A Reading for the Edward Said Libraries with Mosab Abu Toha & Friends

Although not required, you may book a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-reading-for-the-edward-said-libraries-with-mosab-abu-toha-friends-tickets-780355854367

Gaza’s libraries have been destroyed over the course of the last several months of bombing. The Edward Said Public Libraries, the first English-language libraries in the region, have been at risk for months and require support for their continued existence.

During this virtual event, free to attend and streaming on YouTube, preeminent writers will offer short readings in a show of solidarity with the literary and reading communities of Palestine, and a confirmation of the vital nature of literature and access to written culture.

On December 7th a Librarian died in Gaza. 

Doaa al-Masri and her family were killed in an Israeli airstrike on December 7th 2023. 

Doaa receives a group of schoolgirls at the Edward Said Library in Gaza

Why have I focused on Doaa you may ask. Well, we shared a profession and belief in public service, and it is hard to get one’s head around the scale of the tragedy and loss of life that has been unfolding in the Middle East; from the 1,139 Israeli lives lost in the Hamas attacks on October 7th to the sheer brutality of their response across Gaza.

To paraphrase a statement allegedly made by Stalin: 20,000 deaths is a statistic, one death is a tragedy. 

It is not easier to acknowledge a single death that 20,000 but it is less numbing. Each of the thousands of lives lost to this violence will have a ripple effect on thousands more, but their faces blur and get lost in the scale of this tragedy and they become numbers, rather than individuals.

In their tribute to her memory, the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) captured in part her spirit and dedication to her community: 

…Doaa Al-Masri was killed with her family on Thursday night. Doaa was the librarian at the Edward Said Public Library in Gaza. She was a kind and energetic young woman who organized many activities for children and youth at the library including reading groups, classes, and field trips for schools. 

Doaa was also a volunteer in many other projects. During each Israeli attack on Gaza, she joined her colleagues at MECA partner Youth Vision Society in procuring, packing, and delivering emergency aid to children and families. Just last week, in the midst of intense Israeli attacks, she joined two other  volunteers to provide warm clothes to children in northern Gaza. 

We mourn the loss of Doaa, a loss for MECA, for the many children whose lives she touched, and for Palestine. We will miss her smile and her radiant energy. Doaa is one of tens of thousands of people killed in Gaza over the last 64 days. Each one is a terrible loss to those who knew and loved them. 

Let’s be honest, when one thinks of Gaza and the West Bank, Libraries are not the first thing that pop into your mind. No matter who they are or where they live people enjoy reading and need to find information – and those are two of the core functions of public libraries. 

The Gaza Municipal Library and the Rashad al-Shawa Cultural Center that was the home of the Diana Tamari Sabbagh Library  that contained more than 100.000 books and was founded by Haseeb Sabbagh in the memory of his wife Diana Tamari, have both been razed by Israeli forces. There is currently no news on the current condition of the Edward Said Public Library in North Gaza. 

The remains of the Gaza Municipal Library

The Gaza Municipality has alleged that the destruction of libraries by Israeli forces during the conflict has been a deliberate act and has called on the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to intervene and protect cultural centers and condemn the occupation’s targeting of these humanitarian facilities protected under international humanitarian law.

Public Libraries form one of the cornerstones of a society that nurtures and cares for the people that comprise its individual parts. Apart from educating and entertaining their users, libraries function as repositories of history and cultural knowledge. To destroy a society first you wipe out the commonalities that bind them together, their shared history, their art, anything that ties them together and the fastest way to do that is to start with destroying their libraries and those that care for them.

When Libraries in Sarajevo were bombed people stood up and protested, when al Qaeda attacked the library in Timbuktu there was eventually a book celebrating those who stood up to save priceless, ancient manuscripts, when Russia invaded Ukraine there was a massive outpouring of support for Ukrainian Libraries and Library workers. In Gaza there is proof of libraries being destroyed and one confirmed report of a Librarian (& her family) being killed in an aerial attack and nothing – where is the outrage?

