When Secrets Set Sail

Usha is devastated when her grandmother Kali Ma passes away. Then straight-talking Imtiaz arrives – her new adoptive sister – and the two girls clash instantly. They both feel lost. That is until Kali Ma’s ghost appears…with a task for them.

Immy’s and Usha’s home is full of history and secrets. Many years ago it was The House of the Ayahs – for those nannies who couldn’t return to their Indian homeland – and Kali Ma made a promise she couldn’t keep. She can’t pass on to the other side until the girls fulfil it.

Today, Usha and Immy’s over-worked parents run the house as a home for refugees, but eviction threatens. The precious documents that could save them are lost. As the house slowly fills up with ghosts, that only Usha and Imtiaz can see, the girls realise they have more to save than just one grandmother’s ghost.

With help from their new friend Cosmo, Usha and Immy must set off on a quest through London, accompanied by two bickering ghosts, working together to find a series of objects that shine a magical light on their family’s past and hold the clues to securing their future.

If they can set the secrets of generations free, will they be in time to save their home?

Endorsed by Amnesty International

Hachette

Sita Brahmachari seems to be one of the hardest working children’s authors in the UK, and one of my favourites. I had the great pleasure of asking her some questions about her latest book WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL, and her answers are fabulous.

Your books always have “issues” at the heart of them and provoke the reader to discover a piece of history they might not know about, or consider impacts or viewpoints they might not have recognised before. How difficult is it to ensure that they are always exciting stories and not just didactic tomes?

First and foremost I’m fascinated by people’s lives and how the events in their lives, their actions or the things that happen to them impact on the world. I don’t think when people become refugees or are affected by climate change, face mental health challenges, are newly adopted, experience a death in the family or face homelessness or racism or child hunger that they experience these moments in life as ‘issues.’ I don’t shy away from some of the great challenges young people face today but as a writer I’m interested in nuance and getting beyond ‘issues’ to a multi-layered story. I feel that stories are superpower empathy portholes…and in these reactionary times that feels like a vital porthole to be able to open.

When I set out to write a story I might think I know what’s at the core of it, but my synopsis often bears little relation to the final book! The process of storytelling is an adventure for me. I always get taken by the characters into unexpected realms and it’s a real joy when these discoveries and unravellings are experienced and enjoyed by the reader.

It’s always finding characters, symbols and landscapes that really take me into the dreaming space of stories. The artichoke charm from my first story ‘ Artichoke Hearts’ is a guiding symbol for me; I’m constantly unpeeling the layers of characters and wanting to explore their sensibilities; their hopes, fears and dreams. This is what sparks my imagination and takes me into the heart of the story.  Often, as I write, it’s the characters I had thought were on the periphery that take centre stage because, as in life, it is fascinating to get to know people even when, or perhaps especially when, they may seem to be polar opposites to ourselves.

This is how I discovered characters like Themba and Luca in ‘Where the River Runs Gold’ and Imtiaz and Cosmo in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’. Originally ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ was written only from Usha’s point of view then Imtiaz made me see the error of my ways! And I’ve found that Imtiaz not done with me yet, she and Cosmo wanted their own adventure so they appear again in my World Book Day story next year ‘The River Whale.’

The subjects you include in your stories can be very upsetting, do you sometimes find it difficult to do the research?

I hope that my stories contain the gamut of human experience and although I’m not afraid to tackle the most complex of emotions, I always want my stories to scatter hope-seeds. They are inter-generational stories and one thing I’ve realised that no matter what dire situations the characters face there is always someone there to hold them.

I tend to do hands on research. My preference is to work with people. My work with refugee people since I began work in community theatre has informed my characters in many stories and plays. In art as in life once you take people to heart you don’t want to turn your back on them. So If I write about a difficult subject like someone I know or have worked with has faced then my main concern is to find the truth in that experience and to convey the empathy I feel for the characters that grow out of my research and engagements in community. I think engagement is everything and when you engage with people you are naturally moved by their stories, laughing as well as crying with them.

I often place a space in time between research and writing to allow the thoughts and feelings to distil and settle and to find the freedom to move from fact into fiction.

If I was to set out to write a novel at the stage that the research is on top of me I think there would be a real danger that the work would become didactic, something I would hate for my stories to be. An example of this is the experience of helping an elderly homeless woman bathe her feet in a refuge led me to create the character of Elder in ‘Red Leaves’ who is part bark-skinned homeless woman , part tree and ancient spirit of the ancient caring wood!

