Monthly Archives: October 2022

You are browsing the site archives by month.

The Rise and Resurrection of Vampires in YA ~ Amy McCaw

I’ve been interested in vampires for as long as I can remember. Some time in those early readings of Point Horror, Anne Rice and Stephen King, vampires stood out to me. Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my early teens cemented the fascination. A lot of people I know are constant vampire readers like me, but every now and again they fall out of favour. So what vampire books do I think you should read, and why are we currently in yet another vampire heyday?

Twilight came out in 2005, igniting a fresh obsession with vampires and other supernatural beings that spread from the intended YA audience to adult readers. This sparked a flood of paranormal YA books, leaving publishers tentative to take on any more and readers seeking out vampires that were more sparkly than scary.

I enjoy all kinds of vampire books, so I was fine with that trend. Part of the reason I think vampire books continue to be revived is that there’s so much room for variety and reinvention.

Even in the 90s, The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith was exploring that vampires can be tortured souls with a conscience or witty murderous antagonists that might kiss or kill the main character. Later books like The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine did their own spin on vampire mythology (in this case, a town overrun with vampires that humans can’t leave once they enter). Holly Black also did her take on a vampire town in The Coldest Girl in Cold Town. For historical vampire fiction, try The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh, All These Bodies by Kendare Blake or Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco.

There’s also been a fun subgenre of vampire books that deal with contemporary issues alongside vampires. Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig; Big Bad Me by Aislinn O’Loughlin (also featuring werewolves); The Reluctant Vampire Queen by Jo Simmons; Vampires, Hearts and Other Dead Things by Margie Fuston and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell fit nicely into this category.

You might be thinking that the current trend for dark academia is more your speed. If you want a boarding school book with vampires, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Marked by PC and Kristen Cast and Crave by Tracy Wolff have got you covered.

Recently, even my ultimate vampire favourite Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been given a reboot. Kendare Blake is writing a trilogy set over a decade after season 7 of Buffy, first with In Every Generation and in January 2023 with One Girl in All the World. William Ritter has also given Spike the prequel novel he deserves in Bloody Fool for Love. I also need to check out Big Bad by Lily Anderson, set in an alternative reality Sunnydale in 1999.

So why are vampire books just as popular as they’ve ever been? YA horror is seeing a lot of mainstream success, with TV shows like Stranger Things and the Fear Street movie fueling the obsession. I also think the pandemic and recent world events have left people craving escapism more than ever, and visiting a world of fun scares and supernatural goings on is just what a lot of people need. I know I do.

Amy McCaw is the author of Mina and the Undead & Mina and the Slayers

Universal Music Group and The Reading Agency gift books by Black authors to libraries across the UK

As Black History Month reaches its conclusion, The Reading Agency and Universal Music Group (UMG) are pleased to announce the ‘Mark My Words’ campaign, providing copies of books by Black authors to libraries across the UK. The Reading Agency partnered with UMG through the company’s UK Task Force for Meaningful Change (UKTFMC), which focuses on the unique challenges facing the UK’s Black community.

The titles, including both fiction and non-fiction books for both children and adults, will be donated to local authority hubs across the UK. Selected collaboratively between UMG and The Reading Agency, the collection of engaging and accessible titles has been chosen to appeal to a broad audience of all reading levels.

The ‘Mark My Words’ campaign supports a joint commitment to social justice, championing the role that reading plays in tackling inequality. By gifting the titles directly into public libraries, ‘Mark My Words’ will ensure that the books are freely accessible to those who will benefit from them most.

Research on children’s books in the UK shows that published authors and illustrators do not reflect the UK population at large. In 2019, 8.68% of children’s book creators were people of colour, with just 2.86% being British people of colour.[1]Research demonstrates that children’s books can support young people in the exploration of themselves and others, providing recognition for readers who can identify, and insight and understanding for those who don’t.[2] Similarly for adults, studies show that writers of colour are ‘undervalued’ by the publishing industry, affecting the acquisition, promotion, and sales of their books.[3] A survey of writers across the UK found that while 13% of respondents identified as being from a minority ethnic background, only 9% earned more than £30,000 annually for their writing[4]. By gifting these books into libraries UMG and The Reading Agency hope to shine a light on Black authors and their creativity.

The series of gifted books will be announced in November and will include titles from the 2022 Quick Reads series, The Reading Agency’s life-changing programme which tackles the UK’s adult literacy crisis by helping less confident readers get reading.

The titles will be available to borrow in public libraries from early December and will be accompanied by a series of events in libraries across the country with some of the books’ authors. Full details of the events programme will be announced in the coming weeks. The children’s titles will also be supported with free Chatterbooks resources, consisting of activities designed to support children’s development by encouraging them to read and talk about books.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency says:“We are delighted to be partnering with Universal Music Group on this inspiring campaign. A key objective for The Reading Agency is to ensure the work and impact of The Reading Agency is reflective of the society in which we live and of those we serve. Working together on this campaign offers an exciting opportunity to fulfil some of these objectives and celebrate important books by excellent Black authors.”

Dr. Menna Demessie, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Universal Music Group’s global Task Force for Meaningful Change says: “Supporting initiatives like ‘Mark My Words’ is extremely important for us. To be able to help place Black authors’ work into more hands, to help push Black stories into more spaces – it’s so important to this journey of empowerment, empathy, and unity that we are all on as a nation. We thank The Reading Agency for helping us to deliver such a powerful project.”

