Zo and the Forest of Secrets

When Zo decides to run away from home, she isn’t scared; after all, she knows the island like the back of her hand. But, as she journeys through the once-familiar forest, terrifying creatures and warped visions begin to emerge. With a beast on her heels and a lost boy thrown into her path, could a mysterious abandoned facility hold answers? Zo must unravel the secrets of the forest before she is lost in them forever…

Knights Of

ZO AND THE FOREST OF SECRETS is a brilliantly pacey, thrilling middle grade adventure from children’s debut Alake Pilgrim (already an international award winner for her other writing). She is based in Trinidad and Tobago and Trinidad is the setting for this story, brilliantly brought to life as Zo loses herself in what she thought was familiar forest. I loved the mixture of tech and legends, imagination and realism, friendships and not knowing who to trust…plus the chatty spiders are some of my favourite side characters in a novel, ever.

There are some truly skin-crawlingly terrifying moments in this book, as unimaginable creatures hunt for Zo and her companion, but also some moments of reflection about family and honesty, as well as some pretty funny lines. Zo makes a lot of discoveries about herself as well as the mysterious zoo and Adri, the boy she saves from drowning, but we leave the forest with even more unanswered questions than we went in with, with twists upon turns leaving the reader (me) desperate for book 2!

Alake Pilgrim

Zo and the Forest of Secrets, published by Knights Of is out now, priced £7.99

Check out the rest of the blog tour!

Thank you to ED PR for getting me a review copy and including me on the blog tour.

If You Still Recognise Me

If you loved Heartstopper and need more feel-good LGBTQ+ romance – If You Still Recognise Me is the one for you!

Elsie has a crush on Ada, the only person in the world who truly understands her. Unfortunately, they’ve never met in real life and Ada lives an ocean away. But Elsie has decided it’s now or never to tell Ada how she feels. That is, until her long-lost best friend Joan walks back into her life.

In a summer of repairing broken connections and building surprising new ones, Elsie realises that she isn’t nearly as alone as she thought. But now she has a choice to make…

Little Tiger

This is the debut UKYA novel by Cynthia So, and they are definitely one to watch! Loved the enthusiasm & passion blended with uncertainty in protagonist, I knew where the story was going but it was *so* satisfying. And So Much +ve rep! I loved the queer people of all ages, the delight of teens sharing a fandom, intergenerational relationships & intricacies of family life & how people show love…& realising what *isn’t* love…it is a must read this Pride Month.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask Cynthia a few questions:

If You Still Recognise Me is your debut novel but you had a short story in the PROUD book, edited by Little Tiger, did you already have the idea of IYSRM? They’re very different, do you have more ideas for your phoenix?

I had started to write IYSRM by the time PROUD came out in March 2019, but I don’t think I had the idea for it when I first drafted my short story “The Phoenix’s Fault” back in March 2018. I didn’t really have any ideas for a novel at all back then! I’ve always adored YA contemporary, and I’ve also always loved fantasy, but something about writing a fantasy book is a little more daunting to me. I have trouble writing things longer than a short story, so I needed to push myself past that self-doubt of “I’ll never write a good novel” by starting with something that to me has a breezy, casual vibe, and IYSRM is what resulted. I was very self-indulgent while writing it. I just wanted to write my dream summer queer YA book, and to have as much fun as possible while doing it.

I don’t have more ideas for my phoenix. I think we left her and her humans in a good place. I could definitely write more queer stories in that universe though, based around different creatures in Chinese folklore and myth. The Legend of the White Snake for example!


The background to the comic, so that the fandom would make sense, feels like you have a whole story planned out! Have you written more that wasn’t included?

There were some little details that I included in earlier drafts that didn’t make it into the final version, but otherwise there’s not a lot in my head that isn’t on the page. I think this is a good lesson for any author, that you need just enough detail to suggest something bigger – you don’t need to have it completely fleshed out, which may be a waste of time if you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to writing! Coming up with a few specific details goes a long way towards making something seem real.


While you were writing, did you share it with many people or wait until it was finished?

I didn’t share it with anyone while I was writing. I’m an intensely private person! Every author’s different, but for me, to share something with someone before I finish it would be to jinx it, somehow. I feel like I have to be alone with the story, to know that it is, for a time, mine and only mine, to learn to love it properly. The sort of relationship I have with a story changes once I start to share it with others, because I worry so much about what others think. By not sharing it until it’s done, I can hone in on my own vision for the story and honour it to the best of my ability.

