Category Archives: Books

The song of the canary… a review of Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick

Ash boards a Greyhound bus heading to the place where Bly was last seen: Snowflake, Arizona. Six thousand feet up in the wide red desert, Ash meets Mona, her dog, her goat, and her neighbors, and finds stepbrother Bly, too.

In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, almost all the residents of Snowflake are sick. But this isn’t any ordinary sickness: the chemicals and technologies of modern life are poisoning them. They call themselves canaries, living warning signs that humans have pushed the environment too far, except no one seems to be taking their warnings seriously. The healthy “normies” of Snowflake have written them off as a bunch of eccentrics, and when Ash too falls ill, the doctor’s response is “It’s all in your mind.”

Snowflake, AZ contemplates illness and health—both our own and our planet’s. As Ash lives through a cycle of illness and recovery and loss, the world beyond is succumbing to its own affliction: a breakdown of civilization only distantly perceived by Ash and the isolated residents of Snowflake, from which there may or may not be a chance for recovery. This provocative novel by one of our most admired storytellers explores the resilience of love and community in the face of crisis.

Marcus Sedgwick has never let me down! He has written in a variety of genres under the YA banner and his latest, Snowflake, AZ is a timely warning of a planet and population under threat from ourselves.

While reading the book I kept my notebook open and jotted down things I wanted to find out more about (Snowflake Arizona, Monsanto, Glyphosphate, MCS, EI, Tennessee Fainting Goats and so much more).

The relationships between Ash, Bly, Mona and within the community as a whole are beautifully written; their struggles with coping and interdependence put a human face on the slow-motion collapse that is occurring around the world!.

This book is a phenomenal, scary read, it is a warning – for everyone, but aimed at the current generation of young adult readers that will hopefully take note do something in the face of the inaction and untelligence of their elders!

It tells the truth in a wrapper of fiction, and, if you pay attention (note-taking optional) while you read, you will learn something.

Useful Links:

Undiagnosis (newsletter by Marcus Sedgwick – the latest one is about Snowflake, AZ and a fascinating interview)

Allergic to life: the Arizona residents ‘sensitive to the whole world’ (Guardian article)

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?

Snowflake, Arizona

That Asian Kid – Savita Kalhan

Fifteen year old Jeevan is getting top grades for every subject except English. He suspects that his teacher, Mrs. Greaves, is unfairly marking him down. But he has no way of proving it, and even his best friends Dread and Sandi think he is over-reacting.

When Jeevan stumbles upon Mrs. Greaves talking about him with his History teacher, Mr. Green, he decides to record them. Then, to his horror, they start getting it on!

Now Jeevan is in possession of a radioactive video that he could use against Mrs. Greaves. But he’s caught in a huge dilemma . . . should he upload the video, or not?

As a complex game of move and counter-move escalates between Jeevan and Mrs. Greaves, the decision is taken out of his hands – with dire consequences. Jeevan’s life begins to fall apart. Does he have the winning moves to outwit and expose his arch nemesis?

That Asian Kid is an intelligent, gripping, fast-paced story of one boy’s battle against racism and for the right to be treated like everyone else.

Review:

I have met Savita several times over the years (we both know a bunch of the same people) and I have been a fan of her work since reading The Long Weekend (soon to be republished by Troika Books). Her writing has always gripped me but she has blown me away with That Asian Kid!

This book is a hard-hitting and timely read, shining a light on the bigotry and racism faced by so many people of colour. It shows how people have dealt with racist behaviour; from new arrivals keeping your head down and swallowing it because there was nothing else to do to the second and third generations making decisions to take a stand against the unfairness of it all, finding allies.

That Asian Kid is not a straightforward story of good people standing up to bigots, rather it is a subtle and multilayered tale that questions our prejudices and makes us look within ourselves and interrogate the decisions we would make if we had the opportunity to publicly shame someone that had done us wrong and defend a person we respected and admired.

