Starting School!

Instead of a Back To School post for teens, here’s a First Time at School post on behalf of Bea, who is heading to Reception class next week! We didn’t intentionally read starting school stories but we snagged one from Walker (thanks Jo), were sent one by AlannaMax (thanks Fay), and picked a recently published Little Tiger title up at the library (thanks Stock Manager)!

Getting ready for school with The Pigeon, Lulu and Pirates!
The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

If you have never read one of Mo Willem’s Pigeon books then I envy the joy you will experience when you open one for the first time. I owned them all (that had been published so far obv.) before I even had a Bea, so imagine my excitement when I saw that this was being published at the most perfect time! I was at Walker for a YLG London evening and was allowed to snaffle it as an extra goody. Those of you who have read a Pigeon book might guess what mode of transport makes an appearance…

Lulu’s First Day by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
(apologies for the terrible photo but I didn’t notice until after bedtime!)

Those of you who follow me on twitter may already know how much I love Lulu (and her little brother Zeki). This is a wonderful addition to the collection of stories about her life. It is simply a step by step account of how a first day goes, but with fantastic little touches that bring it to life and make it so much more than just a ‘first experiences’ book. The family is gorgeous and ordinary, and the children she meets at preschool are diverse and adorable.

Pirates Don’t Go To School by Alan MacDonald and Magda Brol

Pirates Don’t Go To School is a very silly but great fun tale of a young pirate who persuades his family that he should go to school. They’re worried for him because there are too many rotten rules and scary teachers and nothing piratical, and his day starts off pretty badly as he accidentally releases his ship’s parrot into school, but things end up ok!

That Asian Kid – Savita Kalhan

Fifteen year old Jeevan is getting top grades for every subject except English. He suspects that his teacher, Mrs. Greaves, is unfairly marking him down. But he has no way of proving it, and even his best friends Dread and Sandi think he is over-reacting.

When Jeevan stumbles upon Mrs. Greaves talking about him with his History teacher, Mr. Green, he decides to record them. Then, to his horror, they start getting it on!

Now Jeevan is in possession of a radioactive video that he could use against Mrs. Greaves. But he’s caught in a huge dilemma . . . should he upload the video, or not?

As a complex game of move and counter-move escalates between Jeevan and Mrs. Greaves, the decision is taken out of his hands – with dire consequences. Jeevan’s life begins to fall apart. Does he have the winning moves to outwit and expose his arch nemesis?

That Asian Kid is an intelligent, gripping, fast-paced story of one boy’s battle against racism and for the right to be treated like everyone else.

Review:

I have met Savita several times over the years (we both know a bunch of the same people) and I have been a fan of her work since reading The Long Weekend (soon to be republished by Troika Books). Her writing has always gripped me but she has blown me away with That Asian Kid!

This book is a hard-hitting and timely read, shining a light on the bigotry and racism faced by so many people of colour. It shows how people have dealt with racist behaviour; from new arrivals keeping your head down and swallowing it because there was nothing else to do to the second and third generations making decisions to take a stand against the unfairness of it all, finding allies.

That Asian Kid is not a straightforward story of good people standing up to bigots, rather it is a subtle and multilayered tale that questions our prejudices and makes us look within ourselves and interrogate the decisions we would make if we had the opportunity to publicly shame someone that had done us wrong and defend a person we respected and admired.

It would have been so easy for this book to have been dragged down by the weight of the subject but it is uplifting; from Jeevan’s interactions with his grandmother (my favourite character), to the support from his friends and family, the story is shot through with humour and some of the best teen dialogue I have read in ages!

I have not even mentioned the tension I felt as I was reading the book, it might have taken a bit longer than it did but I honestly could not put it down as I needed to know what would happen next. Honestly it was more of a thriller than many of the thrillers I have read recently!

At the end of the story I was left feeling drained, but satisfied. Much like real life not everything was tied up neatly and presented to us but fir the story it was enough! That being said I still wanted to read more and hope that Savita will revisit the characters she introduced me to in the opening pages!

Reading develops empathy, reading That Asian Kid will give an insight to many readers to the experiences of others. It will let those who see themselves in Jeevan and his friends know that they are not alone in what they have experienced (or are experiencing).

No-one who reads it will be left unmoved!

That Asian Kid was written by Savita Kalhan and published by Troika Books – it is available now!

Library International Story Time

I have started looking towards 2020 for planning Library activities and currently at the top of my list is an idea to create an intercontinental story group.

