Category Archives: Bame

Fight Back!

Aaliyah is an ordinary thirteen-year-old living in the Midlands. She’s into books, shoes and her favourite K-pop boy band. She has always felt at home where she lives … until a terrorist attack at a concert in her area changes everything. As racial tension increases, Aaliyah is bullied, but instead of hiding who she is, she decides to speak up and wear a hijab. She’s proud of her identity, and wants to challenge people’s misconceptions. But when her right to wear a hijab at school is questioned and she is attacked and intimidated, she feels isolated. Aaliyah discovers she’s not alone and that other young people from different backgrounds are also discriminated against because of their identity, and feel scared and judged. Should she try to blend in – or can she find allies to help her fight back? Channelling all of her bravery, Aaliyah decides to speak out. Together, can Aaliyah and her friends halt the tide of hatred rippling through their community?

An essential read to encourage empathy, challenge stereotypes, explore prejudice, racism, Islamophobia and inspire positive action.

A story of hope, speaking up and the power of coming together in the face of hatred.

#FightBack #FindYourVoice #OurVoicesAreStrongerTogether

A. M. Dassu

Boy, Everywhere, was such an astonishingly good debut that I have to admit I was quite worried about how Az might follow it up. I had the absolute pleasure of reading an early version of Fight Back! and was totally blown away by how good it is, and now that it has been polished it is even better. I’m very proud to have my quote in there:

I asked a few questions of our esteemed author:

Your 2 novels (+1 short chapter book) have very different protagonists! Does the character come to you first or the plot? Yes, they are so different! I think the plot always comes first. Although Sami definitely came to me with a loose plot for him in mind. And Aaliyah formed in my head because this time I wanted an upbeat, feisty character who you’d connect to but also hopefully make you laugh through the way she observed things. But with both books, my characters had something they had to say and that needed to be more widely discussed.

I’m so impressed with how you’re able to include so many “issues”, helping young* (*& old…frankly everyone needs to read your books to bolster their empathy) readers to understand at the same time as keeping them engaged with a brilliant story. Is there anything you’ve really struggled with making accessible? Thank you! I thought Boy, Everywhere would be the hardest book I’d write, but actually I found writing Fight Back so hard because the themes are challenging and painful. Adults tend to think that young people don’t think about what’s happening in the news, but sadly the ripple effects of events in the news can be far reaching and when writing, I kept in mind that there are children all over the world experiencing the same prejudice Aaliyah does. And that was simultaneously a struggle but also motivating.

What advice would you give to a girl considering beginning to wear the hijab to school? Ooh! Hold your head high. Be proud to be different, be your best self and take each day as it comes.

You’ve written non-fiction as well, how different is your research and writing process? What do you prefer to write? Interestingly, the process is so similar. Of course writing fiction is much more fun but also in some ways more stressful as you don’t want to make things up about a character from a particular background that might stereotype them or harm them. It’s about finding a fine balance of a plot that is gripping that is still based on fact. I do a lot of research! With non-fiction I can check facts via books or websites and I can trust that references are sound, but with fiction I go beyond this and ask people for their views and experiences – it feels like a bigger responsibility and always lies heavy on my heart. And even though Fight Back is own voices, I still had to do the same amount of research as I did for Boy, Everywhere, which surprised me. Again, I wanted to ensure the story was nuanced, where readers would feel seen and also perhaps discover something and so my editing process meant I double checked my research and cried a lot (writing and editing makes writers cry, part of the job).

I know you’ve done a number of virtual school visits with ‘Boy, Everywhere’, have you thought about what you’d like to do with students in person for ‘Fight Back’? I have already planned them! In the Fight Back workshops I’ll ask students to engage in an activity exploring identity, and we will discuss how you can help someone being bullied/discriminated against because of their identity or because they’re different. We will explore what it means to be an ally and the importance of coming together in the face of discrimination and ways to support those that are being bullied/discriminated against. We might even look at the United Nations  Convention on the Rights of a Child  to express themselves.

As well as your own writing, you’re also a director of Inclusive Minds, how did you get involved with them? Inclusive Minds is a unique organisation for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children’s literature. We have a big network of Inclusion Ambassadors from across the country with diverse lived experiences of race, ethnicities, disability, neurodivergence, LGBTQIA+ etc. I connected with the founders a few years ago at a conference and soon became an ambassador. Then in 2019 they asked if I’d be interested in taking over from them and despite me just having signed my first book deal, I couldn’t say no. It was a brilliant opportunity to help amplify our ambassador’s voices at events, ensure they get paid and give them the chance to work with publishers to check if books being published are authentic and accurate.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? Oh my goodness, I picked up my proof of The Midnighters by Hana Tooke the other night and I am hooked. I’m only five chapters in but it is so sumptuously written I must finish it. I think it’ll be a classic! It’s perfect for middle grade and adults too (of course).

Are you working on anything that you can tell us about? I have some extremely exciting news that I can’t talk about but let’s just say you’ll all meet Sami and Ali again. The Boy, Everywhere spin off is going to happen in a number of ways!
I am also plotting my next standalone novel and this time it will be a dual narrative – two characters who couldn’t be more different, a girl and a boy. It’s nothing like anything I’ve written before and I am so excited to write it! Please just send me some time!