It would have been so easy for this book to have been dragged down by the weight of the subject but it is uplifting; from Jeevan’s interactions with his grandmother (my favourite character), to the support from his friends and family, the story is shot through with humour and some of the best teen dialogue I have read in ages!

I have not even mentioned the tension I felt as I was reading the book, it might have taken a bit longer than it did but I honestly could not put it down as I needed to know what would happen next. Honestly it was more of a thriller than many of the thrillers I have read recently!

At the end of the story I was left feeling drained, but satisfied. Much like real life not everything was tied up neatly and presented to us but fir the story it was enough! That being said I still wanted to read more and hope that Savita will revisit the characters she introduced me to in the opening pages!

Reading develops empathy, reading That Asian Kid will give an insight to many readers to the experiences of others. It will let those who see themselves in Jeevan and his friends know that they are not alone in what they have experienced (or are experiencing).

No-one who reads it will be left unmoved!

That Asian Kid was written by Savita Kalhan and published by Troika Books – it is available now!

Little Rebels Prize

The Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) is delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction is Catherine Johnson for her book, Freedom (Scholastic 2018).

A short historical novel, Freedom tells the story of Nat, a young boy enslaved on a Jamaican plantation, brought over to England in the late eighteenth century. Hopeful that, once on UK soil, he will finally be free from bondage, Nat instead witnesses the pivotal role Britain played in building the slavery industry. Praising the winning title, the award judges commented:

“Freedom is radical in a number of ways. It tells a story of a young enslaved man in Britain. It explores the humanity of those whose humanity was denied through chattel slavery. It subtly examines the similarities and the differences between class oppression and a system of slavery rooted in racism. It tells a story of Britain that continues to be neglected. Johnson’s writing is a masterclass in the maxim ‘show don’t tell’ – through the point of view of her protagonist we are brought into his world and yet we are afforded space to emotionally engage with the story she offers us.”

Darren Chetty, Teaching Fellow at UCL and contributor to The Good Immigrant.

“Catherine Johnson brings the horrific history of slavery to life in this important piece of historical fiction for a middle grade audience. A brilliant adventure story that shines a much-needed spotlight on the UK’s role [and which also introduces us to] real life people who should be more famous than they are, including former slave turned author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and Shadrack Furman, the first black army Pensioner. A well deserved win from one of the UK’s most fabulous storytellers.”

Emily Drabble, head of children’s books promotion and prizes at BookTrust
2018 winner Zanib Mian congratulates Catherine Johnson after the announcement

The winner of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2019 was announced at an event held in the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) Literacy Library on Wednesday July 10th by Zanib Mian, the 2018 winner for The Muslims (now Planet Omar). This followed on from a panel discussion with the other shortlisted authors (all except Sarah MacIntyre) and a chance to have a look around the beautiful CLPE library.

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now in its 7th year. The Award recognises fiction for ages 0-12 which promotes or celebrates social justice and equality. It is run by booksellers Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB).

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a trilogy of books containing a mixture of urban myths and folklore that were compiled by author Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Caldecott-winning illustrator Stephen Gammell.

Scary Stories to tell in the Dark

The stories and artwork terrified a generation of readers from 1981 to 1991. The books also muscled their way to the front of the ALA’s 100 most frequently challenged books for 1990-1991 and hit seventh place in the 2000-2009 frequently challenged list. The challenges were often down to the violence of the stories as well as the ” surreal, nightmarish illustrations” in the original books.

On August 9th, a film adaptation produced by horror-maestro Guillermo del Toro will be released by Lionsgate and CBS Films.

Ahead of the movie’s release, Harper Collins is re-releasing the books with the original illustrations: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062961280/scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-dark-movie-tie-in-edition/

The movie and books release in August will be a perfect centre for a display along the lines of Tales to Chill the Warmest Months… featuring urban myths and horror stories for younger readers.

If you have never heard of or read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark then now is the perfect time to change that. These books are phenomenal and the stories are sure to chill the blood of all who read them!

The Dragon in the Library

Kit can’t STAND reading,

She’d MUCH rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the library one day by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery – and soon it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library … and the world.

