Category Archives: Reflecting Realities

Homebody

‘An uplifting, hopeful, empowering memoir that celebrates self-discovery and self-love’ – Alice Oseman, author of the bestselling Heartstopper series

An unmissable graphic novel perfect for fans of the global hit Heartstopper and Juno Dawson’s What’s the T?

Hello! I’m Theo. I like cats, Dungeons & Dragons . . . and I’m trans and non-binary.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been on a journey to explore who I am. To discover the things that make me . . . me.

Sometimes it can feel like the world is trying to fit you into a box, to label you one way or another, but there is nothing more wonderful than finding your true authentic self, whoever you are. Whether you are transgender or cisgender, we are all searching for ways to make our houses feel like homes . . .

In Homebody, Theo tells the heartwarming story of discovering how to live life on their own terms through beautiful illustrations and lyrical text.

Macmillan

The way Theo looks back on their life so far is so honest and eloquent, figuring out how they feel about themselves as well as how to present themselves to the world on their own terms, and could really help teens and adults not only empathise but reflect on their own path and the journey they’re still on. I absolutely *adored* this book and wish everyone that has “concerns” about trans youth would read it to really think about what it means to be comfortable in yourself, something that many people take for granted especially as they get further away from the growing pains of their teen years. Some people will know themselves and hardly change, others will go through lots of different outward expressions before they feel that the world’s view of them matches their own, some are scared to express themselves honestly, while others still will think that they know themselves until they come across something new to them that opens their eyes to an aspect of themselves they’d neglected.

So much of it resonated with me: When I was a teenager I was frequently mistaken for a boy because of my short hair and baggy clothes and I had conversations with family and friends (not all, but enough) about how no one would ever love me if I didn’t change the way I looked…all the thoughts about what girls and boys should like and not fitting in and knowing that it *shouldn’t* matter what your hobbies are or what you wear wear or how you style your hair but that society will tell you that you’re getting it wrong because for some reason it *does* matter. I keep going back to the book because there are so many beautiful, insightful pages. Anyway, a boy did (does) love me, short hair and all, so listen to Theo’s advice below.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to share some pages from the book, and also ask Theo a few questions:

Tell us about your new graphic novel 

Homebody is an uplifting and affirming graphic memoir about life outside of the gender binary. An honest and heartwarming look at the joy and beauty of finding yourself and the positive impact of living as your authentic self. Homebody speaks to a universal experience of exploring what makes us who we are, how we express that to the world and of the relationship we all have between our minds and bodies. Whether you are transgender, cisgender or still figuring it out, we are all searching for ways to make our houses feel like homes, and to come to a place of ease within ourselves.

Which advice would you pass on to your younger self?

Find the people who love and accept you for who you are, exactly as you are, you don’t have to change anything about yourself to be liked. Instead of trying to figure out what other people want or expect you to be, focus on being the person that you want to be and the rest will fall into place.

Homebody is such a unique book, but do you have any titles you could recommend for teens that devour your story?

I have a long list of graphic novels I love! But my top picks for teens who enjoyed Homebody would be: ‘The Girl From the Sea’ by Molly Knox Ostertag- a sweet coming of age sapphic romance with a sprinkle of fantasy.
‘Deadendia’ by Hamish Steele – a funny and imaginative series set in a theme park that’s connected to demonic realms, with a trans protagonist and great LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent representation.
‘Welcome to St Hell’ – a hilarious, honest and relatable autobiography from trans creator Lewis Hancox about his time at high school and figuring out his trans identity. 

Have you any other projects on the go that are developing into full books? After such a personal debut, what would you most like to write about?

I am currently working on my second graphic novel, which is going to be another fairly personal book actually! It’s based on my experiences of moving through the world as neurodivergent but not realising that until much later in life. Beyond that I would love to write fantasy as it’s one of my favourite genres to read.

Homebody is published today by Macmillan, aimed at age 14+

Jamie

A beautiful and uplifting story from L.D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, about how to make your own place when the world doesn’t think you fit anywhere.

Jamie Rambeau is a happy 11-year-old non-binary kid who likes nothing better than hanging out with their two best friends Daisy and Ash. But when the trio find out that in Year Seven they will be separated into one school for boys and another for girls, their friendship suddenly seems at risk.

