Monthly Archives: July 2018

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TeenLibrarian Monthly July 2018

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The Librarians’ Bookshelf

Suzanne Bhargava shared a photo of her brilliant “bookshelf” idea on twitter the other week, and we loved it so much that Matt asked her to write a bit about it for the blog:

When my school built its new library, it was designed with no walls or ceiling. Just shelves forming the perimeter, lots of tables and chairs for sixth form study, two giant trees and an extremely expensive sculpture in the centre. It is stunning. A showpiece. The bit of the school that is always shown to visitors. It’s a powerful message about our values. I mean, I was still annoyed of course, about the lack of display space. But oh well. It’s an awesome space anyway.

Ages ago, I came across a book display idea on Pinterest, but never knew how to riff on it or where to put it. Last summer the lightbulb moment finally arrived: I would create a sort of “What we’re reading” display to go with the little “Your librarian is reading…” chalkboard which was already on my desk.

I had the perfect space for it – the flat, blank front of my desk, which sits at the entrance to the library. The idea was that every time my colleague or I finished a book, we would update the display so it would be full of a wide range of book titles by the end of the year.

I started the year by making a little, unobtrusive sign saying “The Librarians’ Bookshelf (what we’ve been reading)”. Then I cut a stack of different coloured paper and card to roughly the size of a bookmark. When I finished reading a book, I wrote the title and author on one of the strips of paper and fixed it with blutac to the front of my desk. As the year went on, the “shelf” filled up and I started a new row beneath.

[First Day of School]
[Last Day of School]
I received lots of positive responses from staff and students. Staff would point to one of the titles and ask what I thought of it, or share their own opinions if they’d read any of them. In this way, I managed to get a lot of teachers to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and My Name is Leon (my two favourite grownup reads this year). It became a sort of unofficial bookclub that never meets.

Students interacted with it in a very different way. They didn’t use it for choosing their next read (except maybe with Ms Marvel – there’s a strong little Kamala Khan fan base amongst the Oratory boys now), but took a keen interest in my reading habits: “How long does it take you to read a book, Miss?” “Why do you read kids’ books, Miss?” “What are you reading right now, Miss?” “Have you read __________ yet Miss? Well you have to.” “What’s your favourite book ever, Miss?” That one always stumps me.

I will definitely do this again next year, as it has been one of my most successful efforts to date. Next academic year I’ll be in a primary setting, so I will definitely be including picture books this time. Other than that, there are only a few practical changes I’d make:
1. Use only card. It won’t tear or roll up so much when students inevitably pick at it! Also, paint pens are better on card.
2. Take time with the design of each bookmark. I scrawled some out when I was pushed for time, and they just don’t look as good.
3. Get student library assistants to create their own shelf too! Peer recommendations can be a very powerful thing.

Guest post: Being Tom Rendall – PAYBACK by M. A. Griffin

Being Tom Rendall – PAYBACK by M. A. Griffin

PAYBACK is my first (published) novel in which I write using a first-person perspective. The protagonist of the book, Tom Rendall, is a boarding-school kid back home for a hot and listless summer awaiting exam results. Tom’s still got some growing up to do; an extrovert risk-taker with his own bonkers YouTube channel, he’s an aspiring actor who fast finds himself embroiled with a famous anti-capitalist group, Payback, who accidentally acquire him during a break-in.

I had to write my way into Tom’s head; try and capture some of his wide-eyed, lunatic decision-making, his comic ignorance (Georgian furniture was made during the reign of Queen Georgia, right?) and his growing awareness of his own power and responsibility. His voice began to emerge as I went and was wildly inconsistent to begin with. Beta-readers pointed out bum notes by the hundred. Whole sections got cut. Now it’s been drafted and re- drafted, I hope Tom’s voice feels fully formed to the reader. It does to me, but as I’ve learned, I’m not often best-placed to judge…

If PAYBACK isn’t on your TBR (It should be, I promise. But I know you’re busy,) here are two YA novels whose first-person perspectives have recently impressed and delighted me.

