Category Archives: Ya

“I Will Not be Erased” gal-dem

Fourteen joyous, funny and life-affirming essays from gal-dem, the award-winning magazine created by young women and non-binary people of colour.
gal-dem, the award-winning online and print magazine, is created by women and non-binary people of colour. In this thought-provoking and moving collection of fourteen essays, gal-dem’s writers use raw material from their teenage years – diaries, poems and chat histories – to give advice to their younger selves and those growing up today. gal-dem have been praised by the Guardian for being “the agents of change we need”, and these essays tackle important subjects including race, gender, mental health and activism, making this essential reading for any young person.

Walker Books

The introduction to this book says “There is something in each of these essays that will speak to anyone who has ever wondered what they might say to their younger self…But it is our hope that these essays will especially speak to those of us from marginalised backgrounds…”. It really does cover every conceivable aspect of the teenage years, I want every 6th former in the country to read this book because they will recognise themselves in it (for me, it was Grace Holliday’s “The Uncool Girl’s Manifesto” in particular) and be inspired by the adults the contributors have become. They’re not saying their lives are all perfect, but that they want readers to “learn from our adventures, mistakes and heartbreaks so you feel less alone in your struggles and more at home in your joy.” The presentation of the essays is really smart, with illustrations by Jess Nash peppered throughout, and they are all really distinct and eloquent voices.

Jess Nash’s illustration for Niellah Arboine’s story “You Speak Well for a Black Girl”.

They made a fabulous short video, in this embedded tweet, and in amongst all the business made time to answer a few questions for us!

gal-dem started as a magazine, can you give us a bit of background as to how the book came about?

gal-dem magazine started when we were (almost) teenagers ourselves – we were in our very early twenties and feeling isolated at university and at the beginning of our careers. Much like with the book itself, we wanted to create something for our peers and for those younger than us, to make them feel less alone in their experiences. We are still a magazine which produces an annual print issue and online articles, but we also have ventured into the realm of events, takeovers and now books!

Can you share any favourite (recent or not) children’s or YA books?

YA is probably still my favourite ‘genre’, if you can call it that! Growing up I read everything from Philip Pullman to Jacqueline Wilson – The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Magicians Trilogy. Two of my recent faves have been The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

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

At the moment I’m re-reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the legacy and trauma of slavery, who believes in good and bad magic, and who just loves a beautifully told story.

What’s next from gal-dem?

At the moment we’re planning some really exciting events for over summer around sport! We’re relaunching our website and redesigning our print magazine. Big things ahead and always looking for more people to get involved and do some paid writing for us. Pitching details can be found here.

“I will not be erased” is out now from Walker Books (thank you for sending me a copy)

The Third Degree with Justin A. Reynolds

From debut author Justin A. Reynolds comes Opposite of Always, a razor-sharp, hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose and the moments that make life worth reliving.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

I was given a copy of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS at the CILIP YLG London Macmillan event in January, it was one of the books they told us about that I loved the sound of, so when I was given the opportunity to ask Justin some questions for the blog I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, and boy am I glad I did! It isn’t your classic YA love story, it isn’t your classic teen angst story, but it is your classic teenager trying to deal with what life throws at him. Jack is a great protagonist, making terrible decisions and bad jokes while his family and friends stick by his side through thick and thin (so refreshing). It is funny and moving and totally engrossing, and I finished it in a day.

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

‘Opposite of Always’ is your debut novel, was it a long journey to publication or was it snapped up?

Great question. The answer is actually a combination of both. Opposite of Always is my third or fourth completed manuscript, after drafting my first back at university; so, yes, it’s been a long journey in that sense. In fact, at one point, right before beginning this draft, I’d considered giving up writing altogether. Of course, now I’m glad I kept going. Once my agent took the story out on submission with publishers, we had immediate interest the very next day, and it was a whirlwind from there. I was very fortunate.

Do you still have a day job? How have you managed writing time?

Currently, writing is my day job, which is something I’d always dreamed of—writing full time. I do often think of my former occupation, though, with a special fondness; I was a registered nurse and had the privilege of assisting so many awesome patients get back on their feet. It was a very different job than writing, but both revolve around stories, on shaping a narrative. And both require a great deal of humility and empathy.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

The best thing has been the opportunity to meet so many fantastic people! The young adult book community, as it turns out, is smaller than I thought; which has been nice because it’s afforded me the chance to get to know other writers. They’ve shared their personal stories of perseverance with me and they’ve given me great advice throughout this entire journey; it’s been a tremendous (and unexpected) help!

