Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

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

Breaking New Ground

Today at the London Book Fair (one day I’ll go…), Speaking Volumes have been sharing BREAKING NEW GROUND, a new brochure of British BAME authors and illustrators for children, in advance of their partner BookTrust’s new project BookTrust Represents, officially launching in April.


This project will:
support and subsidise authors and illustrators of colour to promote their work and to reach more readers through events in bookshops, festivals and schools
offer training and mentoring
launch an online community to support the next generation of great authors and illustrators of colour

The brochure, part of a joint initiative also involving Pop Up Projects, includes articles and excerpts from a range of contributors, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next!

Glancing through the catalogue, it is a wonderful mixture of long published (contemporary) and yet-to-be published authors and illustrators, familiar names and unknown, with an indicator of the age of their target audience. Lots of overlap with the list Matt started here years ago (and we’ve both added to since) but each list has some that the other is missing…

Our list of British based BAME authors and illustrators

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


Sandie has been battling it since her childhood; the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. Although her precious pet dog Rabbie may have fought back against this monster for years, when he is no longer there to protect her the black dog will return and Sandie’s nightmare will come back to haunt her…

Barrington Stoke are this month posthumously publishing their second Mal Peet novella, Good Boy. Both have been illustrated by Emma Shoard, and The Family Tree has been longlisted for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Good Boy on the 2020 list, I was sent a copy and read it holding my breath, that final page left me stunned for a few minutes. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Emma some questions…

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

Can you tell us how you came to illustrate this book?

The commission from Barrington Stoke to illustrate Good Boy came at the same time as The Family Tree; two Mal Peet novellas as a pair. It was a very exciting moment for me as I’d heard suggestions that I was being considered for the job about a year before but had to wait to find out for sure. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected but I think it had something to do with Mal’s wife Elspeth Graham. That gave me confidence knowing that she believed that I would do justice to his work. 

This is the second Mal Peet story you’ve illustrated for Barrington Stoke, as well as Siobhan Dowd’s ‘Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, both very well respected names, both sadly deceased. Did you feel daunted at all when you started the projects? Has it got easier?

Yes, it is daunting working with someone else’s creation particularly when you know it was one of their final pieces of work, or one of very few pieces they made in the case of Siobhan Dowd. So I’ve always been aware that the stories are very precious to those close to the author and their fans. Fortunately this has never negatively effected the experience of working on them. While illustrating Mal Peet’s stories I had a lot of contact with Elspeth Graham and with the publishers, creating more of a feeling of collaboration. With Good Boy particularly, there was a really good conversation throughout, discussing the story’s possible meanings and the interpretation of the black dog.

I’m always nervous sending off any first sketches or ideas to somebody new because I don’t know exactly what expectations they have of me and whether or not I’ll meet them. I’m not sure that part ever gets any easier, but for me it’s good to feel a bit of fear and have that pressure.

I love the way you draw people, just the posture you have someone standing in speaks volumes, does that mainly come from people watching and practicing or is it a technique you were taught?

Thanks! I find people and living things really interesting to draw, especially when they’re moving, dancing, making something. It all comes from observing and drawing people from life, but in a way it is a combination of both of those things you mentioned. I was taught by a really good life drawing teacher at university; very critical. I would be forced to draw figures more and more as they were, not straightened, softened or altered by a pre-conceived idea of what parts of a body should look like.
I do also use films, youtube videos and photographs as reference, with a preference for moving images because you can pause them and draw all of the difference stages of an action or gesture to understand it better.

How different is your process when you do live drawing events as opposed to illustrating a text?

I’m not sure it is that different. I like to use the same materials when I’m drawing live as I would in my studio: ink, brushes, charcoal. Also I find that I work well under time pressure so when I’m in my studio I make a lot of quick drawings, and sometimes a drawing which took only a few minutes will become a finished illustration in a book. Though, when illustrating a whole book there is always a lot more time spent planning, research, designing characters and playing with different materials. 

When visiting schools, do you prefer doing storytelling or creative workshops? What age group do you prefer to work with?

When teaching a creative workshop I like to work with small groups, again it’s nice to have that feeling of collaboration which you can have when you’re able to talk to people one-to-one about their work. I think I’ll always prefer these more casual interactions than to stand up and teach a big class, but I’m getting over my fears. I’ve put on workshops and live drawing performances for children as young as 8/9 up to adults, and I haven’t decided on a preferred group yet. Though my books are all aimed at a YA audience and they are the ones I love creating illustrations for.

What advice would you give to a child that told you they’d like to illustrate books one day?

There are a few different routes you can take and studying at university isn’t necessary for everyone. But I did find that studying illustration at that level, with all of my strict and critical tutors, really helpful. I’d say that the most important thing when it comes to studying at any level is to be really interested in your subjects, don’t choose them based on what other people say you should be doing. If you want to be an illustrator start working towards it straight away, don’t think that you can squeeze it in at the weekend after you’ve done all of your other homework. Draw for fun. Don’t throw away all the ‘bad’ drawings, they tell the story of how you got to where you are.