Presently I am limiting my focus on linking my Library groups in the US and UK, mostly because I am in the US (Kansas) and most of the library people I know are based in the UK.

There is a six hour time difference between where I am and the UK so initial planning will focus on finding a partner or partners in the UK, agreeing on a date and time for the groups to meet. This means that during the school year I will be limited to baby & toddler groups, and, now that I think about it, home-school groups too. Older story-times will be limited to school holidays here.

The basic idea is, using video chat software (Skype or something similar), to link up two Library groups with a similar age range in the US & UK and form links through story-telling.

The sessions could begin with the reading of folk-tales an dlocal stories from where each group is based and then segue into general stories and rhymes (if appropriate for the group).

If the initial plan works, phase two will explore creating links with Libraries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

If successful these story times could be a springboard into intercontinental story suggestions via post card and once the story time links are are extended, a display could be made with post cards from the various groups around the world.

At present though I am just in the early stages of planning but if anyone wants to collaborate please let me know and we can create a network of connected international libraries!

The Hurting

Nell hates her sister’s illness, her drunken dad, and the daily absence of her mum. 
When she meets Lukas, adopted heir to a Norwegian oil fortune, she sees her escape: the two of them running away from the world. But Lukas has his own dark wishes, and soon it’s clear that what joins them goes way beyond love.
This is survival … and is any boy really worth her soul?

Chicken House

Lucy contacted me and asked if I’d like to read her debut YA before very kindly sending me a copy, along with the teaching notes (which, as you’d expect, are massively spoilery so I won’t share them here, but they’re very useful, especially if you want to use the novel as a creative writing prompt or to spark some research ideas, if you’d like to see them then contact me on twitter).

As well as winning the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award, it has just been shortlisted for the Irish Great Reads Award (chosen by librarians, and we know what we’re talking about) so I read it in the car on the way home from hols. It is very dark “Nordic noir” for teens and the scene setting is stunning. Basically all the relationships are terrible, all the characters have experienced something traumatic, and things seem to only get worse and worse…so of course I was completely gripped and raced through it!

The Hurting is out now from Chicken House, and you can read an extract here!

Gloves Off – Why We’re Falling in Love with The Verse Novel

Lily’s only sixteen, but she already feels like she’s losing at life.  Victimised at school, she won’t lay her unhappiness at her parents’ door – they have problems of their own  – and  so Lily feels utterly trapped and alone.
When the kids at school finally go too far, Lily has to decide if she’s going to fight back. But is her new-found confidence simply about getting revenge on those who hurt her? Or about taking charge of her own life for once and for all?
Gloves Off is the stunning story of a girl taking on the world, about body-image and bullying, and above all, about making every moment worth fighting for.

Guppy Books

I was completely overwhelmed when I read Gloves Off, Louisa Reid’s debut #UKYA novel for the new independent publisher, Guppy Books. I sat down to start it and then just didn’t get up again until I’d finished. Part one is absolutely heartbreaking, and hearing the voices of both Lily and her mother gives you so much to think about. It talks of body image and self worth and bullying and family and love, all in faultless verse.

Louisa is an English teacher by day, and wrote us a piece about why she thinks teens (and adults) are embracing verse novels.

Why We’re Falling in Love with The Verse Novel

In the age of tl;dr, of Netflix marathons, of fast-paced snapchatting and Instagrammable moments, I think verse novels are the perfect way to bring stories to readers who might otherwise be switched off by denser works of fiction. They appeal also, of course, to the poets, and the actors, to the curious and the creative, to so-called readers and non-readers alike. Eminently bingeable, pacey, immersive, these books are an exciting way of experiencing intensely internal stories, whilst being a hybrid form that is perfect for our times.

When I sat down to write Gloves Off, I began in prose. But I have a really vivid memory of sitting at my laptop, reading back over what I’d written, fists clenched in frustration, and just knowing that these sentences and paragraphs were wrong. Nothing sang, nothing moved: the words felt dull and lifeless, the story too slow. It was clear that something was stopping me expressing the intensity of feeling that this story demanded, that I was cluttering the narrative with extraneous detail, and that’s when I decided to give writing in verse a go.

I had no idea if I could write a verse novel, so it was a total leap of faith to undertake the project. But as someone who had always loved poetry, who loves music and rhythm, I had nothing to lose. Appreciating the craft, its playfulness and immediacy, I knew writing my own novel in verse would be a challenge; it was not simply going to be a matter of chopping my paragraphs into short lines.

