Category Archives: Reflecting Realities

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

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

BREAKOUT SESSION.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerson Milford Dickson

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

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

You’re Snug With Me – picture book review

 


At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “‘Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.”

You’re Snug With Me is the second time Lantana have paired Chitra Soundar with Poonam Mistry, after You’re Safe With Me, and they are a fabulous team. It is not quite a sequel, but they are both environmentally minded and each have some factual science behind the lyrical stories. My favourite example of that from this book, is:

“As the snow fell harder, the cubs grew curious. “Will it always be dark?” they asked.

“It is dark because we are far from the sun during the winter months.”

The cubs trembled.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Mama Bear. “The Earth dances on her toes and when she tilts, our nights will get shorter and spring will return.”

While the style of drawing remains consistent between the two books, the minimal colour palette in this chilly tale is completely different to that of You’re Safe With Me:  blue, white, and yellow. It is perfect for the snow filled setting, just as green, red, and yellow was perfect for the rainforest setting of Safe. The illustrations are anything but minimal though, taking up all the space with beautiful patterns making up stylised animals in breathtaking scenes. The view changes depending on how close you are to the book, with so much detail to take in.

Although Lantana are small, their growing list of picture books is extremely impressive, some of my absolute favourite titles of recent years have come from them, so do take a look at their catalogue. They make a point of working with authors and illustrators from a wide range of cultures and nationalities to ensure that every child has a chance to see themselves in stories; ‘a publishing house with inclusivity at its heart’

Updated (but always incomplete) list of UK BAME authors and illustrators

Just a quick note to say that there are new names on the list but, as ever, let us know who’s missing!

An Updated (but still incomplete) List of British BAME Authors for Children & Young People

Stay a Little Longer by Bali Rai – Review

Aman’s dad is gone, leaving her feeling lost and alone. She struggles to talk about it, but it’s a fact and he isn’t coming back. It just seems to be her and mum against the world, even against their family. When a lovely man called Gurnam moves into her street, it looks like he might fill a little gap in her life. But Gurnam has his own sadness. One that’s far bigger than Aman can understand and it’s tearing his life apart…A touching and evocative tale of unlikely friendships and finding happiness in the hardest of times.

It is set in the outskirts of Leicester, Bali’s hometown, with a diverse and *real* cast of characters. Bullies try to intimidate Aman and Gurnam, who recently moved onto her street, comes to support her. Thus begins the friendship between him and her family. Aman and her mum aren’t religious but they go to the gurdwara for a friend’s blessing as well as celebrating Christmas both in their home and with their community in a new garden project. I don’t want to spoiler the story too much but the hard hitting emotional impact of this book comes from its sensitive portrayal of poor mental health and grief, as Aman tries to understand why Gurnam may have left his family and how she can make him realise that it is worth staying a little longer. There are some beautiful lines about loss and feeling sad, and some really heartbreaking scenes.

Bali Rai has written a number of titles for Barrington Stoke (you all know how much I love Barrington Stoke) since their inception, all of which are perfectly pitched at their target audience, as well as a number of engrossing YA and entertaining younger readers for other publishers. Stay a Little Longer is, I think, one of his best so far.

Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mikael El Fathi – Review

 

What does peace mean to you? This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf.

Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

This book is Lantana Publishing‘s first foray into non-fiction, and is both interesting and beautiful. Twelve Nobel prize winners each have a double page spread with a brief but fascinating snippet about their life and achievements, written by Ali Winter. It is targeted at 7-11year olds but I honestly think older children (and adults) will get something out of it too, I certainly wasn’t aware of all the laureates chosen to be included, they are a really diverse selection of people from all over the world.
It is so colourful and eyecatching. The textures and layout of each page really make it stand out, but they fit together perfectly. Mikael El Fathi’s illustrations really give you a sense of what made/makes each person special.
Definitely one for every school library, and hopefully lots of homes too! It is being published next week on 21st September 2018, The International Day of Peace, very appropriate.

Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson – Review

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

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

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

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

 

CLPE Reflecting Realities research

The Centre for Primary Literacy Education (CLPE) have carried out a survey on the books published for children in the UK in 2017, the first large scale piece of research of its kind, and the results are sobering. Librarians and booksellers will unfortunately probably not be surprised to hear that this study into ethnic representation in children’s literature has revealed that only 1% of main characters were BAME, indeed only 4% featured any BAME character. BookTrust is currently undertaking a related but separate piece of research regarding the ethnicity of authors and illustrators, with their findings due to be published in September.

As disappointing as this is, I have hopes that things can only get better, but to help this as readers and book pushers we need to be sure that we’re supporting the books that exist, and shouting for more! Have a look at our regularly updated list of UK BAME authors and illustrators (and tell us if someone’s missing).

You can download the full report from CLPE’s website here.