A. M. DASSU is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere, which has been listed for 25 awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, nominated for the Carnegie Medal, is the 2021 winner of The Little Rebels Award for Radical Fiction and is also an American Library Association Notable Book. A. M. Dassu writes books that challenge stereotypes, humanise the “other” and are full of empathy, hope and heart. Her latest novel, Fight Back has just been published by Scholastic and A. M. Dassu is currently touring the country signing as many copies in as many bookshops as she can!

Fight Back! is published in the UK this week by Scholastic

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms

Percy Jackson meets Black Panther – this blockbuster middle-grade adventure is perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers.

Cameron Battle grew up reading The Book of Chidani, cherishing stories about the fabled kingdom that cut itself off from the world to save the Igbo people from danger. Passed down over generations, the Book is Cameron’s only connection to his parents, who disappeared one fateful night two years ago.

Ever since, his grandmother has kept the Book locked away, but it calls to Cameron. When he and his best friends, Zion and Aliyah, decide to open it again, they are magically transported to Chidani. Instead of a land of beauty and wonder, they find a kingdom in extreme danger, as the queen’s sister seeks to destroy the barrier between worlds. The people of Chidani have been waiting for the last Descendant to return and save them … Is Cameron ready to be the hero they need?

Inspired by West African and Igbo history and mythology, this adventure-filled fantasy introduces readers to Cameron Battle as he begins his journey to greatness.

Bloomsbury

CAMERON BATTLE AND THE HIDDEN KINGDOMS is a classic, exciting, fantasy adventure, with a beautiful friendship at its heart. The reflections on slavery are thoughtful, as Cameron learns the history of his family and their relationship to The Book and the kingdom of Chidani, magically hidden from the world, when he and his two best friends get pulled into Chidani and find themselves on a dangerous quest! My very favourite thing about the book is the relationship between Cameron and Zion: I just loved reading about life-long friends who defend one another to the hilt, support each other when they’re scared, and clearly show how much they love one another through words and actions – with all of that you’d think Aliyah might seem like a third wheel but she plays an important role in the trio and I couldn’t imagine the book without her.

You lucky people can read an extract of the first two chapters here:

If you need to know what happens next you’re in luck, as it is published today, the day the UK celebrates World Book Day! I always say that any book published on such an auspicious day has to be brilliant…

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms

Mark My Words

Fifteen-year-old Dua Iqbal has always had trouble minding her own business. With a silver-tongue and an inquisitive nature, a career in journalism seems fated. When her school merges with another, Dua seizes her chance and sets up a rival newspaper, exposing the controversial stories that teachers and the kids who rule the school would rather keep buried.

Dua’s investigations are digging up things she shouldn’t get involved with about family, friends and her community and as exams rattle towards her, she needs to make some hard decisions about when to leave things alone. But when she discovers that some kids at school are being blamed for selling drugs when the real perpetrator is right in front of their noses, she can’t keep quiet any longer.

Macmillan Kids

Muhammed Khan writes such great voices! I’ve talked about his previous two YA novels on the blog before, Ilyas from KICK THE MOON is still one of my favourite fictional teens and I loved the nod to him in MARK MY WORDS, Khan’s newly published high-school based thriller. Khan’s characters make mistakes and sometimes do the wrong thing, Dua is no exception, but they all care deeply about their friends and family and community and always want to make things better. In that, I think they’re very real teenagers, and even if the reader can’t see themselves in the main protagonist they will recognise the well developed side characters and empathise. I’d love to hear the reactions of students from both state and private schools!

I was given the opportunity to ask a few questions as part of the blog tour (see banner below for the rest of the tour):

As a teacher, have you worked in a Minerva or Bodley?

Yes! Covid made me realise I couldn’t afford to be a full-time author and I was really missing the classroom environment. Before I got my current post, I dipped my toe in supply teaching. I got a different school every day and the contrast really jumped out at me. I thought it would be a fascinating dichotomy for a YA novel. Thus, Minerva and Bodley were born!

Dua often thinks about her faith, never doubting it, did you talk to young hijabi women to help with the voice?

I grew up around hijabi women, and a number of my students wear the hijab too, so I was passionate about getting the representation right. I had lots of interesting conversations. Macmillan also got a number of sensitivity readers to make sure the characterisation felt believable.

So many things that can affect young people are broached in the book, what was most important for you to get across?

The story always comes first in my books. Teenagers hate to be preached at. Having said that I hope young people will feel inspired by Dua and her friends to speak out whenever they see wrong and not give up if they are not heard but to have the strength to keep going. We shouldn’t underestimate peer pressure or drugs culture.

Are any of your characters based on students or colleagues?

Definitely! I’m always amazed and inspired by my students and their passions. Dua is based on a few girls I’ve taught who had a level of bravery I could only have dreamed of as a teen. Hugo is based on a student I met at a very posh school.

Sadly, Dua’s mum’s story is also based in reality. In my years of teaching, I’ve heard a number of harrowing stories from colleagues facing discrimination. The power imbalance is something people are finally starting to speak up about without serious recriminations. But there’s lots more to do!

