Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

Chris Riddell: a Guardian of Magic

For as long as anyone can remember, children have looked up at billowing clouds in the sky and made a wish on a cloud horse. But no one has seen one.
Until now.

Macmillan Children’s
The Cloud Horse Chronicles

It is always a good day when a new Chris Riddell is published, and an even better day when it is the beginning of a new series! The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic introduces us to three unsuspecting heroes as they receive magical gifts. The illustrations are perfectly placed and really bring the characters to life, but I particularly love the cross sections of where the children are living when we first meet them. PR for the book says it is reminiscent of Tolkein’s and Pullman’s worlds, but it mainly makes me want to re-read the Edge Chronicles (written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by Chris Riddell)! Readers will spot lots of nods to classic fairytales, tweaked in very pleasing ways.

I called this post “Guardian of Magic” because Chris Riddell really is one. Obviously, I am entirely biased in writing a Chris Riddell review, because we Librarians love him. He’s won the Kate Greenaway medal an unprecedented 3 times (not just because he’s Chris Riddell, honestly, he’s also not won it with lots of his books…) and he has long been an ardent supporter of libraries, often illustrating quotes (often from Neil Gaiman) about their importance. He’s been involved in talks with government in the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group and as Children’s Laureate 2015-2017 he wrote an open letter to the then head of the Department for Education, Justine Greening, to make a plea on behalf of school libraries to ring-fence funding and set out standards for library provision that schools must follow. He’s been particularly vocal about their importance in schools and has been the President of the SLA (School Libraries Association) 2017-2020.

I could quite easily just copy and paste lots of his illustrations in this blog post, but I urge you to simply do an image search for “Chris Riddell library” to see the dozens of amazing and inspiring cartoons. This summer he tweeted a series of Owls he has created for the SLA and I couldn’t resist just sharing one here:

The Guardians of Magic is published on the 19th September 2019| Hardback, £12.99| Macmillan Children’s Books|ISBN 9781447277972

Huge thanks to Macmillan for sending a review copy!

Bearmouth

“Time down here is a diffrent thing see. Lyke on the other side you sees seesons change, leeves grow bold an grene an fayde to gold an red, then drop off and kirl up and disappear into snoe. But Bearmouth is black. Black an warm an dark an wet an full o coal. All days all weeks all year. Forever and ever. Amen. “

Newt has been living and working in Bearmouth from a tender age. Daily life in the mine is full of strict routine and a quiet acceptance of how things are – until, that is, Devlin arrives and starts to ask questions. Newt fears any unrest will bring heightened oppression from the Master and his overseers. Life is hard enough and there is no choice about that. Or is there? Newt is soon looking at Bearmouth with a fresh perspective – one that does more than whisper about change: one that is looking for a way out. 

Liz Hyder’s extraordinary debut novel draws on her research into the working conditions of children in Victorian mines and shows a young person daring to challenge the status quo. In Bearmouth, she has created an imagined world with its own dialect, riven with social injustice and populated by characters who don’t simply accept things because they are told they must.

Pushkin Press
Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, cover design by Yeti Lambregts

Bearmouth is Liz Hyder‘s debut novel, told through the voice of a young child trapped working in a mine, barely remembering life outside. It is both literally and figuratively dark, really dark, with some quite harrowing scenes, but also gripping, hopeful, and thought provoking. I read it in one sitting, taking a while to get used to the voice (Newt is writing it, with letters lessons slowly improving the spelling throughout) but then racing through to see what lies ahead for these wonderful (and wonderfully awful) characters. The conditions are terrible but also not unrealistic, the writing really does create the oppressive atmosphere of the tunnels and relentlessness of the workers’ lives, and the doubt sparked by the appearance of a new boy spirals quickly. Newt begins to question the way things are, whether it is actually blasphemous to want conditions to improve, whether it isn’t really the wishes of The Mayker that keep them underground…

Liz has written this piece for Teen Librarian, about the importance of rebellion and asking questions

My nan, my mum’s mum, who died when I was little, was famous for asking ‘who says?’ A tall, formidable woman with a mischievous grin and a fondness for doing impressions, she looks back at me like a mirror image from old photos. I strongly resemble her on the outside but I also think I’m like her on the inside too. Asking questions is always important and more so than ever in our era of fake news and auto-generated bots. ‘Who says?’ encourages us to ask why someone is saying something, what they might hope to get out of it and what vested interest they might have.

Newt, in my debut novel Bearmouth, is an asker of questions. Set down a Victorian-esque working coal mine in which the workers not only toil away in the dark but also live down there, Bearmouth is a world of danger. As Newt learns to read and write, the curiosity within also rises and Newt starts asking more questions. Why are things this way? Why, even if it has always been this way, should things continue like this? ‘Who says?’