You say in your introduction that it is your “refusal to say goodbye” to lost loved ones. Did you find yourself using any real memories in the story or is it all fictional?

So, I actually struggled with the idea of writing a story that stemmed from those personal losses. I wasn’t sure that I had the right to include those personal memories because they were no longer around to share their opinions; because of that, I did not use any specific memories in OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS. But the characters are certainly composites of people that I love; people that have loved me.

Jack has extremely supportive parents, something often missing in YA and very much missing from his friends’ lives, was that the case from the very first draft?

I love this question! The answer is yes! It was absolutely the case from the very first draft. There were a couple of things about this story that I knew from the beginning beginning—one was that Jack’s voice would be the focal point, and another was that he would have a very loving and dynamic support network—the center of which would be his parents. Not only was it important to me that their love for Jack be front and center, but that their love for his friends would feel the same. I think much of the parents’ instincts to love and support Jack (and company) stems from their deep (and sometimes super affectionate haha) love for each other.

You reference ‘Groundhog Day’, were there any other time travel influences that you’d recommend?

I love the movie ‘About Time’! If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and correct that immediately!

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

I just finished a great book called ‘Let Me Hear a Rhyme’ by Tiffany D. Jackson; at first glance it may appear to be a departure from her previous work—stories intent on drawing attention to the disregarded and giving voice to the overlooked—but at her newest novel’s core is the same heart and urgency present in all of her stories. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves music, values friendship, and enjoys superb storytelling.

Any plans to come to the UK?

I definitely want to visit the UK! Is this an invitation? 😀

I’m afraid we can’t stretch the budget to airfares, but I know a lot of librarians that would definitely love to meet you if you do come over!

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is out in the UK on the 4th April 2019.

The Third Degree with Keren David

Barrington Stoke (my old faves) very kindly sent me a copy of The Disconnect, Keren David’s next novella for them, to review.

How will a group of teenagers react when they are offered £1,000 to give up their mobile phone in Keren David’s thought-provoking story of perspective and influence.When an eccentric entrepreneur challenges a class to give up their phones, offering a prize of £1,000 to the one who lasts the longest, Esther is determined to win. But ignoring the draw of technology is difficult and it’s not as easy as she thought to resist that niggling urge. Can she hold out long enough to win the money and what else can Esther and her friends discover when they’re not glued to their screens? An astute and enthralling examination of the highs and lows of social-media life, from one of the most compelling voices in teenage fiction

As usual for a Barrington Stoke title, it says a lot with a few words. What I loved about this book, was that it wasn’t telling teenagers to get off their phones altogether but that perhaps it is worth looking up occasionally…and that parents and other adults are as guilty as teens about overusing their screens! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I pestered Keren for the Third Degree…

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

What prompted you to write about mobile phone use?

It’s such a huge thing in teenagers’ lives – all of our lives – and I thought it would be good to think about all the things, good and bad that we get from our phones. It’s something that I talk to my children about a lot. And I’d also been talking to a friend whose daughter was being bullied, and a lot of that was happening within Snapchat groups. I had a long talk with my son to work out what might actually tempt teenagers to put down their phones – money, we concluded. 

Do you have any advice for teens that might be worried about social media ruling their lives?


Give yourself a break. Even switching off once a week for 24 hours can put things into proportion, and help you create a sense of yourself that is separate from social media. 

The descriptions of food were wonderful, what inspired Basabousa?

On a very superficial level, I love Middle Eastern food and enjoy going to restaurants where it is served. On a deeper level, at a time of growing antisemitism, I wanted to create a benign character who is Israeli but whose family is originally from an Arab land – as they tend to get ignored in the overheated political narrative. 

This isn’t your first title for Barrington Stoke, how did you first get involved with them?

I loved their mission and books, and wanted to write for them for a long time. Then I had a letter from a dyslexic boy who said he’d enjoyed my books. So my agent used it as a way to approach Barrington Stoke, and luckily they were keen for me to write for them. 

Is writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It’s similar but much more concise – no time to dwell on minor characters or sub-plots. I like it! 

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I’m equally happy to do either. With writing workshops I try and do something that is fun, because I feel that often the enjoyment is sucked out of writing at school. I do one exercise where pupils create characters, then work in pairs to bring those characters together into a plot. Then – after a lot of laughing and excitement – I tell them that’s how my first book started, by doing that very exercise in a creative writing class. 