And when Jamie realises no one has thought about where they are going to go, they decide to take matters into their own hands, and sort it all out once and for all.

https://www.ldlapinski.com/jamiebook
cover illustration by Harry Woodgate

I adored L.D. Lapinski’s debut (trilogy) about the STRANGEWORLDS TRAVEL AGENCEY, and when their next title was announced I was surprised by how different it was as I’d already pigeonholed them as a fantasy/adventure author (sorry…though I am enjoying their return to fantasy in ARTEZANS: THE FORGOTTEN MAGIC, publishing soon!). Last year JAMIE was published and I adored it equally but differently. To celebrate JAMIE being one year old, and to kick of LGBT+ History Month in the UK, I have a wonderful personal guest post from L.D. which explains how JAMIE came to be:

How old were you when you first saw a character in a book who reminded you of yourself? Or are you still waiting to find them?

I was at university, aged nineteen, when I first picked up a book with an LGBTQ+ cast, as part of an eye-opening English Literature module that would go on to change my creative and personal life in ways I’m sure the tutors didn’t anticipate. It was as though a curtain had been pulled back, and suddenly all the hidden workings of my life were accessible, in a university library.

I grew up under a law known commonly as Section 28 – a legislation brought into effect in 1988 (the year after I was born), and not retracted until 2003 (the year I left Year Eleven). This meant that I grew up in an educational universe where LGBTQ+ people were not spoken about. Literally, teachers and librarians could have lost their jobs for doing so. Being queer was something to be bullied about, a stain on your personality, and bullies would not even be told what they were doing was wrong. LGBTQ+ characters in fiction were like unicorns – probably not real and certainly no one seemed to have ever seen one.

By the time I started writing children’s books, the disappointment I felt over the lack of representation in my own past had turned into creative fuel. I wanted to make up for the fact that I’d never seen a queer kid at magic school, or solving crimes, or having an adventure. Whilst there were now some LGBTQ+ books for young people on the shelves, they were often romances, or angst-ridden tales with tragic endings… I didn’t want to write those stories (though I often read them – other people are better at those!). I wanted to write the magical adventures and school-based dramas I’d loved as a kid, but starring young people like me.

I needed to be brave. My first series, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is queer in a blink-and-you-miss-it way. Both of the lead characters are queer, but the story is driven by magic and mystery, and the characters just happen to be LGBTQ+. I was, and still am, extremely pleased with it – I got queer kids to go to magic school, and the world was still standing! By the time the last book came out in 2023, there was a wealth of LGBTQ+ literature for kids and young people. We were making up for lost time, and we were putting ourselves into the stories we had never had.

But despite these victories, it’s no secret that in the past few years, right-wing driven opinion pieces and social media rage-for-clicks have fuelled an increase in transphobia in the UK. As a non-binary person, I have felt increasingly unsafe, fearful for my friends, and outraged on behalf of the young people being let down by our government. I had been asked by my wonderful publisher to write another fantasy trilogy. I sat down to write it.

And JAMIE came out of my keyboard, instead.

JAMIE is a joyful story, about a non-binary kid being asked to choose between a secondary school for boys, and another for girls. It’s a story of friends coming together to raise awareness, of found family supporting one another, and of non-binary happiness. JAMIE is not a true story – I went to a mixed secondary, but as a kid who had never heard the term non-binary and just thought I was performing my gender wrong for decades. But JAMIE is still intensely personal. I wrote it as proof that trans happy endings exist. That there are adults out there who will listen and take young people seriously. That changes can be made, even if it’s one small step at a time.

Some of the events in JAMIE are entirely fictionalised. Some artistic liberties have been
taken with paperwork – and others are no longer accurate due to governmental changes since it
was written. But the support and joy are real. The story can be real, and it will be real. I am
writing it into existence. I have to make it exist. I owe it to myself as an eleven year old, who
never saw themselves in a story. I have written them a happy ending.

And I believe it will come true.

L.D. Lapinski

When We Become Ours

A groundbreaking and must-read young adult fiction anthology written by adoptees of all backgrounds, for adoptees, that inclusively represents diverse experiences of youth adoptees, edited by award-winning authors Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung. Includes a letter from the editors as well as a foreword by Rebecca Carroll and an afterword by JaeRan Kim.

Two teens take the stage and find their voice . . .

A girl learns about her heritage and begins to find her community . . .

A sister is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones lost . . .

There is no universal adoption experience, and no two adoptees have the same story. This anthology for teens edited by Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung contains a wide range of powerful, poignant, and evocative stories in a variety of genres.

These tales from fifteen bestselling, acclaimed, and emerging adoptee authors genuinely and authentically reflect the complexity, breadth, and depth of adoptee experiences.

