken seriously.They would find something that would annoy me and keep on doing it.

“Constantly. Every time they did this, I felt like I was being exploited. I was very lonely. I once listened to the conversations of a group who were in the year below me and I think they were saying I was weak.

“When I was 11 and came to secondary school, the other kids who came from my primary to this school were kids who didn’t bother me. A lot of people find secondary school harder than primary, but, oddly, I made my first friend on my first day at this school. I was standing in a queue and I looked behind me and thought, ‘I want to make friends with that kid.’ I wanted my life in this school to be different.

“We had a tour of the school and I ended up talking to him. I thought he was different from the others. We ended up making friends. Making my first friend definitely raised my confidence. Now, every time I make a friend, I run home and tell my mum that I’ve made a friend and what their name is.

“I think when I first walked through the gates of this school, I realised people didn’t know me. This meant they couldn’t make any assumptions about me. I had a clean slate. I’m not really good at first impressions but this time I got it right.

“I realised that people could be so different and so similar at the same time. People can be mean, and people can be nice. At secondary school I could see this. When you’re being bullied and you have no friends, people always tell you that things will get better.

Gelli Di Newid Y Byd

“Well, I can tell you that eventually they will. I can also tell you that, as well as that, your past will make you stronger. I found that because of what I had been through I had developed a resistance to insults. I think I had so many insults I became a bit numb to them. Even now, if someone is mean, my friends will get angry on my behalf, but I will take the insult as a joke or even as a compliment – that they have noticed me and are commenting on me.

“I don’t care anymore. Only certain things that people say tick me off – if it’s something I’m passionate about. Mostly, I feel angry when they bring up autism and they say something that they think is true. I want to tell them no, they’re wrong, but I also know that because they are wrong, what they are saying doesn’t apply to me so there’s no way I can really be affected.

“Having friends has made life easier. No question. One of the reasons I have developed this inner strength is because I have more support.

“Because of my experiences, I have developed lots of ideas about how to run schools in a better way. I would have specific education programmes for every student, especially for the ones who misbehave. For those students, if information is delivered to them in the wrong way, they don’t see the need to listen. Then they carry along other people who also don’t want to learn with them.

“I’d also have a lesson a day or a lesson a week just talking to a teacher, building a relationship with them. The teacher could listen and help, and this would relieve some of your feelings.

“Also, to help relieve students of stress, I’d get rid of tests and the anxiety that comes with them. With tests, if you get a certain amount wrong and have to redo the whole thing, that’s what’s in the back of your mind when you’re doing the next test and it stops you from getting the marks you could get.

“In primary school, I felt as if I didn’t have much to contribute. I would rather work by myself as there was no point me being in a group. Here, there is a point being in a group because I have friends. I have confidence that I know I will be listened to and can contribute, so I come up with ideas that can make a difference.

“Most people think coming up with ideas to make changes is cheesy. They don’t realise that if things are done differently, this can be inspirational. School is made for extroverts, but the people who really need help are the introverts. There is nothing for us here. Everything is about being socialised, talking and having fun. I’m proud of being an introvert.

“I know that even if you don’t socialise, you can be a good person. You can learn. You can make friends. You can do things the way you do them. You can make change happen.”


Jac said: “Once in year 5 I had to get taken out of the lesson to calm down because this boy was being mean to my brother. I was so angry. I was ranting about why he shouldn’t have done what he did. I was glad when the boy was excluded, but I realise how stupid it was that I got so angry.

“I don’t know why, but certain things make me angry. In class when we don’t have time to finish something, I usually get annoyed. I feel like everyone should have enough time to write everything out. I get angry when people take stuff without asking.

“If I get too angry, I cry from anger. I used to punch my pillows, or I’d shout really loudly. I would never hit, but I would shout. I would get the blame when things went wrong because I was so angry, and sometimes people would tease me about it.

“Mindfulness was recommended to me because of my anger and now I find it easier to control. I would go to the teacher who taught mindfulness and we did these breathing techniques that really helped me. I was really sad when the teacher left. She was one of the nicest teachers I have known.

“I think it’s much better that I’m not as angry now, because I can talk through my problems. Before, even when I’d calmed myself down, people would say, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I couldn’t explain it well. Now I calm down super easy and I can talk about my emotions and why I was angry.

“With my level of anger, at one stage I’d thought, ‘Nothing’s going to calm me down,’ but mindfulness and my friends have helped me change for the better.