And it also gives me the drive and motivation to complete it, because I know that unless I finish it, I’ll never be able to let anybody else read it, and that would be a huge shame after pouring months into trying to write it!


The comic book shop is wonderful, is it based on one that you’ve been to or is it wishful thinking?

It’s not based on any particular comic book shop, but I do love the vibe of any indie bookshop, including comic book shops. Gosh! Comics in Soho is such a lovely, cosy little place, and I also always think fondly of havens like Gay’s the Word. Indie bookshops are truly the best.


Have you had any reaction from teen readers yet? What would you like them to take away from the book?

I don’t think I’ve had any reaction from teen readers yet (that I know of), but there’s lots of things I would like them to take away from the book. Here are a few of those things:
1) I want queer teens who want romantic love to know that they will find that romantic love, even if it takes time, and it may take time. I worry that teens might look at YA romances and feel sad that they don’t have that romance in their lives right now, and believe that that means there’s something inadequate about themselves. Though my book is a YA romance, it also has lots of stories in it about queer people who find love much later on in life, and it’s no less wonderful or beautiful. One day, you will be loved for who you are, by someone who sees you. And you deserve that kind of love. Real love shouldn’t require you to make yourself smaller for it.
2) Coming out doesn’t have to be the end goal. I think when I was a teenager I felt so much angst about not feeling brave enough to come out to people other than a few of my friends. But not coming out to your family doesn’t mean you’re not brave enough. It doesn’t mean you’re ashamed. You can be proud of who you are, without coming out to lots of people.
3) It’s OK to change. It’s OK not to know exactly who you want to be yet. You have time to figure it out.


What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

Just finished Gay Club! by Simon James Green – it’s funny and extremely readable like Simon’s books always are, and the characters are a delight, and there’s such a powerful message at the centre of it. I would recommend to all teens who are part of LGBTQ+ clubs at school, or those would like to start one. It’s also so incredible to me to think about the fact that some teens get to be part of LGBTQ+ clubs at school now, so if you’re an adult and you wish you had that kind of support and community as a teen this book is also totally for you.

I also finished I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston not long ago, and oh my god. This is the queer book of my dreams. It’s all of my fave YA books I read when I was growing up, but QUEER, finally, queer! It’s such a dreamy, exhilarating romance set against the backdrop of a Christian high school between two academic rivals who are utterly obsessed with each other, and the scavenger hunt element is so fun. It’s a fantastically escapist summer read. I would recommend this to everyone who likes John Green, and also anyone growing up in a small town and/or with a religion that makes them feel complicated about their queerness. This book is really uplifting in that regard and full of shining defiance and hope.


What are you working on at the moment?

My second YA contemporary novel with Little Tiger. It’s going to be another queer romance, and it will involve lots of food, and lots of family, and lots of yearning, because those are some of my favourite things to write about. Other than that, I don’t want to say too much – you’ll have to wait and see! 🙂

Thank you so much Cynthia for answering my questions, and writing such a great book, and thanks to Little Tiger for a review copy and facilitating the q&a!

If You Still Recognise Me publishes on the 9th June 2022

The Boy Who Grew a Tree

Nature-loving Timi is unsettled by the arrival of a new sibling and turns to tending a tree growing in his local library. But there is something magical about the tree and it is growing FAST… and the library is going to close. Can Timi save the library and his tree, and maybe bring his community closer together along the way? A charming early reader for ages 5-8, filled with black-and-white illustrations.

Knights Of
Illustrated by Sojun Kim-McCarthy

I know this blog is called *Teen* Librarian, but I read a lot of books for younger reader as well, with Bea but also for the school that I work in…and when I saw what this book was about I just had to be part of the blog tour! It really is one of the best early readers I’ve come across, beautifully written and engaging with lovely illustrations, and could be enjoyed by and provoke discussion with readers of all ages. I asked the author, Polly Ho-Yen a few questions:

What is your fondest memory of using or working in a library?