When children like Pari in ‘Tender Earth’ or Shifa and Themba in ‘Where The River Runs Gold’ are going hungry and needing to use food banks, as so many children are today, children and young people are feeling the discomfort of that sometimes in their own hunger pains, but when I write I think about creative narrative that both recognise the realities of that and offers hope seeds for transformation.

I think a lot about where children place these feelings that the real world ignites in them.  For me stories are magical empathy portholes… they allow us to dream of coming together to change the things that disempower us and to overcome what might seem insurmountable.

In writing fiction I need to know my story is grounded in truths I have discovered from research but then I need to immerse myself in the storytelling adventure and step into dream time.

Perhaps because of late the world, in Wordsworth words has been ‘too much with us’ in my recent novels I have wanted to explore the potential of magical transformations in relation to the realities the children in my stories face.

The idea of unheard stories and oral histories not being forgotten is huge and important, and  the author’s note at the end of WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL tells us the fascinating inspirations for the Ayahs’ story, but where did Imtiaz and Usha, and the idea of them becoming sisters, come from?

 In unravelling the story of the Ayahs – one of abandonment and care- I was looking for contemporary characters who in one way or another would deeply understand why the Ayah ghost ‘Lucky’ would need to set her spirit free by having her story told.

What moved me about the story of the Ayah nursemaids was the dual abandonment. Ayahs found themselves far from home and abandoned but the children they had cared for must have suffered so deeply too from being torn away from each other. That idea is what led me to grow the characters of Imtiaz and Usha.

I don’t think I realised when I set out how the story is as much about Imtiaz and Usha’s contemporary herstory as it is about the Ayahs… the waves of the colonial story from the Ayah’s time is literally in the bricks and mortar of the home they set aside their differences to save. As I wrote I realised that for contemporary readers the journey of these two very different girls to becoming loving sisters had to be central to their discovery of the history of their home.

I often write about family, friendship, belonging and community and have presented many different kinds of families in my stories. With Imtiaz my idea was to see how a looked after child with the most difficult of starts in the world, given the opportunity to feel secure and loved, might grow.

Usha doesn’t have to make an effort to belong but Imtiaz does. It seemed to me that in microcosm that is a theme that also links to the untold stories of the ayahs … if you know that your story is told you have assurance and ease of your place in it… if like the Ayahs and Imtiaz’s your story is hidden or ‘blocked’ (in the ear of the conch)… then there is effort involved to strive to be heard.

This tension between the girls gave me a lot. Here are two girls with shared migrant identities, but very different starts in life who can’t see each other’s ghosts or empathise with each other- but need to believe in each other if they are to stay sisters and save their home. They were, in many ways, the key to me releasing the Ayah’s story into the world.  I have often said stories are an act of communal making and I have to thank my insightful editor Tig Wallace for keeping the historical quest in this story grounded in the ups and downs of Imtiaz and Usha’s relationship!

I also found in their different early lives an interesting contrast. Between them they share wide diaspora birth families, crossing class, cultures, religions and oceans but who they identify with most strongly are those who care for them and love them. Their deep understanding of this gives them keen instincts to uncover the Ayah story.

I love that you found out about the campaign for a Blue Plaque for the Ayahs’ Home as you were finishing writing the book, the videos on the Hachette schools page are great, and I like the idea of encouraging children to make nominations for a blue plaque, have you thought of any yourself, and has it inspired more story ideas?

It was incredible to press send on my story and then discover this event. Some of the adult characters like Valini in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ talk about ‘fate’ and ‘things being meant!’ but this really did feel like serendipity at its superpower best!

At this brilliant event at Hackney Libraries I met Rozina Visram whose research was central to discovering the Ayah story and I also met Farhanah Mamoojee a wonderful young historian and activist who has been campaigning for a Blue Plaque to recognise the Ayahs Home. Watch this space!

Sita Brahmachari with Farhanah Mamoojee, outside the Ayahs Home

It’s been a real joy to work together with Farhanah @ayahshome to sit on the steps of the real life houses where the Ayahs lived together and to share in the launch of this story into the world… in many ways I feel as if I have met a grown up Imtiaz!

If I could nominate a Blue Plaque to anyone it would be to

Elyse Dodgson (1945- 2018)

Adopted Londoner!

Visionary educator, international new writing director and enabler of young people’s talent the world over.  Some of her fierce equality seeking spirit and a little of her name has found its way into the character of Delyse in my story. Her first play created with students in her Vauxhall School ‘Motherland’ has been a lifelong inspiration to me.