Hidden within the words of this wonderful text is a social action and protest guide, espousing the power of working together to overthrow the short-sighted policies of those consumed by greed that know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Phew – that sounds pretty heavy for a children’s book!

But don’t worry!

The Dragon in the Library is a lot of things, it is a rousing tale of friendship and magical adventure, and it is a recognition of the power in collective action and the shared joy of reading as well as being a celebration of stories, the belief in magic, Libraries and all those that use them and work therein!

It is GLORIOUS! As a Librarian I felt seen and valued, Louie is an author that gets what Libraries are and how they make people feel, she understands what we do, and she has also written a fun tale that moves along at a cracking pace for readers of all ages.

The Dragon in the Library is written by Louie Stowell and illustrated by David Ortu. It is published by Nosy Crow and will be available from the 6th June 2019 in good bookshops everywhere!

Scholastic Voices

A series of gripping adventures that reflect the authentic, unsung stories of our past.

The series so far!

Last year Scholastic announced the launch of their new series of books, Voices, a series bringing to life BAME figures from British history, who’s stories are rarely told. I have been lucky enough to be sent the first two, both of which are fantastically paced, evocative, believable, heartbreaking, exciting, thought provoking, rage-inducing, and full of historically accurate information ripe for discussion. They are both brilliant stories in their own right, I expect to see them on topic reading lists in primary and secondary schools and in every school library, and I am really looking forward to finding out what is next in the series!


The world is at war and standing on the shores of Dunkirk, a young Indian soldier fights in defence of a Kingdom that does not see him as equal.
My trust in the kindness and decency of others ended. It seemed I had reached a point of no return...”

Bali Rai’s Now or Never

Bali Rai wrote the first, Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story, about a period of time that every British school child has to learn about, but an aspect of that historical event that has been brushed under the carpet by the history books. Faz is one of hundreds of Indians that volunteered to join the British army during WW2 and who were then so badly treated. Scholastic interviewed him about it here. It has been out since January.

When Eve and her mother hear that one of the African divers sent to salvage the Mary Rose is still alive, and that another wreck rich with treasures lies nearby, they set out to find him.

“The water was my destiny. I knew it…I breathed in slowly and slipped over the edge of the boat into the water.”

Patrice Lawrence’s Diver’s Daughter

The second book is Diver’s Daughter: A Tudor Story, from Patrice Lawrence, makes it clear that black people have been in Britain for a lot longer than the Windrush generation, and focussing on another oft-taught about feature of English history: Henry VIII’s flagship, Mary Rose. Her author’s note says she didn’t want to focus on slavery, but it is definitely clear that people of African descent were not safe despite it being illegal on English soil at that time. It is being published in May, look out for it.

Diver’s Daughter brought to mind Catherine Johnson’s many (and brilliant) historical novels…maybe she’ll do one of the future books in the series (fingers crossed)?

Academic Book Week Reveals Top 20 Most Influential Banned Books

Vote Opens to Find Public’s Number One Ahead of Academic Book Week

London 1 Mach 2019: From Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, to Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Academic Book Week (4-9 March 2019) has revealed the twenty most influential banned books.

Selected by academic booksellers across the UK and Ireland in association with Index on Censorship, the public are now invited to vote on the most influential banned book, with the winning book revealed during Academic Book Week.

The public vote is open from Friday 1 March until 11:59pm on Wednesday 6 March, to find the book that has been most influential: https://acbookweek.com/bannedbooks/  

Academic Book Week’s Most Influential Banned Books:

  • 1984 by George Orwell (PRH)
  • A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller (PRH)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (PRH)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (PRH)
  • Country Girls by Edna O’Brien (Faber)
  • His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman (Scholastic)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Virago, Hachette)
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence (PRH)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (PRH)
  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (OUP)
  • Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (OUP)
  • Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (PRH)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (PRH)
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker (W&N, Orion, Hachette)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (PRH)
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (PRH)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (PRH)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (PRH)
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (Faber)
  • Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (PRH)

Building on the success of previous years, Academic Book Week 2019 is being coordinated by the Booksellers Association in partnership with University College London.