This groundbreaking collection centers what it’s like growing up as an adoptee. These are stories by adoptees, for adoptees, reclaiming their own narratives. 

With stories by: Kelley Baker, Nicole Chung, Shannon Gibney, Mark Oshiro, MeMe Collier, Susan Harness, Meredith Ireland, Mariama J. Lockington, Lisa Nopachai, Stefany Valentine, Matthew Salesses, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, Eric Smith, Jenny Heijun Wills, Sun Yung Shin.

Foreword by Rebecca Carroll. Afterword by Jae Ran Kim, MSW, PhD

Harper Teen

Today we have a guest post from one of the editors of this new anthology, Shannon Gibney:

It is a very strange thing to never see yourself represented, and then when you do, to
not even recognize yourself.

And yet, this is often the experience of the more than five million American adoptees,
and millions more around the globe.

Don’t get me wrong: adoptees and “orphans” are well-represented in American popular
culture – especially in KidLit. From Harry Potter to Loki to Peter Parker, adoptees are
imbued with magic powers, enact elaborate schemes to seek revenge, and generally
misunderstood by all the “normal” non-orphans and non-adoptees around them. Our
lack of an origin story is seen as a mysterious advantage, something that not only sets
us apart from mundane others, but also conveys a sense of specialness, an ethos that
something else of consequence (not just to us, but the world) is buried and waiting to be
uncovered.

In real life, of course, things are different.

We feel strange in a culture that so deeply values at least the appearance of a
seamless individual or family history, not having any. And as a result of this condition,
we are unable to prepare for or even acknowledge any troubling health issues (such as
breast cancer in my family) that may be hereditary.

If we are transracially adopted, that is, a BIPOC child adopted into a white family, we
may keenly feel the loss of not just our first family and community, but also our culture
and racial identity.

All of these losses are rarely if ever present in mainstream narratives of adoption –
whether they are imaginary or real. Adoption is presented as an uncomplicated and
beneficent act on the part of the adopters, and the positives that adoptees gain
(economic mobility, educational stability, etc.) are seen to eclipse any possible
negatives.

And of course, this is because the vast majority of these stories are written by non-
adoptees. They are written by people who have never felt strange in their own bodies
because they don’t look like anyone in their family/school/town. They are penned by
people who never had to process the loss of a first mother’s embrace as a baby, the
lack of that primary first attachment present in every cell of their body.

Historically, these stories have been written by white adoptive parents, either
intentionally or not intentionally putting forth a very different view of the adoptee
experience, occupying a very different location in the adoption triad. But lately, many of
these stories are being written by non-adopted BIPOC writers, many of whom use
troubling tropes of adoption as shorthand (this character is mentally ill because of
adoption; due to her blackness in this white family, this secondary character
demonstrates the cluelessness of the white protagonists; etc.).

When this is the territory of adoptee stories, as it has been for generations, it becomes
clear why it is absolutely necessary for adoptees to write our own. And why a book like
When We Become Ours, the first anthology of stories by adoptees about adoptees, is
resonating so deeply with adoptee readers and allies.

Edited by myself and Nicole Chung, this collection features sci-fi, fantasy, horror,
straight literary, and even graphic stories from fifteen of the best adoptee writers today.
Our writers are straight and queer; youngish, oldish, and middleish; cis-gender and
gender queer; Black, Korean American, mixed, Latina, Chinese American, Taiwanese
American, and Native American; and hail from all over North America and the world (we
have one contributor who is Canadian, and another who lives in New Zealand). Their
stories are as broad and inclusive as their experiences. And as adoptees, they each
have an embodied understanding of living as an adoptee in a world that has little idea
what this is actually like.

All of this turns out to be very important, in terms of how readers engage with the
stories. Although the book has only been out for two months, the response from
adoptee communities has been overwhelming. I had one Chinese American adoptee tell
me she never expected to see herself in her favorite genre: sci-fi. She called the
experience, “mind-blowing.” A group of transracial adoptees at the same event told me
that although they appreciated the honesty and craftsmanship of many adoptee
memoirs, the emotional rawness of this genre was just too close. But in the imaginative
realms of short stories by and about adoptees, they could confront some difficult truths
of their lives far more easily.

We are in an era of incredible adoptee-authored cultural output, and I am here for all of
it. Adoptees telling our own stories, on our own terms, in our own voices is transforming
inner and outer landscapes: our own, and those of the people we love.

Adoption — the institution, and the stories we tell about it – will never be the same.

Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, and activist in Minneapolis. Her newest book is
When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology (HarperTeen, 2023), co-edited with
Nicole Chung.

Catch Your Death

Trapped in a mansion with a murderer and a family of liars – how would you survive? A mind-blowing thriller from the author of THIS BOOK KILLS, perfect for fans of Holly Jackson and Karen McManus.

When three girls are stranded at the grand Bramble Estate in the middle of a snowstorm, they stumble into a murder plot. Someone has poisoned wealthy Emily Vanforte in the middle of a family dinner – which means Devi, Lizzie and Jayne are trapped in the house with a killer and a mystery to solve. With knives under floorboards, vanishing guns and secret passages in the walls, no one is safe and everyone is a suspect. But in a house of liars and corruption, will the girls save themselves…or learn to fit in?

Usborne

Ravena Guron’s debut YA, THIS BOOK KILLS, was a brilliantly fun murder mystery set in a school with lots of twisty turns and only a slight suspension of disbelief needed to carry you along to the big reveal and I’d highly recommend it…CATCH YOUR DEATH however, is a million times better than TBK and I implore you to read it immediately!

I don’t want to say a lot about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for you, which means this is a very short review, but the 3 perspectives are brilliantly rounded characters with distinctive voices (really hard to do) and I honestly gasped aloud at a couple of points, as well as laughing because there is a great use of humour. Definitely add this to your Christmas wishlist as, although it isn’t even remotely festive, it is a perfect read for a cold day.

Ravena Guron

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy.

CATCH YOUR DEATH publishes today!

Babushka

‘A little babushka is made when you’re young and something happens to you that leaves a scar…’

Cerys Williams has swapped her village in the Welsh Valleys for art college in London and the spare room in glamorous Auntie Wyn’s flat. Cerys knows there’s more out there for her in the world; it’s the year 2000 – she definitely doesn’t have to just get married and have babies and wear beige and cook stews for the rest of her life, even if Mam thinks she should.

But Cerys’s London is not glossy or cool or sophisticated, despite what Adept, her favourite magazine, has told her. It’s lonely and overwhelming and confusing. Until, that is, she meets him

The prequel to Toxic. A coming-of-age novel about love – the love you think you know and the love you never realised you had, all along.

UCLan Publishing

I’m reading BABUSHKA at the moment and am feeling very emotional about the concept of us having babushkas inside us like nesting dolls, reacting to events of today in your subconscious in different ways because of personal experiences and traumas. I was also a 90s teen (went to uni in 2000) so a lot of it is very familiar, I’d love to hear what modern teens make of it. Natasha Devon is a proving to be a great writer of thoughtful and thought provoking YA. Another brilliant YA author, Kate Weston (you must read MURDER ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, it is a hilarious and gripping and maddening all at once thriller), did a Q&A with her for a Waterstones event and I’m very happy to be able to share that with your here:

What was the inspiration behind Babushka?

Babushka is the prequel to my previous novel Toxic. My protagonist Cerys is the mother of Llewella, who is the protagonist in Toxic. At some point it occurred to me that Cerys and I would have been teenagers at the same time – the turn of the century. I wanted to write what about life was like for young women at the millennium, when we’d lived through the kind of inch-deep, Spice Girls inspired feminism of the 90s but were still contending with things like lads’ mags and celebrity magazines which put big red rings around women’s ‘flaws’. I wanted to make the point that some of the things Cerys grapples with – like consent, victim blaming and misogyny weren’t invented by social media. Sure, these problems have shapeshifted for the modern era but they were just as prevalent in the lives of women throughout the ages.

Where did the title come from?

Right at the beginning of the novel, someone says to Cerys that we all have previous versions of ourselves that live inside us, like Russian dolls. In Russia, these are called matryoshka dolls but elsewhere in the world people call them Babushka dolls. I went with Babushka as the title because it’s also the name of a track by Kate Bush, and what with ‘Toxic’ being a Britney track, I thought it would be fun if both my novels had titles which were songs by iconic women.

When during the process of writing and planning Toxic or after that, did you realise that you wanted to write about Loo’s mum’s story?

When people first read Toxic, some said they were surprised by how ‘hands off’ Cerys apparently was as a parent. It’s obvious Cerys really cares about her daughter, but she doesn’t try to micromanage her life in the way that another mother might. I wanted to explore why Cerys became that way and in my head it was all to do with how her mother was (the polar opposite – always interfering and nagging, or at least that’s how Cerys sees it). That’s how the idea for Babushka originally took root.