Karen McManus’s One of Us is Lying had me from the first page. Four high school students witness the death of a fifth, and each tells their story in turn. One voice was hard enough for me… MacManus does four. And she executes each with real panache. We leap from point-of-view to point-of-view, and the voices are consistent, clearly differentiated, and imbued with personality, rich in a set of implied attitudes and values. Unlike PAYBACK, whose narrator admits to regularly lying but is too guileless for any artfully extended deception, MacManus plays with our perception of each narrator’s reliability. All of them have something to hide, it’s clear. But what?

I’ve had a blast with Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. A conflicted protagonist struggling to identify his sexuality is caught in a love triangle of sorts. Austin is a wisecracking, sex-obsessed razor-sharp cynic, feverishly recording his history and that of his small town, Ealing. His perspective alone is worth the price of the book. An added bonus – for me at least – is the predatory-grasshoppers-invasion-apocalypse plot that serves to barrel the book forward. A weird and wonderful read.

I enjoyed writing PAYBACK more than anything else I’ve done so far, and part of the reason, I think, has been the opportunity to get inside Tom’s skin and see the world through his eyes. Now that I’m working on another book, I miss Tom. I’ve enjoyed dipping into PAYBACK to read aloud to audiences. Anything to be Tom Rendall again, even for a moment!

PAYBACK by M. A. Griffin out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House)

#Payback

Follow M.A. Griffin on twitter @FletcherMoss and find out more at

http://www.chickenhousebooks.com

CLPE Reflecting Realities research

The Centre for Primary Literacy Education (CLPE) have carried out a survey on the books published for children in the UK in 2017, the first large scale piece of research of its kind, and the results are sobering. Librarians and booksellers will unfortunately probably not be surprised to hear that this study into ethnic representation in children’s literature has revealed that only 1% of main characters were BAME, indeed only 4% featured any BAME character. BookTrust is currently undertaking a related but separate piece of research regarding the ethnicity of authors and illustrators, with their findings due to be published in September.

As disappointing as this is, I have hopes that things can only get better, but to help this as readers and book pushers we need to be sure that we’re supporting the books that exist, and shouting for more! Have a look at our regularly updated list of UK BAME authors and illustrators (and tell us if someone’s missing).

You can download the full report from CLPE’s website here.

The Home Office responds to my e-mail about the SCL Visa Deal… except they don’t

Well… 34 working days after I emailed the Home Office about their deal with the Society of Chief Librarians (now Libraries Connected) I have received a response.

My original email can be read here and that is not the email they are responding to – they are responding to an email from me asking why they have not responded to my original email.

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Solo: a School Librarian Story

The Muslims by Zanib Mian

I first came across this book when I saw it mentioned in an article in Books for Keeps by Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor, one of a series of articles they’re writing looking at representations of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices in children’s books. I tweeted about how much I liked the sound of it and the author very kindly offered to send me a copy, which happened to arrive the day before it was announced that it had won The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2018, and I inhaled it on a bus journey the following day.

One of the other titles mentioned in that same article is I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, which is a really exciting YA novel about a Muslim girl becoming more devout as she learns more about Islam, affected by the Prevent strategy and under the threat of potential radicalisation. I had a few interesting conversations about the representation of a range of Muslim backgrounds when it came out in January, I thought that the characters were portrayed very realistically and I could see a number of my school friends in there, but the only disappointment is that she was *actually* at risk of radicalisation. “Disappointment” isn’t quite the right word there, it helped to make the story exciting, but what I mean is that there is a real need for Muslim stories that don’t focus on extremism, but that do give a picture of British Muslim life. That is exactly what The Muslims does, albeit for a younger audience, and that is why I love it so much.