The act of asking a question can, in itself, be an act of rebellion and is scattered throughout fairy tales and fiction as such. From the child in the crowd who asks why the Emperor is wearing no clothes to Oliver Twist asking for more, questions are, in themselves, powerful things and no-one uses questions more keenly than children and young people. Their thirst for knowledge, their willingness and desire to push at the edges of what is and isn’t allowed, what is and isn’t acceptable, is something that we as adults should perhaps look to a little more often.

Books open up other worlds. Whether they be real or fantastical, they allow us to explore ideas and themes through their pages. They allow us to travel across time and space, encountering characters that live and breathe, lingering on in our memories long after we’ve turned that last page. Books can inspire and enlighten us, make us snort with laughter, move us to tears and even fill us with courage. The books I read as a child and as a teenager – from Hunter Davies’s Flossie Teacake series and Michael Rosen’s Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here, to pretty much all of Paula Danziger’s witty novels featuring awkward teens – made me feel that I wasn’t alone, whether that was in my clumsiness or my creativity, in my sense of humour or in the way I viewed the world. Books encouraged me to be braver in myself, to think that I might be a person who could camp out in the wilds like in the Lone Pine adventures or have the bravery to stand up to sinister forces like in The Dark is Rising series. Books shaped my world, made me look at things around me differently, when I looked up from the page, my own world had tilted on its axis. The impossible became just a little bit more possible.

I hope that Bearmouth will make readers look at the world a little differently, to remember the real children that worked away for long hours in the Victorian mines, to remember that there are children right now working in mines in other countries around the world. Just because something is not visible does not mean that it does not exist…

I hope readers will come to view Newt as someone who, with courage, has the ability to inspire and to change things. I hope it helps readers realise they can make a difference themselves, they too can push for and encourage change. When I first started writing the novel, I hadn’t heard of Greta Thunberg but there is a line in the novel, the line that ended up on the front cover, in Newt’s somewhat unconventional spelling, that reoccurs and resonates throughout the story – ‘it only taykes one person to start a revolushun.’ It is an empowering thought and one that I hope will inspire those who read the book.

Liz Hyder, author of Bearmouth

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder is published in hardback by Pushkin Children’s Books on 19 September at £12.99

(thank you for sending Teen Librarian a copy for review!)

That Asian Kid

Despite his hard work and brains, Jeevan, is doing badly in his GCSE English literature class. His teacher, Mrs Greaves, dislikes him intensely and Jeevan is convinced that he is the victim of racial prejudice. Can he stand up for what’s right? When he comes upon her in the woods outisde school in a compromising situation with another teacher, Jeevan can’t help but film the scene on his phone. With this secret new ammunition at his fingertips – dare he upload it to social media?

That Asian Kid will make you cross. Livid. Spluttering with indignation on Jeevan’s behalf. Despairing that adults could even behave this way but knowing full well that it isn’t that unusual. Jeevan and his friends are great characters, all “good” kids doing well at school, from a wonderfully portrayed mix of backgrounds, and their interactions are so believable I could see them in any playground. I really enjoyed his relationship with his parents, and grandmother, so concerned for him and never doubting him, even if they do begin by think he should have kept his head down and not cause any trouble. I was really pleased to be invited to be part of the blog tour, and to get to ask Savita some questions!

Hi Savita!

Thanks so much for inviting me on the blog today. It’s such an exciting time when a new book is published and getting to talk about it on a blog tour with amazing bloggers is such a treat!

That Asian Kid is a stunningly blunt title, it really packs a punch and is perfect for setting the tone. Did you have it in mind from the beginning or did it come to you as the story evolved?

Strangely, it was a very hard book to find the right title for. I had a list of about thirty titles, and everyone I asked liked a different one. That Asian Kid wasn’t among the list, which is odd because it was staring me in the face. When it suddenly came to me I knew instantly that it was the right one to go with. However, it does seem to be a bit of a marmite title – you either love it or hate it! But whichever side you fall on – it is intriguing.

I imagine an unfortunate number of teens will recognise the situation as something that is happening to them. What would your advice be to them?

It’s very sad and infuriating, and I have no doubt that some teens will recognise this situation. I recognise it all too well from Primary School where I was bullied by a group of girls and pushed and punched to the ground. I kicked out from the ground and when the teacher saw me kicking, I got the blame for provoking the other girls. My form teacher put me in the Dunces Corner, telling me I was a stupid and nasty girl. She made me sit there for the rest of the year. I was eight years old. It was a traumatic experience and it scarred me for a very long time. So my advice would be to tell your parents, and if you cannot tell your parents, then tell another adult you trust. Let them help and support you, and fight the battle for you.