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

I’m re-reading the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend which I loved. But at the same time Evening Descends Upon the Hills by another Neopolitan writer, Anna Maria Ortese, who I think was a big influence on Ferrante. Ortese’s stories are part-fiction, partly reportage and describe terrible poverty, violence and despair in the city during the 1950s. I love Naples and I want to learn more about it. I’d recommend Elena Ferrante’s books to almost anyone, there is romance, drama, politics and it’s a really vivid portrait of a friendship between two girls and of the neighborhood they live in. Evening Descends Upon the Hills is also brilliant but bleak. 

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m preparing for the release of Good Boy at the moment and preparing for school visits, festival events and a prison workshop, all happening throughout Spring and Summer. Being in between books, I’m working on some personal projects which is really nice to be able to do. In particular, I’m finishing a proposal for a non-fiction wildlife book to take to Bologna in April.

Thank you so much to Emma for taking time to answer the questions! Good Boy is published on 15th March 2019

PROUD

What have you got to lose? By telling her, I mean.’

I shrugged. ‘My pride?’

Patricia laughed then, which surprised me. ‘That’s not pride, my darling girl, that’s shame.’

The Instructor (Jess Vallance)

I spent far too much of my life being ashamed of who I am.

In the introduction to Proud, Juno Dawson writes about Section 28, and the devastating effect this legislation had on an entire generation of queer youth here in the United Kingdom. She and I are of a similar age; though I spent my childhood deep in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the southern United States, I also grew up with more questions than answers. I attended schools where the words ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ and ‘dyke’ were used as insults, hurled by bullies who possessed no more understanding of what those terms meant than did their intended targets, but had heard the accompanying sneers in their parents’ voices and knew instinctively that these were words that could cause pain. Where teachers and counselors and librarians turned a blind eye or bit their tongue for fear of losing their jobs, of being tarred with the same brush, of becoming the subject of town gossip, or worse. Where, more than twenty years after leaving school, many of my classmates are still trying to figure out who they are, in terms of both gender and sexuality, learning as they go, because the only information we were given was ‘don’t have sex until you’re married.’ Where marriage was defined ‘as God intended’, between one man and one woman, for the purpose of procreation, and deviation from this set path in any way, in who you are or who you love or how you build your family, is asking to be shamed and ostracised.

As a young person coming of age in this environment, I already had two strikes against me. I wasn’t religious, for a start, which meant that I was already on the outer fringes of local ‘society’; and I was poor, which isn’t a crime, but might as well have been. So when, at age 14, I realised I was attracted to both boys and girls, the last thing I was going to do was make this fact public. That didn’t stop me from wondering why, though. So I did what any self-respecting bookworm would do, years before the character appeared – I put on my ‘Hermione Granger’ pants and went to the school library…

…and found exactly nothing. These were the days before Google, before the Internet, really, at least for regular people; the best way to find answers, especially when trying not to alert anyone that you were looking, was to use the card catalog, at which I was a pro, having haunted my local library since before I could walk on my own. There, too, I struck out; turns out it’s impossible to convince a card catalog to cross-reference answers to ‘help, I want to mash faces with someone who has the same bits as me, am I broken?’ (Perhaps Hermione would have had better luck.)

I didn’t even bother checking the shelves for books whose characters might have the same burning questions; I’d long since left the children’s section behind and moved into the adult reading room with its cozy detective mysteries and cowboy westerns, and the handful of ‘young adult’ books on a shelf next to the computer room didn’t offer much hope. Mostly, they seemed to be about young women who were either wasting away from mystery illnesses, or plotting schemes in which they switched places with their ‘perfect size six’ blonde twin sisters – not terribly helpful in my situation.

This is the part of my tale where a nosy but well-meaning librarian sees me wandering around, growing ever more frustrated, and steers me in the direction of non-fiction books that will answer my questions, and fiction books with teenage protagonists who look and sound and feel like me, right? Except not, because those non-fiction books didn’t exist – not in any of the libraries to which I had access, anyway – and whilst Young Adult fiction as a genre had been around for a number of years, the same parochial oversight that had contributed to the paltry sex education curriculum in my school had had a similar censorious effect on the books purchased and stocked for teenagers using the public library. I went home that day with my questions unanswered; it took me three years to find the word I was looking for – bisexual – and half a dozen more (and a relocation to liberal New England) before I finally used the descriptor in relation to me. Even then, I wasn’t open about being bisexual – more often, I let others make assumptions about my sexuality based on the gender of my partner. Even free of the environment of my youth, I still carried with me a sense of shame for not conforming to expectations.

Almost twenty years to the day from the moment of my (then-unidentified) bisexual awakening, I began my current job as a secondary librarian at an independent school on the outskirts of London. Here I was, back in the same sort of place that had let me down so many years ago. Surely the world had moved on? A quick examination of the collection showed that, whilst society may have moved on, some areas of my new library had been left behind. Over the past four years, therefore, I’ve been working to build a rich and diverse range of representative young adult fiction, as well as an up-to-date, informative collection of non-fiction on topics of sexuality and gender – basically, what I’d wished I’d had access to as a questioning teen.