Elyse gave my first job as a young person leaving university at The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre… as community theatre worker. She told me that my work first and foremost was to listen to the communities and ‘welcome them to storytelling’ so that they find their voice. I’ve never forgotten that.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/nov/02/elyse-dodgson-obituary

(I’m breaking the Blue Plaque rules that someone needs to be deceased for twenty years and I encourage young readers who want to take part in the project to do the same! If they want to nominate a quiet hero or heroine whose alive for this imaginary project – why not!)

Have you done any virtual events this year?

I’ve done quite a few virtual events in different formats this year. In the build up to publication it was wonderful to be invited to be part of the South Asian Literature Festival and to have such positive responses to that from people joining from around the world – a sort of virtual globe window – that’s a real positive.

The virtual launch with The Children’s Book Shop in Muswell Hill was perhaps my favourite because it was in a wonderful real life bookshop! I felt connected with the community.

Jane Ray and I have been continuing our work with refugee people running our art and writing class by gathering around what we’ve now named out ‘Virtual Hearth’ – no matter how hard it is – the connection is so worthwhile.

At this time teachers and librarians have been amazing in their resilience. In the face of so many day to day challenges they have kept the reading for pleasure banner flying high. Like so many authors I’ve been busy adapting and learning new zooming skills and doing virtual events… Dominic Kingston and Felicity Highett at Hachette has been a real support in helping me with this and also Pop Up Festival has offered excellent training… BUT… We’ve all discovered things about ourselves during this time and one of the things I realise is how much I love being in a reality-room/ hall with readers! Over the years I have visited many schools and it is here, in the direct and indirect engagements with readers that I have understood so much about writing. Very often, as I’m talking I will notice there is a child at the periphery of the room who is perhaps doodling and not obviously engaging. I’ll catch their eye and know that something I have written and am talking about has impacted them… I have a treasure hoard of letters and art from these children that often inspire me to write the next book.  

Your recent post for the YLG blog about Library Hearths was brilliant, such tremendous support for libraries and librarians. You talk about imagining pinpointing for your characters “who planted the seeds that make them grow into who they will become”, can you share any of your own influences?

Here are just three of my writer-potential-seed-planters….there are many!

I’ll start at home… with my dad who I believe taught me what a storytelling voice was all about. My little memory in ‘The Book of Hopes,’ envisioned by the wonderful Katherine Rundell during Lockdown, is dedicated to him. Jane Ray gifted this beautiful illustration to accompany my little vignette but readers of my work will have spied dad’s brave, adventurous, caring and good humoured spirit before in Granddad Bimal and in the man in the hat in my co-theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s sublime graphic novel ‘The Arrival’. 

Dad by Jane Ray

I had an English and Drama teacher who also acted as librarian who always told me I should be a writer and when I wrote ‘Artichoke Hearts’ and returned to my school Mrs Smith, then quite elderly, queued up for a signed copy. ‘You made me wait but told you so!’ she said! In truth this teacher was also an inspiration to Pat Print – the writing tutor in that story and she knew it!

Elyse Dodgson (whom I nominated a Blue Plaque for above) who took a punt on me… and even though I had little experience employed me as community theatre worker for The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre as my first job as a student straight out of university.

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

I’m reading a lot of new writing manuscripts for ‘The First Chapter Awards’ for the Scottish Book Trust at the moment so as contrast I’m dipping in and out of David Almond’s short stories ‘Counting Stars’ (2016 Hodder Children’s Books). For me voice is such an important aspect of being a writer and I love Almond’s storytelling voice. In these stories about David’s childhood in Tyneside I find so much connection, joy and awe at the natural world. I’m loving them because I have been exploring the universal in the global in my own work and I feel a deep connection to this idea especially now when so many people may feel isolated – These stories are a wonderful reminder that in the drift of a cloud or a river’s flow we are so deeply interconnected and I hear in them a heartening song to the power of children’s imaginations. I would recommend it to anyone who is or who has ever been a child!

What are you working on next?

I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my World Book Day story for next year ‘The River Whale’ illustrated by the wonderful Poonam Mistry in which readers will meet Immy again free-diving in prose and verse! I’ve loved writing it and discovering what a year of having access to fulfilling her dreams has brought her and the world!

On another track I’m working on an illustrated YA story (title not quite set yet!) that I began writing in 2008. It will be published in late 2020 by Stripes. In it my older teen characters are walking a high stakes tight rope between myth, dream and reality.

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers Sita! WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL is out now!

Three Comic Books from Street Noise Books

If I am being honest, each of these titles deserves their own post as they are all so different and beautiful and compelling. They also may never get written if I wait to do each one individually so with apologies to Street Noise Books who published them I am grouping them all together.