Have you had much opportunity to talk to teens about it yet?

I’ve talked about my book with my teen reading group and they’re all really excited about reading it. I got the opportunity to talk about it at the SLA/YLG conference earlier this year too, and all the librarians at my talk were very keen to get their hands on a copy of the books! I’m really looking forward to going into schools and talking about the book. The moral dilemma that Jeevan faces in the book is one that, I think, will prompt many interesting discussions!

If you go into schools, what kind of event do you most like to do?

I love running creative writing workshops. As a child, although I wrote stories, I had no confidence in my creative writing ability. I think lots of kids feel the same – particularly as the English curriculum is so prescriptive about how to write. What’s happened is that the freedom to explore ideas in stories and to write them the way you want to write them has been eroded. So I run creative writing workshops that show kids a variety of story formats and then allows them the freedom to write what they want to write, and how they want to write it. I also love doing author talks and Q and A’s with kids. Most schools I visit are ethnically mixed – and most of the non-white kids have often said to me that they have never seen a BAME author before, or read a book by a BAME author. That’s sad to hear. So anything I can do to inspire kids to write, to be what they want to be, to see possibilities in their future they may not have seen, is time well spent.

I love Jeevan’s grandmother & her snacks. What’s your favourite of her comfort foods?

Indian grandmothers love to have something sweet with a cup of tea! You cannot beat a chocolate digestive and a cup of tea. A close second would be sukkapare, which are sweet, or matya, which are savoury but equally delicious – but they have to be homemade!

How much did you know about video editing before you wrote this book?

I actually knew very little. I have a friend who makes TV programmes, so I had a chat with him. And not surprisingly, lots of teens seem to know a fair bit about how to edit a video they’ve taken on their phone…

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

I have a towering to-be-read pile of books! There are so many great books that have come out this year and it’s tough deciding which books go to the top of the pile! I have just finished Sita Brahmachari’s beautiful Middle Grade book Where the River Runs Gold, and Patrice Lawrence’s Rose, Interrupted. I highly recommend both books by these amazing writers. I have All the Things we Never Said by Yasmin Rahman to read next. It’s YA so it’s right up my street. I’ve been reading the Daevabad Trilogy by S A Chakraborty – The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper are the first two books – and they are brilliant if you like YA fantasy with a middle eastern twist and a great heroine! I’ve also got The Tatooist of Auschwitz to read, and then there is the new Marcus Zusak, Bridge of Clay. And then I have the Cemetery of Forgotten series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to finish. The first book in the series, The Shadow of the Wind, is one of my all time favourite books, and suitable for teenagers and young adults. I think I should stop there as there are so many great books out there that I want to read!

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I’m not going to give much away at the moment! I’m working on a couple of quite different projects. Obviously there is another YA book that I’m working on, but I’m also working on two other projects – a younger teen book, and I’m researching another project too, but that’s top secret! If your readers would like to keep up to date with my news, they can find me on Twitter @savitakalhan or my website www.savitakalhan.com. I love to hear from my readers, so please tweet me or get in touch. I hope you all love That Asian Kid as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Thanks so much for having me on Teen Librarian blog!

Savita Kalhan

Savita Kalhan was born in India, but has lived in the UK most of her life. She graduated from Aberystwyth University with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. She was a Batik artist before going to live in the Middle East for several years where she taught English and began to write. Now living in North London, she spends her time writing, playing tennis, and growing vegetables and super-hot chillies on her allotment. Savita runs a very enthusiastic teen reading group at her local library in Finchley, who enjoy reading and talking about books as much as she does.

Her debut teen novel, The Long Weekend, was published by Andersen Press, and is a tense thriller about two boys who are abducted after school. It was short-listed for the Fabulous Book Award. Her YA novel The Girl in the Broken Mirror was published by Troika Books in 2018, and her next YA novel, That Asian Kid, was published on 29th August 2019. If you would like to know more about Savita, you’ll find her on Twitter @savitakalhan, or visit her website

Mythologica – Greek Gods, Heroes and Monsters

An illustrated encyclopedia of Greek mythology like no other, Mythologica features startlingly beautiful and exquisitely otherworldly portraits of mythological characters in eye-popping colour from artist Victoria Topping and authoritative text from Classics scholar and Greek mythology expert Dr Stephen Kershaw. Uncover the colourful lives of 50 powerful gods and goddesses, earth-dwelling mortals and terrifying monsters as you journey back in time to ancient Greece.

