Monthly Archives: July 2017

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Amnesty International UK has compiled a list of recommended books for young readers to enjoy this summer

Amnesty’s top picks explore and celebrate human rights – including themes of family life, justice, racism and the refugee crisis – and have been selected for three age ranges: younger readers (3-7 years); junior readers (8-12 years); and teens (13-16 years).

Nicky Parker, Publisher at Amnesty UK, said:

At Amnesty, we believe that reading fiction can help develop our empathy and understanding of social justice. There’s nothing better than a powerful story to make us think about what it might be like to be someone else.

Our lists of top summer reads have been carefully selected to help nurture young readers’ sense of individual freedom and self-expression. We hope these books will inspire children to take pride in the ways they are different and special, and help give them the confidence to stand up for themselves and others.

For more information about Amnesty Books and the lists below, see here.

Amnesty’s top books for younger readers: 3-7yrs

Silver Buttons, by Bob Graham,celebrates diversity and tells the story of a young girl, Jodie, who is busy drawing a duck wearing boots with silver buttons.

Welcome, by Barroux,tells the story of three polar bears that are set adrift in the ocean after part of their ice float suddenly breaks off. It explores themes of difference, belonging and climate change, and has powerful echoes with the current refugee crisis.

Vanilla Ice Cream, by Bob Graham, celebrates the interconnectedness of our world through the journey of a young sparrow from an Indian rice-paddy to a city in the North.

There’s a Bear on My Chair, by Ross Collins,which was awarded the Amnesty CILIP Honour 2016, is a witty portrayal of activism and peaceful protest, told through the story of a tiny mouse attempting to move a bear from his favourite chair.

No!, by David McPhail, tells the tale of a young boy in a war-torn country, who sets off to post a letter and witnesses an act of cruelty on his way. It highlights how everybody – even young children – is capable of taking a stand against oppression.

Luna Loves Library Day, by Joseph Coelho and illustrated by Fiona Lumbers,shows the power reading can have in bringing families together.

Swimmy, by Leo Lionni,brings to lifean underwater world in a wonderful story about togetherness.

Oliver, by Birgitta Sif, is a celebration of difference and an exploration of how true friendship springs from self-acceptance.

My Little Book of Big Freedoms, by Chris Riddell, helps readers understand why human rights are so important for leading a free, safe and happy life.

What Are You Playing At?, by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, is a ‘lift-the-flap’ book that aims to challenge rigid gender norms around childhood play.

So Much!, by Trish Cooke and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, is a warm and humorous portrayal of family life.

Odd Dog Out, by Rob Biddulph,is a story of a lonely dog who packs her bags for Doggywood, where she feels she belongs. Itemphasises the importance of individuality and the freedom to live as one chooses.

Handa’s Surprise, by Eileen Browne,is a storyabout sharing and friendship, in which a series of wild animals find Handa’s picnic basket far too tempting.

Footpath Flowers, by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith, is a wordless picture book about a young girl who gathers wild flowers and transforms people’s lives when she gives them away.

How To Look After Your Dinosaur, by Jason Cockcroft, is a humorous guide for prospective dinosaur-owners and a story about friendship.

I Have the Right to Be a Child, by Alain Serres and illustrated by Aurélia Fronty,uses pictures to bring the Convention on the Rights of the Child to life and help young readers understand their rights.

Amnesty’s top books for junior readers: 8-12 years

Dreams of Freedom, is Amnesty’s latest book, which combines the words of human rights heroes such as Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai, with beautiful illustrations from renowned international artists including Oliver Jeffers and Chris Riddell.

Peter in Peril, by Helen Bate, is a graphic novel based on a true story about a boy named Peter who is Jewish and living in 1940s Hungary.

Two Weeks with the Queen, by Morris Gleitzman, follows Colin, a young boy who has a plan to break into Buckingham Palace. It is a witty and empathetic book that deals with some difficult themes, such as bereavement and homophobia.

The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon,winner of theAmnesty CILIP Honour 2017,highlights the plight of Burma’s Rohingya people and details life inside a detention centre in Australia.

