Category Archives: Blogging

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.

To all the Libraries I’ve Loaned from Before part 1

Kalk Bay Public Library, you were my first Library – the one that set the template of expectations of what a Library should be and offer. Although small, to my young eyes you were a Cathedral of books, with windows set high up on all sides. You gave me my first library cards – three little folded pieces of cardboard with my name and address on them that were taken by the Librarian and kept behind the desk whenever I borrowed books. The books that stay in my mind are the Little Tim picture books by Edward Ardizzone, after all these years – they are the books that solidified my fate as a reader, they are the first books I can remember reading on my own (my parents read them with me but I picked them up again at bedtime and read them on my own), there was also that shark book, I cannot remember the cover, but I coveted it regularly and borrowed it several times to read about sharks from around the world, I was most fascinated by the Wobbegong (or carpet shark) of Australia – it is funny what facts stick with you. I still remember the particular smell that the Library had, furniture polish and the smell of books and the feeling of coolness that enveloped me whenever I walked in to the Library with my Mom and younger brother, after the heat of the day outside it was a welcome feeling. I can also hear the Library windows slamming shut as Librarian used a long pole with a hook to pull them shut – to let us know that it was nearly closing time and we had better choose our books quickly but she never chased us out. That Library is long gone, the building now hosts a community centre but I have not been past it for years.

Kalk Bay Primary School had a tiny Library – it was more a box room stuffed with books than an actual Library – but it counts! The books I remember borrowing were The Adventures of Professor Branestawm, and a science fiction short story collection – the title escapes me but I can still remember parts of some of the stories, one was set on a colony on an alien world that was slowly being eaten by a huge slime monster that was being kept at bay by a laser shield, there was only one ship available and the people had to decide who would survive and who would remain behind to face the monster when the shields failed… gripping stuff!

My second Public Library was in Muizenberg, I remember attending story times on a Thursday when the Librarian (the same one from Kalk Bay) would light a candle and we would sit in silence as she read stories, the extinguishing of the candle was the sign that we could start talking and move around again. Muizenberg Library became ‘my’ Library for years, it introduced me to Douglas Hill’s ColSec books and his fantasy duology Blade of the Poisoner and Master of Fiends. This was also the Library where I discovered Terry Pratchett, I started with Equal Rites and never looked back! I visited Muizenberg Public Library weekly, and spent hours choosing books then sitting in the magazine room reading back issues of Punch Magazine (mostly to find the Agent Orange cartoons by David Haldane).

I spent one year at the Fish Hoek Middle School and spent most of my break and lunch times hiding out in the School Library, I became a part time student librarian but hung out in one of the corners with other kids reading comic books – it was my first introduction to Raymond Briggs, I read his Father Christmas comics which were fun then Gentleman Jim and its sort of sequel When the Wind Blows – it is thanks to that book that I learned how to start worrying and hate the Bomb.

I joined Fish Hoek Public Library in my mid-teens so that I could have a greater range of materials to access for my school work – the joys of growing up in a preWorld Wide Web world! My parents paid for this membership as, at the time, Fish Hoek had its own municipality and if you did not live there you had to pay to access the service. This was the beginning of a Library relationship that lasted many years, it was here that I first started weekend work as, first a shelf packer, then after I started my Library degree they decided that I was trustworthy enough to work on the desk (oh the power!) Once I graduated it was also my first professional Library post, it later transpired that I was an affirmative action employee – the first ever male librarian hired by Fish Hoek municipality (I was the only applicant that all the unions could agree on, which at that time in South Africa was no small thing). It was at Fish Hoek Library that I first read the Duncan & Mallory graphic novels by Robert Asprin, I discovered the Dragonlance books by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis and Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

At the time I was also studying at the Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology) they had a magnificent Library, apart from the books I needed for my coursework I also borrowed Maus by Art Spiegelman which opened my eyes to the potential comic books have in education and as an art-form.

Special mentions must go to the Grassy Park Public Library that I worked at briefly to cover staff absence – it was here that I discovered (& borrowed) Deathstalker by Simon R Green and became a lifelong fan of his writing and the Hout Bay Public Library where I participated in a temporary staff exchange for a week and discovered ‘zines.

An object lesson on social media use and misuse

This is a good example of the use and misuse of twitter that can be used in a lesson on social media for users of all ages.

Tomi Adeyemi has written a brilliant book called The Children of Blood and Bone

Nora Roberts’ new book is titled Of Blood and Bone

Tomi publicly accused Nora of plagiarism on Twitter due to the similarity of the titles:

This led to the usual mob pile on of fans calling Nora out on multiple platforms; who reached out to Tomi to try and smooth over the trouble that was erupting.