Wide Eyed Editions

This book is absolutely stunning. Victoria Topping combines photography, painting and cut-paper collage to create fantastical images. Listed alphabetically, the 50 figures from Greek mythology are presented with a striking image and a page of information, while interspersed with the profiles are summaries of famous mythological tales and historical events, like the Odyssey, the Trojan War and the story of the Argonauts. The writing is wonderfully clear and concise (although perhaps sometimes a little small – but so much to fit in!), and if it is a young person’s first encouter with these legends then they will definitely want to read more…

Aphrodite, in Mythologica, illustrated by Victoria Topping

The author, Dr Steve Kershaw, wrote a piece for TeenLibrarian about how his fascination developed, and who remain his favourite Gods, Heroes and Monsters!

To me as a Classicist, spending lots of my life in the world of dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore, receiving the fantastic opportunity to collaborate on Mythologica was a dream come true. I now teach Greek mythology for Oxford University, but I’ve loved the stories ever since I was a kid myself. Here was a chance to go back to the powerful gods and goddesses, fascinating earth-dwelling mortals, and terrifying monsters who had fired my enthusiasm in the first place.

I become gripped by the world of the Greek myths at the lovely Salterhebble County Primary School in Halifax in Yorkshire. There, our teachers would read to us from wonderful books for the last 20 minutes of each day. This was enchanting and inspiring. Then one day a new young teacher appeared – a Classics graduate doing teaching practice, I think – and he read to us from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I thought this was totally amazing! Gods, monsters, heroes, fighting, astonishing adventures… I was completely smitten!

It was a turning point in my life. I don’t remember doing it, but I must have gone home and enthused about these story-readings to my Mum and Dad, because my Grandpa bought me a copy of the Iliad. Like a good ten-year-old should, I read it with my torch under the bedclothes, and was completely drawn into the world of ‘Swift-footed’ Achilles, Polydamas ‘of the Stout Ashen Spear’, Thetis ‘of the Silver Feet’, ‘Lovely-ankled ‘Nymphs, and all the other brilliant characters. They became my friends, my enemies, my role-models, and my warnings.

Then I followed ‘Wily’ Odysseus on his incredible journey home from Troy in the Odyssey, marvelling at the grisly one-eyed cannibal Cyclops, imagining the song of the Sirens, and loving the cunning tricks that Odysseus played. From there I moved on to Virgil’s Aeneid, travelling with Trojan prince Aeneas and his band of refugees, and listening to his moving account of the fall of Troy, watching him break lovely Queen Dido’s heart, and accompanying him on his visit down into the Underworld.

In real life, I then went to Heath Grammar School in Halifax, an excellent institution where they made us learn Latin, and lots of grammar. But I was ready for it! I loved it, and when they offered me the chance to do Ancient Greek, I grabbed it with both hands. Now I could read about my heroes in their own language, and I did a lot of that when I studied Classics at University, before gravitating to Oxford, where I’ve been a Classics tutor for over 30 years, travelling in the world of the Ancient Greeks, both physically and intellectually.

So who are my favourite mythological god(desse)s, monsters and humans? Well, making a choice between any of the twelve Olympians is just impossible. Should I choose Zeus, who, can blast even the most awesome of giants into oblivion with his thunderbolts? Athena, his daughter, born from his head, with her mesmerising grey-eyed beauty and fearsome intelligence? The blacksmith Hephaestus, who, even though he was severely disabled, was still physically powerful, not to mention married to Aphrodite, the most beautiful female in the universe? Or someone else? They all command the utmost respect, but they can also be extremely jealous: if I were to show favouritism to any one of them, the others would simply ruin my life in the most horrible mythological way imaginable. So I love them all!

The mortal options bring people with amazing stories, staggering achievements, and brilliant skills that excite admiration, fear, love, hate, laughter, and/or pity. They can do things that we ordinary humans could never dream of – face unimaginable dangers, make terrible mistakes, and possibly win eternal glory. However, my favourite has to be Trojan Hector ‘of the Shining Helmet’. He was a mighty, noble, good-looking, horse-taming, godlike warrior, but he wasn’t a mindless fighting machine. He was certainly a badass on the battlefield, although in the end he was no match for the younger, stronger, and more violent Achilles, but Hector was also a good son and a loving husband and father, who gave everything for his family and city, sharing tender moments with his wife and their baby son, cuddling the boy when he was terrified by the horse-hair crest on his helmet, and caressing his spouse as he told her that he would rather be die than hear her being dragged away into captivity. Knowingly fighting against hopeless odds, he really embodies true heroism.

When it comes to choosing a monster we have the biggest, baddest, weirdest, wildest, snakiest, fire-breathingest, flesh-eatingest, turn-you-to-stone-est, set of colourful, hybrid creatures that we possibly imagine. As a dog lover – our English Springer Spaniel is called Hero, a girl-dog, named after the heroine Hero rather than any male hero – I’ve always been captivated by the ‘Death-Demon of the Darkness’, Cerberus, the multi-headed guard-dog of the Underworld. This terrifying, shameless, greedy canine monstrosity was so massive that he had a cave for his kennel; his tail was like a serpent; his hackles bristled with snake heads; and his triple throated barks of frenzied rage terrified even the ghosts of the dead. He would wag his tail and both his ears for anyone going down into Hades, but eat anyone who tried to get out. His favourite food was raw flesh, after all, although you could sedate him with treats made out of wheat and honey laced with soporific medicine.