Tender Earth, by Sita Brahmachari,is about 11-year-old Laila Levenson who feels daunted by the prospect of secondary school but begins to find her own voice after discoveringNana Josie’s protest book.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Frank Cottrell Boyce,follows Sputnik and Prez on a series of unbelievable mishaps, scrapes and adventures, and celebrates the importance of finding a home in a very big universe.

The Hypnotist, by Laurence Anholt,tells the tale of 13-year-old Pip who has to battle racial hatred when he goes to work as a farmhand. Set during the civil rights struggles of 1960s America,The Hypnotist explores the nature of prejudice and racist violence in a thoughtful and original way.

The Journey, by Francesca Sanna, explores the theme of migration through a child’s eyes as a mother and her two young children are forced to flee their country.

The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, is a captivating story about Isabella, the daughter of a cartographer, who is the only person with the skills to find her best friend Lupe when she goes missing.

A Story Like The Wind, by Jill Lewis and illustrated by Jo Weaver, tells intertwined stories about loneliness, the need for shelter, and how music can provide solace for those who are struggling.

Amnesty’s top books for teens: 13-16 years

Max, by Sarah Cohen-Scali, is about Max, a boy born into the Nazi Lebensborn programme designed to engineer ‘perfect’ Aryan children, who comes to question the world view he has been fed growing up.

Here I Stand: Stories that Speak for Freedom, is a compelling collection of stories, poems and graphic narratives put together by Amnesty which explore different aspects of our human rights.

The Art of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson, is a powerful portrayal of two young people struggling to assert their identity in an often hostile and unforgiving world

Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley, is a coming-of-age novel about two brave young women who confront racism and homophobia to live as they choose.

The Stars at Oktober Bend, by Glenda Millard, is narrated by 15-year-old Alice Nightingale who has suffered a brain injury and struggles to express herself. It explores themes of sexual assault, poverty and racism.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is inspired by the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and follows 16-year-old Starr, whose life changes forever when she witnesses a policeman murder her childhood friend, Khalil.

Orangeboy, by Patrice Lawrence, is a fast-paced thriller that gives an original and fresh perspective on the struggles facing London’s teenagers and the pressures that surround gang culture.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys,follows a host of characters in Germany 1945 as they seek shelter from the Red Army aboard theWilhelm Gustlof. This is a tragic story that has rarely been told.

Alpha, by Bessora and Barroux, is a graphic novel that follows the story of a father who leaves Ivory Coast in the hope of reaching Paris to be reunited with his wife and child.

Straight Outta Crongton, by Alex Wheatle, follows 15-year-old Mo growing up in the tough, crime-ridden neighbourhood of South Crong.

Eight Questions With… Ed McDonald Author of #Blackwing

Hi Ed, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time for a quick chat about Blackwing!

To begin, would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?

Hi, I’m Ed, and I write books about people waving swords around. I also like to wave swords around myself.

How would you describe Blackwing to arouse the interest of a potential reader?

Blackwing takes a lot of elements that are familiar to people – magic, monsters, war – and puts them into the structure of a thriller. It’s a lot faster in pace than most fantasy books because I wanted to write a ‘page turner’ rather than an exploration of a world as we get in a lot of fantasy. The plot/story is the main thing and a lot of people seem to burn through it in a few days.

You have taken the premise of an alcoholic antihero with a past ™, working for Crowfoot – one of a group of powerful beings who are have shed much of their humanity and not exactly the ‘good’ guys and pit he and his team against a powerful foe that are even worse. What inspired you to write this phenomenal work?

I studied ancient and medieval history and I was looking at doing a PhD about neutrality towards violence. When you look at the way people acted pre 1900 you see that behaviour in a non-policed society is frequently what we would consider sociopathic in its coldness and brutality. How exactly can a leader justify cutting off the noses and ears of fifty prisoners? I wanted to write about people who felt real to me, and that meant thinking myself into the heads of similarly monstrous characters.

One of the most memorable recurring scenes is how Crowfoot contacts Galharrow via the Crow tattoo – how did you come up with that novel concept?