Before this, my own experience of reading verse novels had been very powerful, and was partly inspired by seeing my pupils’ appetite for this form (I work as an English teacher, and have done so for almost twenty years). Drawn into the intensely emotional experience that the verse novel offers its readers, I’d read the work of David Levithan, Sarah Crossan and Ellen Hopkins to mention just a few of the outstanding writers working in this field. It was easy to understand why so many of the girls I teach are big fans, especially of Sarah Crossan’s writing (although with the growing popularity of the genre, I’m sure they’ll be branching out to sample Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds and Elizabeth Acevedo, too – the school where I work is lucky to have an amazingly well-stocked library). When I’m teaching creative writing, we often look at moments pupils have found powerful in their own reading, and its always hugely enriching to explore extracts from verse novels – chosen by the students themselves – and to see them appreciate how the language sings, how it is so carefully condensed and crafted, and then to see this reflected in their own writing .

Another appealing aspect of this form, especially for the less confident, is the abundance of white space and that there are comparatively fewer words – the pages turn so quickly; I think the fact that these narratives move so fast is also very appealing for young adult readers who are used to a fast-moving culture and who can enjoy the sense of accomplishment as they finish a book in one big gulp: the experience becomes utterly immersive.

The form also incorporates and amalgamates aspects of drama, as well as poetry and the novel, to make a rich, but not an intimidating, reading experience. The polyphonic element of YA storytelling has always held a great appeal for me, and many verse novels use different voices to remarkable effect – Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan’s We Come Apart is a favourite – I love the distinctive contrast of voices in this book. Other verse novels may change speaker every poem, and this poses its own challenges for readers and makes big demands it terms of flexibility and comprehension. I also think that my students appreciate the form’s unflinching honesty; as we know, teenage readers are masterful at detecting anything insincere, and the verse novel tells a story in which there is no room to hide.

I’m so glad that this amazing, adaptable form is gaining popularity in the UK. Coincidentally I’ve observed a real appetite for the music of words in my classroom, as students give speeches on topics as diverse as school uniform, to racism, from LGBTQI rights to the environment in ways that make use of powerful poetic techniques, clearly influenced by the rhythms of the music they listen to, the books they’re reading, and showing their enjoyment of playing with language. It’s so exciting to see verse novels being read more widely and I’m trying to convert adult readers to this form, too. It’s definitely got something for everyone.

Louisa Reid

Thankyou so much to Louisa for the insight, and to Guppy Books for a proof copy to review. Gloves Off is out on 29th August.

Display: Back to School

In the run up to kids going back to school where I work, I set up a back to school display.

I created a classic chalkboard image that can be downloaded here:

To keep it interactive I added the interactive jokes in a mug that allows kids (or parents) to take a joke home (or to school) and share it.

US:

UK:

The display featured books about going back to school or going to school for the first time for students of all ages.

I also included a guide on how to access the homework and research pages on the Library website as well as how to use your library membership to access the resources online resources that the library offers.

I have had to restock the books several times and have spoken to several parents who were keen on finding out more about the homework help resources that the library provides

A Pocketful of Stars

This place is magic . . . but it’s not the sort of magic that comes from wands and spells . . .
Can piecing together the past help you change the present?
Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange and magical world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar . . .

Egmont

A Pocketful of Stars is Aisha Bushy’s debut middle grade novel, which will fit very nicely in both primary and secondary school libraries, in which Safiya learns more about her mum, her friends, and herself. It is slightly heartbreaking but also very hopeful, a brilliant twist on the quest story, and a really good look at the way friendships change over time.

I asked Aisha a few questions!

I interviewed Yasmin Rahman, your fellow newbie in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, for her debut earlier this month. In your acknowledgments you say how important your support for one another has been, what was the next best thing about being part of it?

Having my short story featured in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was like attending a writer bootcamp. I got to see what it was like to edit a book, attend school visits and festivals, and deal with not-so-great feedback! By the time my own debut novel was published, I felt quite ready for what was to come, and I’m so thankful to everyone at Stripes for guiding us. 

Had you already started writing ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ when you wrote your short story, or was it still just a simmering idea?

It wasn’t even an idea. I was working in a very different novel at the time, one that I didn’t get very good feedback on. I thought of and drafted ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ in the months between being picked for ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and the anthology’s publication.

Did the story start with the gaming idea or did it come to you as a way to make the “dreams” a more modern quest story?

