Category Archives: Books

Nothing Ever Happens Here

“This is Littlehaven. Nothing ever happens here. Until the spotlight hits my family.” Izzy’s family is under the spotlight when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy is terrified her family will be torn apart. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents break up? And what will people at school say? Izzy’s always been shy, but now all eyes are on her. Can she face her fears, find her voice and stand up for what’s right?

Usborne
Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is just brilliant. It tells Izzy’s story with great humour, not sugar-coating reactions from family and others, but sensitively portraying how things change and how Izzy feels about it. Perfectly pitched for a middle grade audience (but definitely also readable by teens and adults alike), it will broaden minds and inspire really positive conversations around empathy and the way the media currently often (mainly) poorly portray trans people. I highly recommend you get this book for your schools, your children, and yourselves!

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions:

You’ve previously written non-fiction for adults, when you initially had the idea of writing fiction did you always intend for it to be for children or did the story evolve that way?

I’m not totally sure! I don’t think I set out to write fiction at all – I simply had an idea for a story which wouldn’t go away, so I started writing something to see what would happen next… 45,000 words later and I had the draft of a children’s novel! I love reading children’s fiction. I have enjoyed so many excellent new children’s books recently – thanks to my daughters’ recommendations – as well as discovering my old favourites to share with them. It’s a real honour and excitement for me to know that Nothing Ever Happens Here will be alongside some of my favourite titles and, I hope, will be read and enjoyed by children (and maybe a few parents too).

What prompted you to write from the perspective of a child of a trans parent?

The most recent non-fiction book I co-wrote was a parenting guide for LGBT parents, informed by interviews with around 70 families – all of whom had fascinating stories to tell and experiences to share. A couple of those stories stuck with me, stories of families where a parent had transitioned while their children were at school. I started wondering about what experience would have been really like, from the child’s perspective as well as the parent’s, and that’s how Nothing Ever Happens Here began. I’m cis (not trans), but I am part of the LGBT community, and I’m very aware how few children’s books reflect families like ours. I hope that Nothing Ever Happens Here is not a one-off and we will start to see more LGBT families appearing in all kinds of children’s books.

Was it difficult to write? Which characters came to you most easily?

Looking back, it was a joy to write (but maybe that’s just hindsight!). Finding time to write was difficult, but the actual writing came quite easily. I think this was because I let the characters and dialogue develop in my head while I was doing other things – swimming, commuting to work, hanging up the washing – so that by the time I got my laptop out to write, everything was all ready to go. The first character to come was Izzy, but I really enjoyed getting to know the other characters too and I’m fond of them all. Perhaps Megan – Izzy’s older sister – and Grace – her extrovert best friend – were the most fun to write as they both have such strong personalities.

Did you involve sensitivity readers early on in the writing process or ask for input when the book was closer to being finished?

Both. The story itself was informed and inspired by in-depth interviews with families with a trans parent, so their experiences were at the heart of the book from before I wrote a single word. This means that some scenes have direct parallels in real-life, and that their voices influenced the whole tone of Nothing Ever Happens Here. Two of those parents read a first draft of the book and gave comments before I even submitted the manuscript to agents. Then I was fortunate enough to have two incredible sensitivity readers – Christine Burns and Jay Hulme – who advised on the manuscript as it was nearer to its final stage.

Have you had feedback from young readers?

My daughter, who is 11, was one of the first readers of Nothing Ever Happens Here – she gave me her unvarnished feedback and has now become a great champion of the book among her friends. It’s early days, but I’m starting to get feedback from pre-teen readers – my favourite feedback so far is from a 12-year-old reader who said “This book was so good and you know it’s a good book when you tell your mum that you can’t wait to go to bed so I could continue reading.”

Have you done any author events? What would you most like to do to promote the book?

The book is only just out, but I’m really looking forward to getting into schools or youth groups to promote the book, to encourage young people in their writing and to talk about some of the issues raised by Nothing Ever Happens Here. I did lots of events and workshops around my non-fiction books (both of which also had LGBT themes) but only with adults – so presenting to a younger audience will be a new adventure.

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

I have just started ‘Amy and Isabelle’ by Elizabeth Strout, after being recommended her books by a friend who always has good reading tips. It’s the first novel I’ve read by her and I’m totally hooked already. I’d recommend it to fans of Anne Tyler or Kent Haruf, it’s a similar, character-led approach which draws you into the lives and emotions of ‘ordinary’ people in a powerful but gentle way.

Are you planning another book for children?

Yes. Well, it’s beyond the planning stage now, as my second novel is coming out with Usborne in 2021. I won’t say too much, apart from that it also involves an LGBT family, like Nothing Ever Happens Here. However I have lots more stories I want to tell that touch on the issues which I care about, so hopefully there will be many more books to come.

Sarah Hagger-Holt

Sarah Hagger-Holt lives with her partner and two daughters in Hertfordshire and is the Community Campaigns Manager for the LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall. She is the author of two adult non-fiction LGBTQ+ parenting books and has written for the i paper, the Huffington Post, and spoken on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about LGBTQ+ parenting.

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy of the book, and to Sarah for answering my questions!

The Night Before Christmas: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner

Twas the night before Christsmas and all round the Eye

Dark forces were stirring and jockeys did die!

The mecha were cradled in their hangers with care

Not knowing that bad things would soon happen there!

Rook was a jockey also a con,

indentured by NorCol her old life was now gone!

In a near hanger there arose quite a clatter

A Juno mech was trying its confinement to shatter!

Rook and the Juno a match made in hell

Really quite lucky as time would soon tell!