I’m the end, I’m so grateful to those inspiring teachers and those magical books for letting me meet the wild and beautiful goddess Artemis and her brother Phoebus (‘Shiny’) Apollo, sail with the brave and bold Jason on his journey to capture the Golden Fleece, and wrestle with the Nemean Lion. They gave me the opportunity to read, write and teach about them, and because of them the world of Greek mythology is still very much alive, at least in my world.

Orpheus, in Mythologica, illustrated by Victoria Topping

MYTHOLOGICA: An encyclopedia of gods, monsters and mortals from ancient Greek
Dr Steve Kershaw (B.A. (Hons.); Ph.D.) with illustrations from Victoria Topping

Publishing 3 September in hardback from Wide Eyed Editions, £20. For 8+ readers and all who love Greek mythology.

Thank you to Wide Eyed Editions for a review copy!

Starting School!

Instead of a Back To School post for teens, here’s a First Time at School post on behalf of Bea, who is heading to Reception class next week! We didn’t intentionally read starting school stories but we snagged one from Walker (thanks Jo), were sent one by AlannaMax (thanks Fay), and picked a recently published Little Tiger title up at the library (thanks Stock Manager)!

Getting ready for school with The Pigeon, Lulu and Pirates!
The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

If you have never read one of Mo Willem’s Pigeon books then I envy the joy you will experience when you open one for the first time. I owned them all (that had been published so far obv.) before I even had a Bea, so imagine my excitement when I saw that this was being published at the most perfect time! I was at Walker for a YLG London evening and was allowed to snaffle it as an extra goody. Those of you who have read a Pigeon book might guess what mode of transport makes an appearance…

Lulu’s First Day by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
(apologies for the terrible photo but I didn’t notice until after bedtime!)

Those of you who follow me on twitter may already know how much I love Lulu (and her little brother Zeki). This is a wonderful addition to the collection of stories about her life. It is simply a step by step account of how a first day goes, but with fantastic little touches that bring it to life and make it so much more than just a ‘first experiences’ book. The family is gorgeous and ordinary, and the children she meets at preschool are diverse and adorable.

Pirates Don’t Go To School by Alan MacDonald and Magda Brol

Pirates Don’t Go To School is a very silly but great fun tale of a young pirate who persuades his family that he should go to school. They’re worried for him because there are too many rotten rules and scary teachers and nothing piratical, and his day starts off pretty badly as he accidentally releases his ship’s parrot into school, but things end up ok!

The Hurting

Nell hates her sister’s illness, her drunken dad, and the daily absence of her mum. 
When she meets Lukas, adopted heir to a Norwegian oil fortune, she sees her escape: the two of them running away from the world. But Lukas has his own dark wishes, and soon it’s clear that what joins them goes way beyond love.
This is survival … and is any boy really worth her soul?

Chicken House

Lucy contacted me and asked if I’d like to read her debut YA before very kindly sending me a copy, along with the teaching notes (which, as you’d expect, are massively spoilery so I won’t share them here, but they’re very useful, especially if you want to use the novel as a creative writing prompt or to spark some research ideas, if you’d like to see them then contact me on twitter).

As well as winning the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award, it has just been shortlisted for the Irish Great Reads Award (chosen by librarians, and we know what we’re talking about) so I read it in the car on the way home from hols. It is very dark “Nordic noir” for teens and the scene setting is stunning. Basically all the relationships are terrible, all the characters have experienced something traumatic, and things seem to only get worse and worse…so of course I was completely gripped and raced through it!

The Hurting is out now from Chicken House, and you can read an extract here!

Gloves Off – Why We’re Falling in Love with The Verse Novel

Lily’s only sixteen, but she already feels like she’s losing at life.  Victimised at school, she won’t lay her unhappiness at her parents’ door – they have problems of their own  – and  so Lily feels utterly trapped and alone.
When the kids at school finally go too far, Lily has to decide if she’s going to fight back. But is her new-found confidence simply about getting revenge on those who hurt her? Or about taking charge of her own life for once and for all?
Gloves Off is the stunning story of a girl taking on the world, about body-image and bullying, and above all, about making every moment worth fighting for.