It started off with Safiya witnessing her mother’s memories in a dream-like way, but as I continued to work on ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ I needed to give Safiya something to strive for. That was when the quest came in. And, as Safiya loves video games, it made sense for her to navigate this world in that way.

What is your favourite computer game?

I really love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because it is open-world, which means you can explore as much as you want without any limitations (unlike in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ where the world crumbles when Safiya tries to leave the house). But when I was Safiya’s age my favourite games were Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. I played them both for hours.

Have you any thoughts on how teens might balance gaming as a hobby with “real life” relationships?

I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. Gaming is a very social hobby. When you play online you can create groups for your friends to join and play together; otherwise you can meet up and play in the same room. I see it as bringing friendships together through a shared interest, in the way it connects Safiya with her new friends in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’. 

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

I have two different events planned at the moment that I’ll be pitching to schools in September. The first is a scent-based workshop where I’ll ask students to pick and smell one of several pots filled with different scents. They are tasked with writing the opening of a story leading in with scent, whilst working in the other senses too. 

The second event I have planned can work in smaller groups or larger assemblies (and I’ll be running this one during my school tour). It’s about narrative gaming, and different ways of consuming stories. I will work collaboratively with students to create the basis for our very own video-game by picking a character, setting, and premise. 

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

I am reading lots of things at the moment, some I can talk about, some I can’t. Two books I am dying to talk about, both middle grade, are I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak, written from the perspective of a dog. It is one of the most heart-warming books I have ever read and I’ve already cried twice whilst reading it. It was published at the beginning of August, so you can buy it right now (and I very much recommend that you do).

My second read is an advanced copy of a book out next year called The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook (what a great title). The book is packed with adventure and friendship, and the world is so fully realised that you really feel you are riding through the jungle on the back of an elephant you may or may not have stolen yourself…

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I can’t say much yet (mostly as I’m drafting it and I’m still learning what it’s going to become), but let’s just say there will be a new magical world to explore…

Aisha Bushby

A Pocketful of Stars is out now! Thank you to Egmont for a review copy

Letting Go by Cat Clarke

Never make a promise at a funeral. It’s my new motto.
When Agnes made a promise to her girlfriend, Ellie, she thought they would be together for ever. But when she has to keep that promise a year later, it puts Agnes in a situation she could never have predicted – climbing a desolate mountain in miserable weather, with Ellie and her new boyfriend, Steve. And when the weather takes a threatening turn and the tension between the trio hits its peak, Agnes will have to push herself further than she ever thought was possible …

Barrington Stoke

In true Barrington Stoke form, this is a tightly paced, readable YA novella. In true Cat Clarke form, this is an emotional rollercoaster of a book! I was given the opportunity to ask Cat some questions.

This is your second book for Barrington Stoke, after Falling, how different is writing and editing with Barrington Stoke compared to other publishers?
The only real difference in the writing process is that the book is a lot shorter, so it took me a couple of months to write instead of a year. The editing process is a little different, as the manuscript goes through an additional edit for readability for dyslexic and reluctant readers. All in all, it’s a very smooth, streamlined process, and one that I very much enjoy! The Barrington Stoke crew are such a joy to work with.

When an idea comes to you do you already know if it would most suit a novella rather than a full length YA novel or does it come clear as it develops?
I usually specifically set out to come up with an idea that would suit a novella. In the case of Letting Go, I really fancied writing something with a very different setting to my other books. The short time frame of the story in Letting Go–less than 24 hours–really seemed to lend itself to the novella format.

You often write quite heartbreaking stuff, does your mood change depending on what kind of scene you’re working on?
Definitely! I’m not much fun to be around when I’m writing the heartbreaking stuff. I have playlists I listen to for different moods–my favourite is my ‘impending doom’ playlist! If I listen to that one too much, I get *really* anxious. 

Are you a fan of mountain climbing or did you have to do quite a bit of research to set the scene for Letting Go?
I used to climb mountains when I was a kid (thanks, Dad!), but I haven’t done it for many years. I did some research, and also got some help from a friend of mine. He gave me mountain-climbing info and I gave him a home-cooked meal.

What’s your favourite kind of author event to be involved in?
I love all author events, but I have to say it’s particularly lovely when young people have come to see me by choice! The events I’ve done at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have been some of the highlights of my career. I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many lovely readers, and appear on panels with some incredible authors, including David Levithan and Holly Bourne.