I needed a way for Galharrow to get messages without meeting anyone. It’s a bit like getting a text message, in a way! But I also needed it to be something that couldn’t happen frequently, and I liked the idea that it hurt him (and he doesn’t necessarily want it) because it shows how skewed the power relationship is between Galharrow and Crowfoot. When your boss sends you angry message that tear themselves out of your flesh, well, it’s hardly a meeting of equals.

I know most people reading this interview have still got the joy of experiencing reading Blackwing for the first time but for those (like me) who have already done so – what can we expect in book 2 – or is that still top secret?

Book 2 is written and I’m editing it at the moment. Avoiding spoilers as much as I can, the idea that’s put forward in the final chapter of Blackwing is the launching point for the next book. We see a return of pretty much every (surviving!) character in one form or another. The war goes on, there’s a new threat rising and again there’s a race against time to save the day. Obviously!

There has been an upsurge in the GrimDark Fantasy subgenre in recent years but I think that Blackwing is near the top of the pile being eminently readable and well great fun without sacrificing any of the dark notes – can you recommend any titles by other authors for readers interested in exploring dark fantasy?

I definitely like my GrimDark to be on the lighter side – I love the grit but I’ve no interest in excessive gore, torture-porn or sexual violence. To me, a fantasy book should be fun, not a trauma. For that reason I’d recommend The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (the third book in the series is the real gem), and Joe Abercrombie’s series that begins with Half a King is a great introduction for a YA audience. Joe manages to start out fairly light but by the end, boy are we in the grit, and I like that (and again, no excess).

What was your favourite part of writing Blackwing?

The most fun part of writing a book, for me, is when I just hit on some random idea in the middle of a sentence and think “Oh! Yeah! That would be good. Let’s do that.” And then making it happen, even if it changes the direction of the book.

Most people seem to talk about the Misery, or the Darlings and gillings in Blackwing, but for me the scenes with Ezabeth are the most important. Galharrow’s relationship with her is, for me, the crux of the book and there’s a lot of raw emotion written into them.

Finally, if Blackwing is fortunate enough to make its way to the big screen, who would you cast as the main characters?

Can I have a young Arnie? Just because I love Arnie? No? Ok then:

Galharrow – Rory McCann (The Hound in GoT – he’s big enough)
Nenn – Charlize Theron (she has some Furiosa vibes)
Tnota – Idris Elba (great actor)
Ezabeth – Emma Watson (great actress & feminist)
Crowfoot – an evil raven

Thank you for giving up your time to answer these questions!

Thanks it was fun!

Why Schools need Librarians

I have been in my current post as Senior School Librarian for little over six years, for five and a half of those six years I have been badgering the senior leadership team to let me have the Junior School Library as well. Three months ago they relented and said I could take it over and I began making plans to merge them both (but that is a story for another time).

Jumping back in time three months now, one of the Science Teachers in the Junior School approached me and asked if I had any books on Dinosaurs as the Junior Library had none. I thought that it was odd as if there is one thing that seems to crop up in the interests of small children it is Dinosaurs and any library worth its salt would usually have a few, but anyway I said sure thing and wandered over to 567.9 and put together a pack of books for her.

Back to last week, while I was moving the Junior Non-Fiction section into the Senior Library I found 20+ books on dinosaurs for all ages.

There had been a Teaching Assistant that had a part-time role in keeping an eye on the Junior Library putting books on shelves and making sure that it looked tidy but she resigned at the end of the last school year. While she was in the school I spent some time trying to support her in the role by providing posters for displays, books on running a Junior Library and guidance on selecting books to withdraw, sadly she did not have the authority to withdraw stock and was unable to get permission to do so as there was no-one who had definitive oversight over the Library so effectively all she could do was rearrange the chairs and put books on shelves.

It turned out that although there was a rudimentary system in place to keep similar books together it had not been adhered to and there were books everywhere (but not in a good way)

A School Library need a Librarian to:

  • Keep the collection in good order to make it easier for students and staff to find and use information
  • To make sure that old and outdated materials are withdrawn and replaced
  • To work with staff making sure that non-fiction resources are available for curriculum support
  • To be on hand to ensure the library is open for students before school, after school and during break times
  • To put together book boxes and information packs to support teaching staff during lessons
  • Guide students in developing a love of reading
  • Keep track of items on loan
  • Elevate a room full of books from a repository to a living and vital part of the school
  • Without a full-time or even part-time Librarian the collection will stagnate as there will be no-one to coordinate stock refreshing and while departments may purchase books for the library or donate old stock there will be no-one on hand to make sure that unsuitable materials end up on the shelves
     
    The above list contains just a few of the reasons why Librarians are more than just a luxury for schools. If you would like to others please feel free to do so in the comments field below

  • Libraries. Who needs ’em?