Tomi then tweeted an apology and explanation to calm her fans:

However, she left the original tweet up, which has kept the hate cycle rolling.

Requests from Nora’s side to have the tweet taken down have, so far, remained unanswered.

Nora then wrote this post on her blog: Mob Rule By Social Media

This post gives a brilliant insight to what people under attack online can experience. It can also be used to discuss plagiarism, how the publishing industry works and also (and very importantly) online bullying as well as the importance of having all your facts in order before attacking someone publicly.

Nora and Tomi are both amazing writers, one with 30+ years experience and the other a first-time author, this contretemps seems to have soured views in both fan camps which may lead to many people not experiencing the wonderful work both authors have produced.

Fan is short for fanatic and sometimes the fanaticism comes to the fore and events can occur that damage fandoms, publishing and book lovers are not immune to this, as this event shows.

The CILIP Carnegie Medal: is it time for a discussion about splitting the medal?

The short-list for the 81st CILIP Carnegie Medal was announced yesterday and it started up the discussion about splitting the Medal into a YA and younger fiction award due to a number of YA titles containing unsuitable content for younger readers.

I set up a 24 hour poll on Twitter to gauge how people feel about the idea of splitting the medal.

I must admit that in past discussions with friends and colleagues the majority of people I have spoken to have favoured the one medal for all approach as it is currently run. The results of the poll surprised me, I honestly expected them to be more evenly matched.

You can see the results below, if you click on the tweet you can read the entire, fascinating conversation that it spawned.

One of the major successes of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards has been the Shadowing Scheme allowing thousands of students in schools across the country and the world to follow the judging process, read along with the judges and have the opportunity to speak to members of the judging panel about the judging process. This is one of the positive extras that the Medals offer; but when younger readers are excluded due to the mature content of many of the short-listed titles it starts becoming of limited value to primary schools and the lower years of senior school.

The Shadowing Scheme is not the main purpose of the awards nor is it to recognise an ideal book for all readers. The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book written in English for children and young people. This most outstanding book is chosen through a rigorous judging process and I do not want that to change.

However the strength of feeling engendered by the question among librarians, authors, publishers and other interested parties plus the growing ease of identifying YA books and other children’s books may make splitting the award less onerous than it may have been in the past.

Speaking personally, I am, at present, in favour of the one award for all but I am not against participating in a discussion about the future of the awards and recognising outstanding works for young people. Are new medals required to recognise age-specific books for young readers or will the Carnegie (and possibly the Kate Greenaway) survive in multiple incarnations?

This decision is, fortunately, not one that I can make, the only people able to do that are CILIP and the CKG Working Party who administer the medals.

One of the strengths of the Awards is that the decision-makers do listen to outside voices, and if the suggestions made have merit then changes are effected to make them more inclusive, relevant and open.

As I stated in my initial tweet, the poll was informal, but the message it sends is that perhaps it is time to revisit to conversation about splitting the medals, as the voices of dissent are only going to get louder.

My last post about World Book Day

As anyone who knows me or follows my blog and twitter account will know, I have had a bit of a problem with World Book Day – not the celebration of books, bookshops and reading but what I perceived as missteps in their organisation of WBD 2018 (and also some issues with WBD 2017). Rather than rehashing what I have already written, you can read my thoughts here and here.

I did try and engage with the organisation on social media in an attempt to have a public discussion about my concerns but to no avail, so on the 19th February I sent them an e-mail. You can read it below.

To whom it may concern

I have a number of conflicted feelings about World Book Day, on one hand I am a massive supporter of getting young people reading and into bookstores but on the other hand I feel that World Book Day ltd has made a number of missteps recently, some of which which I have publicly criticised on TeenLibrarian and via social media.

I dislike the idea of criticism without allowing a response and not having been able to engage with you via social media I wondered if a representative from WBD would be able to answer some questions regarding the issues I feel have arisen?

My questions are below.

Firstly, the YA offer this year

Why did it take three months for the YA titles to be announced instead of during “the coming weeks” as reported in the Guardian? (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/02/childrens-authors-slam-celebrity-heavy-world-book-day-lineup)

Regarding the £1.50 YA premium on top of the WBD voucher, I am aware that they are full novels and are still considerably cheaper than a non-WBD branded copy book would cost; but do you not think that this will further alienate young people from impoverished backgrounds*; not to mention the young people go to a participating bookshop or supermarket to pick up a book with their voucher and find out when they get to the till that they have to pay.

I also note on your website that the YA ‘special editions’ will be available in participating retailers only – will these retailers be listed to help shoppers find the books they are looking for? Are you not concerned that this will exclude older readers who wish to participate in World Book Day but do not live near a participating store?