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just finished Tracey Thorn’s memoir Another Planet: A Teenager in Surburbia (Canongate) which was an extraordinary read for me, as Tracey and I were in the same class at school and did all the same A levels. A lot of it felt like reading my teenage diaries. I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially those of us who were teens in the late 70s. And I’ve just started reading Karen’s McCombie’s Little Bird Flies  (Nosy Crow) which is an absolutely beautiful, emotionally gut-wrenching story, perfect for sensitive 10 to 14 year olds. 

 What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

I’ve just started work on a new book, so I hope that’ll be a good experience! 

The Disconnect is out on 15th April 2019

Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan


Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.
Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.

Waaay back in July 2018, I mentioned Muhammad Khan‘s debut novel in my review for The Muslims by Zanib Mian (soon to be republished by Hachette, with some tweaks including new illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik, as Planet Omar), so feel I should give him his own space this time to explain why his second book is already looking to be one my my books of the year 2019!

Ilyas has to be one of my favourite characters in UKYA, full stop. He is a teenage boy who is committed to his Muslim faith, proud of his mother, loves comics and drawing, hates violence and misogyny, friend to Kelly, and (with her help) a burgeoning feminist. The inclusion of bits of comic strip drawn by Ilyas (actually by Amrit Birdi) is a brilliant hook, and his character Big Bad Waf is actually brilliant. His school is well imagined, the banter is honest, and his thought processes are totally believable as he tries to walk a path between what he wants, what his family wants, and what his ‘friends’ want. It is definitely one to have in every secondary library, and it covers so many “issues” in a non-preachy way that it is a great one to discuss with students.

Kick the Moon‘ is out now from Macmillan (thank you so much guys for hosting our January CILIP YLG London event and giving me a copy!)

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


Sandie has been battling it since her childhood; the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. Although her precious pet dog Rabbie may have fought back against this monster for years, when he is no longer there to protect her the black dog will return and Sandie’s nightmare will come back to haunt her…

Barrington Stoke are this month posthumously publishing their second Mal Peet novella, Good Boy. Both have been illustrated by Emma Shoard, and The Family Tree has been longlisted for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Good Boy on the 2020 list, I was sent a copy and read it holding my breath, that final page left me stunned for a few minutes. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Emma some questions…

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

Can you tell us how you came to illustrate this book?

The commission from Barrington Stoke to illustrate Good Boy came at the same time as The Family Tree; two Mal Peet novellas as a pair. It was a very exciting moment for me as I’d heard suggestions that I was being considered for the job about a year before but had to wait to find out for sure. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected but I think it had something to do with Mal’s wife Elspeth Graham. That gave me confidence knowing that she believed that I would do justice to his work. 

This is the second Mal Peet story you’ve illustrated for Barrington Stoke, as well as Siobhan Dowd’s ‘Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, both very well respected names, both sadly deceased. Did you feel daunted at all when you started the projects? Has it got easier?

Yes, it is daunting working with someone else’s creation particularly when you know it was one of their final pieces of work, or one of very few pieces they made in the case of Siobhan Dowd. So I’ve always been aware that the stories are very precious to those close to the author and their fans. Fortunately this has never negatively effected the experience of working on them. While illustrating Mal Peet’s stories I had a lot of contact with Elspeth Graham and with the publishers, creating more of a feeling of collaboration. With Good Boy particularly, there was a really good conversation throughout, discussing the story’s possible meanings and the interpretation of the black dog.

I’m always nervous sending off any first sketches or ideas to somebody new because I don’t know exactly what expectations they have of me and whether or not I’ll meet them. I’m not sure that part ever gets any easier, but for me it’s good to feel a bit of fear and have that pressure.

I love the way you draw people, just the posture you have someone standing in speaks volumes, does that mainly come from people watching and practicing or is it a technique you were taught?

Thanks! I find people and living things really interesting to draw, especially when they’re moving, dancing, making something. It all comes from observing and drawing people from life, but in a way it is a combination of both of those things you mentioned. I was taught by a really good life drawing teacher at university; very critical. I would be forced to draw figures more and more as they were, not straightened, softened or altered by a pre-conceived idea of what parts of a body should look like.
I do also use films, youtube videos and photographs as reference, with a preference for moving images because you can pause them and draw all of the difference stages of an action or gesture to understand it better.

How different is your process when you do live drawing events as opposed to illustrating a text?

I’m not sure it is that different. I like to use the same materials when I’m drawing live as I would in my studio: ink, brushes, charcoal. Also I find that I work well under time pressure so when I’m in my studio I make a lot of quick drawings, and sometimes a drawing which took only a few minutes will become a finished illustration in a book. Though, when illustrating a whole book there is always a lot more time spent planning, research, designing characters and playing with different materials. 

When visiting schools, do you prefer doing storytelling or creative workshops? What age group do you prefer to work with?