This is a toughie because I have so many special memories being in libraries. I used to love running the baby bounce classes because the babies looked so amazed to be there and were (mostly) brimming with joy. I also helped out with a reading group where it felt like every week, the poem or story made a huge impact on all of us. I liked hearing the different thoughts of everyone there; in one session I’ve never forgotten, a blind man shared that he saw people as colours. A favourite memory from being a library user was overhearing a kid saying his imaginary friend was particularly powerful in the library because it got its strength from all the books.

How different was it writing for a younger audience? Was the idea for this story always for beginning readers or did it evolve that way?

I was pretty nervous before I began writing about whether I would be able to do it, to be honest! I knew how important every sentence, every word is – there’s no room to ride when writing for younger audiences. But once I put my worries aside and got started, I found the voice and finished it fairly quickly. And then I had a nervous wait to hear what my editor thought. I always find it useful to read my work aloud and this was even more important for this story.

I’ve had bits of this ideas floating around for a while but when I asked myself to think about a story for a younger audience, that’s when it really developed to become ‘The Boy Who Grew a Tree.’

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I read more picture books than anything else at the moment because I have a book-obsessed two-year-old and so the last book I put down was ‘Where’s Lenny’ by Ken Wilson-Max. It’s a real favourite because it speaks so brilliantly to the games that are at the centre of a toddler’s world.

I’m also reading ‘The Ice Palace’ by Tarjei Vesaas which is such an intriguing read, with perfectly-drawn characters and a killer setting to boot. I’m only at the beginning but I’m recommending it to everyone, so far!

Will you be writing more early chapter books or have you more middle grade ideas?

I would like to write both because I have ideas for both and it’s a great challenge to write for different readerships. Also I know about myself by now that I get a bit overexcited about writing and creating and so writing across genres is a dream come true.

Polly Ho-Yen

The Boy Who Grew a Tree, written by Polly Ho-Yen, illustrated by Sojung Kim-McCarthy, published by Knights Of is out now, priced £5.99

Check out the rest of the tour! Thank you EDPR for organising

Fight Back!

Aaliyah is an ordinary thirteen-year-old living in the Midlands. She’s into books, shoes and her favourite K-pop boy band. She has always felt at home where she lives … until a terrorist attack at a concert in her area changes everything. As racial tension increases, Aaliyah is bullied, but instead of hiding who she is, she decides to speak up and wear a hijab. She’s proud of her identity, and wants to challenge people’s misconceptions. But when her right to wear a hijab at school is questioned and she is attacked and intimidated, she feels isolated. Aaliyah discovers she’s not alone and that other young people from different backgrounds are also discriminated against because of their identity, and feel scared and judged. Should she try to blend in – or can she find allies to help her fight back? Channelling all of her bravery, Aaliyah decides to speak out. Together, can Aaliyah and her friends halt the tide of hatred rippling through their community?

An essential read to encourage empathy, challenge stereotypes, explore prejudice, racism, Islamophobia and inspire positive action.

A story of hope, speaking up and the power of coming together in the face of hatred.

#FightBack #FindYourVoice #OurVoicesAreStrongerTogether

A. M. Dassu

Boy, Everywhere, was such an astonishingly good debut that I have to admit I was quite worried about how Az might follow it up. I had the absolute pleasure of reading an early version of Fight Back! and was totally blown away by how good it is, and now that it has been polished it is even better. I’m very proud to have my quote in there:

I asked a few questions of our esteemed author:

Your 2 novels (+1 short chapter book) have very different protagonists! Does the character come to you first or the plot? Yes, they are so different! I think the plot always comes first. Although Sami definitely came to me with a loose plot for him in mind. And Aaliyah formed in my head because this time I wanted an upbeat, feisty character who you’d connect to but also hopefully make you laugh through the way she observed things. But with both books, my characters had something they had to say and that needed to be more widely discussed.

I’m so impressed with how you’re able to include so many “issues”, helping young* (*& old…frankly everyone needs to read your books to bolster their empathy) readers to understand at the same time as keeping them engaged with a brilliant story. Is there anything you’ve really struggled with making accessible? Thank you! I thought Boy, Everywhere would be the hardest book I’d write, but actually I found writing Fight Back so hard because the themes are challenging and painful. Adults tend to think that young people don’t think about what’s happening in the news, but sadly the ripple effects of events in the news can be far reaching and when writing, I kept in mind that there are children all over the world experiencing the same prejudice Aaliyah does. And that was simultaneously a struggle but also motivating.