My primary goal as a school librarian is that every pupil who comes into my library should be able to find a story with a character that looks like them, or talks like them, or loves like them – and that, should they have questions about their gender or sexual identity, they can find factual, accessible answers without having to summon the courage to ask the librarian! It wasn’t until recently, though, that I learned first-hand that my efforts were making an impact.

Having been invited to attend a meeting of the newly established, pupil-run LGBTQ+ Society, I talked about Section 28, and shared a version of the story above, about what it was like to be a queer teenager under a different, but no less restrictive, regime. The reaction from my audience was such that one would have been forgiven for thinking I’d announced I’d been born on the moon and ate babies for breakfast. My bisexuality wasn’t a surprise (I’d finally come out publically a few years earlier, and had been wearing a pin with the bi flag colours on my staff lanyard for some time; also, as a man married to another man, a certain level of queerness is assumed), but the idea that my high school hadn’t been a safe place to be out, or that I’d been ashamed to call myself bi until well into my twenties – both of these concepts seemed so utterly foreign to these kids. I would have been more surprised, but for a conversation I’d had the day before.

The previous afternoon, I’d been chatting with a pupil who was borrowing a handful of books from the display I’d put together for LGBT(Q+) History Month; after she left, two Year 12s who’d overheard our conversation sidled up to my desk and asked if they could suggest some books for the library to buy and add to the display. I said ‘yes, of course!’ and our conversation began there – and lasted for the next hour and a half, until the library closed for the evening. Over the course of that conversation, they told me:

  • how amazing it is to see books about LGBTQ+ topics, not just in the library, but on display right when you walk in the door (I agree!);
  • when they first joined the school in Year 7, there weren’t any books like those in the library at all (I can believe this; I started at the school at the start of their Year 8); and
  • that my presence as an openly queer member of staff has made a huge impact on the student body – that it has prompted important conversations amongst the pupils, some of which really needed to take place – and that my presence and those conversations helped them and their LGBTQ+ friends begin to feel accepted, empowered, and proud.

Where does one even begin to respond to something like that?

I managed somehow not to immediately burst into tears whilst my heart exploded with joy, but it was a very close thing. It’s what any educator would want to hear, I think – that their work has had an impact on the pupils under their care – and that part was amazing. But to hear that my very existence has made a real difference in multiple lives, to young people who may have once been as confused – or even as ashamed! – as I once was?

That just makes me feel, well – proud.

I’m thrilled to be able to add Proud to the shelves of my school library, because in this fantastic anthology of stories, poems and art, I can finally see myself – not just in the characters, but in their creators – and I can’t even begin to imagine how many others will be able to do the same. I just wish I could go back in time and tell that 14-year-old kid that one day, I’d hold in my hands an entire book of stories written by and featuring people like me – and all of the stories will have happy endings. I wish I could say, ‘someday, you will not be ashamed to be who you are – instead, you will be proud, and because you are, other people will have the chance to be proud, too.’

Emerson Milford Dickson

You can find him twittering here

Warhammer Adventures

When I was asked if I’d like to take part in a blog tour for the beginning of a new middle grade series of Warhammer Adventures from the Games Workshop, I knew I couldn’t turn it down! I first chatted with Matt (the original TeenLibrarian himself) at a training session for public library staff considering starting 40k clubs and he quickly became one of my favourite people, so even though I didn’t get very far with a Warhammer club (I moved to a school library pretty soon after that training, took the set with me and let a member of staff run a club!) it holds very fond memories for me. Anyway, to the books! They look fantastic, the illustrators Cole Marchetti and Magnus Noren have done a great job of bringing the characters to life, and they’re very clearly aimed at a younger audience than existing novels while still having the look of the same universe.
If you have any young Warhammer fans in your library, they might well not be ready to read the (much denser) novels already available but these will certainly whet their appetite. They are tremendously exciting and great fun to read, so I’m really pleased to be able to share these insights into the background to the stories, from the authors themselves, Cavan Scott followed by Tom Huddleston:

Cavan Scott is the author of Attack of the Necron, the first book in the Warped Galaxies series.

Hello, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. My name’s Cavan Scott and I’m an author and comic book writing who lives in the UK. For nearly twenty years, I’ve contributed to some of the biggest fictional universes on the planet, including Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Pacific Rim, The Incredibles and many more. My latest book, Attack of the Necron is the first in a new series set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Can you tell us more about the series?

Warhammer Adventures: Warped Galaxies takes place in a war-torn future were humans use technology, but have largely forgotten how it works. The spaceships are gothic, the tech is a weird-mash up of medieval and futuristic, and the aliens are terrifying. What’s not to love about people who turn human skulls into floating robots or courageous Space Marines fighting green-skinned orcs on distant planets?

The books follow explorer Zelia Lor, ganger Talen Stormweaver and Martian inventor Mekki as they escape a terrible planetary disaster. They have to get an ancient alien artefact back into the hands of Zelia’s Mum. There’s only one problem: they have no idea where she is, and everyone they meet seems determined to destroy them. OK, that’s two problems, but trust me, things are never easy for these kids.

What are the three things you discovered when writing these books?