Have you thought about including covid restrictions in a future novel?

I’ve thought about it but I’m kind of hoping, like everyone else, that the restrictions will be over soon!

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

My students have got me into manga in a big way. I’m currently reading Kimetsu No Yaiba (Demon Slayer) by Koyoharu Gotouge. Such a great read with wonderful characters and brilliant world building. I recommend it to every lover of fantasy and horror.

MARK MY WORDS by Muhammad Khan is out now in paperback (£7.99, MCB)

When Shadows Fall

Kai, Orla and Zak grew up together, their days spent on the patch of wilderness in between their homes, a small green space in a sprawling grey city. Music, laughter and friendship bind them together and they have big plans for their future – until Kai’s family suffers a huge loss.

Trying to cope with his own grief, as well as watching it tear his family apart, Kai is drawn into a new and more dangerous crowd, until his dreams for the future are a distant memory. Excluded from school and retreating from his loved ones, it seems as though his path is set, his story foretold. Orla, Zak and new classmate Om are determined to help him find his way back. But are they too late?

Little Tiger

I am a big fan of everything that Sita Brahmachari has written, and interviewed her last year for When Secrets Set Sail, so I was expecting WHEN SHADOWS FALL to be good but I didn’t realise it would be a beautiful object as well! Told in prose and verse and annotation, with the illustrations by Natalie Sirett an integral part of telling the story.

Illustrations (c), Natalie Sirett (2021), from When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari,
published by Little Tiger, 11 November 2021 (Hardback, £12.99, 9781788953160)

There is a formal blog tour starting on the 15th November (details at the bottom of the page), but I snuck under the radar and got an exclusive piece from Sita about the background to creating the book:

‘Let me tell you a story’….

So began a play I worked on called Lyrical MC some years ago for Tamasha Theatre Company. Myself and the director worked with a group of young people exploring Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in the contexts of their own lives. It ended up being a play that was about living in an island culture in the middle of an urban city. It explored the sounds of the city for them and how it felt to be negotiating life today at school and at home. It was a piece of theatre that enjoyed the musicality and interplay of the young people’s voices as they mediated each other’s realities, histories and identities in a fluid interplay.

I have never seen a great fissure between my community theatre work and writing novels for young people. When I set out to write When Shadow’s Fall I remembered a young woman I met in a unit for excluded teenagers in Ladbroke Grove. She was a fantastic young actress and storyteller but already completely switched off reading and education at the age of fourteen. It wasn’t until she started to write her own script and saw other actors reading it and paying attention to her words that reading became interesting to her. Another young actor reading out her words asked if he could change something and she became agitated saying, No! I put a lot of thinking into those words. You have to work at them to find the meaning!

Kai is the author sitting on the Green Hill writing his story – ‘When Shadows Fall’ – even he seems surprised that this is what he has done… that he, who was excluded from school, could become the author of his own story and yet this is what he finds himself doing.

Over the years, I have mentored many young people to help them with their writing. The process of finding your voice (in writing as Kai does) In art (as Omid does) and in speaking out (as Orla does) is a powerful one.

When readers open When Shadows Fall I hope the creative form of the book with its annotations, poetry, prose and art portfolio and testimony will lead readers and aspiring writers to take up the pen, charcoal or paintbrush and begin their own story.

When Shadows Fall is out now! Thank you Little Tiger for the review copy, Nina Douglas for organising the piece for TeenLibrarian, and Sita for writing it!

The Royal Rebel

Born in 1876, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab, and goddaughter of Queen Victoria. After her father lost control of his empire and was exiled to England, Sophia had a privileged but troubled upbringing that left her unsure about where she belonged – in India or England. Sensitive to injustice, she became an suffragette and fought hard to win the vote for women. This is the extraordinary story of her life.

Barrington Stoke
artwork by Rachael Dean

Bali Rai has such a range when it comes to writing, he really has done something for just about every reader, but I have a soft spot for his Barrington Stoke titles, I reviewed his previous one, STAY A LITTLE LONGER, here. Barrington Stoke titles are a little bit special because there is not a word wasted, they’re written to engage and not patronise children and young people. This particular book, THE ROYAL REBEL, is based on the real life story of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who led an extraordinary life. I was filled with sadness reading it, about how affected her life was by British colonialism and politics, but she was a fascinating character and Bali Rai’s writing from her perspective has really brought her to life.

I asked Bali Rai a few questions!

What prompted you to write about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh?

My family is Sikh, so I had known the story of Sophia’s grandfather, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, and of her father, Duleep Singh, since childhood. However, I had never been told of the role Sophia played. So, when I discovered who she was and her role within the Suffragette movement, I was determined to bring her story to younger readers. I am passionate about representing unheard voices in British literature and always have been.

Has your research led you to any other figures in history that you would like to write about?

Yes, I learned of the roles played by the Royal Indian Army Service Corps at Dunkirk, and Mohinder Singh Pujji (RAF) during World War 2. I have written about both. The next figure I want to write about is an Indian revolutionary called Udham Singh, whose story is much darker, but just as important. There are many unheard voices throughout British history, and I hope to write about many more.