What advice would you give to a girl considering beginning to wear the hijab to school? Ooh! Hold your head high. Be proud to be different, be your best self and take each day as it comes.

You’ve written non-fiction as well, how different is your research and writing process? What do you prefer to write? Interestingly, the process is so similar. Of course writing fiction is much more fun but also in some ways more stressful as you don’t want to make things up about a character from a particular background that might stereotype them or harm them. It’s about finding a fine balance of a plot that is gripping that is still based on fact. I do a lot of research! With non-fiction I can check facts via books or websites and I can trust that references are sound, but with fiction I go beyond this and ask people for their views and experiences – it feels like a bigger responsibility and always lies heavy on my heart. And even though Fight Back is own voices, I still had to do the same amount of research as I did for Boy, Everywhere, which surprised me. Again, I wanted to ensure the story was nuanced, where readers would feel seen and also perhaps discover something and so my editing process meant I double checked my research and cried a lot (writing and editing makes writers cry, part of the job).

I know you’ve done a number of virtual school visits with ‘Boy, Everywhere’, have you thought about what you’d like to do with students in person for ‘Fight Back’? I have already planned them! In the Fight Back workshops I’ll ask students to engage in an activity exploring identity, and we will discuss how you can help someone being bullied/discriminated against because of their identity or because they’re different. We will explore what it means to be an ally and the importance of coming together in the face of discrimination and ways to support those that are being bullied/discriminated against. We might even look at the United Nations  Convention on the Rights of a Child  to express themselves.

As well as your own writing, you’re also a director of Inclusive Minds, how did you get involved with them? Inclusive Minds is a unique organisation for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children’s literature. We have a big network of Inclusion Ambassadors from across the country with diverse lived experiences of race, ethnicities, disability, neurodivergence, LGBTQIA+ etc. I connected with the founders a few years ago at a conference and soon became an ambassador. Then in 2019 they asked if I’d be interested in taking over from them and despite me just having signed my first book deal, I couldn’t say no. It was a brilliant opportunity to help amplify our ambassador’s voices at events, ensure they get paid and give them the chance to work with publishers to check if books being published are authentic and accurate.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? Oh my goodness, I picked up my proof of The Midnighters by Hana Tooke the other night and I am hooked. I’m only five chapters in but it is so sumptuously written I must finish it. I think it’ll be a classic! It’s perfect for middle grade and adults too (of course).

Are you working on anything that you can tell us about? I have some extremely exciting news that I can’t talk about but let’s just say you’ll all meet Sami and Ali again. The Boy, Everywhere spin off is going to happen in a number of ways!
I am also plotting my next standalone novel and this time it will be a dual narrative – two characters who couldn’t be more different, a girl and a boy. It’s nothing like anything I’ve written before and I am so excited to write it! Please just send me some time!

A. M. DASSU is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere, which has been listed for 25 awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, nominated for the Carnegie Medal, is the 2021 winner of The Little Rebels Award for Radical Fiction and is also an American Library Association Notable Book. A. M. Dassu writes books that challenge stereotypes, humanise the “other” and are full of empathy, hope and heart. Her latest novel, Fight Back has just been published by Scholastic and A. M. Dassu is currently touring the country signing as many copies in as many bookshops as she can!

Fight Back! is published in the UK this week by Scholastic

Read Between the Lies

Two very different boys, one new family, a shared struggle and a big secret.

Ryan didn’t want a new mum, let alone a new brother! But when his parents split up and his dad moves in with Naomi, she comes with Tommy – one year older, chucked out of his old school and now joining Ryan’s class. Great. Suddenly sharing a home and a classroom with a complete stranger is a bit much.

Flung together, the two boys clash, but gradually realise that they are more similar than they thought.

Zephyr

The dual perspectives of this story were brilliantly done, two distinct and realistic voices that wouldn’t have worked individually. I was gripped by the story, the way the relationship between the two boys developed, and the relationships with all the grownups. Tommy’s discovery of a secret (and what that secret was) kept my heart in my mouth for him. Also, the dyslexia friendly font is very readable!

