Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

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

Children’s Rights to Read

To mark International Literacy Day an important campaign has been launched by the International Literacy Association. Learn more about ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read initiative on their website.

The 8th of September was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO at the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Conference on 26 October 1966 to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies, and you will find lots of information about it on the UN website

Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson – Review

Matthew Henson was simply an ordinary man. That was, until Commander Robert E. Peary entered his life, and offered him a chance at true adventure. Henson would become navigator, Craftsman, Translator, and right-hand man on a treacherous journey to the North Pole. Defying the odds and the many prejudices that faced him to become a true pioneer.

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I am a big fan of both Barrington Stoke and Catherine Johnson, so I leapt at the chance of a copy of her new title for them.

This is the story of the first man to reach the North Pole, but not the man celebrated for it. It tells us about his life from the day he ran away from his step-mother’s home until the day he was finally (very belatedly) recognised for his contribution to the expedition. The language is simple but evocative, the characters that he meets are brought to life in a few words of description and then a boy’s (becoming a man’s) view of their acts. You’ll shake your head in frustration at his treatment at the hands of white people while on land, incompatible with his experiences adventuring. His acceptance of “this is how life is” is devastating but real. The three parts to the story are wonderfully highlighted by the vignettes on every page by Katie Hickey.I realised that Catherine Johnson has written about Matthew Henson for Barrington Stoke before, some of you might have Arctic Hero in your biography section of the library, but this is a far more personal vision of his life. A quick read that packs an entire life in, and what a life!

For those of you that don’t know: Barrington Stoke have a well deserved reputation for creating very readable books to appeal to reluctant or struggling readers, having developed a unique dyslexia friendly font and pioneered the use of tinted paper. They have an ever growing catalogue of specially commissioned titles from an amazing range of authors for all ages/reading ages of children. These titles are always beautiful demonstrations of how, sometimes, less is more, and that a book doesn’t have to be difficult to read in order to be worth reading. If school librarians or teachers are reading this, look into getting your students signed up to be young editors.

 

Guest Post: Show Stealer by Hayley Barker, Blog Tour


As part of the blog tour for Hayley Barker’s , Show Stealer, sequel to Show Stopper, she shared this playlist with Teen Librarian.

If you love these songs I’m sure you’ll love this book!

I loved making this playlist so much. It reminded me of when I was a teenager, way back in the dark ages, when we made mix tapes of our favourite songs and played them again and again and again.

It didn’t take long to come up all the songs. Some of them were in my head all along, the whole time I was writing and others just seemed a natural fit. I always find myself relating lyrics to an experience I’ve had, or an imaginative scenario I make up in my head, so I’ve already got a long list of songs in my head that fit pretty much every emotion out there.

  1. Bryan Adams, Everything I do (I do it for you): I realise I’ve picked a bit of a cheesy one for my first choice but, really, there’s no other song I can think of that fits the start of Show Stealer so well. Just like Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood (who I was more than a little in love with back in the day) would willingly lay down and die for his Maid Marian, so Ben risks everything save Hoshiko, Greta and Jack. It’s not a big decision he’s suddenly faced with—for him, there’s no choice there to make.
  1. The Doors, People are Strange: Early in the novel, Hoshi, Greta and Jack are forced to seek asylum in the great London slums which are so lawless and violent that even the police avoid entering them. This song captures perfectly the feeling of paranoia and unease they have as they tread through the sprawling metropolis of decay searching for someone who might be willing and able to offer them asylum.
  1. The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil: Once he’s captured, Ben finds himself back in an even darker and deadlier version of the Cirque and comes face to face with more than one old foe. The devil in this song is a “man of wealth and taste” who has manifested himself in various ways across the centuries, looking for souls to tempt and evil to spread. There’s definitely a character in Show Stealer whose behaviour leaves Ben, and Hoshi both wondering more than once if he actually “really is the devil himself.”
  1. Guns and Roses, Welcome to the Jungle: One man controls the London slums; the ambiguous Kadir, who has a jewelled tooth and maintains order with violence and savagery. In this jungle, he’s the king of the beasts.
  1. Billy Joel, Angry Young Man: There are two very angry young men in Show Stealer. Fragile and voiceless they’ve grown up watching helplessly as those they love suffer in the cruel and unfair society they live in. Every angry young man started life as a frightened little boy who struggled to be heard. Terrorists, suicide bombers, violent criminals–more often than not they’ve been failed and let down so much in their life that all they know is hatred.
  1. Richard Gere, Razzle Dazzle: Just like Silvio Sabatini, the savage and syrupy ringmaster who dominates Show Stopper and may, or may not, return in Show Stealer (!), Billy Flynn, the lawyer in Chicago is unscrupulous and immoral but, boy, he sure knows how to put on a show!
  1. Michelle Williams, Tightrope: My working title for Show Stopper was Tightrope and it symbolises so many aspects of both books. Hoshiko literally walks the tightrope in the circus and Ben and Hoshiko walk it metaphorically in so many ways–always balancing precariously, always at risk, always about to fall. I think this song belongs more to Ben that Hoshi. He gives everything up for her and never regrets it, not for a second.
  1. Meghan Trainor and John Legend, Like I’m Gonna lose You: When situations are intense, things happen so much more quickly. From the moment they meet, the threat of death looms over Ben and Hoshiko. There’s no time for games, no time for a long and complicated courtship, they just have to love each other as hard as they can for as long as they can.
  1. Labi Siffre, Something Inside so Strong This song is the one that I listened to again and again when I was writing both books in this series and the song that has inspired me more than any. Labi Siffre wrote it as an outcry against apartheid but it is a song that speaks for all people who resist the yoke of oppression, never allowing it to break them, knowing that right and goodness are on their side.
  1. Smokey Robinson, The Tears of a Clown: There are clowns in Show Stealer and, just like the sad song in this story, their painted on smiles don’t do a very good job at concealing the pain and anguish they are feeling inside.
  1. James, She’s A Star: the first time Ben sees Hoshiko, she’s dancing on a wire across the night sky. Her name means child of the stars, and, for him at least she is a star: A light burning bright in the darkness and showing him the way.
  1. Sara Bareilles, Brave: It’s not always easy to stand up and say what you really think and feel, and sometimes it’s safer not to. In Show Stopper and Show Stealer, Ben and Hoshiko both learn to be brave and to speak out despite the danger it places them into.
  1. The Beatles, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. There’s something about a Circus and the Beatles that so well in this unique and quirky song.
  1. The Scorpions, Wind of Change: This song was written after the fall of the Berlin Wall and is about the shared sense of joy and reverence felt after something so wonderful that nobody had even really dared hope for it has actually happened. At one point in Show Stealer, a breakthrough is made that’s so significant that Hoshiko says: “There’s something powerful in the air: something palpable, like we’re all connected. It feels like the end of something. It feels like the beginning.” Those lines were directly inspired by this song.
  1. Pete Seeger; We Shall Overcome”: This song became an anthem of the civil rights movement in America. I use the lyrics directly in Show Stopper because no other words represent so well the determination, unity and self-belief of the circus family which Hoshiko, and then Ben, become a part of.
  1. Rachel Platten, Fight Song: I hope that both of the Show Stopper novels are, ultimately, uplifting, and that both carry the message that sometimes we all have to stand up and fight for what is right.
  1. Pink What About Us: A song about voices which refuse to be silenced, which demand answers and call out for justice.
  1. Les Miserable Cast, Do you Hear the People Sing: The characters in Les Miserables have been part of a revolution and are determined never to “be slaves again.” I hope that some of the sense of unity and liberation this song evokes is also there in some of the later parts of Show Stealer.
  1. Queen: The Show Must Go On. Every performer in the Cirque has to perform, even if their heart is breaking inside. This song is so sad and beautiful and Freddie Mercury’s voice portrays perfectly the despair and agony of the clown who, under his mask of make-up, is “aching to be free.”