Understand me when I write that I unequivocally condemn Hamas for their bloodthirsty action on October 7th, but the heavy-handed response by the Israeli War Cabinet and the IDF is just as reprehensible!

Articles 6, 7 & 8 of The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court specifically outlaw Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity & War Crimes.

Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention specifically outlaws collective penalties, pillage & reprisals:

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons* and their property are prohibited.

* The term “protected person” means any person entitled to protection under one or more of the Geneva Conventions, including civilians not taking an active part in hostilities, military personnel placed out of combat by sickness, wounds, or detention, and military medical or religious personnel.

Do the actions of Hamas and the IDF rise to these levels of criminal wrong-doing? I think they do, but untrained as I am in international jurisprudence I may be wrong; I do however know that the murder unarmed civilians is wrong, no matter who does it!

Links:

Founding the First English-Language Library in Gaza by Mosab Abu Toha

Libraries in Gaza: Between Despair and Hope by Mosab Abu Toha

Articles by Mosab Abu Toha

How girls built a library in the Gaza Strip by Mohammed Abu Sulaiman, with Chris Niles

Gaza’s main public library has been destroyed by Israeli bombing. by Dan Sheehan

Gazans mourn loss of their libraries: Cultural beacons and communal spaces by Mohamad El Chamaa

Middle East Children’s Alliance

Youth Vision Association

Youth Vision Association: Edward Said Public Library

Edward Said Public Libraries in Gaza

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine

Catch Your Death

Trapped in a mansion with a murderer and a family of liars – how would you survive? A mind-blowing thriller from the author of THIS BOOK KILLS, perfect for fans of Holly Jackson and Karen McManus.

When three girls are stranded at the grand Bramble Estate in the middle of a snowstorm, they stumble into a murder plot. Someone has poisoned wealthy Emily Vanforte in the middle of a family dinner – which means Devi, Lizzie and Jayne are trapped in the house with a killer and a mystery to solve. With knives under floorboards, vanishing guns and secret passages in the walls, no one is safe and everyone is a suspect. But in a house of liars and corruption, will the girls save themselves…or learn to fit in?

Usborne

Ravena Guron’s debut YA, THIS BOOK KILLS, was a brilliantly fun murder mystery set in a school with lots of twisty turns and only a slight suspension of disbelief needed to carry you along to the big reveal and I’d highly recommend it…CATCH YOUR DEATH however, is a million times better than TBK and I implore you to read it immediately!

I don’t want to say a lot about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for you, which means this is a very short review, but the 3 perspectives are brilliantly rounded characters with distinctive voices (really hard to do) and I honestly gasped aloud at a couple of points, as well as laughing because there is a great use of humour. Definitely add this to your Christmas wishlist as, although it isn’t even remotely festive, it is a perfect read for a cold day.

Ravena Guron

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy.

CATCH YOUR DEATH publishes today!

Babushka

‘A little babushka is made when you’re young and something happens to you that leaves a scar…’

Cerys Williams has swapped her village in the Welsh Valleys for art college in London and the spare room in glamorous Auntie Wyn’s flat. Cerys knows there’s more out there for her in the world; it’s the year 2000 – she definitely doesn’t have to just get married and have babies and wear beige and cook stews for the rest of her life, even if Mam thinks she should.

But Cerys’s London is not glossy or cool or sophisticated, despite what Adept, her favourite magazine, has told her. It’s lonely and overwhelming and confusing. Until, that is, she meets him

The prequel to Toxic. A coming-of-age novel about love – the love you think you know and the love you never realised you had, all along.

UCLan Publishing

I’m reading BABUSHKA at the moment and am feeling very emotional about the concept of us having babushkas inside us like nesting dolls, reacting to events of today in your subconscious in different ways because of personal experiences and traumas. I was also a 90s teen (went to uni in 2000) so a lot of it is very familiar, I’d love to hear what modern teens make of it. Natasha Devon is a proving to be a great writer of thoughtful and thought provoking YA. Another brilliant YA author, Kate Weston (you must read MURDER ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, it is a hilarious and gripping and maddening all at once thriller), did a Q&A with her for a Waterstones event and I’m very happy to be able to share that with your here:

What was the inspiration behind Babushka?