Street Noise Books, if you have never encountered them is a new kid on the publishing block, an independent publishing house specializing in graphic memoir and illustrated nonfiction for young adults.

First up is Crash Course by Woodrow Phoenix, the tag line caught my attention: If you want to get away with murder buy a car

I am a fairly reluctant driver at the best of times, this is not the best way to be in America, the land of the highway and byway where the distance between places that are considered local is often a barrier to walking there (and don’t get me started on the lack of sidewalks in many areas) this book did nothing to make me feel better about driving, it also heightened my nervousness at walking on the side of the road but on the plus side it also made me focus on being more aware of where I was as a driver ,passenger and pedestrian. As the author writes in the afterward:

I wrote this book to make you mad. the inadequate laws, the cash reports, the road raging, distracted, and hit-and-run drivers; the data is all appalling.

This book is a meticulously written and illustrated work about how easy it is to be killed while using the road, and not just by careless drivers in their vehicles. The sources used in the creation of this work are all listed and I have read through them several times since finishing this book.

Honestly Crash Course stressed me out and makes me feel anxious just by looking at it, but that is the point we are often not aware about how much we have sacrificed to keep our vehicles moving and how easy it is to become another statistic.

Read this book and you will never look at roads in the same way again. It may even save your life, or the lives of others!

Shame Pudding a Graphic Memoir by Danny Noble is a resonant tale of growing up surrounded by a weird and wonderful family, centered around the narrator’s beloved grandmothers.

Reading this book made me well up with tears – it made me think of my family and miss them (they are mostly in South Africa and I don’t get to see them often). Shame Pudding is a warm, beautiful memoir of growing up anxious, insecure and feeling like an outsider but being rescued by your family without even realizing it.

I hare Read Shame Pudding from cover to cover three times and opened it up at random several times just to enjoy the weirdness and beauty of the storytelling that is infused on each page. It also brought back memories of my protest activist days in London, it is funny how some images can just bring up thoughts of things that you have not consciously remembered in years!

Come Home, Indio is written and illustrated by Jim Terry.

I did not realize it but I have been a fan of his work since at least 2013, when I read The Crow: Skinning the Wolves, written by James O’Barr (it was the first Crow related graphic novel I had read since I discovered the original one in the early 1990’s). His art style is phenomenal and one that is well-suited to a black & white medium.

This is a beautiful, heart-breaking and awe-inspiring story that gives an intimate view of growing up an outsider in two communities and finding the will to survive a self-destructive spiral into drink and drug abuse.

Come Home, Indio is a wonderful reintroduction to an artist whose work I love and is my graphic novel pick for book of the year!

Margate Bookie Fireside Chats

Margate Bookie have been organising literary events around seaside town Margate since 2015, but this year they’ve gone online and everyone’s invited! They run festivals and workshops and creative courses for a range of audiences, and in November they’re hosting Fireside Chats with some fabulous guests lined up, follow that link to see all the booking details, but I wanted to highlight two events that TeenLibrarian readers might be particularly interested in:

I will be watching the New Voices panel – I had a great time reading the books longlisted for the Diverse Book Awards this year and am looking forward to hearing more from the team behind it! I’ve been given an extra ticket for both this and the ‘Love with Dean Atta and Richard Skinner’ event, so if you would like to be in with a chance of winning a free ticket for either, just follow the links:

Click here for a chance to win a ticket for the New Voices chat.

Click here for a chance to win a ticket to the Love chat.

Booking is also open for their fab sounding Christmas event!

Guest Post: A Monument to Cognitive Dissonance by Lindsay K. Bandy

I can still see those Sharpie slashes. My middle school librarian had carefully, lovingly, censored out every swear word from every copy of every book in our small, Mennonite school’s library. Today, as I prepare to release my first young adult novel into the world, I imagine the things my former teachers and librarians will Sharpie out. Sure, there are few black-out-worthy words, but the book’s very theme is what will ban it from my former places of education: Learning how to think—not what to think—is the key to freedom. That theme, for me, has been hard-won. It’s turned me into a writer; and it’s turned me into a librarian.

I remember my intense, instilled fear of public school, my constant anxiety about being subject to secular agendas that would test my faith, sow doubt, or infect me with evil. As a young adult, facing cognitive dissonance was a painful and terrifying process, because my gatekeepers did not provide or value access to conflicting information or opinions. I was left to assume that, if I thought or felt differently, I was simply wrong.