    Libraries are old and dusty

    They really need to go

    and then a few days later:

    “Reading really needs to grow”

    Teachers need to share the love

    and give all kids a kindle!

    Everything is now online

    So libraries who needs ‘em?

    No-one uses books no more

    Let alone to read ‘em!

    It is a shame that no-one reads

    It’s a thing we must promote

    Quickly put some books in gyms

    and a shelf of books on ‘planes

    But we don’t need no libraries

    The government explains!

    They are far too expensive

    and also past their best!

    So fire the Librarians

    and put their jobs to rest!

    Sell off library buildings

    Or make the public run ‘em!

    Cut the hours, cut the stock

    Cut to the very bone

    and if some people shout and moan

    Well they should have some books at home!

    DadLife: Waking up & Peppa Pig

    My little gingersnap woke up perky and vocal at 5:45 this morning.

    We are currently weaning her off what she calls “boobas” so I am on morning milk call. I am not by nature a morning person, but having a gorgeous smiling child bouncing excitedly at the baby gate does wonders for motivation at springing up to face the day.

    After a quick nappy change (her not me) I prepare a bottle of milk and we settle down on the couch for a feed and a cuddle.

    Her request this morning is for Peppa Pig – actually it is this most mornings! Hler excited “Bebba Beeeg” is impossible to resist.

    Peppa is her favourite cultural icon for littlies. The Mrs and I have watched so much of it we have developed a weird fascination with it, we are both convinced that local workaholic Miss Rabbit is having an affair with her twin sister’s husband Mr Rabbit – I mean it is pretty obvious as they do work together in some of Miss Rabbit’s jobs and you seldom see Mr & Mrs Rabbit together.

    This is just a theory brought on by overexposure to a kiddy cartoon.

    If I end up jumping in muddy puddles it is probably time to lock me away!

    Teen Librarian Monthly July 2017

    Download (PDF, Unknown)

    Is It A Plane? Is It A Library? No It’s A Flybrary!

    EASYJET’S BOOK CLUB LIFTS OFF TO GET CHILDREN HOOKED ON A BOOK THIS SUMMER

  • easyJet launches new initiative to encourage children to get into a good book by installing holiday reading libraries across its entire UK fleet this summer
  • Campaign follows research by easyJet, which reveals that over 8 in 10 British parents (83%) say children are reading less in comparison to when they were younger
  • Campaign ambassador and leading children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson has selected books for kids to enjoy in-flight
  • Children’s classics including; Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, The Railway Children and The Wizard of Oz, will be made available in passenger seat-pockets
  • The easyJet Book Club will see seven thousand copies of the books take to the skies as 147 ‘Flybraries’ lift off today
  • Statistics from the Department of Education show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11*
  • Figures from the National Foundation of Education Research show most children in England do not read on a daily basis with just over a third (37%) of 10 year-olds surveyed reported reading for pleasure every day**
  • easyJet launch new 'Flybraries' from Taylor Herring on Vimeo.

    LONDON, Tuesday 18th July 2017: Europe’s leading airline easyJet have launched a new initiative today to launch ‘Flybraries’ (flying libraries) following new research that suggests that the number of children reading for pleasure is at an all-time low.

    This summer easyJet will fly 750,000 families out of UK airports on their holidays. That means it has a unique opportunity to get kids hooked on a book while they’re on the plane.

    Former Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson, who is supporting the Flybrary campaign designed to promote literacy and encourage kids to read, has selected a range of classic children’s books to be stocked on board that encompass the spirit of travel and adventure. Dame Jacqueline unveiled her selection at the official launch of the Book Club at Gatwick Airport.