What’s your process when you’re writing? Do you plot or do you let your characters grow as you go?

Babushka was a very different writing process from Toxic. With Toxic, even though it’s also a character-driven novel, I already had a really strong idea of how the plot was going to play out. With Babushka, I had fleshed Cerys out almost entirely in my head before I even put pen to paper (or finger to keypad, technically), so the story really evolved through the prism of her. It’s fitting, really, because at one point Cerys tells another character that she’s never felt that she didn’t know who she was, just that she was in the wrong place.

You absolutely nailed the vibe or the women’s magazine in 2000 – especially with things like the circle of shame around someone’s cellulite – do you think that culture is in anyway improved? Or has it just moved on to a different format? 

Misogyny shapeshifts as patriarchy uses the considerable resources at its disposal to protect itself. Some of the things that used to happen in media at the millennium would be considered unacceptable now, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t found a different way to do the same thing (straightforward fat-or-skinny shaming has now become ‘concern for health’ for example. Pointing out someone’s flaws just for the hell of it has become ‘aren’t they brave for going out like that?’).

What I do think is great is how much more of a breadth of content young women have to choose from, now. There are truly revolutionary content creators, TV series and magazine-style articles that you can get at the click of a button. There also isn’t the sense of ‘everyone’ watching the same thing and therefore absorbing the same beauty paradigms and life advice that we had with, say, Friends or Sex & The City. 

There’s a conversation around page 40 between Wyn and Cerys where they discuss whether you would want to be remembered as you are or with certain perceived imperfections changed or “improvements” made. I liked how the conversation focused on “the real you” but avoided mentioning anything about a person’s personality, focusing solely on looks. I imagine this was on purpose because this was very much how things were perceived back then but do you think in 2023 that we’ve moved on from that? Or do you think looks still form the basis of how we’re remembered as a person.

That conversation is based on a thought I have all the time – Does a painting or a sculpture capture the essence of a person better – because artists can draw out certain otherwise intangible qualities – or is a photograph more accurate? And is even a photograph a ‘real’ representation of you when it can’t show how you move, what you sound like or how you smell?

I think in 2023 we’re all David Bowie (bear with me on this one). He talked about how there was a version of him he had curated and sent out into the world and that was what his fans were responding to, not the real him. So there’s a lack of actual connection, there. I think in the age of social media we all do that. We create an avatar of who we wished we were and send it out into the internet to interact with other people on our behalf. And that’s part of the reason there’s been an epidemic of loneliness because in order to truly connect with someone they need to see the whole you, perceived ‘imperfections’ and all.

How do you think the beauty industry has changed since 2001 and what impact do you think that’s having on young people?

Again, the answer is different depending on what end of the telescope you are looking at. On the one hand, we’re seeing more diversity in media and advertising and a greater breadth to the understanding of what it means to be beautiful than ever before and that’s to be celebrated. On the other, the beauty industry has continued to create areas of the face and body for women to feel apologetic about. When I was young the message was ‘be as thin as possible’, which was problematic for a number of reasons and left many people in my generation with eating disorders and other enduring issues. But now there are all these obscure beauty trends dictating exactly what shape and size every single millimetre of your body should be.

We’re also seeing the resurgence of hellish fashion trends we endured in the early 2000s like low rise jeans (just no), so-called ‘heroin chic’ and really thin eyebrows. Although not strictly relevant I do just want to mention to any young person reading this that is thinking of overplucking their eyebrows that, unless you are in the small percentage of people who are genetically blessed, THEY DO NOT GROW BACK.

Do you think that things can get better in terms of the way that the media and society views women and the things that are expected? Or do you think the list of things that we’re disapproved of for will just get longer?

You have to believe it can get better or you’ll just go and live in a hole in the mud somewhere and cry.

I have noticed two things about the women in their early twenties I work with at LBC that are very different from my generation. 1. They’re not afraid to take up space. Nothing about their body language suggests they are trying to make themselves smaller. And 2. They’re so supportive of one another. When I was in my twenties the message to women was ‘there’s a limited slice of the pie for you so every other woman who might have her eye on it is a threat’. A lot of us ended up very ‘pick me’ as a result (and I include myself in this – I’m a Pick Me Girl in recovery). Young women now seem to be all about celebrating each other and raising each other up, which is wonderful.

I want to talk about Darsh a bit without any spoilers. It feels like it would have been really easy to make him into a complete bastard but there’s far more subtle things that he does that are in the guise of protecting her or ‘loving’ her. How did you come up with his character?