Now, as a parent of two daughters, I understand the good and noble desire to protect children. We want them to stay innocent, unaware of the evil lurking in the world, because we don’t want it to ever touch them. But maybe we also want them to continue to see us, their parents, teachers, and librarians, as the people who know where everything goes. The people who can Dewey-Decimal the meaning of life in a jiffy. Maybe the longer we can keep them from asking us uncomfortable questions, the longer we can avoid facing them, ourselves.

I choose to admit that I don’t know all the answers at the cost of falling from goddess-status in the eyes of my children. But this fall leads to miracles, like searching the shelves of the library or the depths of the internet together for information. It leads to discussions about reliable sources, bias, and empathy. It leads to forming and finding answers together, to reflecting on our own biases, and trying to understand why good-hearted people arrive at polar opposite answers to big questions. It blurs the lines between us and them, because there is room in the library for all. (And hey, let’s face it: by the time they hit college, I’ll have fallen from goddess status, anyway.)

Still, it’s a stubborn part of our human nature to simplify. An organizational system is necessary for libraries and brains, and when things feel out of place, we can easily get angry, defensive, fearful, and fiercely dogmatic. Be honest: You know the library-quiet rage that bubbles up in your chest when a co-worker shelves Salt to the Sea in the “R” section for Ruta instead of the “S” section for Sepetys. Who did this abominable thing?!

Creating neat categories, whether for books, politics, religions and cultures, or personalities makes our brains’ jobs easier. It protects us from cognitive dissonance. It provides comfort. And it leads directly to stereotyping, racism, xenophobia, and hate.

As a parent, writer, and librarian, I choose to reject this comfort. I recognize that if every book that crosses my desk or every person in my circle of friends pleases me, confirms my beliefs and reinforces my feeling of being in control, I’m failing.

So, was my Sharpie-loving middle school librarian a failure? No, because she wasn’t a public librarian. She was a well-intentioned, kind person doing her job. Would she call me a failure for doing mine? Probably. And that’s okay, because a public library isn’t a monument to a certain ideology. It’s a monument to the reality—and the beautiful necessity—of cognitive dissonance.

As an author, that’s a monument I hope my books help to build.

Bio:

Lindsay Bandy works as a youth services librarian in Manheim, Pennsylvania. Her first novel for young adults, NEMESIS AND THE SWAN, releases on October 27, 2020 with Blackstone Publishing. She also serves as the Co-Regional Advisor of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

You can visit her on the website at www.LindsayBandyBooks.com

Or say hi on social media…

Twitter @Lindsay_Bandy

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LindsayBandyBooks/

Instagram at LindsayFisherBandy

Timelines from Black History

Erased. Ignored. Hidden. Lost. Underappreciated. No longer. Delve into the unique, inspiring, and world-changing history of Black people.

From Frederick Douglass to Oprah Winfrey, and the achievements of ancient African kingdoms to those of the US Civil Rights Movement, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies takes kids on an exceptional journey from prehistory to modern times.

This DK children’s book boasts more than 30 visual timelines, which explore the biographies of the famous and the not-so-famous – from royalty to activists, and writers to scientists, and much, much more. Stunning thematic timelines also explain the development of Black history – from the experiences of black people in the US, to the story of postcolonial Africa.

Did you know that the richest person ever to have lived was a West African? Or that the technology that made the lightbulb possible was developed by African American inventor, and not Thomas Edison? How about the fact that Ethiopia was the only African country to avoid colonization, thanks to the leadership of a brave queen?

Stacked with facts and visually vibrant, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legacies, Legends is an unforgettable and accessible hive of information on the people and the issues that have shaped Black history.

DK Books

This year, Mireille Harper was a contributor to the DK Book TIMELINES OF EVERYONE and was sole writer for this collection of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY. It includes timelines of famous and not-so-famous, historical and present day influential and important people across a range of fields and from all over the globe. In usual DK fashion, it is brilliantly laid out to be visually appealing as well as containing tonnes of interesting information, it is definitely worth having in your libray!

I was given the opportunity to ask Mireille a few questions:

After writing contributions to the ‘Timelines of Everyone’, did ‘Timelines From Black History’ on your own feel daunting
or liberating?

To me, it wasn’t particularly daunting but I knew there was an element of responsibility and I felt I had to really do this book justice, so I was very careful and took my time throughout the process. I think the daunting bit was actually sending the book out into the world! I found writing the contributions empowering – finding out about the lives and histories of those who came before us who changed the world for the better was an experience I feel fortunate to have had.

How did you decide on the timelines to feature?
The process was collaborative in that both DK and I took spreads from previous titles (including content I’d created for Timelines of Everyone) that we though had the most resonance, and the figures that we felt should be celebrated most. I also had the opportunity to share some of my favourite figures for the gallery spread and foreword which was great.