When teaching a creative workshop I like to work with small groups, again it’s nice to have that feeling of collaboration which you can have when you’re able to talk to people one-to-one about their work. I think I’ll always prefer these more casual interactions than to stand up and teach a big class, but I’m getting over my fears. I’ve put on workshops and live drawing performances for children as young as 8/9 up to adults, and I haven’t decided on a preferred group yet. Though my books are all aimed at a YA audience and they are the ones I love creating illustrations for.

What advice would you give to a child that told you they’d like to illustrate books one day?

There are a few different routes you can take and studying at university isn’t necessary for everyone. But I did find that studying illustration at that level, with all of my strict and critical tutors, really helpful. I’d say that the most important thing when it comes to studying at any level is to be really interested in your subjects, don’t choose them based on what other people say you should be doing. If you want to be an illustrator start working towards it straight away, don’t think that you can squeeze it in at the weekend after you’ve done all of your other homework. Draw for fun. Don’t throw away all the ‘bad’ drawings, they tell the story of how you got to where you are.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’m re-reading the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend which I loved. But at the same time Evening Descends Upon the Hills by another Neopolitan writer, Anna Maria Ortese, who I think was a big influence on Ferrante. Ortese’s stories are part-fiction, partly reportage and describe terrible poverty, violence and despair in the city during the 1950s. I love Naples and I want to learn more about it. I’d recommend Elena Ferrante’s books to almost anyone, there is romance, drama, politics and it’s a really vivid portrait of a friendship between two girls and of the neighborhood they live in. Evening Descends Upon the Hills is also brilliant but bleak. 

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m preparing for the release of Good Boy at the moment and preparing for school visits, festival events and a prison workshop, all happening throughout Spring and Summer. Being in between books, I’m working on some personal projects which is really nice to be able to do. In particular, I’m finishing a proposal for a non-fiction wildlife book to take to Bologna in April.

Thank you so much to Emma for taking time to answer the questions! Good Boy is published on 15th March 2019

PROUD

What have you got to lose? By telling her, I mean.’

I shrugged. ‘My pride?’

Patricia laughed then, which surprised me. ‘That’s not pride, my darling girl, that’s shame.’

The Instructor (Jess Vallance)

I spent far too much of my life being ashamed of who I am.

In the introduction to Proud, Juno Dawson writes about Section 28, and the devastating effect this legislation had on an entire generation of queer youth here in the United Kingdom. She and I are of a similar age; though I spent my childhood deep in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the southern United States, I also grew up with more questions than answers. I attended schools where the words ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ and ‘dyke’ were used as insults, hurled by bullies who possessed no more understanding of what those terms meant than did their intended targets, but had heard the accompanying sneers in their parents’ voices and knew instinctively that these were words that could cause pain. Where teachers and counselors and librarians turned a blind eye or bit their tongue for fear of losing their jobs, of being tarred with the same brush, of becoming the subject of town gossip, or worse. Where, more than twenty years after leaving school, many of my classmates are still trying to figure out who they are, in terms of both gender and sexuality, learning as they go, because the only information we were given was ‘don’t have sex until you’re married.’ Where marriage was defined ‘as God intended’, between one man and one woman, for the purpose of procreation, and deviation from this set path in any way, in who you are or who you love or how you build your family, is asking to be shamed and ostracised.

As a young person coming of age in this environment, I already had two strikes against me. I wasn’t religious, for a start, which meant that I was already on the outer fringes of local ‘society’; and I was poor, which isn’t a crime, but might as well have been. So when, at age 14, I realised I was attracted to both boys and girls, the last thing I was going to do was make this fact public. That didn’t stop me from wondering why, though. So I did what any self-respecting bookworm would do, years before the character appeared – I put on my ‘Hermione Granger’ pants and went to the school library…

…and found exactly nothing. These were the days before Google, before the Internet, really, at least for regular people; the best way to find answers, especially when trying not to alert anyone that you were looking, was to use the card catalog, at which I was a pro, having haunted my local library since before I could walk on my own. There, too, I struck out; turns out it’s impossible to convince a card catalog to cross-reference answers to ‘help, I want to mash faces with someone who has the same bits as me, am I broken?’ (Perhaps Hermione would have had better luck.)

I didn’t even bother checking the shelves for books whose characters might have the same burning questions; I’d long since left the children’s section behind and moved into the adult reading room with its cozy detective mysteries and cowboy westerns, and the handful of ‘young adult’ books on a shelf next to the computer room didn’t offer much hope. Mostly, they seemed to be about young women who were either wasting away from mystery illnesses, or plotting schemes in which they switched places with their ‘perfect size six’ blonde twin sisters – not terribly helpful in my situation.

