The Secret Sunshine Project – Benjamin Dean

Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you have read Benjamin Dean’s debut children’s book, you will know he writes uplifting stories which give representation to the LGBTQ+ community alongside delivering emotionally charged stories in a way which children can access. The Secret Sunshine Project is no different.

When Bea and Riley go to Pride with their parents, they know that their day couldn’t get any better. It’s filled with joy and colour, and the girls know they want to come back every year.

A year later, things have changed. Their dad has died, leaving a grey cloud hanging over the family who now have to move to rural St Regents Vale. Riley is not happy about moving – leaving behind her friends, London and Pride feels like too much after losing her dad. Bea just wants to cheer Riley up and make her see there is still a rainbow of colours to be found around them.

I loved this upbeat story; Ben managed to intertwine a deep emotional topic with humour and happiness. This week, a child in my class said she loved reading his books because children can see themselves in the pages and, in turn, be more comfortable being themselves and I completely agree. Both of Ben’s books have this quality.

I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to ask him some questions about this topic, as well as his fantastic new book!

How did the idea come to you for Secret Sunshine Project?

It was partly inspired by my childhood. I grew up in a small market town which held an annual Flower Parade. It was the biggest day of the year, with dozens of gorgeous floats taking to the streets. So when I was thinking about a natural follow up to Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow, I started thinking about that parade and how it wasn’t so different from Pride. The seed of the idea started to blossom from there. 

Which was your favourite character to write?

It has to be Gran. She was a joy to write, not least because she’s basically a reincarnation of my own gran. Gran won’t take any nonsense from anybody and will protect her family at any cost. Writing her standoffs with Rita was always a highlight.

I loved seeing how Bea helped not only her sister, but others around her, too. Is she modelled on anyone you know? 

I suppose Bea reminds me of a younger Ben in some ways – I always wanted to make everybody around me happy and proud, and I still hate to see anybody I love upset. 

There are obvious themes of acceptance and pride throughout the book. Why is this important for children to see? 

It allows for children to see not only themselves reflected in the pages of a book, but also others who might be different from them in one way or another. Seeing a diverse range of characters and themes hopefully encourages empathy, kindness and compassion. 

If children want to run their own Pride event in their town, street or school, what top tips would you give them? 

Get creative and crafty! Pride is full of colour and happiness and you can take that just about anywhere. But also think about what Pride really means and how important it can be to some people. It’s a place that many think of as home, and where people stand up for what they believe in and what’s right. 

I know you’re writing a YA book currently. How are you finding it compared to MG writing? 

It was so much fun diving into something completely different! After the happiness and joy of Rainbow and Sunshine, I don’t think people expected me to jump into a darker YA mystery/thriller. But writing The King is Dead and creating this alternate royal landscape where the new monarch is Black and gay allowed me to explore other aspects of my writing. I can’t wait to hear what people think when it publishes in July. 

Finally…what can we expect to see from you in the future? 

I have a few secrets up my sleeve that I don’t think I’m allowed to reveal yet. But I know some people were worried I was leaving MG books to focus on YA and that is DEFINITELY not the case. I’m working on my next MG now, which is another step in a slightly different direction, but I think it still shares many themes with my first two books. I can’t wait to reveal more about it soon.

If you like the sound of this book, you can buy it here.

Emily x

📚Book gifted by publisher

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