Guppy Books

I was completely overwhelmed when I read Gloves Off, Louisa Reid’s debut #UKYA novel for the new independent publisher, Guppy Books. I sat down to start it and then just didn’t get up again until I’d finished. Part one is absolutely heartbreaking, and hearing the voices of both Lily and her mother gives you so much to think about. It talks of body image and self worth and bullying and family and love, all in faultless verse.

Louisa is an English teacher by day, and wrote us a piece about why she thinks teens (and adults) are embracing verse novels.

Why We’re Falling in Love with The Verse Novel

In the age of tl;dr, of Netflix marathons, of fast-paced snapchatting and Instagrammable moments, I think verse novels are the perfect way to bring stories to readers who might otherwise be switched off by denser works of fiction. They appeal also, of course, to the poets, and the actors, to the curious and the creative, to so-called readers and non-readers alike. Eminently bingeable, pacey, immersive, these books are an exciting way of experiencing intensely internal stories, whilst being a hybrid form that is perfect for our times.

When I sat down to write Gloves Off, I began in prose. But I have a really vivid memory of sitting at my laptop, reading back over what I’d written, fists clenched in frustration, and just knowing that these sentences and paragraphs were wrong. Nothing sang, nothing moved: the words felt dull and lifeless, the story too slow. It was clear that something was stopping me expressing the intensity of feeling that this story demanded, that I was cluttering the narrative with extraneous detail, and that’s when I decided to give writing in verse a go.

I had no idea if I could write a verse novel, so it was a total leap of faith to undertake the project. But as someone who had always loved poetry, who loves music and rhythm, I had nothing to lose. Appreciating the craft, its playfulness and immediacy, I knew writing my own novel in verse would be a challenge; it was not simply going to be a matter of chopping my paragraphs into short lines.

Before this, my own experience of reading verse novels had been very powerful, and was partly inspired by seeing my pupils’ appetite for this form (I work as an English teacher, and have done so for almost twenty years). Drawn into the intensely emotional experience that the verse novel offers its readers, I’d read the work of David Levithan, Sarah Crossan and Ellen Hopkins to mention just a few of the outstanding writers working in this field. It was easy to understand why so many of the girls I teach are big fans, especially of Sarah Crossan’s writing (although with the growing popularity of the genre, I’m sure they’ll be branching out to sample Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds and Elizabeth Acevedo, too – the school where I work is lucky to have an amazingly well-stocked library). When I’m teaching creative writing, we often look at moments pupils have found powerful in their own reading, and its always hugely enriching to explore extracts from verse novels – chosen by the students themselves – and to see them appreciate how the language sings, how it is so carefully condensed and crafted, and then to see this reflected in their own writing .

Another appealing aspect of this form, especially for the less confident, is the abundance of white space and that there are comparatively fewer words – the pages turn so quickly; I think the fact that these narratives move so fast is also very appealing for young adult readers who are used to a fast-moving culture and who can enjoy the sense of accomplishment as they finish a book in one big gulp: the experience becomes utterly immersive.

The form also incorporates and amalgamates aspects of drama, as well as poetry and the novel, to make a rich, but not an intimidating, reading experience. The polyphonic element of YA storytelling has always held a great appeal for me, and many verse novels use different voices to remarkable effect – Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan’s We Come Apart is a favourite – I love the distinctive contrast of voices in this book. Other verse novels may change speaker every poem, and this poses its own challenges for readers and makes big demands it terms of flexibility and comprehension. I also think that my students appreciate the form’s unflinching honesty; as we know, teenage readers are masterful at detecting anything insincere, and the verse novel tells a story in which there is no room to hide.

I’m so glad that this amazing, adaptable form is gaining popularity in the UK. Coincidentally I’ve observed a real appetite for the music of words in my classroom, as students give speeches on topics as diverse as school uniform, to racism, from LGBTQI rights to the environment in ways that make use of powerful poetic techniques, clearly influenced by the rhythms of the music they listen to, the books they’re reading, and showing their enjoyment of playing with language. It’s so exciting to see verse novels being read more widely and I’m trying to convert adult readers to this form, too. It’s definitely got something for everyone.

Louisa Reid

Thankyou so much to Louisa for the insight, and to Guppy Books for a proof copy to review. Gloves Off is out on 29th August.

A Pocketful of Stars

This place is magic . . . but it’s not the sort of magic that comes from wands and spells . . .
Can piecing together the past help you change the present?
Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange and magical world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar . . .

Egmont

A Pocketful of Stars is Aisha Bushy’s debut middle grade novel, which will fit very nicely in both primary and secondary school libraries, in which Safiya learns more about her mum, her friends, and herself. It is slightly heartbreaking but also very hopeful, a brilliant twist on the quest story, and a really good look at the way friendships change over time.

I asked Aisha a few questions!