Malcom Duffy has written a bit about the inspiration behind the story:

We all face challenges at some point in our lives. My parents divorced when I was a teenager. Many young people face struggles and I like to explore these in my stories, looking at how the drama unfolds, how different characters react to their problems, the mistakes they make along the way, and the solutions they find.

My latest teen novel, Read Between the Lines, is a story of dyslexia, drama and deceit. It tells the tale of 16 year old Ryan, and 17 year old Tommy, two teens who are from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds, and who go to different schools. But they have something in common– they’re both dyslexic. While Ryan has come to terms with his dyslexia and is succeeding at school, Tommy is in denial, and won’t seek support. Tommy’s issue comes to a head when he’s forced to face his greatest fear – reading in public. He turns to the one person he never thought he’d ask for help – Ryan.

The issue of lies also plays a big part in the story. We sometimes try to keep the truth hidden. This can be for many reasons – fear, shame, embarrassment, stubbornness. But lies can come back to haunt us. The novel explores how the truth, however painful, is always better than a lie.

So why did I pick on dyslexia as the theme for my new novel? My teenage daughter, Tallulah, has dyslexia, so I know first-hand about the issues involved, and the effects it can have. I also have experience in screenwriting and was fortunate enough to be asked to write a short film about dyslexia, called Mical. It tells the incredible real life story of Mike and Pat Jones, and how Pat helped her dyslexic son to read and write. Mike had been thrown out of various schools for being difficult, aggressive, and stupid. But his mum knew her son was bright, and that his behaviour was purely down to his learning difficulty. She developed her own teaching techniques to help Mike who went on to be a star pupil. Mike and Pat Jones then set up the online learning platform for dyslexics called Nessy. The film can be found on YouTube, where it’s had over 1.7 million views.

I thought dyslexia would make an unusual subject for a novel, as it’s very common, but often misunderstood. Some dyslexics don’t even know they have it. And it can have a  negative impact on lives unless it’s dealt with. I carried out a lot of research into the subject, with my daughter, other family members, as well as experts who have spent years dealing with dyslexia and its impact.

Huge numbers of young people battle with dyslexia. If left untreated it can lead to low self-esteem, behaviour problems, anxiety, aggression, withdrawal. While many get the help they need from parents, schools, specialists, many others don’t. I’d like dyslexics to realise there is help available, and that dyslexia is no barrier to leading a successful, fulfilling life. I’d like non-dyslexics to be more understanding of what it means to be dyslexic, to be kind, supportive, understanding.

I hope the book can achieve this and give the reader a story that is in turns, humorous and heart-warming.

 Malcolm Duffy

Malcolm Duffy (photo credit James W. Fortune)

Read Between the Lies by Malcolm Duffy is out now in hardback from Zephyr

Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist for organising a review copy and to Malcolm for his guest post

Truth Be Told – guest post by Sue Divin

Northern Ireland. 2019.

Tara has been raised by her mam and nan in Derry City. Faith lives in rural Armagh.

Their lives on opposite sides of a political divide couldn’t be more different. Until they come face-to-face with each other and are shocked to discover they look almost identical. Are they connected?

In searching for the truth about their own identities, the teenagers uncover more than they bargained for.

But what if finding out who you truly are means undermining everything you’ve ever known?

Macmillan Children’s Books

Very pleased to be asked to be part of the blog tour for Irish author Sue Divin’s second powerful novel: Truth Be Told, with a guest post!

Writing in a pandemic

What are you working on next?

Like many people, I think the pandemic has disrupted the ‘normal’ of everything in our lives. I spend more of my time not writing than writing – although if I’m not writing at all I can feel quite out of balance. Writing is like a release. Like many writers though, writing is not my full-time job. I had planned to take a year out once Guard Your Heart was published but the Covid pandemic put paid to that.

About six months after Guard Your Heart was published, I did make the decision to change from working full-time in my ‘day job’ to just 4 days a week. That has helped the stress levels a bit! Managing an EU funded Peace and Reconciliation programme for my local council still takes up most of my week – and my favourite bit of that is working with local communities and seeing projects make a difference to people’s lives.