If you could choose one from the book to write more on, which would it be?
I would love to write about Nanny of the Maroons. Nanny, or Queen Nanny as she’s often known, was a leader of the Windward Maroons, a community of formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, who fought off the British forces. I talk about Nanny literally every week, just because I think she’s such a hero and she has not received the recognition she deserves. In an ideal world, there’d be international films, books, statues and more dedicated to the legacy of Nanny.

Do you talk to young people about writing?
I talk to lots of young people about writing! I currently mentor three young people who want to work in the creative industries or publishing and I have a network of people within the publishing industry who work alongside me to help young people develop their writing. I’ve been lucky that with the publication of Timelines from Black History, I’ve had many more opportunities to speak to young people.

Do you prefer writing for children or adults?
I like both! Before working on Timelines of Everyone and Timelines from Black History, I had written over 200 articles aimed at adults on everything from travel and lifestyle to arts and culture. Whoever I’m writing for, I just like to know I’m writing about something that I’m passionate about and that matters.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I am reading an incredible book called This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garrett. It’s an incredible book on empathy, kindness and how we can become more empathetic, not only to ourselves and one another, but also the world around us.

Mireille Harper

Thanks so much to Mireille for taking the time to answer some questions, and to DK Books for sending me a review copy of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY – OUT NOW!

A Family Guide to Black History Month

Yoopies UK the childcare platform that earlier this year put together a guide to the Black Lives Matter movement from a British perspective has just released a Family Guide to Black History Month.

Both guides can be downloaded here:

https://yoopies.co.uk/c/press-releases/blacklivesmatter

Teenagers at Risk

I had no idea what to call this post but eventually settled on what it is now, the first in what wil be an irregular series of posts.

I have been thinking about how dangerous it is to be a teenager today, well since teenagers have been teenagers – too old to be kids but also too young to be considered adults and often driven to dangerous and often foolhardy acts to prove themselves.

These thoughts were brought to the top of my mind by two stories involving teenagers that have been in the news lately. the first being the body-shaming of Billie Eilish:

Billie Eilish Shares Video On ‘Real Bodies’ After Body-Shaming Tweets

and

The ongoing saga of Claudia Conway the daughter of former counselor to Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway and George Conway, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, who has been thrust into the national spotlight as a real-life version of Katniss Everdean who will have a hand in bringing down the President using social media:

15-year-old Claudia Conway broke the news of her mother’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Here’s how the teenager took over social media, from bashing Trump in TikToks to trolling her parents on Twitter.

Body-shaming is nothing new, there have been books written and movies made featuring this trope and with the ubiquity of social media and instantaneous video & text communication this has become more pernicious than ever, leading to consequences varying from leaving school to suicide. Billie Eilish has spent most of her career wearing loose, baggy clothes to prevent people from commentating on her body and the moment a paparazzi pic of her goes online she faces a barrage of body-shaming from people (adults) who should know better.

The story of Claudia Conway veers into yet more dangerous territory, when adults place the burden of saving the nation (or the world) onto the shoulders of children, thanks in no small part to the large number of dystopian young adult novels that show adults abdicating their responsibilities and leaving their children to take up arms to bring down corporations and governments.

The two teens I mentioned are high-profile individuals, the first thanks to a relatively short (so far) but phenomenally successful career as musician and singer/song-writer and the second due to having a very public falling out with her parents who are near the epicenter of power in US politics.

What freaks me out is that this is becoming normalized, with people saying things like “They should have known the risks” or explaining away the attacks as being part and parcel of life in the public eye. It has not escaped my notice that these two examples are both young women, thanks to the inherent sexism of the world in which we live women usually bear the brunt of attacks. That is not to say that men are immune, teenage boys are facing increased risks of body shaming and internalized body dysmorphia.

What can we do to combat this? Watch what we say and challenge friends and colleagues who place the burden for saving the world onto the next generation, it is not up to them to fix our errors and problems, we have to start doing that if we have not already. It is up to us as adults and responsible human beings to prevent children from becoming child soldiers; while it may be exciting to read about teens taking up arms to defend a world that has failed them, these works often gloss over the toll fighting and killing can take on a person’s psyche and afterwards, the dangers living with PTSD can bring.

That is not to say that we need to stop stocking such books, but we must remember that fiction is just that – fiction, and while it is exciting, we must not use such materials as guides for the future, but rather warnings of what could happen if we let it.

The Story of the Windrush

The story before the scandal. A book to celebrate the inspiring legacy of the Windrush pioneers.