This is the part of my tale where a nosy but well-meaning librarian sees me wandering around, growing ever more frustrated, and steers me in the direction of non-fiction books that will answer my questions, and fiction books with teenage protagonists who look and sound and feel like me, right? Except not, because those non-fiction books didn’t exist – not in any of the libraries to which I had access, anyway – and whilst Young Adult fiction as a genre had been around for a number of years, the same parochial oversight that had contributed to the paltry sex education curriculum in my school had had a similar censorious effect on the books purchased and stocked for teenagers using the public library. I went home that day with my questions unanswered; it took me three years to find the word I was looking for – bisexual – and half a dozen more (and a relocation to liberal New England) before I finally used the descriptor in relation to me. Even then, I wasn’t open about being bisexual – more often, I let others make assumptions about my sexuality based on the gender of my partner. Even free of the environment of my youth, I still carried with me a sense of shame for not conforming to expectations.

Almost twenty years to the day from the moment of my (then-unidentified) bisexual awakening, I began my current job as a secondary librarian at an independent school on the outskirts of London. Here I was, back in the same sort of place that had let me down so many years ago. Surely the world had moved on? A quick examination of the collection showed that, whilst society may have moved on, some areas of my new library had been left behind. Over the past four years, therefore, I’ve been working to build a rich and diverse range of representative young adult fiction, as well as an up-to-date, informative collection of non-fiction on topics of sexuality and gender – basically, what I’d wished I’d had access to as a questioning teen.

My primary goal as a school librarian is that every pupil who comes into my library should be able to find a story with a character that looks like them, or talks like them, or loves like them – and that, should they have questions about their gender or sexual identity, they can find factual, accessible answers without having to summon the courage to ask the librarian! It wasn’t until recently, though, that I learned first-hand that my efforts were making an impact.

Having been invited to attend a meeting of the newly established, pupil-run LGBTQ+ Society, I talked about Section 28, and shared a version of the story above, about what it was like to be a queer teenager under a different, but no less restrictive, regime. The reaction from my audience was such that one would have been forgiven for thinking I’d announced I’d been born on the moon and ate babies for breakfast. My bisexuality wasn’t a surprise (I’d finally come out publically a few years earlier, and had been wearing a pin with the bi flag colours on my staff lanyard for some time; also, as a man married to another man, a certain level of queerness is assumed), but the idea that my high school hadn’t been a safe place to be out, or that I’d been ashamed to call myself bi until well into my twenties – both of these concepts seemed so utterly foreign to these kids. I would have been more surprised, but for a conversation I’d had the day before.

The previous afternoon, I’d been chatting with a pupil who was borrowing a handful of books from the display I’d put together for LGBT(Q+) History Month; after she left, two Year 12s who’d overheard our conversation sidled up to my desk and asked if they could suggest some books for the library to buy and add to the display. I said ‘yes, of course!’ and our conversation began there – and lasted for the next hour and a half, until the library closed for the evening. Over the course of that conversation, they told me:

  • how amazing it is to see books about LGBTQ+ topics, not just in the library, but on display right when you walk in the door (I agree!);
  • when they first joined the school in Year 7, there weren’t any books like those in the library at all (I can believe this; I started at the school at the start of their Year 8); and
  • that my presence as an openly queer member of staff has made a huge impact on the student body – that it has prompted important conversations amongst the pupils, some of which really needed to take place – and that my presence and those conversations helped them and their LGBTQ+ friends begin to feel accepted, empowered, and proud.

Where does one even begin to respond to something like that?

I managed somehow not to immediately burst into tears whilst my heart exploded with joy, but it was a very close thing. It’s what any educator would want to hear, I think – that their work has had an impact on the pupils under their care – and that part was amazing. But to hear that my very existence has made a real difference in multiple lives, to young people who may have once been as confused – or even as ashamed! – as I once was?

That just makes me feel, well – proud.

I’m thrilled to be able to add Proud to the shelves of my school library, because in this fantastic anthology of stories, poems and art, I can finally see myself – not just in the characters, but in their creators – and I can’t even begin to imagine how many others will be able to do the same. I just wish I could go back in time and tell that 14-year-old kid that one day, I’d hold in my hands an entire book of stories written by and featuring people like me – and all of the stories will have happy endings. I wish I could say, ‘someday, you will not be ashamed to be who you are – instead, you will be proud, and because you are, other people will have the chance to be proud, too.’