My life circumstances have also made me a single parent to a brilliant teenage son with high-functioning ASD (autism/aspergers). The lockdown/home schooling phases of the pandemic were not fun. Thankfully at this stage of the pandemic, things seem to be becoming a bit more normal again. What keeps me on an even keel are things like walking/hiking and swimming. I’m also a musician – I play guitar and tin whistle. Lattes with friends are top of my favourite-things-to-do list and on a dark winter’s night, I’ll rarely say no to a warm fire, salty popcorn and a good movie.

I don’t have a specific new novel on the go yet, though I’m toying with some characters and a cross-border setting from Derry into Donegal. I’ve a fascination with a place called Fort Dunree in County Donegal. So much so, that I’ve already written two short stories based there – each with connections to my novels. Perhaps it’s time to explore a novel itself having that ingrained into its setting and psyche.

Over the last few months, I’ve started to get invitations to speak at literary festivals and occasional dialogue events. I’m also building up my skills in learning how to mentor other emerging writers and facilitating creative writing workshops. It’s fantastic fun and definitely an area of work that I love but, especially because it’s all quite new to me and because I live in the north-west of Ireland where historical political decisions meant that no motorways were built and the rail network was reduced, it’s quite time consuming. I’ve also been trying to tackle my TBR (to be read) pile but am not winning. This is entirely my own fault – I can resist books and bookshops. Once I’ve finally blethered all these excuses out of my system, I’m pretty sure a third novel will surface. I’m also pretty sure it will still be YA because I can’t resist writing teenagers – they’re the absolute best.

Truth Be Told by Sue Divin is out now in paperback (£7.99, Macmillan Children’s Books)

With a Masters in Peace and Conflict studies and a day job in Community Relations/Peace building in Derry for over fifteen years, Sue’s writing often touches on diversity and reconciliation in today’s Northern Ireland. Her first novel, Guard Your Heart, was shortlisted for the 2019 Caledonia Novel Award, was a Finalist in the Irish Novel Fair 2019 and was longlisted in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award.

Check out the rest of the blog tour!

When Library Boards Turn

Library trustees are powerful advocates for libraries.  Through the coordination, hard work, and determination of trustees, new libraries have been built, budgets have been restored and increased, and new respect has been generated for the powerful role libraries play in communities and on campuses. As part of a trustee board, trustees serve on a volunteer basis, can be elected or appointed to a library board for a period of time, and are tasked with the duty of helping to direct the funds and policies of an institution. In general, the library board of trustees has a role in determining the mission of the library, setting the policy that governs the library, hiring and evaluating a library director, and overseeing the general management of the library.

[source: http://www.ilovelibraries.org/get-involved/become-library-trustee]

A library board is a group of citizens responsible for the governing of a public library. Board members are the vital link between the library and its community. Board members serve as library advocates and leaders in developing responsible and creative library service to all members of the public. 

[source: https://nlc.nebraska.gov/trustees/boardmanual/chap1.aspx]

Library Boards are guided in their duties by the Library Mission as well as strategic plans and policies. These are in turn informed by the American Library Association Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read Statement, codes of ethics and more.

Library Boards that work well are virtually invisible, they exist to make sure that the Library is fulfilling its stated mission of serving the needs of the community.

Across the US there have been several Library Boards that have started turning on the Libraries that they ostensibly serve.

Mid-Continent Public Library Director Steven Potter resigned after the board led a campaign against diversity, equity and inclusion programs:

The current 12-member board, including four members appointed by each of three counties — Jackson, Clay and Platte — has been bent on blocking programs for LGBTQ youth and squashing moves to increase diversity.

The Niles-Maine Library District Board has been divided and at odds over controversial proposals brought forward by the new trustees, including the hiring of a political ally as a library consultant at $100 per hour and a freeze on hiring, capital projects and material purchases.

The changes led to the resignation of the Library Director, who in her letter of resignation warned the board that they are protectors, not destroyers, and you cannot allow anyone on the board or off the board to destroy this precious institution.

More information on the Coalition to save the Niles Maine Library can be found here: https://www.nilescoalition.org/2021/07/03/more-info/

Ideological divisions were on display at a recent ImagineIF Libraries Board retreat, with a trustee pushing against libraries offering hotspots to patrons that have no internet access and wanting to remove ALA language from ImagineIF policy (that would be the Library Bill of Rights and more. The board member went on to state that: trustees are supposed to be apolitical, and therefore being aligned with an organization that takes “leftist” political stances is not in the library’s best interest.