Do you get much feedback from teens about your work?
I do! It’s so rewarding when a reader takes the time to get in touch and let me know what they think about my books. It’s one of the great joys of being an author.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I’m currently reading The Stories You Tell by Kristen Lepionka. It’s a brilliant crime novel, featuring a bisexual private detective. If you’re interested, I’d recommend you start with the first in the series: The Last Place You Look. I’d recommend these books to anyone who loves crime. (N.B. Unless you love *committing* crimes, in which case: STOP DOING CRIMES! IT’S VERY NAUGHTY.)

What will we see from you next?
I’m working on several exciting projects at the moment, none of which I’m allowed to talk about. All I can say is that they all feature queer characters, which is something I’m very happy about.

Thanks so much for having me on your lovely blog!

Thankyou for being on the blog!

LETTING GO is out now! Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending a review copy.

No Big Deal

It’s not my body that’s holding me back. It’s more of a problem that people keep telling me it should.
Meet Emily Daly, a stylish, cute, intelligent and hilarious seventeen-year-old about to start her last year at school. Emily is also fat. She likes herself and her body. When she meets Joe at a house party, he instantly becomes The Crush of Her Life. Everything changes. At first he seems perfect. But as they spend more time together, doubts start to creep in.
With her mum trying new fad diets every week, and increasing pressure to change, Emily faces a constant battle to stay strong, be her true self and not change for anyone.
No Big Deal is a warm, funny inspiring debut YA novel from Bethany Rutter: influencer, editor and a fierce UK voice in the debate around body positivity.

Macmillan Children’s Books

I adored No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter, from the opening pages where our protagonist Emily is stuck in a dress in the changing rooms (if that hasn’t happened to you then you will never really understand, but this chapter might help you empathise), to the difficult relationship with her Mum because of Mum’s obsession with weight, and the true-to-life peer relationships. I adored it so much, that the moment I finished reading it I tweeted Bethany to ask some questions, which she very graciously answered in record time!

As a journalist you’ve been writing for a mainly adult audience for some time, why did you decide that your debut novel would be YA?

I just had this thought of ‘if I only ever write one novel, what’s the one story I most want to tell?’ and it turned out to be this one, which is best suited for a teen-ish audience!

How autobiographical is the book?

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t autobiographical at all, but I don’t want people to read it and see Emily as purely me, because she’s not. It’s more that she’s in various situations that I was in when I was her age but she almost universally deals with them differently.

Have you had much opportunity to talk to teens about the book? I’d particularly love to know the reaction of teen boys to Emily’s sister’s advice that, basically, things will get better but teen boys are a bit crap because of societal expectations!

Do you know what, I’ve actually only spoken to teen girls about it, which is really interesting! It would be amazing if teen boys did read it, and then they could tell me if I was a bit harsh! But I’ve absolutely loved talking to teen girls about No Big Deal, it’s so fun and interesting to hear about the things that resonated with them.

What is the most important thing that you want fat teens to take on board?

Honestly it is that very basic idea that things won’t always feel as limiting and frustrating as they do now, and that the world and the people in it get so much more interesting once they figure out who they are.

Body positivity campaigns seem to lead to a lot of negative comments, as well as encouraging ones, do you think social media is mainly a force for good or harm?

Personally I am very in favour of social media because it’s allowed me to find my people and my community and hear from people that I wouldn’t otherwise and learn about so many amazing important things. I know there’s always an element of backlash and negativity but for me, I would say the good outweighs the bad – particularly because it’s a way for people to give themselves a degree of representation that the media hardly ever will!

Can you recommend role models for teens to follow?

I would say people like Callie Thorpe, Michelle Elman and, if you really want to blow your mind, Enam Asiama

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

I just finished listening to Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh on audiobook which I had read in book form before but I’m so glad I revisited it in audio, because it just such a special, kind, radical and thought-provoking book. I would really recommend it to anyone, of any age, because we all eat.

Have you plans to write any more novels?

Yes! I’m partway through my second YA novel which isn’t a sequel but has some similar themes to No Big Deal. It’s set by the seaside so I should probably use that as excuse to take some daytrips for ‘research’…

Bethany Rutter, author of NO BIG DEAL

NO BIG DEAL is published on 8th August by Macmillan, and I’m very grateful to them for sending me a proof copy.

Teen Librarian Newsletter

The latest issue of the Teen Librarian Newsletter is now available to read online here:

https://mailchi.mp/96ee2aeba9ba/teen-librarian-newsletter