Author Archives: Matt Imrie

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Patricia is a Charleston housewife whose husband Carter spends more time traveling for work than he does at home. Her two teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and much of her time is spent caring for her senile mother-in-law. The only thing giving her life is her book club. So what if their typical picks, like Cry, the Beloved Country are less her speed than the true crime titles they actually discuss? One night after book club, an elderly neighbor attacks Patricia, which brings the woman’s handsome nephew into Patricia’s life, and just like that, her life takes a turn for the more interesting. James is smart, well-read, well-traveled, and attentive. But as time goes on, Patricia realizes that she is not the only one James is interested in; that she, her family, and even her beloved book club are being groomed by a man who may be a monster. 

Grady Hendrix is one of the greatest living writers of Horror!

This was a theory I had long held that was confirmed when I read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. He is also one of the few authors for whom I will drop everything else I am reading when a new work by him is published.

It took me ages to figure out why this book is so terrifyingly good, it is because it could take place next door to me or in the homes of my friends. Look mothers generally get a bad rap in horror (and to be honest many other genres as well), this book goes a long way to show the sacrifice, strength and love that mothers have for their children, friends and families that is so often overlooked or looked down upon. Grady also skewers the 1980’s yuppie mantra of greed is good as well as deflating toxic masculinity for good measure. Honestly it is not a stretch to believe that a soulless, blood-sucker could morph into something even worse.

Along the way he also makes the reader look long and hard at the racism and segregation that has suffused many communities in the US (and still does to this day) but was never discussed in polite society.

Patricia is not a hero, she is just a mother, as are her friends in the book club. They are nice ladies, who welcome new folk in to the neighborhood and make them feel at home; but when something starts threatening their children they know they have to do something – what they don’t rightly know, but they will find out, they have to!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is written by Grady Hendrix and was published by Quirk Books back in April, this review is very late!

Check out The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires gift box – out just in time for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule and many other December celebrations:

https://quirkbooks.biz/product/the-southern-book-clubs-guide-to-slaying-vampires-box/?v=757e5b5109ed

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!

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

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.

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)

Skunk and Badger

No one wants a skunk.
 
They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Important Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger can do about it.
 
When Skunk plows into Badger’s life, everything Badger knows is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?

Skunk and Badger is a wonderful take by two titans of the children’s book world: Amy Timberlake wielded the words and Jon Klassen created the illustrations. I will not lie, I am a fan of both, but Jon Klassen is one of my all-time top five artists and when I was offered a chance at an early copy I leapt at it!

I was not disappointed! This is a gentle, hilarious tale of a budding friendship, misadventure, chickens and underscored by the virtues of tolerance and understanding,

Skunk and Badger is timeless! Although aimed at a young audience this tale will find fans in readers of all ages.

Written by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen and published by Algonquin Young Readers. It is out on September 15 – I urge you to pick up a copy (or borrow a copy from your local library and then pick up your own copy to keep, read and reread).

Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African by Aisha Redux

When I first met you, I thought you were just a Stupid Black Girl.

Everyone has a story inside them – about their life and experiences, everyone’s story is different. For example I am a first generation immigrant in America, I came to the USA from South Africa via the UK. I am an invisible minority as I am white even though my identify is African. Aisha is a first generation American with West African parents, there are some intersections (immigrant family, African background) but even more differences. To stay safer in America all I have to do is not open my mouth and nobody passing me on the street will know that I am not from here, Aisha on the other hand was born here – she is more American than I will ever be, heck, she can even run for president of the USA – something I can never do but her skin color automatically puts her in more danger than I will ever face here.

But this post is not about me, it is about this wonderful, brutally honest (at times painful) collection of personal essays about her life, beliefs and experiences as a Muslim American African.

Stupid Black Girl is a brilliant book to pick up if you are looking to learn about experiences outside your own, even if you have begun immersing yourself in African/African-American/Minority experiences in the USA then this book needs to be on your reading list!

In reading this book you will learn about the experiences of others, and, at the same time you may learn a bit more about yourself…

Highly recommended! If I gave out star ratings this book would get five of them!

Stupid Black Girl is written by Aisha Redux, illustrated by Brianna McCarthy and published by Street Noise Books. It is available now!