You’ve written in a wide range of genres, is writing a historical novel a very different process to that of writing about contemporary characters? Do you favour one over the other?

My main genre is reality based fiction, so the research involved in writing historical fiction is very different. I actually enjoy the historical research more than the contemporary stuff. I’ve always loved history and like nothing more than getting stuck into research. It’s often time-consuming but always worthwhile. We can learn a great deal about where we are now, based on what came before us.

You’ve written a number of books for Barrington Stoke, as well as longer novels, for middle grade and YA audiences. How do you choose which of your ideas to use for the shorter novellas and for what target age?

I generally think of an idea, and work on that with my agent and the editors at Barrington Stoke. That’s most true of the more contemporary stories I’ve written for them. The Royal Rebel was only possible because of that partnership (I reworked the idea several times) and it’s a collective effort that I value highly. The age range doesn’t really enter into my head. I have a voice that I want to write, and a theme to explore – and the target age and reading level are determined by the amazing people at Barrington Stoke. Since my first books for them, Dream On, it’s been a team effort, and it’s a process I love to be part of. Barrington Stoke are wonderful publishers, doing something vitally important.

Which of your books are your favourite to do events for?

My younger historical fiction books are now firm favourites for events. The response to them has been amazing. And much as I adore working with older teens, there’s something even more wonderful about introducing diverse British history to KS2 and KS3 pupils. The levels of enthusiasm for the events just add to that pleasure.

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

I’m currently reading lots of non-fiction about the British Empire, for a new young adult series I’d like to write. The last children’s book I read was How I Saved The World In A Week by Polly Ho-Yen. I’d recommend that to anyone who loves imaginative and thrilling adventure stories. It’s brilliant and Polly is a superb writer!

What can we expect from you next?

I have a junior series for Reading Planet out soon, called Green Patrol, and a short novel called Wolf Girl. I’m currently researching and working on a new young adult idea, and also a new World War 2 story with British Indian characters. Oh, and I’m reworking an older adventure series idea, in the hope of showing that to an editor at Penguin.

THE ROYAL REBEL is out now from Barrington Stoke, thank you to them for a review copy and to Bali Rai for answering my questions, I’m really excited to see more about your next ventures!

Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win. Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—an anniversary that has everyone in his family on edge. After reading his uncle’s journal from that time, Yusuf feels like he almost understands what that nationwide fear and anger felt like. But when certain people in town start to say hateful things to Yusuf and his community, he realizes that the anger hasn’t gone away. And soon he will have to find the courage to stand up to the bullies, with understanding, justice, and love.

Saadia Faruqi

I really enjoyed Saadia Faruqi’s previous middle grade book, A Thousand Questions, so was very happy to host an interview with her for the blog tour for her new title, Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero.

Why did you decide to write about the attacks of September 11, 2001, knowing that your readers may
not care about an event that happened so long before their births?

The events of 9/11 and everything that happened afterwards – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the
changes to regulations of airport security, the suspicion of anyone who was “different” – were so
monumental that they literally changed the world. It was worrying to me that an entire generation of
readers were not too concerned about this event even though their lives too were affected by it in a
myriad of ways. Although generally young readers find it hard to connect with historical events, 9/11
was different for two reasons: it was very much alive in the mind of readers’ parents and grandparents;
and it affected how many of the readers and their families were treated in their communities. That’s
why I decided to write a book about the last twenty years and showcase history in a very contemporary
context for children.

Are any of the characters in Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero inspired by real people?

Every author puts pieces of themselves or people they know in the books they write. None of the
characters in this book is based on a single person, but there are some parts of me and my family and
friends in them. Even the main villain Trevor Grant is based on a pretty horrible person I once met! Yusuf
himself is a little like my son at that age – sweet and nerdy and just trying to go through life without
attracting any attention. He was also treated unfairly and unkindly by his classmates and teachers when
he was younger, and it’s very much affected his behavior in small ways. So I definitely had that in mind
as I was writing Yusuf’s scenes… just that feeling of uncertainty and discomfort. I love putting the nicest
characters into situations that test them, which is what happens to Yusuf and his friends.

This book is mostly contemporary, based in current times with mention of the pandemic and white
supremacist groups and so much more. Yet there’s also twenty-year-old journal entries. How did you
manage that balance of time periods?

I decided to set the main story in current times because I know young readers identify better with
contemporary settings. They want to know why they should read a story, what’s the pull for them? I also
didn’t want to write a historical novel because in my mind 9/11 isn’t really a historical event, even
though it’s twenty years old. It’s current because there are millions of people feeling it’s repercussions
all over the world even today, whether it’s because a family member is in the army in Afghanistan, or
they’re a Muslim boy who gets teased in school, or they’re randomly selected for additional screening
every time they enter an airport. So I knew I wanted to base this story very firmly in the present, to
showcase the rise of intolerance, of white nationalism, and all the horrible ways outsiders are treated
every single day. The journal entries are written every three chapters, as a window into the world
twenty years ago, and in very strategic ways they draw parallels to the action in the contemporary part
of the story.