In June 1948, hundreds of Caribbean men, women and children arrived in London on a ship called the HMT Empire Windrush. Although there were already Black people living in Britain at the time, this event marks the beginning of modern Black Britain. Combining historical fact with voices from the Windrush Generation, this book sensitively tells the inspiring story of the Windrush Generation pioneers for younger readers

Scholastic
THE STORY OF THE WINDRUSH

I have had a copy of this book on the shelves of my school library for some time now having bought the self-published version, but this month Scholastic are republishing it with some small changes, and have excitingly commissioned more from the author, Kandace Chimbiri! I asked her some questions to celebrate:

Your previous books for children, through Golden Destiny, were about more distant periods of history, what prompted you to write about the Windrush generation?
Although my previous books for children focused on ancient African history and this one is modern Black British history, they are all motivated by the same desire. I want to share those missing stories and neglected narratives. The arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948 is such an important event in modern British history and yet when I looked for a nice book for children about it, I couldn’t find one! I had heard Sam King speak about his life at a few events and I was really inspired by him. I also knew something of my parents’ experiences of coming to Britain in the 1960s. I just felt that children growing up today in Britain (and in the Caribbean too) should be able to read about the Windrush generation pioneers. 

How did you begin your research, and choose which of the hundreds of voices from the ship to highlight?
I was fortunate to have a DVD called Windrush Pioneers so I sat down and listened to it again for the first time in about 10 years. It had interesting interviews with Sam King, Allan Wilmot, Peter Dielhenn and several others. I read Allan Wilmott’s biography (I had also heard Allan Wilmott speak a couple of times at events). I asked my parents a few questions, things that I had never asked them before! I just chose the voices which appealed to me.  There was no real thought to it! I loved how Alford Gardner described his journey with people from other Caribbean islands meeting each other.

Have you done much work with children around the book? Since lockdown have you done any virtual events?
I have done a few virtual events during lockdown. For more than ten years I have been giving talks and museum tours around Black history. I’m used to speaking face to face and enjoying in person interaction. I never thought I would get used to virtual doing virtual events but now I love it! I do a 30-min ‘Meet the Author’ session for children aged 8 to 12. I give a short overview about the book, why and how I wrote it, why it’s important followed by time for the children to ask questions.

Did Scholastic suggest any changes to the book before republishing it? How different is it working on a new book with a big publisher?
Scholastic have been brilliant and I am really happy with the way they’ve improved the book.  It’s a completely different experience working with a big publisher and so far I am loving it. As you know I originally self published The Story of the Windrush. That’s hard because you have to make all the decisions yourself about artists, layout, style, everything! And, I’m really pleased with the new edition of the book. Scholastic have kept the same overall look but there are better captions on the illustrations (both the drawings and the photos). They have also tidied up some of the wording to make it even clearer for readers. And I am especially happy with the tweaks to the map of the British Empire. That’s important for educators.

Have you thought about writing historical fiction?
Not really. I just don’t think I’d be very good at writing historical fiction. I’d love the research side of it but I don’t think I’m that good at making up interesting characters and compelling plots. There are lots of children that love factual books and I’m quite happy writing for them.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
A Member of the RAF of Indeterminate Race. It’s about Cy Grant’s experience during the Second World War when he was shot down over Nazi Germany. He was from Guyana (or British Guiana as it was called then). It’s interesting but also educational.

What can we expect from you next?
My next book is going to be a sort of a prequel to The Story of the Windrush. I’m working on it now and it’s slowly starting to take shape. I still have more research to do though so it could all change of course….and probably will!

Huge thanks to Kandace for answering my questions!

THE STORY OF THE WINDRUSH is published in the UK on 15th October 2020 by Scholastic

Open Letter of Support & Solidarity with Trans & Non-Binary People from Library Workers

We the undersigned Library workers want to add our voices to those from the UK & Irish publishing community [https://www.thesecondshelf.com/digest/a-message-from-members-of-the-uk-and-irish-publishing-community] and the US publishing community in standing in solidarity with our Trans & Non-Binary colleagues, patrons and fellow humans, and reaffirm our unconditional support of Trans and Non-Binary people and their rights.

We believe that:

Trans & Non-binary rights are human rights

Trans Women are Women

Trans Men are Men

Non Binary Lives are valid

We see you, we hear you and we believe you!

