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A Different Kind of Freedom: A Romani Story

Authored by Richard O'Neill
Illustrated by Cover illustration by Alette Straathof
Published by Scholastic

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‘Don’t let anyone stop you from following your dreams. Sometimes you have to take a risk or you will never know what you could have accomplished.’

A Different Kind of Freedom: A Romani Story is set in Sheffield in the late nineteenth century. It focuses on the fictional character of Lijah, a young Romani boy. Lijah lives with his family in a traditional Romani community. He works hard during the day and loves listening to traditional Romani storytelling in the evenings. Trouble comes when Lijah starts school and discovers a talent for football. Lijah’s father regards it as a game for Gorga (non-Traveller) people and forbids him from playing. Lijah is conflicted, but after meeting his football hero (Romani footballer, Rab Howell), he decides to pursue his dream of becoming a professional player. ‘As much as I loved our past, I was desperate to get on with the future.’

Lijah’s brother Henry has his own journey. Ready to be married, he must decide whether to continue with a traditional nomadic life or settle down in a house. If he does move away, should he keep his heritage a secret, or be open and risk prejudice?

A Different Kind of Freedom A Romani Story is part of the Scholastic Voices series and is as informative as it is entertaining. It highlights the prejudices faced by the Romani community, addresses misconceptions and shares the rich culture. There is a helpful dictionary of Romani words included.

You do not have to be interested in football to enjoy the text. It’s an inspiring story of ambition and resilience, of following your own path even when there is opposition from your family, your community and from wider society. The relationship between Lijah, Henry and their father is gripping, as they balance the traditional with their hopes for the future and their love and respect for each other.

Author Richard O’ Neill writes with an authentic voice. He is from a traditional nomadic Romani community in the north of England and was a professional football coach. The Author’s Note tells us that real-life, Sheffield-born footballer Rab Howell (the first Romani footballer to play professionally) is Richard O’Neill’s hero. You can find out more about the author and about Rab Howell by watching Nikki Gamble’s An Evening with Richard O’Neill https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lmurv1hIr9g .

Utterly brilliant. It should be in every upper KS2 classroom.