Many readers are not aware of how Muslims were treated after the attacks of September 11. As a
Muslim, did you experience any of the prejudices described in this book?

I was in college when the attacks happened, and immediately after I escaped notice because I didn’t
look visibly Muslim. I didn’t wear the hijab, which was a huge red flag for people in those days – and still
is. But in the years after the attacks, as I grew more confident about my religious and cultural identity,
including wearing the hijab, I certainly faced prejudice from my coworkers, neighbors, parents of my
kids’ friends… the list is endless and exhausting. I also saw many of my family go through these things,
and it was obvious that anybody who was “other” was being targeted. It only made me more firm in my
belief that we needed to talk about these issues, describe what was happening, so that we could make
changes.

This is a book with emotionally heavy topics. How did you ensure that it was appropriate and
understandable for younger readers?

Yusuf Azeem definitely has emotionally charged scenes. A lot of pretty awful things happen to Yusuf and
his friends and family in the book. I didn’t want to shy away from that trauma because I wanted to show
reality, and I know readers are brave enough and curious enough to want to know the truth. I also want
readers who go through bullying to know that they’re not alone. However, overall this book isn’t a sad
book. There are jokes and laughter, funny characters who bring comedic relief. There is an intense
robotics competition and a robot called Miss Trashy. Overall, there is a hopeful ending as Yusuf’s
community rallies together and helps him, and showcases ways that one can be an ally to others.

What do you want readers to do after reading Yusuf Azeem?

I’d like readers to learn more about 9/11 from a variety of perspectives. I’d also like them to discuss this
topic from the adults in their lives – parents, teachers, family friends – to understand what it was like in
those days. Also ask adults if they know about the discrimination faced by the Muslim community. They
will be surprised to know that many adults are also unaware of the far-reaching repercussions of 9/11.
Talking about these repercussions is the first step to healing and making changes.

You’ve written books for children of all ages, specifically the popular Yasmin series. Which category do
you like to write best?

I love writing for all ages. Each of my books has a slightly different aim and purpose. The Yasmin books
are about a little girl from an immigrant family, doing everyday things at school and in her
neighborhood. These stories help give young readers the confidence they need, while also teaching
about tolerance and welcoming communities. Yasmin is based on my own daughter, so that may be one
of my favorite characters ever! On the other hand, my middle grade novels like Yusuf Azeem Is Not A
Hero focus on real-world challenges that children face when they look different, or when their families
and culture are seen as “other”. These books are about allyship, and as such they have a special place in
my heart as well.

Overlooking Problematic Content is a Feature, not a Bug

Kate Clanchy’s memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me is an award-winning book that has received rave reviews, New Statesman called it refreshing, The Guardian thought that people like Clanchy are needed to keep liberal ideals alive, The Times called it inspiring and uplifting, The Sunday Times deemed it inspiring, moving and funny.

Philip Pullman said that it is: The best book on teachers and children and writing that I’ve ever read. No-one has said better so much of what so badly needs saying. I want to see this book become a bestseller, I want to see it in every staffroom, I want to see it read by every student teacher. This is a wonderful achievement.

In 2020 Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me won the 2020 Orwell Prize for Political Writing

Then in 2021 on twitter Kate Clanchy alleged that Goodreads reviewer Ceridwen had made-up quotes from her book in their review.

Things went downhill rapidly from there!

Unfortunately, whenever people have received near universal acclaim & praise for their work they can react poorly when they encounter someone who says “whoa there is a problem here” and this is exactly what happened!

Instead of giving a blow by blow account what occurred, I will recommend that you read Beth Bhargava’s comprehensive write-up of what happened over at Bad Form Review here. I will just say that I was bitterly disappointed by a number of authors whose work I have previously enjoyed.

Like Public Libraries, Publishing is a majority white profession, both of which can be difficult to break in to, as many opening positions are notoriously low-paid. I could not help but compare what is happening with Kate Clanchy’s book with what happened with the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals in 2017 where it took people of colour to start asking why no-one who was not white had won either of the awards in over 80 years and a big push from them and allies to start the process to effect change.

Kate Clanchy issued a statement on August 6th which caused more consternation and upset. Picador, KC’s publisher released three statements on the 6th, 9th and 11th, The Orwell Foundation issued a brief statement denying responsibility of what their external judges did, and Philip Pullman released an ‘apology’ on the 10th.

No mention was made by anyone at the centre about the vile language and threats directed against Professor Sunny Singh, Chimene Suleyman & Monisha Rajesh three of the highest profile people that stepped up to offer honest critiques of Clanchy’s work and challenge the racist rhetoric that was springing up in the discussion.

The end result of the storm of protest is that Kate Clanchy will rewrite portions of her work to remove the racist and ableist stereotypes contained in the original.

Systemic racism does not require that those working within the system to be racist; in publishing like libraries, is made up mostly of good, well-intentioned (white) people who do their best but miss many signs that what they are working on may be harmful to minority groups. Unfortunately, most white people lack the insights and cultural knowledge to identify problematic work and content. Even after an outcry those who ‘have learned’ from the criticism are often rewarded, while still excluding those that were harmed.

