Category Archives: Reflecting Realities

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

#BAME authored books currently eligible to be nominated for the 2018 CILIP Carnegie Medal

The CILIP Carnegie Medal was rocked by controversy this year as the long and short lists for 2017 featured no books by Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) authors. At the time as a former judge and observer of the CKG Medals I made my views publicly known and am not going to go through most of them here.

I believe that it is possible for books to slip past fairly easily, due to the sheer volume of books published for children and young readers and the limits that publishers publicity departments face with regard to budget, many books are released with little or no official fanfare at all.

I also know that BAME authors do not face a level playing-field when it comes to being published, although the initiatives that have been springing up recently to remedy this is a step in the right direction.

In the interests of trying to help make sure that no authors are left behind, I am promoting all the BAME authors I can find that are eligible for nomination for 2018.

SO! If you are a Librarian and a member of CILIP then good news! You are eligible to nominate two books for the CILIP Carnegie Medal as well as two books for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal – I hope to put together a list of Greenaway eligible titles soon. I am not telling you to nominate books from the list below, but if you have read one or more (as I have) and you think that they deserve a chance at going for gold then nominate them!

  • Randa Abdel-Fatteh – The Lines We Cross
  • S.K. Ali – Saints and Misfits
  • Amy Alward – Potion Diaries Going Viral
  • Sita Brahmachari – Tender Earth
  • Jack Chen – See You in the Cosmos
  • Michaela DePrince – Ballerina Dreams (illus Ella Okstad)
  • Lorraine Gregory – Mold and the Poison Plot
  • Swapna Haddow – Dave Pigeon Nuggets (illus Sheena Dempsey)
  • Polly Ho-Yen – Fly Me Home
  • Catherine Johnson – Blade and Bone
  • Patrice Lawrence – Indigo Donut
  • Irfan Master – Out of Heart
  • Taran Matharu – Battlemage
  • Sandhya Menon – When Dimple Met Rishi
  • Kiran Milwood Hargrave – The Island at the End of Everything
  • Nick Mohamed – Young Magicians
  • Pooja Puri – The Jungle
  • Bali Rai – The Harder they Fall
  • Chitra Soundar – A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (illus Uma Krishnaswamy)
  • Chitra Soundar – Pattan’s Pumpkin (illus Frane Lessac)
  • Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give
  • Alex Wheatle – Straight Outta Crongton
  • Nicola Yoon – The Sun is Also a Star
  •  
    If you have already made your choices then speak to colleagues that have not yet nominated! ALL members of CILIP are able to nominate – not just the ones working in Children’s & Young Peoples Librarianship.

    I will add more authors and titles as they pop up on my radar. If you know ones that are eligible please leave a comment and I will add them!

    The Inspiration Behind When Dimple Met Rishi By Sandhya Menon


    I firmly believe that marginalised teens need more books where they’re allowed to be happy, to make friends, to fall in love, to chase their dreams, and to have that perfect ending. When the opportunity to write When Dimple Met Rishi, a light YA rom-com, presented itself, I couldn’t believe my luck!

    I’ve always been a huge fan of writers like Sophie Kinsella and Jenny Han, and although I’d never written a light YA before, I knew that that reading experience would help immensely. While I wanted to show that Indian-American teens have many of the same hopes and fears as the rest of the population—and to make people laugh and swoon, of course!—I also wanted to give the culture the space and respect it deserved on the page. That’s why I put in nuances and experiences that would (hopefully!) ring true for other teens living in the diaspora.

    But above all, I wanted When Dimple Met Rishi to resonate with teens who’ve ever felt like they don’t belong or that their families simply don’t get them. That’s a very universal experience, I think, and you don’t have to be Indian-American to experience it!

    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


    Every now and then a book will come out of nowhere and hit you so hard that you don’t know whether you are coming or going!

    For me The Hate U Give is that book!

    It had me openly weeping on a train by page 26.

    It stoked anger within me – against the systems that keep people down, that normalise the murder of children at the same time as denying them fair and equal choices, freedoms and education.

    I am a child (and adult) of privilege; growing up white and male insulated me from what most of the world experiences. Having a conscience and sense of social justice I naturally gravitate left and believe that the inequalities of the world have to be fought and the systemic racism and patriarchialism of the world as it is need to be challenged and dismantled. What I do not have are the experiences of those that are not white and male.

    The Hate U Give has been my first experience of seeing the world through the eyes of a person that lives in a world that judges her and her friends and family by the colour of her skin and gender.

    It has been said that writing is a political act, and it cannot be more true with The Hate U Give, reading this novel is activism. But it is more than that, to merely describe it as a political novel or an ‘issues book’ would be to diminish it. This is a story about life, love, family, community and loss. For people who daily experience the acts contained within its pages, this book is a mirror showing themselves and their lives; for communities disconnected from these experiences it can act as bridge to understanding and building empathy.

    To Angie Thomas I say want to say thank you! With this book you have strengthened my resolve to fight for and with my friends and colleagues for a better world.

    To everyone else I say – read this book!

    If you know people that say things like “All lives matter!” in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement and the institutionalised oppression and murder of those whose skin colour does not resemble their own, or they believe that we live, love, work and play on a level playing field then buy then a copy. While you are doing that, buy yourself a copy, The Hate U Give is a book for everyone.

    Thug Life: TuPac Shakur:

    Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, John Jennings and Damian Duffy

    I’m black, I’m solitary, I’ve always been an outsider!
    ~ Octavia E. Butler

    Octavia Butler has been described as the greatest science fiction writer of her generation, not the greatest female science fiction writer or the greatest African-American science fiction writer, she is simply put, one of the greatest! Her words cut across class, race and gender and have found a home in the collections of millions of readers the world over!

    She was awarded two Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards and the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship.

    Kindred is one of her best-known novels; the tale of Dana, a modern young woman swept back in time to an earlier period in history, in this case the antebellum South, a time of cotillions, southern gallantry and all very romantic unless, like Dana, you happen to be black…

    Kindred is a story of contrasts, of kindness, humanity and cruelty, of a modern world (in this case 1970’s California) where people are free to live their life and marry whomever they please and a time where people are treated as chattel, bought, sold an abused as they are considered less than human.

    This graphic novel version of Kindred, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings with the agreement of the estate of Octavia E. Butler is a beautiful hardcover, with an eye-catching dust jacket that looks as perfect on a shelf with novels as it does with other works of graphic art.

    Damian Duffy has pared back Octavia’s text, preserving the essential story but making it flow perfectly for this graphic adaptation; John Jennings brings the text to life with his amazing artwork, imbuing the characters with movement on the page without glossing over the bloody and brutal mistreatment of humans by their fellow man. He has captured the cold cruelty of the slave owners in contrast with the pain and damaged humanity of the slaves. This is not a pretty story, no matter the beautiful artwork that adorns the pages; indeed it is shocking to modern liberal sensibilities and makes uncomfortable reading to be confronted by callous indifference to human suffering, but is necessary to remind ourselves how easy it is for us to dehumanise others and although we have come far, there is still a distance to go before we treat each other equally.

    Kindred is rightly considered a classic of the science fiction & literary genres. Duffy & Jennings’ version is a perfect gateway for readers to encounter Octavia’s work.

    Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, illustrated by John Jennings and adapted by Damian Duffy. Published by Abrams ComicArts (£15.99)