Babushka is the prequel to my previous novel Toxic. My protagonist Cerys is the mother of Llewella, who is the protagonist in Toxic. At some point it occurred to me that Cerys and I would have been teenagers at the same time – the turn of the century. I wanted to write what about life was like for young women at the millennium, when we’d lived through the kind of inch-deep, Spice Girls inspired feminism of the 90s but were still contending with things like lads’ mags and celebrity magazines which put big red rings around women’s ‘flaws’. I wanted to make the point that some of the things Cerys grapples with – like consent, victim blaming and misogyny weren’t invented by social media. Sure, these problems have shapeshifted for the modern era but they were just as prevalent in the lives of women throughout the ages.

Where did the title come from?

Right at the beginning of the novel, someone says to Cerys that we all have previous versions of ourselves that live inside us, like Russian dolls. In Russia, these are called matryoshka dolls but elsewhere in the world people call them Babushka dolls. I went with Babushka as the title because it’s also the name of a track by Kate Bush, and what with ‘Toxic’ being a Britney track, I thought it would be fun if both my novels had titles which were songs by iconic women.

When during the process of writing and planning Toxic or after that, did you realise that you wanted to write about Loo’s mum’s story?

When people first read Toxic, some said they were surprised by how ‘hands off’ Cerys apparently was as a parent. It’s obvious Cerys really cares about her daughter, but she doesn’t try to micromanage her life in the way that another mother might. I wanted to explore why Cerys became that way and in my head it was all to do with how her mother was (the polar opposite – always interfering and nagging, or at least that’s how Cerys sees it). That’s how the idea for Babushka originally took root.

What’s your process when you’re writing? Do you plot or do you let your characters grow as you go?

Babushka was a very different writing process from Toxic. With Toxic, even though it’s also a character-driven novel, I already had a really strong idea of how the plot was going to play out. With Babushka, I had fleshed Cerys out almost entirely in my head before I even put pen to paper (or finger to keypad, technically), so the story really evolved through the prism of her. It’s fitting, really, because at one point Cerys tells another character that she’s never felt that she didn’t know who she was, just that she was in the wrong place.

You absolutely nailed the vibe or the women’s magazine in 2000 – especially with things like the circle of shame around someone’s cellulite – do you think that culture is in anyway improved? Or has it just moved on to a different format? 

Misogyny shapeshifts as patriarchy uses the considerable resources at its disposal to protect itself. Some of the things that used to happen in media at the millennium would be considered unacceptable now, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t found a different way to do the same thing (straightforward fat-or-skinny shaming has now become ‘concern for health’ for example. Pointing out someone’s flaws just for the hell of it has become ‘aren’t they brave for going out like that?’).

What I do think is great is how much more of a breadth of content young women have to choose from, now. There are truly revolutionary content creators, TV series and magazine-style articles that you can get at the click of a button. There also isn’t the sense of ‘everyone’ watching the same thing and therefore absorbing the same beauty paradigms and life advice that we had with, say, Friends or Sex & The City. 

There’s a conversation around page 40 between Wyn and Cerys where they discuss whether you would want to be remembered as you are or with certain perceived imperfections changed or “improvements” made. I liked how the conversation focused on “the real you” but avoided mentioning anything about a person’s personality, focusing solely on looks. I imagine this was on purpose because this was very much how things were perceived back then but do you think in 2023 that we’ve moved on from that? Or do you think looks still form the basis of how we’re remembered as a person.

That conversation is based on a thought I have all the time – Does a painting or a sculpture capture the essence of a person better – because artists can draw out certain otherwise intangible qualities – or is a photograph more accurate? And is even a photograph a ‘real’ representation of you when it can’t show how you move, what you sound like or how you smell?

