Category Archives: Reflecting Realities

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!

Feminist Fiction

I have to tell you about Angie Thomas and THUG and the Black Girls Book Club, but also about Feminist Book Fortnight which begins TODAY! I considered spamming you all with multiple blog posts on my first day on the job, then thought about it and realised that they’re so perfectly linked that I should just combine them.

On Thursday night, Matt and I went along to SAMA Bankside in Blackfriars for a small party celebrating Angie Thomas’s ‘The Hate you Give’ which, I’m sure you already know, is a powerful story of a young black woman in America dealing with the aftermath of witnessing a police shooting (of her best friend) alongside reconciling her school life with her home life. It is shortlisted for Carnegie and won the 2018 Waterstones children’s book prize. She gave us a bit of information about her next book, On the Come Up, that sounds to be about another strong female and her efforts to break into the patriarchal rap industry while dealing with her mum losing her job. It was wonderful to meet Angie, and chat to librarian colleagues and familiar faces from Walker, but I was also really pleased to meet some members of the Black Girls Book Club. They had collaborated with Walker to host Angie Thomas at an event and spread the word about her outstanding novel, but they don’t focus solely on newly published work. I was blown away by in their passion regarding the back catalogue of fiction written by black women over the years, and am going to be getting touch with them about having some of them as guest speakers at a CILIP YLG London event about what we should definitely have in our libraries. This segues nicely into my interest in Feminist Book Fortnight, which is an inaugural but hopefully annual event organised by independent bookshops to highlight feminist works by women writers. I intend to only read relevant books from my TBR pile, starting with Yaba Badoe’s ‘A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars’. What will you read?

Home Boys ~ Alex Wheatle

home boys.jpgFour friends decide to run away from the horror of their everyday lives in a children’s home in the English countryside. They head for the woods, their sense of freedom surprises them, and for the first time they feel the exhilaration of adolescence. Yet the forest slowly asserts its own power and what happens there will affect the four boys’ lives forever.

My initial reaction when picking up Home Boys was the thought that this was going to be an upsetting read with no joy or redemption contained within the pages. I was wrong! Home Boys is bleak and hard to read, but it is also a beautifully written, opening with grief and loss in the mid 1980’s as we are introduced the major players of this drama it then dives further back the 1970’s where the boys’ story begins. As hard and uncompromising as it was, Home Boys ends on a note of hope that I did not see coming, friendships and love built over years endure beyond what many people expect and continues past the story ending.

Alex Wheatle, always a gripping writer has given us an important work about life as a kid in care in the 1970’s and how brutality and abuse within the system can continue to distort and destroy lives down the years. Where Home Boys shines are in the interactions between the friends, capturing the love, anger, growing tensions and everything else that bubbles up within adolescent peer groups.

Wheatle weaves in the overt racism of the 1970’s and does not shy away from the language and brutality that still lingers just beneath the surface of society to this day. Home Boys is an important read – to help us face the cruelty and mistreatment that was prevalent in many care homes of the recent past, as well as the abuses people of colour still face to this day.

Home Boys by Alex Wheatle is published by Arcadia books and is available now

The Third Degree with Catherine Johnson

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

You have a new book coming out soon – Freedom, based in England at the time of the Zong trial. Can you tell me more about the book?

It’s one of a series published by Scholastic that looks at major turning points in history. I was asked to do abolition (of slavery) but I argued that since that took at least fifty years – the mind of the british public was very slow to change – I would do one of the things that kicked off that change. And I was aware loads of people had heard of Wilberforce but maybe that fewer people had heard of the Sons of Africa, a group of campaigning Black Britons, freed slaves, American veterans of the War of Independence, and others who worked to end the inhumanity of slavery.

The blurb taught me something new – much like Nathaniel I was always under the impression that once a slave set foot on English soil he was free, but after the blurb I looked it up and according to English common law while technically no longer a slave they were still bound to their masters until the abolition of the slave trade. Why do you think that a majority of people in the UK are ignorant of whole swathes of UK history except on a superficial level?