Well, I never really played Warhammer 40,000 growing up, but came to the universe via novels and audio dramas. While I knew a fair bit, there was still a lot to dig into. Warhammer 40,000 is huge, with literally thousands of years of backstory. The trick with these books was making sure that I wrote stories that could be understood by anyone, whether you’re drenched in Warhammer lore or a complete newbie. It meant I had to do a lot of research to make sure I got things right. I treated it like writing a historical novel, studying a history that hasn’t happened yet!

The things I discovered were:

A) Warhammer gamers are incredibly passionate about their hobby.
They’ve invested a lot of time into playing the game and also understanding how the universe works. That meant that I had to treat these books with respect. We’ve worked hard to make sure that they’re appropriate for the right age-group, but also feel like a legitimate Warhammer 40,000 story.

B) Challenges make better stories.
As I said, I’ve spent a lot of time writing in well-known universes, and each has its own rules and conventions. Warhammer 40,000 has the added challenge that much of the cosmos is completely unknowable for those who live in it. Your average person doesn’t know how any technology works, or about the dangers that lurk on every planet. There’s no widescale communication and most folk blindly accept the teachings of humanity’s leader, the immortal Emperor of Mankind. What’s more, they can never really find out, as the society that has been established will fall apart. There are some pretty rigid rules about what your characters can or can’t experience. However, that just means that you have to be even more creative in working within those rules, especially when you’re writing someone’s introduction to a vast fictional world. It’s been fun navigating my way through all that, and I think that it’s led to stronger, more exciting adventures!

C) I buy too many action figures and models.
OK, this isn’t exactly a discovery, as my wife will attest. I’m a grown man who loves toys. My study is packed with Daleks, space-ships, droids, LEGO sets and superhero figures. However, Warhammer Adventures has opened up an entire new world for me to collect. I originally tried to limit myself to one set of figures, or maybe a vehicle, from each of the books in the series, but have repeatedly broken that resolution. On the upside, I’m sitting here writing this with a super-cool Necron Doom Scythe fighter on my desk!

Tom Huddleston is the author of City of Lifestone, the first book in the Realm Quest series.

Hello, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Tom Huddleston and I’m an author and film writer based in London, England. Like Cavan, I wrote three episodes in the official Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space series, and now I’m the author of the Realm Quest books, part of the Warhammer Adventures universe.

Can you tell us more about the series?

The Realm Quest stories take place across the Mortal Realms, eight interconnected worlds filled with epic landscapes, ferocious creatures and limitless potential for adventure. When their master Vertigan is kidnapped by the devious rat-men known as the Skaven, five brave children must band together to get him back. The quest will take them across the different Realms, encountering fierce beasts, noble guardians and all manner of mayhem.

What are the three things you discovered when writing these books?

A) The Warhammer Universes are vast beyond belief. 

The most remarkable thing I discovered when I began researching and writing these books was simply how huge the Warhammer universe is – developed over decades, it must be the most massive and immersive invented world ever created. The sheer wealth of imagination and creativity on display is completely breathtaking, and I’m honoured to be given the chance to invent my own small corner of it.

B ) Creating characters within this universe was a bit of balancing act.

Creating a new group of characters to inhabit this world was an interesting challenge. They had to be relatable to young readers – it had to feel like their struggles were real, despite the fact that they live in this epic, fantastical realm. They had to be tough enough to survive in a world where almost everything is trying to kill them, but not so tough that they felt superhuman. And most of all, they had to be likeable enough so that readers would keep coming back to hear more about their adventures.

C ) Inventing Warhammer villains is really enjoyable! 

I also discovered how much fun it is to write Warhammer villains. From the devious, scheming rat-men known as the Skaven to a whole lot of ghoulish entities who crop up later in the series (no spoilers!), the Mortal Realms are just full of terrifically nasty, wonderfully unpleasant bad guys. How will our noble heroes fare against this rogue’s gallery of creeping, crawling, scuttling horrors? Well that would be telling…

Maisie’s Scrapbook – review

As the seasons turn, Maisie rides her bull in and out of Dada’s
tall tales. Her Mama wears linen and plays the viola. Her
Dada wears kente cloth and plays the marimba. They come
from different places, but they hug her in the same way. And
most of all, they love her just the same. A joyful celebration
of a mixed-race family and the love that binds us all together.

You all know what a big fan I am of Lantana and their books, so I was delighted when Katrina offered to send me a copy of ‘Maisie’s Scrapbook‘ to review. I was even more delighted when I read it and saw that it really is a beautiful tale, of loving parents bringing features from their heritages together to create a wonderful environment for their daughter to grow up in. As the blurb says, “they come from different places, but they hug her in the same way“. No two parents have identical backgrounds, but it is important to show (mirrors and windows) that parents with even the most obvious cultural differences cannot disagree on how much they love and support their child, and I can only imagine how amazing it must feel for a mixed race child to see a family similar to theirs portrayed (huge respect to single parents who, for whatever reason, don’t have the support of a partner).

Samuel Narh’s words, featuring Dada’s tall tales and Mama’s comfort through the seasons, are from Maisie’s perspective. Simply stated observations on small and big things. They are so effective because of the emotive illustrations by Jo Loring-Fisher bringing those tales to life, making the reader feel how she’s feeling, and showing the affection the family feels for one another. Look out for it when it is published on 7th March!