    Seven thousand copies of children’s classics including Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, The Wizard Of Oz, and The Railway Children will be made available on easyJet’s UK fleet of 147 aircraft as the new holiday reading campaign takes flight today across European destinations for free. Kids can start reading them on the flight and then when they land download free samples of other classics to try, plus a sample of Wilson’s latest bestseller, Wave Me Goodbye, from easyjet.com/bookclub. Children will leave the books on board for the next passenger to enjoy.

    Speaking at London Gatwick Airport where she launched the initiative, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, whose 106 children’s books have collectively sold over 40 million copies in the UK alone, said: The long summer break is the ideal opportunity for children to get stuck into a great story. Books stimulate a child’s imagination and development. Reading soothes, entertains, grows vocabulary and exercises the mind and a flight is the perfect place to escape into a literary adventure. That’s why I think this campaign is such a clever match. I’ve chosen books that children might not have 
read, but are familiar with, maybe from film and television. I also
wanted stories that would appeal equally to boys and girls.

    easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall said: This summer easyJet will transport three quarters of a million families from UK airports to popular holiday destinations across Europe – the largest number yet due to our range of parent-friendly initiatives to make it easier for parents and kids alike. The launch of our summer kids book club is another initiative designed to make flying with us more fun and help to get kids hooked on a book at the start of the holiday season at the same time. Our in-flight lending library means young passengers can pick up a brilliant book during their flight and then return it to the seat pocket at the end of the flight for the next customer to enjoy onboard. We think it will be popular with parents and children alike.

    The initiative follows research by easyJet who polled 2,000 British parents with children aged 8 – 12, which reveals that over 8 in 10 parents (83%) say children are reading less in comparison to when they were younger. The research reveals that kids are reading an average of three books over the course of their entire summer holidays, in contrast to an average of four books which their parents would have devoured at the same age – a drop of 25% over the course of a generation.

    The study found that the majority of respondents (84%) agreed that people tended to read more for pleasure 25 years ago than they do today, due to us living in a fast moving digital world with endless entertainment options. The research reveals a seismic shift in reading across generations, with the decline in the number of books being read by children today attributed to the vast choice of entertainment available to them on digital devices.

    Statistics from the Department of Education show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11*. Figures from the National Foundation of Education Research show most children in England do not read on a daily basis with just over a third (37%) of 10 year-olds surveyed reported reading for pleasure every day**.

    Gatwick Airport’s Head of Terminals & Passenger Services Nikki Barton said: We are right behind this brilliant summer initiative by easyJet and were honoured to welcome Dame Jacqueline to Gatwick to launch the Book Club and sign some of her books for our younger passengers. There’s nothing like a great book, and kids heading off to the many holiday destinations served by easyJet from Gatwick this summer will certainly have plenty to keep them amused on-board.

    Of those surveyed, nine in ten parents (90%) said that they believed the breadth of electronic entertainment devices available to children has led to a decline in reading for pleasure.

    Questioned on why they believe this trend has occurred, over a half (57%) said it was due to an increase of availability of digital devices from a young age.

    Furthermore, of those surveyed eight in ten (80%) believe that the widespread presence of digital entertainment has had an adverse effect on literacy levels. Over half (53%) of British parents charted the rise of ‘digital devices’ (smartphones and tablets) as a reason for the decline in children reading for pleasure on holiday.

    * Statistics from the Department of Education show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11 – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/409409/Reading_the_next_steps.pdf

    **Figures from the National Foundation of Education Research show most children in England do not read on a daily basis: in 2011 just over a third (37%) of 10 year-olds surveyed reported reading for pleasure every day- https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/PRTZ01/PRTZ01.pdf

    Launching the Bent Agency BAME scholarship

    Open for submissions until midnight Saturday 26th August 2017!

    The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is hosting its annual conference in the UK on 25th – 26th November 2017. It is entitled Seriously Funny: Bringing a Lighter Side to All Scribbles & Doodles During talks and workshops, it will offer writers and illustrators the chance to hone their craft and gain insight into the children’s publishing industry.