Emma Bradshaw, Head of Campaigns at the Booksellers Association, said: “Academic Book Week’s Top 20 Most Influential Banned Books will spark debate in Academic Book Week and beyond. Each of the books on this shortlist has been hugely successful, despite attempts to ban them and we look forward to seeing the result of the public vote.”

Academic Book Week celebrates the diversity and influence of academic books throughout history, now and in the future.

To book tickets to events and view the full Academic Book Week line-up, visit:https://acbookweek.com/featured-events/ 

Follow the latest developments via Twitter: @AcBookWeek #AcBookWeek.

Refugee Narratives in Children’s Literature

In 2017 I attended a one-day interdisciplinary workshop about Refugee Narratives in Children’s Literature at Birkbeck College organised by The Reluctant Internationalists.

Apart from making excellent contacts and meeting some old friends I contributed towards the creation of a bibliography of children’s books on migration, refugees / migrants and multicultural living. I have no idea why I have never shared it before, but it can be downloaded below.

Download (PDF, 294KB)

The Night Before Christmas: Lark by Anthony McGowan

‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
Out in his sett the old badger was resting
In the eves of my house a rook was still nesting.
The pike it was swimming in the depths of the lake
Just waiting for prey to make a mistake!
On my nightstand lay McGowan’s book Lark
The perfect read for bed after dark!

The final story about Kenny & Nicky,
Two brothers who have come through situations quite sticky!
The strength of the books lies in the love that they had
One for the other, their dog and their dad!
But in this dark tale the stakes are so high
Will the brothers both live, or will one of them die…
Out on the moors with the temperature dropping,
with a bitter, cold wind and snow that’s not stopping?

I read this story with my heart in my throat
My tea grew ice cold but I did not know it!
The reading was fretful, I wanted to stop!
When out in the hall there came a soft ‘pop’
My daughter was roaming so I took a break
and put her to bed, my head I did shake.

Oh! Lark I did finish and so went to bed
With thoughts of the brothers and the North, in my head

The Truth of All Things sequence is a masterpiece! I have covered Tony’s work quite a bit over the years and do not want to rehash what I have already said. You can read my opinions on the first three books here.

I will just say that I stand by my words and to my mind Lark is a fitting coda to the story and slots in very well with my theory of the books being based on the elements.

Thank you Tony! It has been an honour and a pleasure following and sharing in Nicky and Kenny’s exploits over the years!

Lark is a must-read book for 2019 – along with Brock, Pike and Rook!

All the books are written by Anthony McGowan and published by Barrington Stoke.

Lark will be released in January 2019

An object lesson on social media use and misuse

This is a good example of the use and misuse of twitter that can be used in a lesson on social media for users of all ages.

Tomi Adeyemi has written a brilliant book called The Children of Blood and Bone

Nora Roberts’ new book is titled Of Blood and Bone

Tomi publicly accused Nora of plagiarism on Twitter due to the similarity of the titles:

This led to the usual mob pile on of fans calling Nora out on multiple platforms; who reached out to Tomi to try and smooth over the trouble that was erupting.

Tomi then tweeted an apology and explanation to calm her fans:

However, she left the original tweet up, which has kept the hate cycle rolling.

Requests from Nora’s side to have the tweet taken down have, so far, remained unanswered.

Nora then wrote this post on her blog: Mob Rule By Social Media

This post gives a brilliant insight to what people under attack online can experience. It can also be used to discuss plagiarism, how the publishing industry works and also (and very importantly) online bullying as well as the importance of having all your facts in order before attacking someone publicly.

Nora and Tomi are both amazing writers, one with 30+ years experience and the other a first-time author, this contretemps seems to have soured views in both fan camps which may lead to many people not experiencing the wonderful work both authors have produced.

Fan is short for fanatic and sometimes the fanaticism comes to the fore and events can occur that damage fandoms, publishing and book lovers are not immune to this, as this event shows.