It should not fall to People of Colour to fight for systemic change on their own, no matter where it happens – in libraries, in publishing, or elsewhere if someone says that something is harming them and their community we need to stand with them and fight to make a meaningful change.

We (white people) have benefitted from systemic racism for hundreds of years, we are complicit even when we fight against it, and we should fight against it – we lose nothing if those that are disadvantaged gain the privileges that we currently enjoy.

It is often said that When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, but this is something we need to stamp out of our psyches and instead embrace the need for true equality.

Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines

Transform and recycle household objects into your very own home-made toys and machines!

Learn about the centre of gravity by making a balancing bird, create a toroidal vortex with a smoke-ring machine, and turn a spoon into an electromagnet. Chances are you won’t need to buy the materials required for these machines because they’re all in your house right now. Every child can be an engineer with the help of Mr Shaha and his marvellous machines.

Written by a science teacher and dad, Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines is the highly anticipated sequel to Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder. This book gives clear, step-by-step instructions for over 15 projects. Whether you’re a master engineer or a total beginner, it will spark inspiration for fun activities to engage young people in the marvels of machinery.

Scribe Publications
Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines, illustrated by Emily Robertson

I follow Alom Shaha on twitter and really appreciate how keen he is for families to play together to develop a passion for science and technology. Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder is a great book so, when I saw that he had a new title coming, I asked him a few questions:

Do you have a favourite project in the book?

My favourite project in the book is probably the Rubber-band Racer. I think it was the first activity I knew I would include in the book because it just met all my criteria for a “marvellous machine” – it’s made of stuff most people will have lying around the house, is relatively straightforward to build, illustrates some sort of scientific principle, and, above all, elicits a sense of utter joy when you’ve successfully got it working.

This is your second published book, after Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder. Why do you think it is so important that families engage with science and technology, learning at home?

This is actually the third book of mine to be published! My first was “The Young Atheist’s Handbook” which was published in the UK, Australia, and in a Turkish translation. There was even a successful campaign by Humanists UK to raise money to send it to every secondary school library in the UK. But to answer your question, I think it’s important for families to engage with STEM learning at home because I believe strongly that science can enrich our lives as much as literature, art, or music can, when we approach it in a way that is appropriate to our own needs and wants. There’s also research that suggests strongly that parental attitudes towards science plays a key role in children’s success, or lack of it, in science at school. I don’t think parents should leave their children’s first encounters with science education to schools – I want to encourage parents to become their children’s first science teachers. Parents are usually the ones who introduce their children to reading, numbers, painting and drawing, playing music and so on, and I wanted to give them the confidence and tools to do the same with science. 

As a science teacher, what is your favourite part of the curriculum?

Oh, that’s a tough one. I’d have to say that I love teaching all the ideas that generate a sense of awe and wonder in my students, from the counterintuitive nature of Newton’s First Law to the mindboggling fact that we can know, with a high degree of confidence, what stars are made of, and how they work.

In an ideal world, what kind of events would you want to do with children, and what age groups?

I love doing family workshops with primary aged children. I ran many when promoting “Recipes for Wonder”, and plan to do the same with “Marvellous Machines”. It’s really satisfying to watch parents and their children work together to do the activities in my books. 

Library staff will appreciate your desire to get the book into the hands of those who can’t afford to buy it. Other than libraries stocking it, what would you like to see people do to promote its use?

I’m going to release videos of the activities from the book on my YouTube Channel, “Mr Shaha’s Books” (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcv9_0EdBq0Xi4n_wJe4NCA), so that the message and ideas from the book are freely available. I’d love to see people sharing these videos, and perhaps their own videos of the activities, through their social media and other networks.

Alom sent me a picture of the introduction, which is a wonderful explanation for why the book exists, and shows some more of the wonderful illustrations by Emily Robertson that really bring it all to life:

The text can be read more clearly on his blog here

Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines is published on 8th July, it is aimed at 5-12year olds and their families, so Bea and I are looking forward to having a go at making some contraptions!

Alom Shaha, photo credit: Ed Prosser

The Lightning Catcher

Alfie has noticed a few things since his family moved to Folding Ford. He really misses life in the city. He and his sister don’t exactly fit in here. But the most interesting one is that the weather is BONKERS. One frost-covered branch on one tree in the middle of June? A tiny whirlwind in a bucket in the garden? Only in Folding Ford.

Armed with his bike, a notepad and his new best mate Sam, Alfie is going to investigate. His best clue is Nathaniel Clemm … the only thing in town weirder than the weather. When Alfie ‘investigates’ Mr Clemm’s garden, only SLIGHTLY illegally, he finds a strange box that freezes his trainers and makes his teeth tingle. And when he opens it, only SLIGHTLY deliberately, SOMETHING gets out. Something fast, fizzing and sparking with electricity and very, very much alive. But the creature from the box brings trouble of its own, and as barometers and tempers go haywire in Folding Ford, Alfie finds himself at the centre of a perfect storm.
Skellig meets Stranger Things in this funny, heartfelt adventure story perfect for fans of Ross Welford, Christopher Edge and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Bloomsbury
Cover illustration by Paddy Donnelly

I loved THE LIGHNTING CATCHER! An absolutely brilliant debut, really imaginative sci-fi for MG+ with brilliant characters and some unexpected turns. I asked Clare Weze some questions and her answers are wonderfully insightful, so I’m not going to say anything else (except that: if you have the opportunity to invite an author in to do a creative writing session, I love her idea and want to come along)!