    As in previous years, two conference scholarships will continue to run in memory of Margaret Carey, children’s writer and illustrator and SCBWI British Isles volunteer, in the following two categories:

  • fiction author (Young Adult or Middle Grade)
  • picture book author or illustrator
  •  
    This year an ADDITIONAL scholarship, generously sponsored by the Bent Agency, will be awarded in the following category:

  • BAME author (Young Adult or Middle Grade)
  •  
    Each scholarship covers the cost of the conference attendance, a 1-1 manuscript critique with an editor, art director or agent*, hotel accommodation, and a grant towards travel to Winchester, where the conference will take place.

    The BAME scholarship winner’s manuscript critique will be with an agent from the Bent Agency. The Bent Agency will also pay for a year’s SCBWI membership.

    Molly Ker Hawn from the Bent Agency said:
    We at TBA are delighted to be involved in SCBWI-BI’s effort to encourage BAME writers. It’s important to us that all children can find books in which they can see themselves, and that won’t happen without diverse authors.

    Natascha Biebow and Kathy Evans, Co-Chairs of the SCBWI British Isles, said:
    The SCBWI-BI are proud to be part of this important initiative alongside the Bent Agency to support under-represented BAME children’s book authors. SCBWI’s international professional network and the development opportunities afforded by the annual conference have made a significant difference to SCBWI members’ careers and we are excited that we will be part of the scholarship winner’s journey to publication.

    Who can apply?

    For the Margaret Carey scholarships: Current members of SCBWI British Isles who seek professional development and show great promise in their work, but who are financially unable to come to the SCBWI BI annual conference, may apply. Unfortunately, we cannot consider applications from other SCBWI regions.

    For the Bent Agency BAME scholarship:

    Both SCBWI and non-SCBWI member BAME writers, resident in the British Isles, may apply. BAME is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “black, Asian and minority ethnic (used to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK)”. If the winner is already a SCBWI member, their membership will be extended by one year.

    SCBWI members may apply for both the Margaret Carey scholarships and the BAME scholarship if they are eligible.

    Submissions will be accepted until 26th August 2017. There is no submission fee. Applicants for all scholarships can be unpublished, self-published or may previously have been traditionally published, though applicants for the BAME scholarship must be unagented. Each submission will be judged solely on the work submitted and its potential, and the statement supplied.

    For further details on submission visit: http://britishisles.scbwi.org/conference2017/scholarship/

    Brock, Pike & Rook by Anthony McGowan some thoughts and a review

    It is grim up North – at least that is what they tell us! Peopled with cloth-hatted whippet fanciers that probably have ferrets down their trousers that mumble things like “Ee bah gum!” and suchlike! The problems with stereotypes is that they obscure the truth, and for people that do not venture out of their comfort zones then stereotypes is all they have to go on! This is just one reason why reading is so important – it gives us windows into parts of the world that we may not experience!

    There appears to have been a dearth of novels about the North and working class lads since the late, great Barry Hines’ seminal work A Kestrel for a Knave was published in 1968.

    Into this breach has stepped Anthony McGowan, I will not deny that I am a fan of his works, he is a great wordsmith and one that is too often pigeon-holed as a writer of lavatory humour, yes his works often contain laughs of the scatological variety but to pigeonhole on his works as solely of that style is to do him a grave disservice!

    His Kenny & Nicky trilogy: Brock, Pike and Rook are three wonderful, brief books that take you into the lives of two poor, single-parent boys that live in Yorkshire. Their lives appear grim but the brotherly bond between Nicky and his older, special needs brother is crafted as a thing of beauty. The boys are the main characters and the supporting cast, particularly their father, portrayed, initially as an unemployed, recovering alcoholic facing a potential jail sentence are wonderfully realised, and the three of them grow and develop through course the books.

    In Brock, the brothers have to contend with a gang of bullies that involve Kenny in badger baiting, the story is, as are the others, narrated by Nicky who has to balance keeping his brother safe, with avoiding the police and keeping his father in the dark as to what is happening around him.

    Pike continues the tale of the brothers, this time catching the glimpse of a flash of gold in the local pond, inhabited, or so the legend goes, by a monster pike that is large enough to pull down a human. This time the stakes are higher, involving the disappearance of a local hard man and his son stepping up and making the lives of Nicky and Kenny a misery.