Omar is a normal 9 year old boy (with an invisible dragon following him) who is worried about starting a new school. It certainly doesn’t shy away from Islamophobia and racism, there is a mean boy in his new class who tells him to “go home” and his grumpy neighbour coins the name “The Muslims” when talking about them to her son, but it deals with it with great humour and honesty. He tells us about Ramadan and has a go at fasting (and hopes that Allah will reward him with a Ferrari), he talks about duas and praying, he brings the reader to the Mosque, all without patronising children that know about all of this (indeed, letting them see themselves in the story) but at the same time introducing it to non-Muslim readers in a really entertaining way. One scene in particular, on their way to Manchester to visit cousins, made me laugh out loud on the bus. It is published by a tiny, pretty new publishing house called Sweet Apple, who aim to publish high quality commercial picture books that truly reflect the world we live in, and is their first foray into books for older readers.

The Muslims is a gem of a book, it needs to be in every school and on every reading list. I’m really looking forward to more of Omar’s adventures!

*at the time of writing, The Muslims is on special offer at Letterbox Library for a mere £5!

The Third Degree… with Daniel Gray-Barnett


Hi Daniel welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

Did/do you have your own Grandma Z? If not who inspired the character?

I don’t have a Grandma Z, but I do have 3 grandmothers, each of who inspired the character in their own little way. I’ve always been drawn to strong, female characters with a lot of personality and Grandma Z insisted that that was how she would be too.

Are any parts of the story based on personal experiences?

Yes! Some of the things they do and places they go are based on real things that I have done, or at the very least would like to do. Did you know there is an Enchanted Rock in Texas? I climbed it a couple of years ago. The Big Dipper is also the name of the first rollercoaster I ever went on.

I loved the artwork in the book – how many implements did you use in its creation?

Thanks! I used several tools. I use a variety of Chinese brushes with black ink which are great for linework up to big, rough textures. I also use 3B pencils. When it comes to the digital part, I use a scanner, Wacom tablet and Photoshop for cleaning up, arranging and colouring the artwork.

Was the colour palette you used a conscious decision or did it come about through experimentation?

It was a conscious decision. I think Grandma Z’s character was the first thing to pop into my head – a flame-haired, slightly scary character in a bright blue coat. I love using limited colour palettes in my work so it was a great challenge to see how far I could take it with the book.

How long did Grandma Z take from conception to completion?

About 18 months. It was written over 12 months and then it was a very busy 6 months to finish and hand in the art. It sounds like a long time but when you’ve got other projects, work, a partner and life in general throwing distractions in your way, it can be hard to finish!

Is there anything in the creative process that you would do differently for your next book?

I think if the next book ends up not being the next Grandma Z instalment, it will use more colours. Though if it is the sequel to Grandma Z, I’m wondering whether it will still use the same colour palette.

I’d probably try and procrastinate a little less and have some more solid time devoted to working on this book too. My first book was done whilst I was working part-time and busy with other jobs, but I recently moved to a rural town in Tasmania, which is beautiful and peaceful and allows me a lot more time to focus on my work. I’m hoping that here I can be a bit more productive!

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I just bought Abner Graboff’s What Can Cats Do? He’s one of my illustration heroes and I’ve spent a lot of time looking lovingly at the illustrations from this book. He did a lot of wonderful work in the 1960’s. This book was originally called A Fresh Look At Cats but has been republished this year. I literally jumped for joy when I saw it in the book shop. It’s a great picture book for younger readers and has a lot of humour.

As far as other books go, I’m in between books but just finished Flames by Robbie Arnott. He’s also from Tasmania and his book is set in Tasmania – one full of magical realism and mythology. It’s a story about death, gods, grief and nature. I loved it. I think it really captures a lot about this place I’m living in now. If you enjoy contemporary fiction, I’d definitely recommend it.

Do you ever visit schools or libraries (or would you consider it)? If you do what is the best way to get in touch with you to organise a visit?

Yes! I’d definitely consider it. You can always send me an email at dan@danielgraybarnett.com

I’d love to hear from any fans, whether it’s to share any work, stories, illustrations or just to say hello.

Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is published by Scribe Publications and is available now