Emerson Milford Dickson

You can find him twittering here

The Third Degree with David Owen

David Owen’s latest book, All The Lonely People, is released on 10th January. It is a fantastic read with a fascinating premise: can you be so lonely that you actually disappear? There are two main characters, who rarely meet but their paths are entwined when Wesley’s “friends” choose Kat as a target for an online hate campaign with the intention of hounding her off the internet. Kat (like me as a teenager tbh) only feels like she can be herself online, and so as she deletes her accounts she herself begins to fade in real life. The Kat storyline resonated but Wesley’s side was the outstanding side for me – he’s trying to find a place to fit in but has chosen a toxic community that he realises he doesn’t agree with but fears he’s in too deep to get out. I was so impressed with his confused and also lonely voice, and hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say I was very pleased with his redemption without forgiveness. It is a brilliant examination of the damage of toxic masculinity and the ease with which lonely boys can be indoctrinated by misogynistic online groups, something I’ve not seen in YA before, as well as a touching look at the prevalence of lonliness in teens and how important it is to remember that no one has it together but some people fake it better. There is no “get off the internet and find a real friend” moral, but it does lead the reader to think about the potential pitfalls of social media use.

In fact, I loved it so much that I pinned him down to ask a few questions:

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

All the Lonely People is about online culture, did you spend a lot of your teenage years online?

Waaay too much time! I was part of the first generation to grow up with online culture. I spent an inordinate amount of time in chat rooms and forums, and I had LiveJournal, MySpace, and was an early adopter of Facebook. I’ve been online since I was about ten years old. 

I spent most of my online time on an RPG video game forum that had quite a small but very active community. The opinions of these people came to really matter to me. If I said something stupid or accidentally broke a rule there, I’d feel bad about it for days. It was so stupid! That was my first taste of how an online life can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.  

Do you have any words of wisdom for teenagers, like Kat, who feel like their online presence is more important than their real world presence?

I’m not sure about words of wisdom. It’s so easy for me to encourage people to disconnect a little and not take it quite so seriously, but the reality is very different. Social media is such an integral part of the lives of young people now, much more so than when I was a teenager. There is a sense that if you’re not online, or if you don’t get enough attention there, you don’t exist. And one wrong move can be instantly seen by the entire world. 

I suppose all I can say is to encourage teenagers to seek out people, whether online or in the ‘real world’, who share similar values, who have similar interests, and who will treat them with kindness. Those are the people that matter, rather than striving to gain the approval of people who don’t care about you. Use your online presence to enhance your life – if the negatives begin to outweigh the positives, it’s time to reassess how you use the internet. 

What inspired the title?

It is shamelessly lifted from the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. I listened to it a lot while I was writing the book, because it’s such a terrifically melancholy song, and quite succinctly sums up the isolating experience of loneliness. And, of course, it fitted in well with the Lonely People group in the story, and the idea that more people than you realise are struggling with feeling alone. 

Your day job as a journalist obviously involves a lot of writing, how easy is it to switch between researching for articles and writing fiction?

Switching between the two modes of writing isn’t something I find too difficult. They’re sufficiently different that my brain can easily differentiate them. The fact I go to an office for my day job and then write fiction at my desk at home also helps! The only real problem is time and tiredness – after a day of work, especially one that’s involved a lot of writing, the last thing I want to do is sit down at a computer and write some more, even if it is something different. So sometimes fiction has to wait. 

You’ve chaired a few panels at events in recent years, who were your favourite panellists and what would you love to chair next?

I’m going to give a cop out answer here and say I’ve loved everybody I’ve chaired – but it’s true. It was an honour to chair Melvin Burgess because he’s such a titan of YA fiction and listening to him talk is fascinating. Taran Matharu talks really eloquently about fantasy fiction, and Alice Oseman was also a delight to chair. 

I’d love to chair a panel of authors of really weird YA fiction – like Andrew Smith, Margo Lanagan, M. T. Anderson, authors that really push what YA can be. I think that would be really interesting.  

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I like a mix of both! A talk is a good way to introduce yourself and your books and talk about the things that really matter to you to hopefully get them thinking. But not many school kids want to be talked at for an hour straight, and doing workshops is a great way to keep them engaged and to encourage a love for reading and writing, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do. Young people are so creative, I think authors often get more out of the workshops than they do!


What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just (figuratively) cracked the new Alex Wheatle novel ‘Home Girl’, which is the next in his brilliant Crongton series. They’re such unique books, packed with the types of characters we don’t see enough in YA, and the writing is just brilliant. I’d recommend to pretty much anyone, but particularly to people who are cynical about YA and how tremendously powerful it can be. 