What gave you the idea of creating living weather (basically) for a story?

This is such a lovely question, because from an early age I’ve loved weather, so I was probably waiting for an opportunity to use inspiration arising from our own increasingly bizarre weather. But the idea came to me in stages rather than all at once. The isolation of the setting (based on aspects of the house I live in now) encouraged wild and unpredictable weather, but it wasn’t until I had the character that things started to gel. Because he was a curious, intrepid and somewhat contrary character, he went trespassing. The plot couldn’t have unfolded in my mind without that event, because it set off a unique chain. When he opened that box and let something loose, it gave me the perfect opportunity to have a creature that created its own weather systems. So rather than reverse-engineer a situation that would suit a creature like that, everything grew organically from playing around with a character in a setting.

Did you always intend to write for a middle grade audience, or did Alfie and the plot evolve that way?

The middle grade age has always been my favourite, not only to write for but to engage with in all ways. I particularly enjoyed being with my own children at that age. Pre-teens have such clever and original ideas, and their language use is funny and inspiring. And of all the ages I’ve been myself, that age felt the most magical in terms of the possibilities of the world, and even the universe. You get glimpses of what certain aspects of the natural world and the world of people might mean, but you don’t always get the full facts, so your mind joins the dots and comes up with something new and fun (even if it’s sometimes completely wrong!). That’s why that age felt, to me, like really living your best life. Perhaps when we’re that age, we carry that sense of ‘living in the moment’ into the worlds we inhabit when we read a book, and that’s why middle grade books feel so real and plausible to their readers.  

I find middle grade writing very freeing in terms of what can be explored. As long as you clarify things and don’t let the plot hang around, the sky’s the limit. Ordinary things can be explored afresh, and when they’re put next to extraordinary things, something new and exciting arrives.

Which is your favourite of Clemm’s menagerie?

I need two favourites, please! Lysander the hornbill is curious and cheeky, and he taps into Lily’s mood so perfectly, but I also have a big soft spot for Julia, the accidentally hairless cat. I also love the fact that Clemm has sacrificed almost everything for his conservation cause. His farm is falling down around his ears because instead of working hard to build up his finances, he’s been abroad looking for animals in distress.

Towards the end it takes quite a dark turn, with Alfie having been mistrusted by the “locals” in the small village the family have moved to, without overtly telling the reader that he was stereotyped because of his race. What led you to not be explicit about tension being caused by racism?

A lot of racism these days is covert and consists of gaslighting, so I thinks it’s fitting for the suspicions circling Alfie to follow this zeitgeist. I didn’t want to centre this particular book around race explicitly – to give it top billing – because Alfie’s exciting adventure is the main event.

It’s always nice to leave a few gaps between the lines so readers can insert their own meaning, their own interpretations, as that can be a richer experience. So with Mr Lombard in particular, his motivations can be however you choose to interpret them, because in real life, we only get to see what people show us.

The book set ups many questions about Mr Lombard’s motives. I suspect he wouldn’t view himself as racist. He might even be one of those people who thinks racism’s gone extinct, and he’s going after Alfie purely because of his audacity and rule-breaking. He’s certainly a busybody. Race might be a convenient peg for him to hang his prejudices on, but there’s always the alternative viewpoint. He could have mistrusted any incomer who’d been trespassing. The book might have worked with a white character who acted in the way Alfie did, but would Lombard have made it into such a vendetta with any other child? It’s interesting to go back and forth in this way. There’s quite a philosophical conundrum there. When someone from an ethnic minority does something slightly wrong, are they targeted because they stand out more, or is there less leeway given?

As for the other people in the village, the rumour mill is fascinating, and it doesn’t take much to get it going in small places. Racism is so complex, and it’s only getting more so as time goes on. I doubt even the most dyed-in-the-wool racist really has a firm grasp on why they’re acting that way.

I was interested in Alfie’s learning curve regarding all this, because coming from the particular area of the city he used to live in, he’d never really experienced being quite so conspicuous before. His detective cover is ruined; basically, he has no cover! His attempts at covert surveillance are therefore quite funny and touching.

Alfie and his family have moved because of his sister’s eating disorder, triggered by bullying at her old school, almost a whole storyline in itself and the main reason his parents are distracted. Did you find it harder to write these realistic scenes or the fantastical adventure side?

Both had their tricky aspects. The fantastical side probably wins the hardest label, because although it made sense in my head, there’s always the worry that it won’t transfer. I was dedicated while writing Lily, though, because I don’t think that particular kind of eating disorder gets much attention. You’re upset and traumatised, so your appetite disappears – without an appetite, there isn’t enough saliva being made, and you’re trying to chew dry food. It’s fairly common after a trauma. I thought it would be interesting to look at the consequences of bullying, the ‘next chapter’ of the part of Lily’s story that began in their former home.