Feeling crafty?

SearchPress publish loads of amazing arts and crafts books, for beginning projects up to daunting expertise, and they very kindly offered to share a couple of free projects with us to entice you to their website. I know lots of libraries run or host craft sessions, and you will definitely have some manga fans, so have a look for some inspiration…

From Crocheted Cactuses comes this really cute (but baffling to a non-crochet-er) plan for, you guessed it, a crocheted cactus!

They have loads of manga titles, but the pages they’ve shared with us are from How to Draw Manga (in simple steps) by Yishan Li:

There are other free projects available on their website too!

The Third Degree with David Owen

David Owen’s latest book, All The Lonely People, is released on 10th January. It is a fantastic read with a fascinating premise: can you be so lonely that you actually disappear? There are two main characters, who rarely meet but their paths are entwined when Wesley’s “friends” choose Kat as a target for an online hate campaign with the intention of hounding her off the internet. Kat (like me as a teenager tbh) only feels like she can be herself online, and so as she deletes her accounts she herself begins to fade in real life. The Kat storyline resonated but Wesley’s side was the outstanding side for me – he’s trying to find a place to fit in but has chosen a toxic community that he realises he doesn’t agree with but fears he’s in too deep to get out. I was so impressed with his confused and also lonely voice, and hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say I was very pleased with his redemption without forgiveness. It is a brilliant examination of the damage of toxic masculinity and the ease with which lonely boys can be indoctrinated by misogynistic online groups, something I’ve not seen in YA before, as well as a touching look at the prevalence of lonliness in teens and how important it is to remember that no one has it together but some people fake it better. There is no “get off the internet and find a real friend” moral, but it does lead the reader to think about the potential pitfalls of social media use.

In fact, I loved it so much that I pinned him down to ask a few questions:

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

All the Lonely People is about online culture, did you spend a lot of your teenage years online?

Waaay too much time! I was part of the first generation to grow up with online culture. I spent an inordinate amount of time in chat rooms and forums, and I had LiveJournal, MySpace, and was an early adopter of Facebook. I’ve been online since I was about ten years old. 

I spent most of my online time on an RPG video game forum that had quite a small but very active community. The opinions of these people came to really matter to me. If I said something stupid or accidentally broke a rule there, I’d feel bad about it for days. It was so stupid! That was my first taste of how an online life can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.  

Do you have any words of wisdom for teenagers, like Kat, who feel like their online presence is more important than their real world presence?

I’m not sure about words of wisdom. It’s so easy for me to encourage people to disconnect a little and not take it quite so seriously, but the reality is very different. Social media is such an integral part of the lives of young people now, much more so than when I was a teenager. There is a sense that if you’re not online, or if you don’t get enough attention there, you don’t exist. And one wrong move can be instantly seen by the entire world. 

I suppose all I can say is to encourage teenagers to seek out people, whether online or in the ‘real world’, who share similar values, who have similar interests, and who will treat them with kindness. Those are the people that matter, rather than striving to gain the approval of people who don’t care about you. Use your online presence to enhance your life – if the negatives begin to outweigh the positives, it’s time to reassess how you use the internet. 

What inspired the title?

It is shamelessly lifted from the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. I listened to it a lot while I was writing the book, because it’s such a terrifically melancholy song, and quite succinctly sums up the isolating experience of loneliness. And, of course, it fitted in well with the Lonely People group in the story, and the idea that more people than you realise are struggling with feeling alone. 

Your day job as a journalist obviously involves a lot of writing, how easy is it to switch between researching for articles and writing fiction?

Switching between the two modes of writing isn’t something I find too difficult. They’re sufficiently different that my brain can easily differentiate them. The fact I go to an office for my day job and then write fiction at my desk at home also helps! The only real problem is time and tiredness – after a day of work, especially one that’s involved a lot of writing, the last thing I want to do is sit down at a computer and write some more, even if it is something different. So sometimes fiction has to wait. 

You’ve chaired a few panels at events in recent years, who were your favourite panellists and what would you love to chair next?

I’m going to give a cop out answer here and say I’ve loved everybody I’ve chaired – but it’s true. It was an honour to chair Melvin Burgess because he’s such a titan of YA fiction and listening to him talk is fascinating. Taran Matharu talks really eloquently about fantasy fiction, and Alice Oseman was also a delight to chair. 

I’d love to chair a panel of authors of really weird YA fiction – like Andrew Smith, Margo Lanagan, M. T. Anderson, authors that really push what YA can be. I think that would be really interesting.  

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I like a mix of both! A talk is a good way to introduce yourself and your books and talk about the things that really matter to you to hopefully get them thinking. But not many school kids want to be talked at for an hour straight, and doing workshops is a great way to keep them engaged and to encourage a love for reading and writing, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do. Young people are so creative, I think authors often get more out of the workshops than they do!


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

I’ve just (figuratively) cracked the new Alex Wheatle novel ‘Home Girl’, which is the next in his brilliant Crongton series. They’re such unique books, packed with the types of characters we don’t see enough in YA, and the writing is just brilliant. I’d recommend to pretty much anyone, but particularly to people who are cynical about YA and how tremendously powerful it can be. 