Er- Brexit is a prime example of this. We forget the ends of our own noses! I think every nation likes to tell its own story, and as a woman who grew up with 3 TV channels and endless WW2 films the story of Britains’ exceptionalism is the one we English like best. We say ‘Britain stood alone’, but conveniently forget we had the manpower and resources of India and Pakistain, many African countries, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean to call on. We often forget this too.

Once they have read Freedom can you recommend other sources for people to find out more information about the Zong massacre and the trial that followed? I first heard about it during the film Belle – a fictionalised account of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle the niece of Lord Mansfield who ruled on the case.

Yes! It’s in Belle isn’t it! For anyone wanting to read more I’d recommend David Olusoga’s Black and British which is very accessible and also very interesting. Also Peter Fryer’s Staying Power.

I have been a fan of your books for years (since Nest of Vipers when you visited one of my reading groups in Edmonton Green), The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo and Sawbones are two of my favourites – it is so refreshing to read historical fiction that has not been white-washed. How much research do you do before you start writing?

I have read and written so much about the 18th century now (and a TV series which got optioned but never made set in 1790s and also a BBC2 docu/drama with Simon Schama called Rough Crossings that was on telly almost 10 years ago, that it’s a question of pulling out all the books. I love London maps of the time too. I like to see where my characters go. I lived very near where Loddiges’ Nursery used to be in East London.

The #OwnVoices movement in the UK is becoming bigger than ever before – are there any books by BAME authors that you can recommend?

Loads! For picture books I’d recommend Ken Wilson Max and Yasmin Shireen, of and I loved John Agard’s Come All You Little Persons illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, and Chitra Soundar’s work too. for first readers I love Atinuke’s Number One Car Spotter series. Other authors include the wonderful Patrice Lawrence, Bali Rai, Irfan Master, Muhammad Khan, Sarwat Chadda, Alex Wheatle and Sita Bramachari. Oh and Savita Kalhan and of course the perenially wonderful Malorie Blackman. And look out for a new UKYA by Danielle Jawando and Aisha Busby, two fresh new voices coming next year.

Do you still visit libraries or schools? If you do what is the best way to get hold of you to organise a visit?

Yes! I am all over the place very often! Contact me via my agent, Stephanie Thwaite at Curtis Brown, or via my Twitter account @catwrote

Lovely to chat Matt!

To find out more about Catherine Johnson and her books, visit her website: http://catherinejohnson.co.uk

Learn more about the Zong Massacre and the subsequent trial here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zong_massacre

Freedom is published by Scholastic and will be out in August

My library teen reading group’s favourite reads ~ Savita Kalhan

Hi Matt, thanks for inviting me on your blog today and for being part of the amazing blog tour for THE GIRL IN THE BROKEN MIRROR!

So for my guest post today, I wanted to tell your readers about my teen library group’s favourite reads. I started the group because as a teenager I spent hours in the library and if there had been a group like this I would have joined it in a heartbeat!

The kids in my group range from 10 to 16 years old, it’s a diverse group and it’s half boys and half girls, so the huge range of books we read are reflected in the dynamics of the group. Also, because it’s a library group and we only have access to books on the library catalogue, we don’t get all the books that are published for middle grade, teen or YA readers, which is a real shame. It would be brilliant if all public libraries would stock at least one book of every title published, wouldn’t it?

So here’s the list, which comes highly recommended by my teen library group:

Rooftoppers and The Explorer by Katherine Rundell – both of these books have been loved by my teen reading group – the older teens and younger teens alike, which tells you that Rundell’s writing can be enjoyed whatever age you are.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13b by Teresa Toten – this book is about a group of teenagers with various problems/issues such as OCD and ADHD, who meet with a counsellor once a week. It’s the characters that my teens fell in love with, and the book opened their eyes to the types of problems some teenagers face.

The Last Leaves Falling by Fox Benwell – this book made them cry pretty much without exception. The book is set in Japan and the main character has a rare terminal illness that makes him age too quickly.

I’m not going to tell you all about every book on the list – but I hope you will go and look them up, find the right book for you and read it.

