Susanne Gervay’s latest book is Elephants have Wings, illustrated by Anna Pignataro. www.sgervay.com

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It’s 10 years since the Edmund Rice Centre (ERC), a non-profit organisation striving for social change, first held its Justice Literary Event. This one day conference features prominent children’s authors discussing how literature and the arts can be used to address issues around human rights, social justice and the environment.

The biennial event is attended by students, teachers, community leaders, influencers and anyone interested in improving the world – and it’s growing very popular.

“Ten years ago people weren’t so aware of the impact of climate, they weren’t aware of the refugee issue,” explains Susanne Gervay, esteemed children’s author, who has been involved in the event from the beginning. “This conference is so important because it reaches a lot of schools – and these kids, they’ll go back and they’ll talk – and their thinking changes.”

Gervay is a firm believer in the power of story. She is a much awarded author who has tackled issues such as bullying, alienation, the migrant experience, religion, climate and family in her books.

“Young people are inundated by the media and what’s around them, and they can’t process it – it’s very disempowering. But they are great readers; they respond to story. Through story – if it’s good story – they actually enter a journey which empowers them to navigate these challenges and feel positive,” says Gervay. Her books are engaging and enlightening and most importantly, they don’t speak down to children – something Gervay actively avoids.

With her parents having escaped war, communism and terrorism in Hungary to come as refugees to Australia, Gervay’s childhood was emotionally tumultuous and she turned to books for comfort.

“I couldn’t have survived without books. I wouldn’t have made it because it offered me hope and a place to move forward and I was absolutely driven by that experience.”

Gervay’s passion is shared by all the speakers who attend the Justice Literary Event. As well as Gervay, this year’s conference includes luminaries such as Mem Fox, Melina Marchetta, Libby Gleeson,  illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft, and many more.

Mar 14. Santa Sabina College Hall, 90 The Boulevarde, Strathfield. $40-$80+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.erc.org.au

By Rita Bratovich