I’ve learned through experience that the people who are going to treat us badly in life don’t announce themselves with a giant neon sign saying ‘HEY! I’M REALLY TOXIC AND I’M GOING TO MAKE YOUR LIFE UNBEARABLE!’. If they did it would be really easy to avoid them. The red flags are much subtler, in reality, and therefore easy to miss or overlook. It also had to be believable that someone as clever and independent minded as Cerys would fall for Darsh. Like most f**kboys, Darsh is really charming, exciting, handsome and a little bit mysterious.

I also learned writing Toxic (which is also features a dysfunctional relationship, albeit a platonic one) that creating a good story means it would make sense if told from the perspective of any of the characters. People aren’t generally badly behaved or mean for no reason – There’s always a journey that’s brought them to that point. 

What’s next? Are you working on anything you can share with us at the moment?

I’m in the very early ideas stages for another novel but I have no idea if it’ll ever see the light of shelves at this moment. In the meantime, I’m doing my ‘day’ job of visiting three schools a week delivering talks and conducting research on mental health, writing my columns for Teach Secondary and doing my weekly radio show on LBC.

Black History Month UK 2023

I said on twitter (‘X’) that I wasn’t going to do a thread of favourite books for Black History Month this year because I’m trying to wean myself off it (but also it may well have imploded by the end of October…) but then I felt bad because there have been some real gems this year! So I decided to put a month’s worth in a blog post (each picture should have a link to more details)…

The eagle eyed amongst you might notice that there are only 30 books there and 31 days in the month of October…that’s because my last recommendation is in recognition of this year’s official theme of SALUTING OUR SISTERS…that you simply must read (and push on younger readers) everything by the inimitable Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Nadia Shireen, and Malorie Blackman (even if they are all terrible at updating their websites 😅)!

There are loads of resources on the Black History Month UK website, including a reading list of books for grownups.

While it is still accessible, have a look through my old lists for some more faves!

But also, Matt and I have both moved over to Bluesky for some fresh air, so come find us.

The Yoto Carnegies 2023 Shortlist

The Yoto Carnegies celebrate outstanding achievement in children’s writing and illustration and are unique in being judged by children’s and youth librarians, with the respective Shadowers’ Choice Medals voted for by children and young people.

Matt and I have both been judges for the awards, many moons ago, and it is and extraordinarily rigorous process involving reading and re-reading dozens of books and forming proper arguments as to why things should be shortlisted (or not…in fact sometimes I was very passionate about *not* letting something get further…), judges can’t just say “this is my favourite because it is cute”. So we love seeing the longlist and then shortlist announcement and imagining the conversations that went on for them to be the chosen few! I definitely have favourites in this year’s lists:

The 2023 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing longlist is (alphabetical by author surname):

·        The Light in Everything by Katya Balen (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

·        When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by Natalie Sirett (Little Tiger)

·        Medusa by Jessie Burton, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

·        The Eternal Return of Clara Hart by Louise Finch (Little Island)

·        Needle by Patrice Lawrence (Barrington Stoke)

·        I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (Hodder Children’s Books)

·        The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros (Firefly Press) 

The 2023 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration longlist is (alphabetical by illustrator surname):

·        Rescuing Titanic illustrated and written by Flora Delargy (Wide Eyed Editions)

·        Alte Zachen: Old Things illustrated by Benjamin Phillips, written by Ziggy Hanaor (Cirada Books)

·        The Worlds We Leave Behind illustrated by Levi Pinfold, written by A. F. Harrold (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

·        The Visible Sounds illustrated by Yu Rong, written by Yin Jianling (UCLan Publishing)

·        The Comet illustrated and written by Joe Todd-Stanton (Flying Eye Books)

·        Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear illustrated by Jeet Zdung, written by Trang Nguyen (Kingfisher)

Click here to read more about the fantastic books that have been chosen.

You Think You Know Me by Ayaan Mohamud

People like me are devils before we are angels.
Hanan has always been good and quiet. She accepts her role as her school’s perfect Muslim poster girl. She ignores the racist bullies.
A closed mouth is gold – it helps you get home in one piece.
Then her friend is murdered and every Muslim is to blame.
The world is angry at us again.
How can she stay silent while her family is ripped apart? It’s time for Hanan to stop being the quiet, good girl. It’s time for her to stand up and shout.