I think in 2023 we’re all David Bowie (bear with me on this one). He talked about how there was a version of him he had curated and sent out into the world and that was what his fans were responding to, not the real him. So there’s a lack of actual connection, there. I think in the age of social media we all do that. We create an avatar of who we wished we were and send it out into the internet to interact with other people on our behalf. And that’s part of the reason there’s been an epidemic of loneliness because in order to truly connect with someone they need to see the whole you, perceived ‘imperfections’ and all.

How do you think the beauty industry has changed since 2001 and what impact do you think that’s having on young people?

Again, the answer is different depending on what end of the telescope you are looking at. On the one hand, we’re seeing more diversity in media and advertising and a greater breadth to the understanding of what it means to be beautiful than ever before and that’s to be celebrated. On the other, the beauty industry has continued to create areas of the face and body for women to feel apologetic about. When I was young the message was ‘be as thin as possible’, which was problematic for a number of reasons and left many people in my generation with eating disorders and other enduring issues. But now there are all these obscure beauty trends dictating exactly what shape and size every single millimetre of your body should be.

We’re also seeing the resurgence of hellish fashion trends we endured in the early 2000s like low rise jeans (just no), so-called ‘heroin chic’ and really thin eyebrows. Although not strictly relevant I do just want to mention to any young person reading this that is thinking of overplucking their eyebrows that, unless you are in the small percentage of people who are genetically blessed, THEY DO NOT GROW BACK.

Do you think that things can get better in terms of the way that the media and society views women and the things that are expected? Or do you think the list of things that we’re disapproved of for will just get longer?

You have to believe it can get better or you’ll just go and live in a hole in the mud somewhere and cry.

I have noticed two things about the women in their early twenties I work with at LBC that are very different from my generation. 1. They’re not afraid to take up space. Nothing about their body language suggests they are trying to make themselves smaller. And 2. They’re so supportive of one another. When I was in my twenties the message to women was ‘there’s a limited slice of the pie for you so every other woman who might have her eye on it is a threat’. A lot of us ended up very ‘pick me’ as a result (and I include myself in this – I’m a Pick Me Girl in recovery). Young women now seem to be all about celebrating each other and raising each other up, which is wonderful.

I want to talk about Darsh a bit without any spoilers. It feels like it would have been really easy to make him into a complete bastard but there’s far more subtle things that he does that are in the guise of protecting her or ‘loving’ her. How did you come up with his character?

I’ve learned through experience that the people who are going to treat us badly in life don’t announce themselves with a giant neon sign saying ‘HEY! I’M REALLY TOXIC AND I’M GOING TO MAKE YOUR LIFE UNBEARABLE!’. If they did it would be really easy to avoid them. The red flags are much subtler, in reality, and therefore easy to miss or overlook. It also had to be believable that someone as clever and independent minded as Cerys would fall for Darsh. Like most f**kboys, Darsh is really charming, exciting, handsome and a little bit mysterious.

I also learned writing Toxic (which is also features a dysfunctional relationship, albeit a platonic one) that creating a good story means it would make sense if told from the perspective of any of the characters. People aren’t generally badly behaved or mean for no reason – There’s always a journey that’s brought them to that point. 

What’s next? Are you working on anything you can share with us at the moment?

I’m in the very early ideas stages for another novel but I have no idea if it’ll ever see the light of shelves at this moment. In the meantime, I’m doing my ‘day’ job of visiting three schools a week delivering talks and conducting research on mental health, writing my columns for Teach Secondary and doing my weekly radio show on LBC.

Bad Magic

Experience Skulduggery Pleasant as never before – in this fully original graphic novel brought vibrantly to life in full colour.

A small town in the middle of Ireland, a string of unexplained deaths and a monster on the loose. Better call in the experts.

When Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain drive into Termoncara, they discover a town with a dark past and a people haunted by their own secrets. There is a creature stalking the streets – a creature who delights in cruelty, who feeds off the little hatreds, who grows stronger with every drop of blood spilled.