What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

In books? Better representation of marginalised voices, better coverage of children’s books in the national press, and for our libraries to be protected. In the world? For everything to be significantly less terrible.

I also wouldn’t mind All the Lonely People being a bestseller…

You won’t regret it!

The Third Degree with Julie Kagawa

When destiny calls, legends rise.

Every millennium the missing pieces of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers are hunted, for they hold the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish.

As a temple burns to the ground Yumeko escapes with its greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll. And when fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai she knows he seeks what she has. Kage is under order to kill those who stand in his way but will he be able to complete his mission? Will this be the dawn that sees the dragon wake?

I read Shadow of the Fox in two sittings a couple of weeks ago, so huge thanks to Nina for sending me a copy and giving me the chance to ask Julie Kagawa some questions as part of the blog tour! It is an engrossing read, I particularly liked just how the world was built with all the little details about food and clothes without getting bogged down in descriptions. The two main protagonists are great, I loved the humour in their interactions (even in very unfunny, potentially deadly circumstances) and as new characters were introduced they quickly came to life and fit into the story perfectly. It is a properly epic tale and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment of their adventures!

Hi Julie welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the
third degree!

Since publishing your first book, The Iron King, in 2010, not a year has gone by without a new
title and/or the beginnings of a new series. Are they ideas that you have been polishing for
years, or have you simply not slept for the last 10 years?!
I’m constantly getting new ideas. Writing a book takes awhile, and once the excitement and
newness wears off, shiny new story ideas are bound to creep in. But since I can’t stop one story
to go write another, I keep them in a “new ideas” folder on my computer. I’ll type a few short
lines, either on characters, setting or plot, and file it away so it will be safe. That way, not only
will I not forget, I have a whole folder of new stories to be written once I’m done with my
current project.

After tackling fairies (not the cute ones), vampires, and dragons, why did the idea of
shapeshifters appeal next?
I love anime, and I especially love the legend of the kitsune. I actually wrote Shadow of the Fox
before the Iron Fey, but didn’t get it published until this year. The original version was an adult
fantasy, so I rewrote it as YA and the story is very different now. But I always loved that first
idea about a kitsune, so I’m thrilled that Shadow of the Fox is out in the world now.

Shadow of the Fox is the beginning of a new series that brings Japanese mythology to life. Did
you consider bringing it into a contemporary Western setting or was it always going to be in an
ancient land?
It was always going to be set in an ancient, mythological Japan, because the history, culture,
settings and architecture is beautiful and fascinating. I didn’t only want to write about
Japanese mythology, I wanted to write a book set in a land of samurai and ninja. Which is hard
to do in a contemporary Western setting.

How much research went into the customs and clothing you describe so vividly in the book? Are these largely based on reality?
A lot of the research that went into Shadow of the Fox comes from years and years of watching
anime and old samurai movies by Japanese directors. Movies like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo,
Thirteen Assassins and the like, are very helpful when it comes to clothing, buildings and
terrain. Years of watching anime has taught me a lot about Japanese folklore and legend, as
many mythological creatures like kitsune, oni and tanuki appear in anime a lot. But I’ve also
studied the history of Japan, especially around the Sengoku era, because that point in Japanese
history is where Shadow of the Fox is inspired.

Do you plan in advance how many books in a series? Have you decided what’s coming next?
I usually know how many books beforehand. I tend to like trilogies, so Shadow of the Fox will
have three books in the series. I just finished book two, Soul of the Sword, so now I’m onto
book three.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?
Right now I’m reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, and I’d recommend it to anyone
who loves fantasy, particularly if you like beautiful writing and almost surreal worlds.

Any plans to visit your UK based fans?
Not at the moment, but the year is nearly over, and who knows what the next year will bring?

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

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards 2019

It is finally here! The biggest ever (again) nominations list for the best ever children’s books awards.

For those of you who don’t know, the Carnegie medal is awarded to the author of an outstanding piece of literature for children and young people while the Kate Greenaway medal recognises the illustrator of an outstandingly illustrated book for children and young people (the 2019 awards are for titles published in the UK between September 2017 and August 2018). Most nominations come from members of CILIP and so for a book to be nominated it must have been read and loved by at least one individual…hopefully, before nominating, that individual will have also considered whether the book meets the criteria that the judges then use to whittle the huge nominations list down to a long list of (up to) 20 each to a shortlist of (up to) 8 each to the eventual winners. Some of us (lucky us) get sent books by publishers, sometimes with a “we’d like this to be considered for CKG” note, but the nominations are all made by people with an interest in libraries for children and young people.