Secondly the proliferation of the World Book Day logo on advertising costumes on posters in malls and in supermarkets. Contrary to popular belief I am not against dressing up to celebrate one’s favourite books for World Book Day, but is not using your logo to sell costumes a contravention of the style guide usage policy which states that the logo should only be used on materials promoting books?

I also fear that the dress-up aspect of the day is occluding the celebration of reading which forms a central part of World Book Day. An online search for “World Book Day” returns mostly news articles on where to find the most affordable costumes and news that a Welsh language book will be available for the first time.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions

Matt Imrie
Editor: Teen Librarian

*There were 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15. That’s 28 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30 and this number is projected to rise by 2020 [source: http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures]

I received a response on Friday the 9th but owing to a school trip and family obligations over the weekend I only received it today. You can read it in full below

Download (PDF, Unknown)

I appreciate the Director Kirsten Grant taking the time to personally respond to my questions, it made for interesting reading and while my fears have not been completely allayed (or answered fully) I look forward to seeing what happens with WBD in the future.

Blog Tour: A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Claire Cock-Starkey will be speaking about A Library Miscellany (and The Book Lovers’ Miscellany) at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 20th at 12pm

Visit Claire’s website www.nonfictioness.com and follow her on Twitter @nonfictioness

A Library Miscellany FRONT ONLY

Opinion: #WorldBookDay YA Book Selection

Well the World Book Day YA books have been announced on the WBD site and via their twitter account. I was rather excited at the news until I read that the five full-length novels have a price of £2.50, or £1.50 with a World Book Day token.

What I have loved about World Book Day in the past is that it has offered all young people the opportunity to visit a book shop and choose a book that they can take home and keep forever. It feels discriminatory requiring older readers to pay anything when the younger ones are able to choose a WBD Book for free.

It will also limit the celebration of reading to those young people who can afford to go the bookshop or have parents/guardians that are proactive in getting them to read or at the very least to own books of their own.

I may be completely off-base here, but it appears (to me) that the organisers of World Book Day omitted the YA selection when they were putting the 2018 WBD selection together, were blind-sided by the outcry and cut a deal with publishers to offer some (truly excellent) YA novels as World Book Day books at as low a cost as they were able.

I know that the YA titles are fantastic, full novels, but many young people will balk at going in to a bookshop knowing that they will have to pay, either from the shame of being unable to afford even the nominal £1.50 or at the thought of having to pay at all.

In the past I have always considered the World Book Day tokens and celebrations on and around the day as one of the key weapons in my arsenal in the fight to get and keep young people reading. This year it appears that WBD will be of limited use with my older reluctant readers – and that is a crying shame!

l’bibliothèque, ç’est moi

Paraphrasing the Sun King there although there is a bit of a dispute as to whether or not he actually said L’Etat, ç’est moi! (I am the State)

I am stealing it and re-purposing it for the 21st century and for Librarians.

So L’Bibliothèque, ç’est moi! – I am the Library!

While a Librarian without a Library is still a Librarian, the opposite is not true – a Library without a Librarian becomes a room or building full of books and other resources that people without the requisite know-how are unable to access fully. So yes the Librarian makes the Library and can be said to actually be the Library.; at the very least the Librarian is the interface through which many people can access the services on offer.

This train of thought led me to consider why so many schools have re-branded their Libraries as ‘Learning Resource Centres’, many are still run by Librarians, some are managed by Resource Centre Managers and still others are unstaffed; after all who needs a Librarian if you no longer have a Library?

‘Reading Russia’ while researching The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

In 2012, when I was just beginning to have vague thoughts that I might write an historical novel set in Russia during the Revolution, an email appeared in my Inbox. Edinburgh International Book Festival was celebrating 50 years and, supported by the British Council, invited 50 writers to do a cultural exchange with different locations world-wide. So, while other writers ended up shopping in New York or sunning themselves in the Caribbean I was one of a group who were asked to speak at a Cultural Fair in… Siberia!

A stop-off in Moscow provided the opportunity to speak with librarians, teachers and students of English literature and see some of Russia’s literary treasures. In addition to their pre-printing press beautifully illuminated manuscripts, there were originals manuscripts of famous Russian writers, such as Dostoevsky and, thrillingly, the handwritten title page of Mikhail Bulgakov’s original manuscript for The Master and Margarita.

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

We discussed the transformative power of good fiction and in the evening attended an ‘open mike’ literature session in a night club. Seriously. In a night club. During the music breaks anyone could come up and talk about reading. And they did. Amazing! Young people spoke about the influence of Gogol and quoted favourite bits of Turgenev. And I learned so much about modern Russian writers. We were challenged to name a ‘hero for our times’ I chose Katniss Everdeen – who else?