So, that’s my playlist. It’s an unusual one, I know, as eclectic and varied as my own music tastes. Just like I did with my old mix tapes, I’ve played it on repeat pretty much ever since I made it and I haven’t got bored yet. I hope you don’t either.

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 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!

IBBY

On Wednesday 20th June I went to the AGM of the UK branch of IBBY (the International Board of Books for Young people). IBBY was set up in 1953, after the devastation of WWII, to promote international understanding through children’s books. The work they do is fascinating, focussing on ensuring good quality and relevant work is published for children throughout the world. There is lots of information on the UK website about local and international projects and it is well worth perusing. It only costs £30 a year to join and support their work, as well as receiving a few personal perks, so I highly recommend you do!

The AGM was held at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, a beautiful building with an excellent mission – maintaining and growing the only UK archives of the diverse black history – and finished with a presentation from S.I. Martin about engaging young people using archive material, and demonstrating that writing can be an act of revolution. He showed us a spectrum of black backgrounds in the UK as far back as the 15C. Not only as slaves but also as princes and property owners, educated and not, having a voice and using it. His words reminded me of Geraldine McCaughrean’s impassioned plea at the CKG ceremony that vocabulary and language in writing for children in young people must be rich and wide. Steve said “we’re losing the ability to describe ourselves”, less able to incorporate histories and so embrace differences. It was definitely food for thought.

CKG18 awards winners

In case you somehow managed to miss the news yesterday, the CILIP CKG awards ceremony was held at the British Library.

It was a fantastic event that is well worth watching again for the eloquent speeches. I’m just going to share a link to clips of some of the event, and Jake Hope’s post about the awards and the winners.

Head to twitter and look over the #CKG18 hashtag to catch up on opinions and photos.

It marked the end of my two year judging tenure. It has been such a joy to be involved in the process, although really hard to not join in public conversations about the books! I now have a huge TBR pile to catch up on, ready to pick my nominations for 2019…and TALK ABOUT!

Feminist Fiction

I have to tell you about Angie Thomas and THUG and the Black Girls Book Club, but also about Feminist Book Fortnight which begins TODAY! I considered spamming you all with multiple blog posts on my first day on the job, then thought about it and realised that they’re so perfectly linked that I should just combine them.

On Thursday night, Matt and I went along to SAMA Bankside in Blackfriars for a small party celebrating Angie Thomas’s ‘The Hate you Give’ which, I’m sure you already know, is a powerful story of a young black woman in America dealing with the aftermath of witnessing a police shooting (of her best friend) alongside reconciling her school life with her home life. It is shortlisted for Carnegie and won the 2018 Waterstones children’s book prize. She gave us a bit of information about her next book, On the Come Up, that sounds to be about another strong female and her efforts to break into the patriarchal rap industry while dealing with her mum losing her job. It was wonderful to meet Angie, and chat to librarian colleagues and familiar faces from Walker, but I was also really pleased to meet some members of the Black Girls Book Club. They had collaborated with Walker to host Angie Thomas at an event and spread the word about her outstanding novel, but they don’t focus solely on newly published work. I was blown away by in their passion regarding the back catalogue of fiction written by black women over the years, and am going to be getting touch with them about having some of them as guest speakers at a CILIP YLG London event about what we should definitely have in our libraries. This segues nicely into my interest in Feminist Book Fortnight, which is an inaugural but hopefully annual event organised by independent bookshops to highlight feminist works by women writers. I intend to only read relevant books from my TBR pile, starting with Yaba Badoe’s ‘A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars’. What will you read?