Signed:

  • Matt Imrie Librarian & Editor: Teen Librarian
  • Caroline Fielding School Librarian & UK Editor: Teen Librarian
  • Lesley Martin
  • Zoey Dixon
  • Colette Townend, Librarian
  • Lucinda Murray, Children’s Librarian
  • Cheryl Walton (South Australia)
  • Anjali Pathiyath, High School Librarian, London
  • Jérémie Fernandes , Academic Librarian (Scotland)
  • Deborah Varenna
  • Josh Neff, Information Specialist, Kansas, USA
  • Dan Katz, School Librarian
  • Emerson Milford Dickson, School Librarian
  • Binni Brynolf, Systems Librarian
  • Cathy Harle, Academic Library Assistant, Cardiff
  • Dawn Finch, Author & Librarian
  • Emily Wheeler, Academic Librarian
  • Maura Farrelly, School Librarian
  • Hayley Lockerbie, Librarian
  • Barbara Band, Independent library consultant and advisor
  • Claire Warren, School Librarian
  • Robert Sell, Academic Library IT Officer, Cardiff
  • Ash Green
  • Jenny Foster
  • Ian Clark
  • David Hughes, Librarian
  • Mobeena Khan
  • Alex Mees, school librarian, London
  • Bethan Ruddock
  • Samantha Lockett, SLS Librarian
  • Rachel Playforth, NHS Librarian
  • Jamie R. Librarian, UK
  • Lauren Smith
  • Stuart Lawson, Academic Librarian
  • Michael-Israel Jarvis, School Library Assistant
  • John Trevor-Allen, Librarian
  • Jennifer Dion, Teen Librarian, Pointe-Claire, Canada
  • Emma Sweeney, Library Worker
  • Hannah Beckitt, NHS Librarian

Please add your name in the comments below & your name will be added to the main body of this post

One of the signatories has made a significant point that I agree with fully and feel compelled to add to this post:

our support has to go beyond the signing of an open letter. We need to work in all areas of library services to ensure trans and non-binary people do not face discrimination and are supported by their libraries.

The Runaway TARDIS

Cue music:

The Doctor Who theme tune give me goosebumps every time I hear it! Segun Akinola‘s take on it is just perfect, he kept everything that was classic and cool about it and added a new twist that improved it immeasurably!

Unable to make friends at her new school, Lizzie packs a bag and runs away. After accidentally stowing away in the TARDIS, she meets the Doctor, a mysterious woman who claims to be a time-traveling space alien. When the TARDIS malfunctions, Lizzie and the Doctor are sent catapulting through time and space, visiting the pyramids, the dinosaurs, an alien planet, and more. Along the way, Lizzie learns that making new friends isn’t so hard after all . . . but will she ever be able to get back home?

Doctor Who The Runaway TARDIS is Quirk Books latest POP Classics adaptation and their first featuring the BBC’s Doctor as played by Jodie Whittaker.

It is no secret that I love Doctor Who, which is a bit weird as unlike many fans I did not grow up watching it from behind the sofa, I did not grow up watching it at all. I discovered the novelizations by Terrance Dicks at a second-hand booksale. These were my introduction to the universe of The Doctor and when the show regenerated in 2005 I was one of the many people rejoicing and have watched it ever since.

If I had to choose just one word to describe The Runaway TARDIS, that word would be:

Honestly it is! It is one of the best adaptations of the show that I have ever seen! They have taken everything that is good and wonderful from the show and turned it into a picture book that is perfect for everyone from hardcore Whovians to folk that may have never encountered the Doctor before they happily decided to pick up this book.

If you or someone you know has moved and is missing their friends or has a feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation (honestly in this time of Covid-19 I think that describes just about everyone) then this book is the perfect choice!

“Everyone gets lonely sometimes'” said the Doctor. “But I make new friends wherever I go, and I never forget the old ones.”

Kim Smith’s art style is perfect in capturing the sense of awe and wonder on the face of the Doctor’s latest companion as they shoot through time and space in an out-of-control TARDIS.

There are also loads of Easter eggs hidden in the book to keep people poring over the book for ages, honestly it is such a delightful read I think that everyone should buy a copy (or borrow it from their local library).

Doctor Who: the Runaway TARDIS is based on the Doctor Who series by Chris Chibnall; it is illustrated by Kim Smith and published by Quirk Books. It is available from all good bookshops and your local library now!

Competition time:

I also have a copy to give away, if you (yes you) would like to win yourself (or someone you love) a copy of The Runaway TARDIS then just comment on this post with your best (or worst) Doctor Who joke e.g.:

I was at a party full of World Heath Organization medics over the weekend.

I thought I was going to a Doctor Who convention.

If you don’t know a Doctor Who joke then any good joke will do!

(this competition is open internationally)