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being a Library Worker

Things that are said (& celebrated) about Libraries, Librarians and Library Workers: 

  • Librarians are freedom fighters,  
  • Librarians are revolutionary,  
  • Librarians are rebels, 

Things that are not usually said or celebrated about libraries (but are still true): 

  • Libraries and Library Workers are (or have been) complicit in: 
    • In book banning 
    • In book burning 
    • In segregation 
    • In upholding white supremacy 

Many, mostly white (it has to be said) library folk have drunk the library kool-aid and believe uncritically everything (positive & affirming) that has been said about libraries. Heck for years I was one of them, I uncritically celebrated libraries without considering the history of library services in the countries I have lived and worked in until I took a look at myself, where I came from (South Africa) and what I stand for; then started poking around in the history of my career in my home country and further afield. 

Nowadays I am still a library-stan, I have seen and can see how libraries can affect the lives of those who use them in a positive way.  Of course people have to be able to  access the services that libraries provide to have their lives changed by them. I still fully support all that is good in public libraries but I also acknowledge the darker side that has largely been airbrushed out of the public library narrative. What follows are but a few examples of what overwhelming whiteness in libraries has been responsible for. 

In South Africa, Public Libraries were segregated under the apartheid regime and non-white South Africans were denied library services altogether or had a substandard service. 

Read Library philosophy vs. Apartheid legislation: Cape Town City Libraries: 1952-1972 by Kathleen Laishley 

Not content with segregation, the apartheid regime doubled down with book banning as well as burning books that they disagreed with. Librarians were complicit in this. 

Librarians at institutions across South Africa were tasked with removing banned books and the works of banned people from the shelves, and monitoring their usage. They received a weekly update in the Government Gazette and were expected to enforce the banning of books with immediate effect.

In the end, book burning was about power – the abuse of  power by the agents of  censorship, and the reluctance to confront power by those who aided and abetted censorship 

There has been segregation in many US libraries over the years, When Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of a new public library in Atlanta in 1902, scholar and activist W. E. B. DuBois, then a professor at Atlanta University and a strong proponent of African American education, spoke out publicly against the injustice of a public facility that refused service to a full third of Atlanta’s population. (https://dp.la/exhibitions/history-us-public-libraries/segregated-libraries

 In 2016 when accepting a National Book Award Representative Elijah Cummings recounted  how he was denied a library card in Alabama in 1956: 

“Some of you know I grew up in rural Alabama, very poor, very few books in our home, I remember in 1956, when I was 16 years old, going to the public library to get library cards, and we were told the library was for whites only and not for coloureds. And to come here and receive this honor, it’s too much.” 

The Dewey Decimal Classification System still carries many of the biases of it’s creator Melvil Dewey. It took until 2019 for his name to be removed from the ALA’s top honor. In the 1930s librarian Dorothy Porter started to decolonize the DDC by unpicking the racist way in which he treated Black authors. 

This brilliant article on BookRiot shows how libraries have and in some cases still are complicit in upholding white supremacy (and how it can be dismantled).  

Homophobia was also prevalent in early editions of the DDC and although it is being weeded out, many traces still remain. The religion section still skews heavily in favor of Christianity, with non-Christian faiths only making an appearance in the 290s. 

In 2017 a lack of diversity in the library profession lead to accusations of bias and worse being made against the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the oldest book award for books for children & young people in the UK. This controversy has lead to institutional changes in the way that the awards are run and has also lead to the formation of groups to help work towards increasing the diversity of the profession in the UK, so never let it be said that protests change nothing.

Today libraries are still largely staffed by white folk, most of them women many of who fall under the middle-class label, for a career that is majority female, it is weird that male library staff are very over-represented in library management positions – patriarchy it is not a bug, it is a feature (if you are a man that is). 

As the profession slowly (oh so slowly) diversifies, existing staff come face to face with our biases, both conscious and unconscious.  This is uncomfortable, for those of us who feel we are anti-racist, anti-imperialist and can lead to hurt feelings and lashing out when we are confronted with our failures in being good allies, and for our colleagues of colour who experience almost daily microaggressions from their colleagues and upon whom many white library workers place their needs for education on being better at becoming antiracist and working in a diverse workplace. 

It behooves all of us working in public libraries no matte where we are in the world to educate ourselves on how to be better allies in life and in libraries to our colleagues of colour, our LGBTQ+ colleagues an dour patrons. Libraries are no place for the false white saviour narrative, we are not rockstars (I hate that term – but that is a rant for another day), we must all work towards being open, inclusive in our lives as in our careers and make our profession a place that mirrors the world as it is and as it should be – diverse and vibrant, not a monochrome example of how things used to be. 

Further Reading & Resources