The Muslims by Zanib Mian

I first came across this book when I saw it mentioned in an article in Books for Keeps by Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor, one of a series of articles they’re writing looking at representations of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices in children’s books. I tweeted about how much I liked the sound of it and the author very kindly offered to send me a copy, which happened to arrive the day before it was announced that it had won The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2018, and I inhaled it on a bus journey the following day.

One of the other titles mentioned in that same article is I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, which is a really exciting YA novel about a Muslim girl becoming more devout as she learns more about Islam, affected by the Prevent strategy and under the threat of potential radicalisation. I had a few interesting conversations about the representation of a range of Muslim backgrounds when it came out in January, I thought that the characters were portrayed very realistically and I could see a number of my school friends in there, but the only disappointment is that she was *actually* at risk of radicalisation. “Disappointment” isn’t quite the right word there, it helped to make the story exciting, but what I mean is that there is a real need for Muslim stories that don’t focus on extremism, but that do give a picture of British Muslim life. That is exactly what The Muslims does, albeit for a younger audience, and that is why I love it so much.

Omar is a normal 9 year old boy (with an invisible dragon following him) who is worried about starting a new school. It certainly doesn’t shy away from Islamophobia and racism, there is a mean boy in his new class who tells him to “go home” and his grumpy neighbour coins the name “The Muslims” when talking about them to her son, but it deals with it with great humour and honesty. He tells us about Ramadan and has a go at fasting (and hopes that Allah will reward him with a Ferrari), he talks about duas and praying, he brings the reader to the Mosque, all without patronising children that know about all of this (indeed, letting them see themselves in the story) but at the same time introducing it to non-Muslim readers in a really entertaining way. One scene in particular, on their way to Manchester to visit cousins, made me laugh out loud on the bus. It is published by a tiny, pretty new publishing house called Sweet Apple, who aim to publish high quality commercial picture books that truly reflect the world we live in, and is their first foray into books for older readers.

The Muslims is a gem of a book, it needs to be in every school and on every reading list. I’m really looking forward to more of Omar’s adventures!

*at the time of writing, The Muslims is on special offer at Letterbox Library for a mere £5!

The Third Degree… with Candy Gourlay

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

My pleasure! Unless of course this really turns out to be a third degree (long and harsh questioning) in which case, I invoke the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Author (if it exists).

I feel the need to apologise to you – for years you have been one of my favourite people to bump into at literary events and we have known each other for years (online mostly) but this is the first time I have interviewed you on TeenLibrarian – it is long overdue!

I would have nagged you incessantly over the years, except you are always in a new, nefarious disguise whenever we meet!

You have two books out this year (that I am aware of) your first picture book Is It a Mermaid? out now from Otter Barry Books, and Bone Talk … coming soon from David Fickling Books.

Yes! This is going to be my year of promotion … but I’m trying to write another novel while jumping up and down and begging people to pay attention to my new books.

How did you come to write a picture book work with artist Francesca Chessa?

I wrote the words of the picture book two years ago now. My editor, Janetta Otter Barry, then launched a search for the right illustrator. I suggested all my friends, as you do, but Janetta was looking for something in particular. A picture book is not just the work of a writer and an illustrator, there is a third vision involved that the world is usually not aware of – the editor. The editor is like a Third Eye that puts it all together. Janetta had worked with Francesca on her eco-Christmas book Elliot’s Arctic Surprise, written by Catherine Barr, in which children all over the world set sail to rescue Father Christmas. Then of course there is the Art Editor, in this case, Judith Escreet, who saw Francesca through the long months of illustrating the book. It was very strange, after working on novels, which requires long periods of solo creativity, to experience the coming together of a picture book! I was delighted and astonished by the final product!

Without giving too much of the plot away can you tell me what Is It a Mermaid is about (I am guessing mermaids feature somewhere in the story)?

I’ve begun speaking to Nursery, Reception and Year 1 children, and the first thing I do is hold up the book and ask them where the mermaid is on the cover. Their responses are hilarious! I wrote the story after I heard that European sailors arriving on our shores in the Far East back in the Age of Discovery, mistook dugongs (sea cows) for mermaids. How do you do that? Perhaps they’d been at sea for looooong time! I wondered what would happen if someone met a dugong that thought she really was a mermaid!

What inspired you to write Bone Talk?

I actually wanted to write another book, set in a World Fair in 1904 where American exhibited Filipinos in a human zoo. But it would have been a disservice to the tribal people AND to Americans not to show the context of that story. So I decided to begin at the beginning, when the United States invaded the Philippines in 1899 and annexed it as “unincorporated territory”. We became a republic in 1945 but Puerto Rico, which was annexed by the US on the same year, continues to be unincorporated territory. It’s odd how so much of the world has no idea of this. I realise that the Philippines is a small state that doesn’t do much to influence the world but the United States is a major world power.

Is there much resentment against America in the Philippines because of their history?