“My best friend is the smart one: he’s the brains, I’m the brawn. He’s really, really smart. If anyone’s mean to him, usually it’s me who gets annoyed. He laughs it off. He doesn’t talk back to people, but I talk back. I really want to punch them, but I don’t because I would end up in trouble, but I do sound like I want to.

“In year 7 and 8 people would say I was weird, but I know that doesn’t matter. I’m me and I’m not here to please everyone else. We are only supposed to change to be a better person than we already are. You can’t change yourself because some people don’t like you.

“Always some people will be friends with you if other people aren’t, and I am thankful for my friends. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them. They have helped me to improve to be a better person. I know there will always be someone by my side.

“My uncle passed away and I was very close to him. He was a mechanic and now I want to be a mechanic to carry on his work. When he died, I needed people to support me. Having more friends may mean you’re popular, but for me it’s always quality over quantity. You need friends you can trust from the bottom of your heart, who you can be yourself with.

“I’m going to try to help other people in the future. With experiencing what I have experienced, I will be in a good position to help. That’s the type of person I am. Treat people how you’d like to be treated. If someone bullies someone else, if they say they are ugly or fat or weird, over the years I’ve realised it’s OK to ignore it. If they have a problem, they have to deal with it. Opinions come from people who don’t know the real person.

“I have a gay friend and people make fun of him. I just say, ‘Just back off’. They think they are all smart; they just want an argument, but I argue back for my friend’s right to love who he wants. When people take the mick, I find that disgusting. I hate homophobia.

“People say you support it so you’re gay yourself, but I just want to support my friends. I think, ‘Why are you hating a person for that?’ I think if you don’t want to help someone, just leave them alone. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings; I want to help people for the better. I want to be a force for good, better and stronger in the mind and heart. If you stick up for what you know is good and right, you will automatically be better than the bully.

“I hope people will copy my example. I think I’m doing things that are good for people. One of my friends has learned to stick up for himself and he’s learned that from me. No matter how much you try, no matter what you say, I won’t stop sticking up for my friends. If I know what’s said is not right, I will always stick up for them.

“Because of some people’s personalities, they can’t handle what they are going through, so I need to help them. I know they can’t deal with it. Earlier, in English, they were being mean to my friend and I said, ‘Can you shut up – he doesn’t want to talk to you.’ I was so annoyed at that. It’s interesting that no one says anything mean to me. I used to be worried about my anger, but now I’m glad I have it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to stick up for anyone. I thank my anger for that.”

Negative perceptions

The book’s author Margaret Rooke explained how she came to write it.

“I was sitting with my editor in a cafe discussing the negative perceptions many people have of teenagers, and how they are most likely to get news coverage if they do something bad or anti-social,” she said.

“We agreed that gave a very distorted picture of teenagers as a whole and decided that interviewing teenagers who were doing good things could help change the negative perceptions.

“I contacted the young people featured in the book with the help of charities and other organisations. Being a teenager can be tough, partly because the brain is still developing. But the stories show that they can make enormous contributions.

“Some of the young people in the book have achieved astonishing things, like Lucy, from Sheffield, who persuaded Tesco and other major supermarkets to stop selling eggs from caged hens. Or Amika, a Londoner who led a high profile campaign against period poverty.

“Others, like Jac and Corie from Merthyr, are everyday heroes. They could be your child or mine. They’ve made changes within themselves. They’ve helped empower their friends and are playing their part in making school a kinder place. Our world benefits from all of these young people and they can be role models to so many more.”


The Welsh language edition of the book is published by Graffeg, whose publishing director Matthew Howard said: “It was the Books Council of Wales including this title in their Darllen yn Well project that gave us the chance to publish it, but we were delighted to have the opportunity to do so. At a moment in time that is seemingly riven with social, political and economic challenges right around the world, it is important that teenagers everywhere fully appreciate their own capacity to effect change.

“And while Margaret’s book is, of course, important, it is also important that readers see it as being directly relevant to themselves, meaning that it needs to be available in their own language and relevant to their own society and culture. Inspiration is a response that comes from within, and that response is made ever more possible when its source is available in the reader’s own tongue.”

Asked what he thought Welsh teenagers would get out of reading the book, Mr Howard said: “I hope they get a sense that, in an often anonymous world, they are important, they have a role to play, and they do have the capacity to effect change, however big or small. I’m 55 and my generation has led the world to this point in time – I hope the next generation will have the courage to do a slightly better job. Reading, reflecting and, dare I say it, acting on this book is certainly a good place to start.”

You can buy a copy of Gelli Di Newid Y Byd here.

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