What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

In books? Better representation of marginalised voices, better coverage of children’s books in the national press, and for our libraries to be protected. In the world? For everything to be significantly less terrible.

I also wouldn’t mind All the Lonely People being a bestseller…

You won’t regret it!

Jason Reynolds – event review

I wasn’t able to attend the event that Waterstones Piccadilly hosted on Friday 30th November but I told a colleague about it, having recommended his books to her, and she jumped at the chance to go, saying “I couldn’t get Michelle Obama tickets but this will do!”. I asked her if she’d write a few words about the event for us (thankyou Tracey!)

Attending this author event was very different to most I have been to because Jason Reynolds didn’t actually read from his book For Every One, but had a conversation with the audience and Mark Maciver who chaired the talk. He spoke about his journey as a writer, his mother, travelling around England and meeting a few unicorns (basically Black British people who were young and wrote poetry). It was very clear that he was soaking up cultures, conversations and experiences on his book tour and he was definitely reflecting on how important it is to be truthful. A very poignant moment was when he described how he didn’t enjoy classic literature and his mother had said who actually made that a classic? This led onto him to simply saying that if you don’t see yourself and your life reflected in literature how can you engage with something so different to your life. Rap music was so important to him as a young man and that was never part of the literary narrative of any character in a book, so to take an interest in Shakespeare was not on the agenda. Once you engage with stories that you get, then you are open to new experiences and able to appreciate what others may see. His honesty about not knowing things that authors are supposed to know, such as what are semi-colons for – which obviously made the audience laugh – was truly refreshing. For Every One is probably the best book by Jason Reynolds to read first if you are not familiar with his work, as it is beautiful, poetic, accessible, and very short.


His other title recently published in the UK, Long Way Down, is on the current nominations list for both the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards – Carnegie for his writing and the Kate Greenaway for the wonderfully evocative illustrations by Chris Priestly. Knights Of will be publishing his 4 book middle grade series, The Run, next year.

The Third Degree with Julie Kagawa

When destiny calls, legends rise.

Every millennium the missing pieces of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers are hunted, for they hold the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish.

As a temple burns to the ground Yumeko escapes with its greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll. And when fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai she knows he seeks what she has. Kage is under order to kill those who stand in his way but will he be able to complete his mission? Will this be the dawn that sees the dragon wake?

I read Shadow of the Fox in two sittings a couple of weeks ago, so huge thanks to Nina for sending me a copy and giving me the chance to ask Julie Kagawa some questions as part of the blog tour! It is an engrossing read, I particularly liked just how the world was built with all the little details about food and clothes without getting bogged down in descriptions. The two main protagonists are great, I loved the humour in their interactions (even in very unfunny, potentially deadly circumstances) and as new characters were introduced they quickly came to life and fit into the story perfectly. It is a properly epic tale and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment of their adventures!

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

Since publishing your first book, The Iron King, in 2010, not a year has gone by without a new
title and/or the beginnings of a new series. Are they ideas that you have been polishing for
years, or have you simply not slept for the last 10 years?!
I’m constantly getting new ideas. Writing a book takes awhile, and once the excitement and
newness wears off, shiny new story ideas are bound to creep in. But since I can’t stop one story
to go write another, I keep them in a “new ideas” folder on my computer. I’ll type a few short
lines, either on characters, setting or plot, and file it away so it will be safe. That way, not only
will I not forget, I have a whole folder of new stories to be written once I’m done with my
current project.

After tackling fairies (not the cute ones), vampires, and dragons, why did the idea of
shapeshifters appeal next?
I love anime, and I especially love the legend of the kitsune. I actually wrote Shadow of the Fox
before the Iron Fey, but didn’t get it published until this year. The original version was an adult
fantasy, so I rewrote it as YA and the story is very different now. But I always loved that first
idea about a kitsune, so I’m thrilled that Shadow of the Fox is out in the world now.

Shadow of the Fox is the beginning of a new series that brings Japanese mythology to life. Did
you consider bringing it into a contemporary Western setting or was it always going to be in an
ancient land?
It was always going to be set in an ancient, mythological Japan, because the history, culture,
settings and architecture is beautiful and fascinating. I didn’t only want to write about
Japanese mythology, I wanted to write a book set in a land of samurai and ninja. Which is hard
to do in a contemporary Western setting.

How much research went into the customs and clothing you describe so vividly in the book? Are these largely based on reality?
A lot of the research that went into Shadow of the Fox comes from years and years of watching
anime and old samurai movies by Japanese directors. Movies like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo,
Thirteen Assassins and the like, are very helpful when it comes to clothing, buildings and
terrain. Years of watching anime has taught me a lot about Japanese folklore and legend, as
many mythological creatures like kitsune, oni and tanuki appear in anime a lot. But I’ve also
studied the history of Japan, especially around the Sengoku era, because that point in Japanese
history is where Shadow of the Fox is inspired.