This summer a report was published into the diversity review (Matt blogged about it here) bringing a few changes to the process to ensure that it is as diverse and inclusive as possible:

This year, 254 books have been nominated for the 2019 Medals; 137 books are in the running for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 117 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Books have been put forward by a record number of nominators which, alongside CILIP members, includes several external bodies − BookTrust, CLPE, Commonword, IBBY, Inclusive Minds, National Literacy Trust and RNIB − invited to nominate as part of CILIP’s diversity and inclusion action plan for the Awards.

As part of this action plan, this year also sees:

o   an expanded judging panel of librarians, bringing a broad range of lived experiences and perspectives

o   enhanced diversity training for the judges

o   an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel to support and advise on the Awards process

o   a new prize voted for by children and young people

o   and a quarterly publication of Top 10 New Voices eligible for the upcoming Medals.

Scanning the lists, some favourites are there along with a few that I keep meaning to read. In the years before my judging tenure I read the full nominations list every year, and then obviously while judging I read everything (some things many times over), but as the list grows ever longer and more and more books continue to be published that will be eligible for 2020 (…2020! Wishing my life away in CKGs…) this year I’m going to alternate one book from the list with one new book and see how far I get. So far, I’ve only read 1/3 of the Carnegies (clearly spent too much time re-reading Pratchett) and nearly half the Kate Greenaways (will have to raid the public library for the rest).

What do I love that I’ve read so far? Oooh, it is fab to be able to think about favourites and not just about criteria. Every year I guarantee you every one of the judges will have to lose at least one of their favourites to those that the panel agree best meet the criteria. Judges can’t say “I loved this book because…”, they have to say “it meets this criteria because…”.

  • So my top 10 Carnegie favourites so far are: David Almond Colour of the Sun, Jo Cotterill Jelly, S.E. Durrant Running on Empty, Candy Gourlay Bone Talk, Frances Hardinge A Skinful of Shadows, Catherine Johnson Freedom, Zanib Mian The Muslims, Philip Reeve Station Zero, Jason Reynolds Long Way Down, Dave Shelton The Book Case.
  • Top 10 Kate Greenaway that I love, so far, are: Mehrdokht Amini Nimesh the Adventurer, Francesca Chessa Is it a Mermaid?, Rebecca Cobb The Day War Came, Ruth Hearson Zeki Gets a Checkup, Jean Jullien I Want to be in a Scary Story, Fiona Lumbers Luna Loves Library Day, Poonam Mistry You’re Safe With Me, Jackie Morris The Lost Words, Chris Priestly Long Way Down, Catell Ronca The Drum.

It was hard to whittle it down to 10 each and I’ve got so many left to read! I’m certain they won’t all be longlisted, but that’s the joy of picking favourites. It seems to me that the Kate Greenaway list has far fewer titles for older children than in the last few years, but of course that may well just be because half the ones I’ve not read yet are for teenagers and (having a 3 year old) I’ve gravitated more towards classic picture books! The Carnegie list seems to have something for everyone in there, I don’t envy the judges having to make those decisions*!

(*who am I kidding, of course I do, those judging meetings are intense but absolutely brilliant)

A Storm of Ice and Stars by Lisa Lueddecke

I hope you read our guest post from Lisa Lueddecke as part of a blog tour promoting her second book, A Storm of Ice and Stars, earlier this month. I was also sent a copy of the book to read and review.

Ice, myth, magic and danger in this bone-chilling, page-turning, beautifully written fantasy novel set in the same world as A SHIVER OF SNOW AND SKY. Blood-red lights have appeared in the sky over the frozen island of Skane, causing a cloak of fear and suspicion to fall over the village like a blanket of snow. In a desperate attempt to keep out the plague, the village elders barricade its borders – no-one, no matter how in need of help, will be permitted to enter in case they bring infection with them. Teenager Janna refuses to turn her back on people seeking refuge and is banished to the swirling snow and lurking darkness beyond the village. Can she survive?

The opening paragraphs gracefully introduce us to the vast, quiet, cold island of Skane and the dangerous sky that promises death for many. Our main character has long been considered odd by the village and, when something terrible happens the night after the villagers close their borders for fear of plague, these whispers of witchcraft turn into loud accusations and she is forced to leave. I was turning the pages at speed at this point, fearing what was coming, but once her trek from the village begins it became (for me) less tense and more clearly pre-destined, turning into a quest to plead with the Gods to save those who were kind to her. The writing is truly atmospheric, it is a very wintery read. Well paced, with character building flashbacks that do a lot to explain her behaviour, and a satisfying end.