Horror and mystery collide in an original graphic novel by Derek Landy, P. J. Holden, Matt Soffe, Rob Jones and Pye Parr.

Skulduggery Pleasant

What I love most about the Skulduggery Pleasant books is the humour. Without it the darkness would be overwhelming, but it also doesn’t undermine the intensity of some harrowing scenes! I wasn’t sure how much an illustrated fight scene (because, let’s face it, there are a lot of fight scenes) would keep that balance and worried the violence might become the most important part of the story…but it still works! Derek Landy’s script was limned by P.J. Holden, coloured by Matt Soffe and lettered by Rob Jones (I must give thanks to the excellent Comics Review blog post about it for this detail).

Be warned though, it is pitched older than the first novels, there is a 15+ rating on the back cover.

You can read a sample on the Skulduggery Pleasant website to get a taste for it. I’m pleased it wasn’t an adaptation but a whole new story, quite an unexpected but very current storyline about intolerance & guilt that is pretty hard going but very satisfying!

I was given a copy by Harper Collins to review but also knew that I’d have a few students desperate to read it so ordered it for school…my biggest Skulduggery fans absolutely loved it. They inhaled the book and want to see more of Jamie. One said it was too short but another said that they really liked how fast paced it was and found it even more un-put-down-able than the original novels. They then had the disappointment of realising that it is the only one (so far) and they couldn’t move straight onto the next book like they had with the series! The other brilliant thing about it though is that it has tempted some students that have been put off reading the novels because they get quite long, it can definitely live as a ‘stand-alone’ with no prior knowledge necessary.

Bad Magic is out now!

Only This Beautiful Moment

2019 – Moud is an out gay teen living in Los Angeles with his distant father, Saeed. When Moud gets the news that his grandfather in Iran is dying, he accompanies his dad to Tehran, where the revelation of family secrets will force Moud into a new understanding of his history, his culture, and himself.
1978 – Saeed is an engineering student with a promising future ahead of him in Tehran. But when his parents discover his involvement in the country’s burgeoning revolution, they send him to safety in America, a country Saeed despises. And even worse – he’s forced to live with the American grandmother he never knew existed.
1939 – Bobby, the son of a calculating Hollywood stage mother, lands a coveted MGM studio contract. But the fairy-tale world of glamour he’s thrust into has a dark side…

Set against the backdrop of Tehran and Los Angeles, this tale of intergenerational trauma and love is an ode to the fragile bonds of family, the hidden secrets of history and all the beautiful moments that make us who we are today.

Little Tiger
Cover illustration by Safiya Zerrougui

Abdi Nazemian has won numerous awards for his writing in America but this is the first of his books to be published in the UK, so when Little Tiger offered me a review copy I thought it would be worth giving it a go! The story is heartbreaking and soul-mending all at the same time, as intergenerational relationships are shattered, openly discussed, and repaired. I found Saeed’s story the hardest to read, full of emotional gut punches, but they all have moments of happiness and sadness (and realisations about how unfair the world is). It is a thoughtful and thought provoking look at how badly “ordinary people” are let down by their governments and that it is too easy to judge someone (or a group of people) for something we know little about. Moud’s “Peak White Gay” boyfriend is a brilliant foil for a lot of reflection about culture and family. The voices are wonderful and I loved the use of Iranian poetry and references to Persian food. I hope more of Abdi’s work is picked up by UK publishers because this one is well worth a read.

Photo credit: Mandy Vahabzadeh

Only This Beautiful Moment is published in the UK by Little Tiger on the 9th November.

Thank you for the review copy!

What You Need To Be Warm

Sometimes it only takes a stranger in a dark place… to say we have the right to be here,
to make us warm in the coldest season.

In 2019, Neil Gaiman asked his Twitter followers: What reminds you of warmth? From the thousands of replies he received, he composed an extraordinary poem in aid of UNHCR’s 2019 winter appeal. This poem will now be available in a beautiful hardback edition, featuring contributions from 13 extraordinary illustrators. Every copy sold will be supporting the work of UNHCR.