  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

  • Booked by Kwame Alexander

  • The Book Thief by Marcus Suzak

  • The Harder They Fall by Bali Rai

  • Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

  • The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cotterell Boyce

  • Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis

  • Phoenix by S F Said

  • Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

  • Beetle Boy by M G Leonard

  • Wonder by R J Palacio

  • The Stars of Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

  • Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

  • Hidden by Miriam Halahmy,
  • A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill

  • The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Milwood-Hargrave

  • The Last Wild trilogy by Piers Torday

  • The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston

  • Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

  • Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

  • Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sacher

  • She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

  • Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence

  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green

  • Harry Potter books by JK Rowling

  • The CHERUB books Robert Muchamore

I could go on – my library group read four or five books a month – but I think your readers have enough there to be going on with there, Matt!

It’s been great fun looking at all the books my teens have been reading. I think it’s a great list – wide in range, subject matter, scope, from poetry to prose, from stand alone novels to series fiction, from fantasy to contemporary to historical!

Thank you so much for hosting me on the blog tour for THE GIRL IN THE BROKEN MIRROR. My book is not an easy read for younger readers, so I would recommend it for 14+ readers.It’s the story of a fifteen year old British Asian girl and her journey after a terrible trauma. It’s also a story about negotiating your way between two very different cultures – the world at home and the world outside. If your readers want to find out more about me, here’s my website www.savitakalhan.com, or they can chat to me on twitter @savitakalhan. I love to hear from my readers!

Young, Gifted and Black

To Be Young, Gifted and Black is an amazing song by Nina Simone & Weldon Irvine, it was written to commemorate Nina’s friend, Lorraine Hansberry, author of the play A Raisin in the Sun, who had died in 1965 aged 34. It became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.

The book Young, Gifted and Black, written by Jamia Wilson and illustrated by Andrea Pippins is, as the introduction says a love letter to our ancestors and the next generation of black change-makers

Celebrating 52 black heroes both contemporary and historical this book is beautiful to behold and to hold and is an essential addition to every library. With luminaries including Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay, Nobel Peace-Prize winning president Nelson Mandela (my personal favourite – it was an honour to be able to vote for him in the first free and fair elections in my homeland) who was able to unite a divided and fractured country without violence or hatred; sisters Venus and Serena Williams two titans of Tennis, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, award-winning author Malorie Blackman, Harriet Tubman – one of the best-known conductors of the Underground railroad and so many more!

There are 52 people celebrated in this book, one for every week of the year if you want to turn it into the centrepiece of a rotating library display. Some known to me but many not. NO I tell a lie! There are 54 people celebrated in this book – the author Jamia Wilson writer, director and publisher of the Feminist Press who has introduced me to people whose lives cause ripples today in our world and artist Andrea Pippins whose work shines on every page; they too deserve recognition for this work of biographical art they have created together.

In a world dominated by white privilege this book is a brilliant new addition to an arsenal of education about the stars of our multi-cultural world who are so often ignored or airbrushed out of history.

A Change is Gonna Come: Review by Alison Tarrant


This is a collection of short stories and poetry by various authors, all of whom come from diverse backgrounds. There is a real range of characters, stories and settings here, but they were all a delight to read – though delight is not what I felt when reading.

The stories enclosed in this book are powerful experiences – Dear Asha by Mary Bello had me crying into my tea on a lunch break, Hackney Moon by Tanya Bryne is the story of first love and relationships with a brilliant ending that definitely had me reacting (but I won’t say how for fear of spoiling it!). Meanwhile Clean Sweep by Patrice Lawrence and We Who? by Nikesh Shukla talk about incredibly important themes in the current world – punishment, reality dramas, and the media while all the time being focused on the human impact – love, friendship, neglect, bullying and control.

The different stories chart the lives of young people in the UK, America and Nigeria, in refugee camps, and homes, and schools. It represents the world that I know exists, and that so often is lacking from fiction, particularly YA.

The foreword by Darren Chetty is powerfully written, and as an expression of hope and intent the book delivers exactly what it sets out to.

This is brilliantly followed by the poem by Musa Okwonga – The Elders on the Wall: “My choices are two:/Either I stand here,/Chip away at each brick,/Or… turn and run…” I think we all need to chip at the wall a little harder, and as a starting point I’d recommend you read this book, buy this book, borrow this book.

Then, ask publishers for more.

A Change is Gonna Come is published by Stripes Publishing and is out now