Russia has enormously influential writers, with Alexander Pushkin rated as the funder of modern Russian literature. In Eugene Onegin Pushkin speaks on writing saying: “… weave together emotion, thought, and magic sound; I write, …”

Pushkin supported the 1825 uprising and his writings were considered so dangerous by the Tsar that he was banished from St Petersburg and barred from any government post. When he died he was buried without ceremony in case the occasion of his funeral would cause unrest. I’m intrigued by Pushkin for he used language in a new way, melding traditional tongues with the words of the common people. He proved a big inspiration for the character of Nina’s father, Ivan, the Storyteller, in The Rasputin Dagger.

Then on to Siberia. I was soooooo excited. It was late October / early November and they said “Oh, it’s not that cold, yet…” Really? I was glad I’d packed my grey-goose down-filled parka with the fur-lined hood. I have to say that Melvin Burgess looked fetching in his dark green wool overcoat and was a particular draw for our teen audiences.

As I’m a former Young People’s Services librarian the organisers were keen that I speak on the subject of Youth Library Services. Despite the remote venue the session was full and I was proud to share examples of British ‘best practice’. Like ravenous wolves the librarians fell upon the material I’d brought with me.

 Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

Then Melvin and I had events with articulate and engaging young teenagers, organised and moderated by the pupils themselves.

 Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

It was an absolute joy to talk to these young Russians. Although desperately keen for modern teen fiction from the West, their own reading included Tolstoy and Chekhov, and a wide range of classic Russian books.

And a final interesting fact – schools in Siberia only close if the temperature drops below 26 degrees centigrade!

©Theresa Breslin 2017
Twitter: @TheresaBreslin1

Rook, and the sense of place by Anthony McGowan

I like to think that if the world were destroyed in some apocalypse, and a future race – perhaps descended from ants or koala bears or mung beans – tried to rebuild our world from literary sources, my books Brock, Pike, and Rook would enable a pretty accurate recreation of the Yorkshire village of Sherburn in Elmet.

Although, in writing for young adults, I’ve invested most of my energies into characterisation and narrative, I’ve always known exactly where my books were set. It’s almost always been a version of my old school – Corpus Christi, in Leeds. The stained concrete and glass of the building, the polluted beck running past it, the tussocky field beyond where travellers would come and go in mysterious patterns, the surrounding Halton Moor council estate – these were where my characters worked through the dangers and joys of teenage life.

Although I went to school in Leeds, I was actually brought up ten miles outside, in Sherburn. It’s an odd sort of place – once split between farming and mining – with the old village centre topped and tailed by large council estates, but now swollen with private housing, serving commuters to Leeds and York. As kids, it was glorious. The countryside was a short bike-ride away, and the building sites for the new estates were the perfect playground, in those pre-health and safety days. We built elaborate dens and fought huge wars against rival gangs of urchins. We played football all Winter, and cricket all Summer.

It’s a place I can still see clearly, whenever I close my eyes. The high street with its four pubs, ranging from rough to dead rough. The Spa. The Co-op. Two fish and chip shops. There’s a joke about a Jewish man who washes up on a desert island. The first thing he does is to build two synagogues – the one he goes to and the one he wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was like that with the fish and chip shops. We went to Kirkgate, but wouldn’t dream of getting our chips from Huggan’s. The beautiful old church on the hill. The Methodist chapel down in the village. The old cinema converted into a Catholic church, where I served as an altar boy all through my childhood. Then, just out of the village, the Bacon factory – a huge meat processing plant. And next to it, the Bacon pond, where monstrous pike lurked, fattened, we were told, on rotten meat from the factory.

I populated this remembered microverse with kids I knew or half knew. Nicky and Kenny live up on the Highfields council estate. At the beginning of the series, their world was falling apart, their family split, money short, hope all but gone. What saves them is love: the love of Nicky for his older but simpler brother, Kenny. Kenny’s own wide-beam love, which encompasses not only his family, but anything helpless and vulnerable they encounter. And so, over the first two books, things get better. Their dad begins to sort out his life. They move on.

In Rook, the last (I think …) in the series, their problems change. Rather than survival, the issues are more typical teenage ones. Kenny has made new friends – one of who appears to be Doctor Who – and Nicky no longer feels quite so needed, quite so central to his brother’s being. And he’s fallen for a pretty girl at school, with the horrible complication that her brother is a vicious bully. There are twists, which follow, I trust, the organic patterns of life, rather than the artificial needs of plot. In the end things work out … OK.

But I hope that I’ve been true both to my characters, and to that place – that particular small town in North Yorkshire, typical, and yet unique, seemingly ordinary, and yet overflowing with stories, with eccentrics, with danger and joy, with life.

Brock, Pike and Rook are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now