I interviewed Yasmin Rahman, your fellow newbie in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, for her debut earlier this month. In your acknowledgments you say how important your support for one another has been, what was the next best thing about being part of it?

Having my short story featured in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was like attending a writer bootcamp. I got to see what it was like to edit a book, attend school visits and festivals, and deal with not-so-great feedback! By the time my own debut novel was published, I felt quite ready for what was to come, and I’m so thankful to everyone at Stripes for guiding us. 

Had you already started writing ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ when you wrote your short story, or was it still just a simmering idea?

It wasn’t even an idea. I was working in a very different novel at the time, one that I didn’t get very good feedback on. I thought of and drafted ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ in the months between being picked for ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and the anthology’s publication.

Did the story start with the gaming idea or did it come to you as a way to make the “dreams” a more modern quest story?

It started off with Safiya witnessing her mother’s memories in a dream-like way, but as I continued to work on ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ I needed to give Safiya something to strive for. That was when the quest came in. And, as Safiya loves video games, it made sense for her to navigate this world in that way.

What is your favourite computer game?

I really love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because it is open-world, which means you can explore as much as you want without any limitations (unlike in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ where the world crumbles when Safiya tries to leave the house). But when I was Safiya’s age my favourite games were Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. I played them both for hours.

Have you any thoughts on how teens might balance gaming as a hobby with “real life” relationships?

I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. Gaming is a very social hobby. When you play online you can create groups for your friends to join and play together; otherwise you can meet up and play in the same room. I see it as bringing friendships together through a shared interest, in the way it connects Safiya with her new friends in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’. 

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

I have two different events planned at the moment that I’ll be pitching to schools in September. The first is a scent-based workshop where I’ll ask students to pick and smell one of several pots filled with different scents. They are tasked with writing the opening of a story leading in with scent, whilst working in the other senses too. 

The second event I have planned can work in smaller groups or larger assemblies (and I’ll be running this one during my school tour). It’s about narrative gaming, and different ways of consuming stories. I will work collaboratively with students to create the basis for our very own video-game by picking a character, setting, and premise. 

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

I am reading lots of things at the moment, some I can talk about, some I can’t. Two books I am dying to talk about, both middle grade, are I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak, written from the perspective of a dog. It is one of the most heart-warming books I have ever read and I’ve already cried twice whilst reading it. It was published at the beginning of August, so you can buy it right now (and I very much recommend that you do).

My second read is an advanced copy of a book out next year called The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook (what a great title). The book is packed with adventure and friendship, and the world is so fully realised that you really feel you are riding through the jungle on the back of an elephant you may or may not have stolen yourself…

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I can’t say much yet (mostly as I’m drafting it and I’m still learning what it’s going to become), but let’s just say there will be a new magical world to explore…

Aisha Bushby

A Pocketful of Stars is out now! Thank you to Egmont for a review copy

Letting Go by Cat Clarke

Never make a promise at a funeral. It’s my new motto.
When Agnes made a promise to her girlfriend, Ellie, she thought they would be together for ever. But when she has to keep that promise a year later, it puts Agnes in a situation she could never have predicted – climbing a desolate mountain in miserable weather, with Ellie and her new boyfriend, Steve. And when the weather takes a threatening turn and the tension between the trio hits its peak, Agnes will have to push herself further than she ever thought was possible …

Barrington Stoke

In true Barrington Stoke form, this is a tightly paced, readable YA novella. In true Cat Clarke form, this is an emotional rollercoaster of a book! I was given the opportunity to ask Cat some questions.

This is your second book for Barrington Stoke, after Falling, how different is writing and editing with Barrington Stoke compared to other publishers?
The only real difference in the writing process is that the book is a lot shorter, so it took me a couple of months to write instead of a year. The editing process is a little different, as the manuscript goes through an additional edit for readability for dyslexic and reluctant readers. All in all, it’s a very smooth, streamlined process, and one that I very much enjoy! The Barrington Stoke crew are such a joy to work with.

When an idea comes to you do you already know if it would most suit a novella rather than a full length YA novel or does it come clear as it develops?
I usually specifically set out to come up with an idea that would suit a novella. In the case of Letting Go, I really fancied writing something with a very different setting to my other books. The short time frame of the story in Letting Go–less than 24 hours–really seemed to lend itself to the novella format.

You often write quite heartbreaking stuff, does your mood change depending on what kind of scene you’re working on?
Definitely! I’m not much fun to be around when I’m writing the heartbreaking stuff. I have playlists I listen to for different moods–my favourite is my ‘impending doom’ playlist! If I listen to that one too much, I get *really* anxious. 

Are you a fan of mountain climbing or did you have to do quite a bit of research to set the scene for Letting Go?
I used to climb mountains when I was a kid (thanks, Dad!), but I haven’t done it for many years. I did some research, and also got some help from a friend of mine. He gave me mountain-climbing info and I gave him a home-cooked meal.