In a perfect world, what kind of events would you like to do with young readers to get them interested in science and literature?

I would like to do an event where I give young readers some of my notes for The Lightning Catcher, which contain additional details for the science, and get them to formulate their own questions about everything involved. I’d also be interested in talking about where Alfie goes from here and whether he pursues science or detective work in his later teenage years. There are always more notes and ideas than a book has room for, so it would be nice to talk over some of the aspects that didn’t find space, which would be an interesting combination of science and literature for the event.

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

I’ve just started Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant. It appealed to me because the opening promised quirky characters and a fast-paced adventure, and the writing style is lovely and lyrical. There are orphans, and people helping each other, and others chasing them, and lots of animals, which sounds like my perfect read!

Have you plans for any more children’s books?

Yes, I’m writing my second children’s book for Bloomsbury right now! It’s about a London girl sent to live with her grandparents by the sea after her family are evicted from their home. She’s traumatised by the separation from her parents and school friends, but sees a boy in the sea who is never seen on land. An adventure begins, and the way she feels about home starts to change.

After that, I have outlines and notes for five more children’s books.

Thank you so much, Teen Librarian! These have been lovely, thought-provoking questions.

Thank you, Clare, for your brilliant, thoughtful answers! THE LIGHNTING CATCHER is out now in the UK and I’m really looking forward to what comes next! Huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending a review copy and to Beatrice Cross for facilitating this interview.

Silence is Not an Option

Silence is Not an Option is the first book by Stuart Lawrence – the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence who tragically died in an unprovoked attack on 22 April 1993. The book is interspersed with reflections on his brother Stephen’s life and murder as well as the tools that have helped him live positively and kept him moving forwards when times have been tough. An inspiring read directed at younger readers (aged 10 +) Stuart’s aim is to use his
own experience to help young people – to help all people – find their own voice, stand up for change, and contribute towards creating a more positive society.
Stuart is determined to ensure that children today understand the impact of their actions against others and the importance of inclusion through teaching tolerance and celebrating difference. He has a background in education – working as a teacher for over 15 years – and is now a motivational speaker and youth engagement specialist. Stuart is also a mentor for several young people in the South London area.
Since his brother’s death, Stuart and his family have had a huge impact on the change of attitude towards racism within British society. Their story is still as impactful and important today.

Scholastic

This is a great book to read slowly. It gives the reader practical activities in each chapter, to really think about themselves and how they can impact those around them, before moving onto the next chapter. It is for independent reading and reflection, but could also prompt some brilliant discussions between young people if shared with a group. Chapters range from the influence of role models (Stuart discusses meeting Nelson Mandela) to championing yourself and others. Stuart is incredibly busy, but I just asked him to quickly recommend some books for teenagers to help them understand their place in the world and how to contribute positively:

– Black and British by David Olusoga (I’ve read the abridged “short history” version for younger readers and it is brilliantly fascinating)

– This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany  Jewell (another full of practical advice)

– Everyone Versus Racism by Patrick Hutchinson

– No Win Race: A Story of Belonging, Britishness and Sport by Derek A Bardowell

Scholastic also allowed me to share this excerpt from chapter 3: YOU ARE IN CONTROL:

SELF-CONTROL

After losing my brother Stephen, I really had to learn self-control. Suddenly, my family and I were in the newspapers and on the TV. A lot of the time, the public were being misinformed about our story. I was so angry that my brother was being portrayed as a gang member and a drug dealer, when he was an A-level student aspiring to become an architect.

However, I had to control myself, because lashing out would only affect my family and my brother’s case negatively. It didn’t mean I didn’t speak out, but I had to exercise self-control in the way I handled the situation. I had to be calm and composed, even though I didn’t feel like it.

What is Self-control? Having self-control means being able to manage your decisions, emotions and behaviours so that you can achieve your goals. This skill is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom!

Self-control is rooted in the front part of our brains, in an area called the prefrontal cortex. This is the planning, problem-solving and decision-making centre of the brain. Did you know that this part of the brain is much larger in humans than it is in other mammals? This area of our brain acts differently at different stages of our lives. For example, teenagers are more likely to act on impulse or to misunderstand their emotions than older people. As much as you might not want to believe us adults and feel like you are an exception to the rule, these are scientific facts!

You can only control yourself. For example, let’s say you are trying out to become the captain of the school netball team and, unfortunately, you aren’t picked for the role. Instead of sulking, getting angry or upset, you show good sportsmanship and shake the hand of your competitor. In doing this, you use your self-control. You are unable to control the situation but you are able to control your reaction and that is what is important. Don’t forget, it’s always useful to get feedback so that you can improve and win next time.

About the author: Stuart Lawrence is the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence, the young man who, on 22 April 1993, at the age of just 18, was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. Stuart is an educator and motivational speaker, dedicated to helping to transform the life chances of young people.

Stephen Lawrence Day is held on 22 April each year to commemorate Stephen’s life.
Follow the journey: #SilenceIsNotAnOption Insta @hon_stuartlawrence Twitter @sal2nd

SILENCE IS NOT AN OPTION is published today by Scholastic.

With thanks for sending me a review copy