Usborne

YOU THINK YOU KNOW ME is one of those books that will have you raging at the sheer awfulness of people, but also smiling at the warmth of relationships. The characters are so well imagined and real, and although it is an “issues” book: taking head on Islamaphobia, bullying (including “by-standers” and the harm they cause), and racism; the insight into Somali culture and Hanan’s reflections on religion are also wonderfully written. I asked debut author Ayaan Mohamud a few questions:

The core friendship group in YOU THINK YOU KNOW ME is great, the relationships felt real, were any of the characters inspired by real people?

I loved writing about Hanan’s friendship group in the book. Each of her four friends – Andrea, Nasra, Lily and Isha – come from very different walks of life but I loved showing that friendship isn’t always about similarities and some relationships just work!

The essence of their friendship was definitely inspired by the close friends I had (and still have) in school. The kind of banter the girls share, the growth they experience individually and together, and the way they come together during more serious moments – these were all aspects of their friendship that felt very easy to write because of my own experiences.

I imagine it wasn’t an easy book to write. What did you do, when not writing, to keep you grounded and not constantly enraged about the very real issues?

What has always kept me grounded is family. I am so lucky to share an amazing connection with my parents and sisters. When the writing got tough, they were only ever a room away and I would often float across to them to give myself a breather if I felt I needed it. That meant I never overwhelmed myself and, honestly, my writing was a lot better for it as I was writing from a clearer mind and perspective.

It is a book that needs to be talked about, it is brilliant that it is a World Book Night title to get it into lots of hands, what is your one sentence pitch to get a reluctant reader to give it a go?

You Think You Know Me: you won’t know anything about this story until you read it!*

*Disclaimer: I am terrible at writing pitches.

Publishers one sentence pitch:

A stunning debut about finding the strength to speak up against hate and fear, for fans of The Hate U Give.

What kind of events would you like to do with the book?

With the kind of themes, the book explores, I would say school events. I love engaging with teenagers and discussing stories (mostly because I still feel like one myself!), but also because I believe it’s so important to encourage them in thinking critically about real life social issues. School events offer the best opportunity for that.

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

I’m just about to finish Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn. I love engrossing fantasy and her stories really are fantasy at its best. She writes beautifully and alongside the supernatural and fantastical, I really appreciate the sobering exploration of generational trauma. I would recommend it to anyone looking for some magical escapism.

Will we see more YA from you?

Yes! I have recently finished my second YA contemporary novel. This one is all about complex and messy family dynamics, with fabulous female friendships and a little sprinkle of awkward, young love. I can’t wait for it to be out.

YOU THINK YOU KNOW ME is out now from Usborne.

Thanks to Fritha and Usborne for organising a review copy and Q&A opportunity.

Glow Up Lara Bloom

MY NAME IS LARA BLOOM AND THIS IS MY LIFE . . . Meet Lara Bloom – the best friend you never knew you needed. This is her diary . . . When Lara meets super-cute new boy Caiden, she begins to think that the way to his heart is to give herself a glow up. But her friends are not impressed. You should never glow up for a boy, only for yourself! As Lara and her friends embark on their project of empowerment and self-love, Lara shares her innermost thoughts with her online journal. How can she keep her hair under control when she’s playing football? Why is she so fast on the pitch yet so uncoordinated off it? And how will she ever convince Caiden to take an interest in her? With her worries safely locked in her top-secret journal, Lara is on track to unlock the glow-up of her dreams. Surely nothing could possibly go wrong . . .?! A heart-warming story of friendship, crushes and learning to love yourself. Perfect for fans of GEEK GIRL, Louise Rennison and Alesha Dixon.

Published by Hot Key Books Teens
Cover art by Amanda

Glow Up Lara Bloom is a great teen novel from debut author Dee Benson, publishing this week by Hot Key Books. It is lots of fun but also contains some strong messages for teen girls about self worth and friendship. I asked Dee a few questions:

Were you a big journaller at school?

I wasn’t. I only journaled occasionally, even though I wanted to journal more, because I was terrified that someone might read what I’d written. I’m really into journaling now, though. And I do it all on my laptop for security 😊

The conversations about body positivity and natural hair are great, it could easily have become preachy, did it take a lot of redrafts to sound natural?

I don’t think any redrafts were done on those particular aspects of the book apart from adding more positivity around natural hair. I was actually a bit too subtle about it in my first draft and had to emphasize it further.

I think I managed to avoid preachiness because Lara, the main character, is an ‘everygirl’ who is just like you and me and has insecurities. We see her learning about body positivity and starting to embrace her natural hair, and it’s usually easier to identify with a learner than a master, so to speak. There are a few characters in the book with strong opinions that could have felt preachy, but their views are always contrasted with Lara’s uncertainty so I think that helps to balance things out.