What You Need to Be Warm is an exploration of displacement and flight from conflict through the objects and memories that represent warmth in cold times. It is about our right to feel safe, whoever we are and wherever we are from, and about welcoming those who find themselves far from home.

Click here for a message from Neil Gaiman.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book and it is so beautiful, the notes from the illustrators (*so* many talented creators) about how they approached their page are very moving. It, unfortunately, remains very pertinent.

There is a celebration at Waterstones Piccadilly on the evening of the 2nd November, I’m sure it will be a wonderful event.

The book publishes on the 26th October

Pushback against the renaming of the Kate Greenaway Medal continues

Ahead of the upcoming CILIP AGM, creators of the petition to return Kate Greenaway’s name to the award Dr. Rose Roberto & Tamsin Rosewell issued a statement urging members of the organization to speak up about the removal of the Kate Greenaway name from what is now the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration.

We’re delighted that this petition has attracted so much attention, interest and, above all, support. We’re disappointed with what we feel is a brush-off response from CILIP, which we feel is unnecessarily dismissive to more than 3200 people who signed a petition that was constructively worded, and behind which was genuine industry knowledge.

You can read the full statement (& sign the petition if so inclined) here: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bring-back-the-kate-greenaway-medal

If any CILIP Members reading this are interested in attending and raising this issue, you should have an opportunity to do so during the any other business section of the meeting.

You can find information about the upcoming AGM here.

Having read the recent Minutes of the July 20th CILIP Board Meeting it appears as if CILIP does not have the appetite to revisit their decision:

11. A.O.B.

NP alerted the Board to a petition that had been launched by people dissatisfied with the change of name from ‘Greenaway Award’ to ‘Carnegie Award for Illustration’. This change happened in 2022 and we do not intend to change it further.

However, if enough members make their voices hard then it may give them pause.

You can read more coverage about the Kate Greenaway Medal here: https://teenlibrarian.co.uk/category/kate-greenaway/

Girls

A determined girl gives up on kissing a frog.
A fearless heroine comes face-to-face with a not-so Big Bad Wolf.
A monstrous princess, held captive on a deserted island, yearns to break free.

Within this book are seven famous fairy tales turned into enchanting, inspiring and sometimes hair-raising stories for today’s world, about girls with their own dreams and desires. These are no damsels in distress, but real young women of flesh and blood – who certainly don’t need rescuing.

Pushkin Press

Annet Schaap writes in Dutch but Laura Watkinson has done a brilliant job of translating her work into English for Pushkin Press: I’ve read and loved both the Carnegie shortlisted LAMPIE in 2020 and this, her self illustrated collection of short retellings of fairy tales. I loved the sketches, they suit the text perfectly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the [was Kate Greenaway] awards list for illustration next year, so I am pleased to be able to share an extract (click here) and accompanying illustration.

Rumpelstiltskin

The stories are almost instantly recognisable and put a brilliant spin on how the girls could/would/should behave in the various situations. The book was over far too soon!

Annet Schaap

Thank you Pushkin Press for sending me a copy for review, GIRLS is out now.

Black History Month UK 2023

I said on twitter (‘X’) that I wasn’t going to do a thread of favourite books for Black History Month this year because I’m trying to wean myself off it (but also it may well have imploded by the end of October…) but then I felt bad because there have been some real gems this year! So I decided to put a month’s worth in a blog post (each picture should have a link to more details)…

The eagle eyed amongst you might notice that there are only 30 books there and 31 days in the month of October…that’s because my last recommendation is in recognition of this year’s official theme of SALUTING OUR SISTERS…that you simply must read (and push on younger readers) everything by the inimitable Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Nadia Shireen, and Malorie Blackman (even if they are all terrible at updating their websites 😅)!

There are loads of resources on the Black History Month UK website, including a reading list of books for grownups.

While it is still accessible, have a look through my old lists for some more faves!

But also, Matt and I have both moved over to Bluesky for some fresh air, so come find us.