To be honest, there is a lack of awareness of our shared history. I memorised dates and events in my history classes, but nobody ever told me the context of these stories. And more importantly, ours is an unfinished story.

My grandparents were part of a generation that lived under American colonial rule. They were taught to despise their own culture, to be ashamed of their race and to look up to everything American. My parents’ generation survived the second world war and their formative memories are of gratitude at the flood of American help that arrived after the war. My father used to wish that we could become another state of the United States! My own generation parroted our parents’ love for anything American, grew up watching American TV and being encouraged to speak American.

To this day, the Philippines is a work in progress – nationhood doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen over a mere century and we’ve only properly been a nation since 1945.

I know it is fiction, but how accurate are the representations of Samkad and his people?

As I write in Bone Talk‘s afterword, it was difficult to hear the authentic voices of people from that forgotten era because all of the documentation was done by or curated by the United States, and tinged by the racism of that era. The observations of professionals like historians, anthropologists and state officials treated the Bontoc people as objects. It was only when I read the diary of an American housewife living in Bontoc, who documented her daily encounters with children and ordinary people, that I began to hear the Bontoc as real people. It gave me the confidence to create characters who would have been like a child of today.

I visited Bontoc and asked a lot of questions about specific events in the story, especially about ritual and belief. It was difficult to be totally accurate because the Bontoc of 1899 was made of tiny communities, each with their own specific practices. I was careful not to name the community where my characters lived, so that no community in today’s Bontoc would feel slighted if there was a deviation from their practice.

I based a lot of domestic detail on an anthropological description of Bontoc The Bontoc Igorot by the American anthropologists Albert Jenks. But Jenks was short on human detail and I also read many books on pre-Christian belief in the Philippines, going back to before the first Spanish explorers arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s. An American historian named William Scott Henry , realising that Filipino voices were missing from historical accounts, attempted to glean these voices from the written record. His books were a godsend.

I was enthralled by Bone Talk, can you suggest sources of information I can use to find out more about the history of the Philippines?

A great history (despite the focus on our relationship with the US) is In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow. America’s Boy: America and the Philippines by James Hamilton Paterson (although I disagree with some of Paterson’s conclusions about the Marcoses, he’s a gorgeous writer). You might also read the story of how Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen, which his a thriller of a book! There are other brilliant books but they are written with Filipino readers in mind.

I must admit that you are the only writer from the Philippines that I know (personally and as an author), are you able to suggest works by other Filipino authors that are available in the UK?

When I was a child, there was virtually no publishing in the Philippines, but now, the Philippine book industry is thriving! Unfortunately it is hard to access books over here so I have to load up suitcases with books whenever I go home. The works of Filipino Americans are widely available in the UK however. Erin Entrada Kelly recently won the Newbery Medal for her middle grade book Hello, Universe. Another Filipino American, Elaine Castillo, has been getting rave reviews for her debut America is Not the Heart. It riffs on another book worth reading by Filipino author Carols Bulosan, America is in the Heart, about the dehumanising experiences of Filipino migrants at the beginning of American colonial rule in the Philippines. I’ve just begun reading Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan, a serial killer story. Very promising.

Will you be visiting schools and libraries to promote your books? If yes, what is the best way to get hold of you to book a visit?

Oh yes! I love doing school visits! Please contact me by messaging me on Facebook or via the contact form on my website, candygourlay.com

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

It was my pleasure, Matt. May the best stories follow you wherever you go.

http://candygourlay.com

Akissi: Tales of Mischief


What do flying sheep, super-missiles, and grandmother-attacking coconuts have in common?

One feisty little girl!

Join Akissi and friends as they get up to all sorts of antics around their town in the Ivory coast.

There’s loads of fun to be had… as long as they manage to stay out of trouble!

I have been aware of Marguerite Abouet’s work for a few years now as a friend introduced me to her Aya series of graphic novels about a young woman living in Yop City in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970’s. Written by Marguerite and illustrated by her husband and partner Clément Oubrerie.

Akissi, published in English by Flying Eye Books was a welcome return to West Africa, a series of the comic misadventures about the eponymous heroine, a small girl living in a village somewhere in the Côte d’Ivoire. Written for a young audience, this comic will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Marguerite Abouet is a keen observer of the lives of small children, she has captured several things that I have found my toddler doing and going by the cartoons I have many more to look forward to; although I hope and pray that we never acquire a pet monkey! There was one incident in the book involving Akissi and her older brother Fofana that took place one night when she was too afraid to go outside that mirrored an event from my childhood (I am not going to say which one in case my brother ever reads this).

My favourite vignette (and there are so many to choose from) was Sunday Feast, it made me laugh out loud (although the hilarity as tinged with a hint of guilt at the potential blasphemy)

Akissi is funny, heartfelt and a very real look into the lives of children!

The art in this volume is by Mathieu Sapin who captures the frenetic energy of children running around or just being, perfectly!