Do you plan in advance how many books in a series? Have you decided what’s coming next?
I usually know how many books beforehand. I tend to like trilogies, so Shadow of the Fox will
have three books in the series. I just finished book two, Soul of the Sword, so now I’m onto
book three.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?
Right now I’m reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, and I’d recommend it to anyone
who loves fantasy, particularly if you like beautiful writing and almost surreal worlds.

Any plans to visit your UK based fans?
Not at the moment, but the year is nearly over, and who knows what the next year will bring?

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!
Thanks for having me!

‘Cultural Appropriation, Unconscious Bias and Colonial Aspects of Collections’ – YLG conference session

Anyone who has ever attended a professional conference knows that such events are a mix of the good (catching up with friends after one of you has moved on, being able to look round the room at other attendees and know that you share a passion for the same type of work, FREE STUFF), the bad (trying to sleep in an unfamiliar bed in a room next to the lifts, being reminded of the ever-increasing pressure of working in your field, endless queues for tea and coffee), and the ugly (a full buffet breakfast is inclusive but the packed schedule means you’ve no time to linger and enjoy the spread). Few aspects of the conference experience, however, are as dreaded as those two little words:

BREAKOUT SESSION.

The horror of potential interaction with our fellow attendees – being forced to participate in ice-breaker activities, being asked to share anecdotes, being close enough to the facilitator to make eye contact – nothing can make one break out into a cold sweat faster. Or maybe that’s just me?

It was, therefore, a relief to find that the first breakout session I attended at this year’s YLG Conference (Reading the Future, at the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly, 21-23 September 2018) required none of these things. Titled ‘Cultural Appropriation, Unconscious Bias and Colonial Aspects of Collections’, this session took the format of a panel discussion followed by a Q&A, introducing me to creators whose excellent work I had not previously encountered. Ably guided by academic Chloe Germaine Buckley, Senior Lecturer in English and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University, authors Candy Gourlay and Miriam Halahmy each introduced us to their most recent novels before engaging in a discussion of why and how, even nearly two decades into the 21st century, publishing and libraries still struggle to present readers with a choice of books that accurately reflect the enormous diversity and reality of the world in which we all live.

Buckley began the session by quoting some hard numbers, drawing from data collected and reported by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE): of the 9,115 children’s books published in the United Kingdom during 2017, a mere 391 – just four percent! – of these featured Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) characters. Even more shocking, over half of this paltry total were what is often referred to as ‘social issues’ books – giving the strong impression that BAME characters and lives aren’t thought of by many authors – and therefore, many readers – as ‘normal’, ‘mainstream’ or otherwise ‘unremarkable’, but rather disrupted by racism, violence, or other incidences of social disorder. After allowing a moment for the audience to fully absorb this information, Buckley introduced Miriam Halahmy, author of numerous books, poems and short stories for children, teens and adults.

Those who follow the Youth Libraries Group blog on the CILIP website may recall Halahmy’s recent opinion piece ‘What is on our Bookshelves’, in which she discussed her experience as Head of Special needs in a Camden secondary school during the period in the early 1980s when The Rampton Report ‘on the education of children from ethnic minorities’ was published. The recommendations of this report had far-reaching effects on, in particular, school libraries across the United Kingdom; librarians and teachers, horrified by the exaggerated and stereotyped depictions of children from non-Anglo backgrounds, discarded enormous numbers of books in their attempts to embrace a multicultural society, but often did not have the funds to adequately replace these castoffs with new books reflecting positive depictions of other cultures and peoples. Halahmy says that the question is often asked, is the lack of BAME representation today because ‘[her] generation of teachers threw them all away?’

Of course, the real answer is much more complicated; overcoming the current deficiency of representation will require the cooperation of authors, literary agents, publishers, media reviewers, readers and librarians. Halahmy is certainly doing her part: as a Jewish woman with four Polish grandparents, married to an Iraqi Jew, different languages and cultures (including Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic) have always been a part of her life – in her words, she ‘cannot help but write multicultural characters because this is the world I inhabit.’ Halahmy’s beliefs complement my own primary philosophy as a librarian – that all children deserve to be able to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book. Her newest book, Behind Closed Doors, is about two teenage girls on the verge of homelessness for very different reasons, and features a cast of characters from a range of backgrounds, including Black British schoolboy Dom and Japanese-American swimmer Jordan.

Next to speak was Filipino author Candy Gourlay, whose 2018 novel, Bone Talk, originated when the author was conducting research into Filipino immigration for a non-fiction book on the subject, and came across a photograph from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. This photo, depicting a woman dressed in the customary Edwardian fashion of the time, standing alongside a man naked but for a G-string, piqued her interest, for alongside the spectacular displays of scientific and technological progress – including the first electrical socket, incubator, x-ray machine and Ferris wheel – the sights advertised by the Fair’s organisers also included ‘exotic peoples’. Gourlay went on to explain how the subjects of these grotesque living exhibits included a number of displaced people; in this case, the man in the G-string was a Native Filipino, a member of a group of highland people known at the time as the Igorot – but better known to Americans as head-hunters. [Note: in my research for this piece, I learned that the exonym ‘Igorot’ is considered somewhat of a pejorative by the people whom it describes, and that the tribal people of the Cordillera region prefer a number of other terms; hereafter, I shall use the term ‘Cordillerans’.] A number of Cordillerans were brought to St Louis following the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), in anticipation of the World’s Fair; once there, the Native Filipinos duly reconstructed a mock village as part of the wildly popular ‘Philippine Exhibition’, in which they lived in plain view of gawking fairgoers, staging daily shows for the entertainment of their Western audiences.