The neutrality of libraries is a discussion that needs to be had, but when board members openly rail against what they perceive to be “leftist stances and services” and agitate for their removal they are not being neutral, and when they try and edit library policies to silence voices and end services to patrons and marginalized communities then they are actively trying to create a hostile environment within the library service they oversee, making it unwelcoming to those they perceive as opposing their political views.

As more and more activists on the right attempt to paint libraries as havens of inappropriate materials, crawling with staff holding “leftist” views, the situation will become more fraught. Library Boards should be balanced, the moment they have a reactionary majority that views their ideological views as superior to those of others then “neutrality” goes out the window and services to underserved communities are cut and staff get forced out.

Right wing groups are working off a playbook first developed to take over school boards to control what is being taught to children and they are now focusing on libraries. With turnout in local elections traditionally low, it is easy for a group to get enough people organized to sway the vote.

Related Articles:

Libraries aren’t neutral ground in the fight for anti-racist education

Right-Wingers Are Taking Over Library Boards to Remove Books on Racism

Mid-Continent Public Library Board blasted as banned books comments suggest censorship

Is Qanon radicalizing your School Board?

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms

Percy Jackson meets Black Panther – this blockbuster middle-grade adventure is perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers.

Cameron Battle grew up reading The Book of Chidani, cherishing stories about the fabled kingdom that cut itself off from the world to save the Igbo people from danger. Passed down over generations, the Book is Cameron’s only connection to his parents, who disappeared one fateful night two years ago.

Ever since, his grandmother has kept the Book locked away, but it calls to Cameron. When he and his best friends, Zion and Aliyah, decide to open it again, they are magically transported to Chidani. Instead of a land of beauty and wonder, they find a kingdom in extreme danger, as the queen’s sister seeks to destroy the barrier between worlds. The people of Chidani have been waiting for the last Descendant to return and save them … Is Cameron ready to be the hero they need?

Inspired by West African and Igbo history and mythology, this adventure-filled fantasy introduces readers to Cameron Battle as he begins his journey to greatness.

Bloomsbury

CAMERON BATTLE AND THE HIDDEN KINGDOMS is a classic, exciting, fantasy adventure, with a beautiful friendship at its heart. The reflections on slavery are thoughtful, as Cameron learns the history of his family and their relationship to The Book and the kingdom of Chidani, magically hidden from the world, when he and his two best friends get pulled into Chidani and find themselves on a dangerous quest! My very favourite thing about the book is the relationship between Cameron and Zion: I just loved reading about life-long friends who defend one another to the hilt, support each other when they’re scared, and clearly show how much they love one another through words and actions – with all of that you’d think Aliyah might seem like a third wheel but she plays an important role in the trio and I couldn’t imagine the book without her.

You lucky people can read an extract of the first two chapters here:

If you need to know what happens next you’re in luck, as it is published today, the day the UK celebrates World Book Day! I always say that any book published on such an auspicious day has to be brilliant…

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms

Mark My Words

Fifteen-year-old Dua Iqbal has always had trouble minding her own business. With a silver-tongue and an inquisitive nature, a career in journalism seems fated. When her school merges with another, Dua seizes her chance and sets up a rival newspaper, exposing the controversial stories that teachers and the kids who rule the school would rather keep buried.

Dua’s investigations are digging up things she shouldn’t get involved with about family, friends and her community and as exams rattle towards her, she needs to make some hard decisions about when to leave things alone. But when she discovers that some kids at school are being blamed for selling drugs when the real perpetrator is right in front of their noses, she can’t keep quiet any longer.

Macmillan Kids

Muhammed Khan writes such great voices! I’ve talked about his previous two YA novels on the blog before, Ilyas from KICK THE MOON is still one of my favourite fictional teens and I loved the nod to him in MARK MY WORDS, Khan’s newly published high-school based thriller. Khan’s characters make mistakes and sometimes do the wrong thing, Dua is no exception, but they all care deeply about their friends and family and community and always want to make things better. In that, I think they’re very real teenagers, and even if the reader can’t see themselves in the main protagonist they will recognise the well developed side characters and empathise. I’d love to hear the reactions of students from both state and private schools!

I was given the opportunity to ask a few questions as part of the blog tour (see banner below for the rest of the tour):

As a teacher, have you worked in a Minerva or Bodley?