    Rook, the third tale is more personal in nature; Nicky falls in love with a girl in his class; the sister of the school bully. The feelings of confusion engendered within Nicky threaten his relationship with his beloved brother and risk fracturing his family. The stresses in all their lives are focused around an injured Rook rescued by Kenny.

    Thinking further upon these novels, I realised that they are based on the elements: Earth for Brock, Water for Pike and Air for Rook, the symbolism of this only became clear a short time ago. We are introduced to Nicky and Kenny, their family is fractured and dirt-poor, living in squalor in Brock then moving on to Pike with the family fortunes gradually improve – with Water as a symbol for them being washed clean and finally with Rook Nicky is ready to fly in the Air filled with hope and love.

    If there is a fourth book to come I hope that it will have something to do with the brothers travelling beyond the bounds of their village life to visit their mother (Fire transporting them) but that is pure supposition on my part as Anthony has not commented one way or another as to whether there will be another.

    This trilogy is truly glorious! All three books are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now!

    Rook, and the sense of place by Anthony McGowan

    I like to think that if the world were destroyed in some apocalypse, and a future race – perhaps descended from ants or koala bears or mung beans – tried to rebuild our world from literary sources, my books Brock, Pike, and Rook would enable a pretty accurate recreation of the Yorkshire village of Sherburn in Elmet.

    Although, in writing for young adults, I’ve invested most of my energies into characterisation and narrative, I’ve always known exactly where my books were set. It’s almost always been a version of my old school – Corpus Christi, in Leeds. The stained concrete and glass of the building, the polluted beck running past it, the tussocky field beyond where travellers would come and go in mysterious patterns, the surrounding Halton Moor council estate – these were where my characters worked through the dangers and joys of teenage life.

    Although I went to school in Leeds, I was actually brought up ten miles outside, in Sherburn. It’s an odd sort of place – once split between farming and mining – with the old village centre topped and tailed by large council estates, but now swollen with private housing, serving commuters to Leeds and York. As kids, it was glorious. The countryside was a short bike-ride away, and the building sites for the new estates were the perfect playground, in those pre-health and safety days. We built elaborate dens and fought huge wars against rival gangs of urchins. We played football all Winter, and cricket all Summer.

    It’s a place I can still see clearly, whenever I close my eyes. The high street with its four pubs, ranging from rough to dead rough. The Spa. The Co-op. Two fish and chip shops. There’s a joke about a Jewish man who washes up on a desert island. The first thing he does is to build two synagogues – the one he goes to and the one he wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was like that with the fish and chip shops. We went to Kirkgate, but wouldn’t dream of getting our chips from Huggan’s. The beautiful old church on the hill. The Methodist chapel down in the village. The old cinema converted into a Catholic church, where I served as an altar boy all through my childhood. Then, just out of the village, the Bacon factory – a huge meat processing plant. And next to it, the Bacon pond, where monstrous pike lurked, fattened, we were told, on rotten meat from the factory.

    I populated this remembered microverse with kids I knew or half knew. Nicky and Kenny live up on the Highfields council estate. At the beginning of the series, their world was falling apart, their family split, money short, hope all but gone. What saves them is love: the love of Nicky for his older but simpler brother, Kenny. Kenny’s own wide-beam love, which encompasses not only his family, but anything helpless and vulnerable they encounter. And so, over the first two books, things get better. Their dad begins to sort out his life. They move on.

    In Rook, the last (I think …) in the series, their problems change. Rather than survival, the issues are more typical teenage ones. Kenny has made new friends – one of who appears to be Doctor Who – and Nicky no longer feels quite so needed, quite so central to his brother’s being. And he’s fallen for a pretty girl at school, with the horrible complication that her brother is a vicious bully. There are twists, which follow, I trust, the organic patterns of life, rather than the artificial needs of plot. In the end things work out … OK.

    But I hope that I’ve been true both to my characters, and to that place – that particular small town in North Yorkshire, typical, and yet unique, seemingly ordinary, and yet overflowing with stories, with eccentrics, with danger and joy, with life.

    BrockPike and Rook are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now