What’s your favourite kind of author event to be involved in?
I love all author events, but I have to say it’s particularly lovely when young people have come to see me by choice! The events I’ve done at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have been some of the highlights of my career. I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many lovely readers, and appear on panels with some incredible authors, including David Levithan and Holly Bourne.

Do you get much feedback from teens about your work?
I do! It’s so rewarding when a reader takes the time to get in touch and let me know what they think about my books. It’s one of the great joys of being an author.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I’m currently reading The Stories You Tell by Kristen Lepionka. It’s a brilliant crime novel, featuring a bisexual private detective. If you’re interested, I’d recommend you start with the first in the series: The Last Place You Look. I’d recommend these books to anyone who loves crime. (N.B. Unless you love *committing* crimes, in which case: STOP DOING CRIMES! IT’S VERY NAUGHTY.)

What will we see from you next?
I’m working on several exciting projects at the moment, none of which I’m allowed to talk about. All I can say is that they all feature queer characters, which is something I’m very happy about.

Thanks so much for having me on your lovely blog!

Thankyou for being on the blog!

LETTING GO is out now! Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending a review copy.

No Big Deal

It’s not my body that’s holding me back. It’s more of a problem that people keep telling me it should.
Meet Emily Daly, a stylish, cute, intelligent and hilarious seventeen-year-old about to start her last year at school. Emily is also fat. She likes herself and her body. When she meets Joe at a house party, he instantly becomes The Crush of Her Life. Everything changes. At first he seems perfect. But as they spend more time together, doubts start to creep in.
With her mum trying new fad diets every week, and increasing pressure to change, Emily faces a constant battle to stay strong, be her true self and not change for anyone.
No Big Deal is a warm, funny inspiring debut YA novel from Bethany Rutter: influencer, editor and a fierce UK voice in the debate around body positivity.

Macmillan Children’s Books

I adored No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter, from the opening pages where our protagonist Emily is stuck in a dress in the changing rooms (if that hasn’t happened to you then you will never really understand, but this chapter might help you empathise), to the difficult relationship with her Mum because of Mum’s obsession with weight, and the true-to-life peer relationships. I adored it so much, that the moment I finished reading it I tweeted Bethany to ask some questions, which she very graciously answered in record time!

As a journalist you’ve been writing for a mainly adult audience for some time, why did you decide that your debut novel would be YA?

I just had this thought of ‘if I only ever write one novel, what’s the one story I most want to tell?’ and it turned out to be this one, which is best suited for a teen-ish audience!

How autobiographical is the book?

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t autobiographical at all, but I don’t want people to read it and see Emily as purely me, because she’s not. It’s more that she’s in various situations that I was in when I was her age but she almost universally deals with them differently.

Have you had much opportunity to talk to teens about the book? I’d particularly love to know the reaction of teen boys to Emily’s sister’s advice that, basically, things will get better but teen boys are a bit crap because of societal expectations!

Do you know what, I’ve actually only spoken to teen girls about it, which is really interesting! It would be amazing if teen boys did read it, and then they could tell me if I was a bit harsh! But I’ve absolutely loved talking to teen girls about No Big Deal, it’s so fun and interesting to hear about the things that resonated with them.

What is the most important thing that you want fat teens to take on board?

Honestly it is that very basic idea that things won’t always feel as limiting and frustrating as they do now, and that the world and the people in it get so much more interesting once they figure out who they are.

Body positivity campaigns seem to lead to a lot of negative comments, as well as encouraging ones, do you think social media is mainly a force for good or harm?

Personally I am very in favour of social media because it’s allowed me to find my people and my community and hear from people that I wouldn’t otherwise and learn about so many amazing important things. I know there’s always an element of backlash and negativity but for me, I would say the good outweighs the bad – particularly because it’s a way for people to give themselves a degree of representation that the media hardly ever will!

Can you recommend role models for teens to follow?

I would say people like Callie Thorpe, Michelle Elman and, if you really want to blow your mind, Enam Asiama

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

I just finished listening to Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh on audiobook which I had read in book form before but I’m so glad I revisited it in audio, because it just such a special, kind, radical and thought-provoking book. I would really recommend it to anyone, of any age, because we all eat.

Have you plans to write any more novels?

Yes! I’m partway through my second YA novel which isn’t a sequel but has some similar themes to No Big Deal. It’s set by the seaside so I should probably use that as excuse to take some daytrips for ‘research’…

Bethany Rutter, author of NO BIG DEAL

NO BIG DEAL is published on 8th August by Macmillan, and I’m very grateful to them for sending me a proof copy.