[1] We Need Diverse Books (2021); Ramdarshan Bold (2020), ‘Representation of people of colour among children’s book authors and illustrators’

[2] CLPE (2020) Reflecting Realities

[3] Saha and van Lente (2020), ‘Re:Thinking Diversity in Publishing

[4] Royal Society of Literature (2019), ‘A Room of My Own: What writers need to work today’

Antiracist Reading for All Ages

Penguin Young Readers has updated and released a curated book list that explores multifaceted identities of People of Color (of the Global Majority) and provider context and calls for action for grades PreK-12.

Title of the document

The Boy Lost in the Maze

I am writing this review as I am re-reading The Boy Lost in the Maze, the stories of Theo, Theseus, the Minotaur – each protagonist’s story mirroring the others in their similarities – tales as old as time told, and retold until edges have blurred and new lights are cast on elements often obscured in previous tellings.

I drowned in Joseph Coelho’s poetry, as I finished each (brief) chapter I felt like I was coming up for air before submerging myself in the narrative again..

The rawness of their search for fatherhood and identity to help scrub away their feelings of abandonment and shame left me feeling overwhelmed yet unable to lay the book down.

The choose your own adventure element came as a delightful surprise and kept it from being a cover to cover read, allowing the reader to decide what actions should be taken, influencing the story and having a slightly different experience with each reread.

This work will win awards, not just because Joseph is the current Waterstones Poet Laureate, but because in the deceptive simplicity of the lines and verses lies a deep, complex story that will swallow you whole and hold you entranced until the final page is turned.

The Boy Lost in the Maze is the third work by Joseph Coelho and artist Kate Milner. It is published by Otter-Barry Books and is available from October 6th. 

Highly recommended for readers of all ages!

The Bookstart Bear and Tala the Storyteller

Who is The Bookstart Bear?

Matt temporarily an avatar of the Bookstart Bear

30 years ago The Bookstart Bear was introduced as the national mascot for the BookTrust’s Bookstart programme as part of their resources to encourage families to read and share stories with their children as early as possible.

As a result of brand refresh in 2020, BookTrust began phasing out the Bookstart Bear character and introduced a range of new characters to ensure their resources would continue to appeal to families today and in the future.

Many local authorities and libraries have continued to use the Bookstart Bear character in their own activities and we are happy for them to do so for as long as they find it a helpful tool to engage with their local families.

Other libraries and local authorities have started creating their own characters to engage with families and young readers.

This brings us to Tala the Storyteller.

Who is Tala?

Tala the Storyteller

Tala the Storyteller is a friendly alien who likes to go on journeys, seeking out stories and rhymes to share with children.

Tala was created by local artists Emma Phillips and Eva Povey using funds from an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant for Hertfordshire County Council. They worked with families through interactive workshops to find out what appeals to young children and used these ideas in their design.

Tala is an alien child and as such is neither male or female (allowing children of any gender to identify with them).

Who is Maya Forstater?

Maya Forstater is a British business and international development researcher who is the claimant in Maya Forstater v Centre for Global Development.

On September 29th Maya Forstater tweeted:

The accusation that Tala was a trans bear set off a global firestorm on social media. Hitchin Library tried to answer the questions posed by Maya’s tweet

Even the official twitter account for the Hertfordshire County Council tried to intervene and calm things

but to no avail.

Over the next few days Maya doubled down and hammering at Hitchin Library and Tala the Storyteller, trying to foment an gender critical uprising against a reading mascot that was created with input from young people from the community it served.

Tala the Storyteller seems to be becoming the most recognized reading mascot around the world. With news organizations from Hitchin News Hub & Pink News to conservative outlets the New York Post, the Daily Mail and more covering the story.

Defenders of Herts Libraries and Tala include

Maureen Johnson

Billy Bragg

Danny Pearson

Joanne Harris

and a whole raft of believers in equality and equity of representation and access.

This attack on Tala the Storyteller is just another front in the culture war against libraries being welcoming and inclusive that has opened up.

Way back in 2010 I was honoured to serve as an avatar of the Bookstart Bear. Over the last 30 years, many of my colleagues have done the same, some female, some male (like me) and others whose genders I did not know. Did this make the Bookstart Bear genderfluid or trans? Who cares? If the question had been asked even a few years ago it would have been ridiculed as people making a fuss over Tala have been ridiculed and called out today.

When Gender Critters Attack

Once the dust of this overhyped non-controversy has settled and exclusionary gender critters have moved on to another target Hertfordshire Libraries will still be running family library events with Tala and BookTrust will still be offering support and resources to those who need them most. You can find out about some if these below.

Earlier this year BookTrust developed a new pilot, Bookstart Toddler and Bookstart Pre-schooler which are packs and resources specifically aimed at disadvantaged children and families and will be delivered through targeted approaches by a range of nurseries and children’s centres to ensure we reach children most in need. Last year they launched a new pilot library initiative BookTrust Storytime. Aimed at families with children aged 0-5, especially those who are disadvantaged, BookTrust Storytime is designed to support families to share stories together and make visiting the library a regular part of family life.