Gourlay’s research into these people and how they came to be part of the 1904 World’s Fair took her from archives in St Louis all the way to the mountain provinces of the Philippines, where she made two important determinations. Firstly, the story of the Cordillerans was one she wanted to tell; secondly, although she herself is Filipino, this was not her story – and writing it as such would be cultural appropriation. Gourlay went on to clarify this point, saying that to an extent, ‘all fiction is cultural appropriation’; however, the problem with writing a story from the perspective of the Cordilleran people at the turn of the twentieth century is that no authentic record of their voices survives – only American versions. For this reason, although Bone Talk takes place amongst the Cordilleran community – specifically, the people of the Bontoc – it does so during the period of the Philippine-American War, thus enabling Gourlay to draw from those American chronicles of life amongst the Bontoc people at that time and thereafter as she constructed her work of fiction.

Gourlay’s mention of cultural appropriation reminded her audience of our reasons for attending this session in particular, and the subsequent discussion between the authors was fascinating, so much so that I must admit I rather abandoned my note-taking. Particular highlights, though, include:

  • Gourlay’s explanation of what she calls ‘The Lack’ – specifically, the something-that-is-missing at the beginning of every story, which is filled in over the course of the narrative – and how it is our job as librarians and authors to help promote authentic voices to fill that missing element;
  • Halahmy’s reminder that authors have to ‘murder [their] darlings’ – characters should have more purpose than just ‘representation’, and if not furthering the plot, they are just weighing it down; and
  • Gourlay’s discussion of how her writing critique group is made up of cisgender white people authors, and how she had to ‘knock back’ certain aspects of Bone Talk as a result.

Halahmy pointed out that ‘we are very much on the cusp of change’ in terms of elevating lesser-known voices within libraries and publishing, though there still exist ‘a lot of barriers to be broken down’. Gourlay concurred, going on to say that what will really help increase diversity is ‘not having diversity panels’ but instead making the effort to ‘move in the realms of the people you want to invite in’ to the conversation; Halahmy nodded in agreement, musing, ‘the number of book launches I go to where I’m the darkest person in the room…’ before declaring that ‘this is not a box-ticking exercise’, a statement that was met with applause, and brought the panel to a close.

I could not agree more with these sentiments. After nearly two decades of librarianship, I have learned that establishing diverse representation in my collections and avoiding (as much as possible) unconscious bias in my reading is only possible through hard work, constant education, and an open mind. As a white man – and an American one, at that! – stories about people like me have been front and centre for far too long; it is my responsibility to use the privileges afforded to me as a member of that demographic to elevate and promote the voices of those who may be overlooked, and who may struggle to find and connect with readers or books featuring people like themselves. I was still in grade school when Dr Rudine Sims Bishop, children’s literature scholar and Professor Emerita from The Ohio State University, published her seminal essay ‘Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors‘ (Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vol. 6, No. 3. Summer 1990), in which she introduced teachers, librarians and other educators to a framework with which we can build and foster multicultural literacy. Nearly three decades later, I firmly believe in Sims Bishop’s philosophy; our primary duty as librarians is to provide as many different mirrors and windows as possible, in order to enable all of our users to both see themselves reflected, and to learn about other cultures. Gauging by the number of my colleagues who attended this panel, I am not the only one.

As a first-year judge for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals, I was especially gratified to see so many of my fellow judges in attendance; frequent readers will recall that CILIP has recently released the final report summarising the Independent Review of the CKG undertaken from June 2017 and has, or will shortly be, implementing a number of changes to the process as a result of these findings. I feel enormously lucky to have joined the judging panel at this point in time, as the various training opportunities made available to us will be of great use to me both personally and professionally; indeed, I can already identify a subtle shift in how I evaluate this year’s nominated titles against the awards criteria. (Time spent on said evaluations – and the sheer scale of the 2019 nominations list – may explain why this piece is being published some two months after the annual conference. Oops?) My heartfelt thanks to Chloe Buckley, Candy Gourlay and Miriam Halahmy for their time in presenting this panel, to all of the conference organisers for a fantastic experience, and to Caroline Fielding for the extremely late submission of this report….

Emerson Milford Dickson

Emerson is a secondary school librarian living and working in NE London. He represents London as a judge for the 2019/20 CKG Medals, and tweets about libraries, politics, cats and more at @microfichetaco

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the ‘mirrors and windows’ theory to another individual, when in fact it is Dr Rudine Sims Bishop to whom we librarians owe a debt of gratitude for her lifetime of scholarship in the field of children’s literature. I wholeheartedly apologise for this error, which I hope will serve to remind all reading that no matter how much effort any of us may put into ‘getting it right’, our work is never truly done! – EMD 19/11/2018