What kind of events would you like to do for the book (dream event and realistic, if they differ)?

Ooh, I love this question. My dream event would involve Oprah and an audience filled with schoolgirls, and they’d all get a free copy of the book along with a glow-up kit packed with beauty products 😁

My realistic event would be speaking at a school either about body-positivity and self-esteem or going after your dreams.

Have you had much feedback from young readers?

Not yet—except for my two daughters who are 12 and 9. I read them the first three chapters and they loved it. My 9 year old has even started writing her own teen diary novel as a result!

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

I’m currently reading Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book in that series (Legendborn) and anyone who likes YA Fantasy. I’m still at the beginning, but it’s already so epic.

Will we hear more from Lara or do you have anything else planned?

Yes, definitely. There’ll be a second Lara Bloom book coming out in 2024.

Dee Benson
https://twitter.com/HotKeyBooksTeen/status/1579865978434830337

This Book Kills

There’s a murderer on the loose in an elite boarding school… But who is going to be next? This Book Kills is the YA thriller of 2023, perfect for fans of Holly Jackson and Karen McManus.

“I’ll make it clear from the start: I did not kill Hugh Henry Van Boren.
I didn’t even help. Well, not intentionally.”

When Hugh Henry Van Boren, one of the most popular and richest kids in Jess Choudhary’s school, is found dead, the student body is left reeling and wondering who the murderer could be… Jess, a student under strict instructions to keep her record clean or risk losing her scholarship, finds herself at the centre of the investigation when it’s revealed that Hugh died in the exact same way as a character in a short story she wrote.

And then Jess receives an anonymous text thanking her for the inspiration.

With time running out, Jess knows if she doesn’t solve this mystery she’ll finally have something in common with Hugh Henry.

She’ll be dead too.

Usborne

This Book Kills is a debut UKYA and bound to be one of the most gripping crime thrillers of 2023. I had the opportunity to ask the author, Ravena Guron, a few questions!

When you thought of a story inspiring a murder, did the murder come to you first or the school setting?

The school setting came first – I wanted to write a book set in a confined space, and the boarding school surroundings were perfect for that. The boarding school also fit in well with the themes of privilege and confidence that I wanted to explore in the book. The set-up for the murder, with the main character, Jess, writing a short story that is brought to life by the killer, came quite quickly after that. Inspiration was sparked by the school setting, because I started thinking about the classes Jess might be having, and how it would be quite easy for her to be assigned a short story to write… And what might happen if that piece of homework took a deadlier turn…

Were you a big writer at school?

I was! I was a massive bookworm, and that translated into wanting to write my own stories. I was very lucky to be taught by some really encouraging English teachers, who told me about short story competitions I could enter. As well as that, I also took part in First Story, which is a charity initiative that brings published authors into schools to work with teenagers from underrepresented communities. It was an incredible opportunity that I’m really grateful for and sparked lots of creativity in me.

Did you do any research into real boarding schools?

Yes! I wanted Heybuckle, the boarding school in This Book Kills, to feel really authentic. Luckily, I had a few friends who had gone to boarding school, or worked in a boarding school, and were willing to let me pick their brains. There were some elements where I knew I would need to use some creative license in order to make the story work, but I wanted things like the timetable to feel realistic, or what the students might be served for dinner… Just day-to-day aspects to make it feel like an actual school.

What kind of events would you like to do for the book (dream event and realistic, if they differ)?

I’d love to go to book festivals – like Edinburgh International Book Festival, and Hay Festival – they always look so incredible! And I went to YALC last year for the first time and had the most amazing day meeting other YA authors and readers – it would be an absolute dream to do a panel. I’d also love to do events at bookshops and libraries all around the country – explore different areas and meet readers all over. I’d love to do all the events!

Have you had much feedback from young readers?

Not yet, but now that I’m published I’m so incredibly excited for This Book Kills to find its way to teenagers!

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

I’ve just finished reading Daughter of Darkness by Katherine and Elizabeth Corr, which is a YA fantasy – it’s inspired by Greek mythology, and it’s super original. I’d recommend it to readers looking for a fast-paced and twisty read.

Can we expect more murders from you?

Yes you can! I’m currently working on my second book – I can’t say too much about it, but there’s murder galore and I’ve had so much fun writing in all the twists…

This Book Kills is out now in the UK from Usborne Books