Yes! Covid made me realise I couldn’t afford to be a full-time author and I was really missing the classroom environment. Before I got my current post, I dipped my toe in supply teaching. I got a different school every day and the contrast really jumped out at me. I thought it would be a fascinating dichotomy for a YA novel. Thus, Minerva and Bodley were born!

Dua often thinks about her faith, never doubting it, did you talk to young hijabi women to help with the voice?

I grew up around hijabi women, and a number of my students wear the hijab too, so I was passionate about getting the representation right. I had lots of interesting conversations. Macmillan also got a number of sensitivity readers to make sure the characterisation felt believable.

So many things that can affect young people are broached in the book, what was most important for you to get across?

The story always comes first in my books. Teenagers hate to be preached at. Having said that I hope young people will feel inspired by Dua and her friends to speak out whenever they see wrong and not give up if they are not heard but to have the strength to keep going. We shouldn’t underestimate peer pressure or drugs culture.

Are any of your characters based on students or colleagues?

Definitely! I’m always amazed and inspired by my students and their passions. Dua is based on a few girls I’ve taught who had a level of bravery I could only have dreamed of as a teen. Hugo is based on a student I met at a very posh school.

Sadly, Dua’s mum’s story is also based in reality. In my years of teaching, I’ve heard a number of harrowing stories from colleagues facing discrimination. The power imbalance is something people are finally starting to speak up about without serious recriminations. But there’s lots more to do!

Have you thought about including covid restrictions in a future novel?

I’ve thought about it but I’m kind of hoping, like everyone else, that the restrictions will be over soon!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

My students have got me into manga in a big way. I’m currently reading Kimetsu No Yaiba (Demon Slayer) by Koyoharu Gotouge. Such a great read with wonderful characters and brilliant world building. I recommend it to every lover of fantasy and horror.

MARK MY WORDS by Muhammad Khan is out now in paperback (£7.99, MCB)

The Yoto Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards… what?

When I saw the announcement that the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals had been renamed the Yoto Carnegie Greenaway Awards, my first thought was “What the heck is Yoto?”

So I started poking around.

Yoto is an old idea in 21st century packaging, gone are the books on audiocassette (or even CD or MP3 player) in is a child-friendly smart speaker (set up and monitored by parents via an app) that kids can control using RFID smart cards. The smart cards provide a link to stories on a server run by Yoto, these are downloaded to the player, once this is done parents can disconnect the wifi via the app which can also be used to link “stories, songs and sounds that you record yourself. Or use songs or audiobooks from your own collection – if you have a bunch of MP3s you’d like to make a playlist from. You can also make cards from our curated selection of radio stations and podcasts, so you can play these on your player directly from a card without needing to go via the app.

Yoto also offers a monthly subscription club for £9.99 per month or £99 per year with free shipping 10% discount on all purchases and two cards per month sent to your address. Full details here: https://uk.yotoplay.com/pages/yoto-club

Online response seems to have been overwhelmingly positive:

To quote but a few.

It has been touted that this partnership will reach more people and inspire more children which is of course hard to refute, but only if people can afford to purchase the Yoto Player and all the books to be played on it.

In the UK the basic Yoto Player retails for £79.99 and the portable Yoto Mini goes for £49.99.

Smart card prices start at £1.99 for podcasts, with most books ranging between £4.99 to £11.99 with collections of cards going up to £19.99.

Having been keeping a close eye on news out of the UK and seeing the difficulties many families are having with food costs, travel high energy bills, I fear that these devices and the smart cards may be out of reach for many that may benefit from them.

As Joy has said, this partnership will make the CILIP CKG (actually the Yoto CKG) Awards more financially secure; but in return Yoto gets the implied imprimatur of CILIP and the CKG Awards themselves which have stood for outstanding quality since 1936 (Carnegie) and 1955 (Kate Greenaway).

At this point it is hard to see who would be getting the better end of the deal.

As a former CKG Judge I have strong feelings about the Awards and whenever something crops up concerning them I get concerned. These concerns may be meaningless but I will watch how things develop going forward while hoping for the best.

FInd out more about the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/CarnegieGreenaway

Find out more about Yoto Player here: https://uk.yotoplay.com/