The hollows were moving – dead pilots in shells

Rather like zombies, they fought and killed well!

Their infection was spreading, corporations did fall

Soon Rook’s back was pressed ‘gainst the wall

A last ditch defence against to stem the dire flood

A few plucky heroes and gallons of blood

Needed to stop dire evil’s spread

Would they survive or all end up dead?

I will not tell you, but this tome you must read:

Steel Frame by Skinner a great book indeed!

Steel Frame is written by Andrew Skinner and published by Rebellion Publishing, it is available now

India Smythe Stands Up by Sarah Govett

I owe Sarah a huge apology! This review was supposed to hit the site on September 30th – unfortunately my daughter, being no respecter of the best laid plans of mice and men decided to arrive a bit early (an dmad those plans go awry).

Sarah I am sorry! In creating India Smythe you have gifted the world with one of the funniest protagonists since… well… ever! She fits in with Bridget Jones and Georgia Nicolson! I already knew that you were a brilliant author, The Territory trilogy taught me that; but pivoting from a futuristic dystopian eco-thriller to a contemporary comedy, well honestly that caught me off-guard.

Writing comedy is hard, writing actually funny comedy is akin to capturing lightning in a bottle. India Smythe is Sarah’s lightning in a bottle!

India is a wonderful protagonist, flawed yet engaging, with some really wicked one-liners including: It’s never good to stand next to perfection. Especially when perfection is a complete bitch.

Her voice as narrator came through with crystal clarity while introducing the reader to her family, her life and her friends, frenemies and potential love interests.

This is very much a teen novel but suitable for readers of most ages, the writing is so sharp you may cut yourself on the humour. Trite as it may sound, this is a book that, once you have started reading you will find very hard to put down.

If you work in a library then this is a book you need to press into the hands of your teen readers. It is the perfect antidote to the grey, grim times in which we find ourselves. India Smythe Stands Up is light, funny and will swiftly carry you through India’s travails. I challenge readers of any age to not find some part of themselves in India or her family, and empathise with her as they laugh uproariously at her misadventures.

14 -year-old India Smythe has caught the eye of Ennis, the hottest boy at St Joseph’s. But nothing’s ever easy when you’re dealing with horrific teachers, a dad who’s convinced every boy is a ‘sex pest’, a best friend who talks you into embarrassing makeovers to look good on Instagram and the odd kissing-induced hospitalisation. And does India even want Ennis? Or should she risk social relegation and go for the orchestra geek with the extra-long forehead who she actually enjoys talking to?

India Smythe Stands Up was written by Sarah Govett and is published by Marotte Books a new publisher specialising in comedy fiction. It is available now!

You need to get yourself a copy! Trust me I am a Librarian!

BEANO ANNOUNCES MONTHLY CHILDREN’S BOOK CLUB

Beano has today launched “Beano Booktopia” – a new book subscription service for kids offering newly published books across a wide range of authors and genres.

The tailor-made programme will include fiction and non-fiction books specifically chosen by Beano experts based on the individual child’s given interests and reading ability.

Booktopia encourages children to expand their reading horizons with new books that fans of the Beano will love. The books selected for the Booktopia service follow the winning Beano formula that has won over children for three generations by combining spot-on humour, captivating stories, relatable characters and amazing visual storytelling.

How Booktopia works

1.       Pick a plan

Choose one of Beano Booktopia subscriptions with a book arriving every month for either 3, 6, 12 or 24 months – starting from £24.99f5f

2.       Name a kid

Name the lucky kid who will become part of Beano’s Booktopia club

3.       Booktopia quiz

Children answer a few simple questions outlining their interests. What do they love? Fact or fiction? Adventure or mystery? Books with pictures as well as text?

4.       The adventure begins

Beano masterminds hand-pick a book a month to match each kid’s passions and reading ability

Multiple studies have shown that children who read for enjoyment do significantly better at school than their peers and make more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling, making reading for pleasure one of the most effective ways of helping children to reach their full potential.

Emma Scott, CEO of Beano Studios, said: “Beano has been making kids laugh for over 80 years whilst all the while secretly helping them on the first crucial step on their reading journey. Thousands of parents tell us “Beano is the only thing my kids will read” and we’re constantly awed by the British creative icons who credit the Beano with getting them reading, writing, drawing and even standing up on stage! Beano Booktopia offers kids a monthly chance to immerse themselves independently in amazing stories with the Beano seal of approval to help launch a lifetime love of reading.”

For more information on Beano Booktopia and to purchase a subscription visit https://beanobooktopia.com/

The Spellslinger series by Sebastien De Castell



The game of war is always rigged . . .
Kellen and Reichis are settling into their lives as protectors of the young queen. For the first time Kellen feels as if he’s becoming the kind of man that his mentor Ferius had wanted him to be. Even Reichis has come to appreciate having a noble purpose – so long as no one minds him committing the occasional act of theft from the royal treasury.
But thousands of miles away a war is brewing that the Argosi always warned could destroy the continent. An unexpected source brings word that there’s one way Kellen can prevent a hundred years of bloodshed, and all it requires is a little murder . . .
Now Kellen and his sister Shalla find themselves on opposite sides, and neither love nor loyalty can protect them from the choices they must make.

Crownbreaker by Sebastien De Castell, HotKey Books
Crownbreaker is the 6th and final book in the Spellslinger series

I failed to keep up with this series after the first two, I loved them but then CKG got in the way, but I’m regretting that now as the 6th and final book was published this month. HotKey Books have very kindly offered a full set of the books as a prize for a TeenLibrarian reader, so I set up my very first Rafflecopter giveaway! Follow the link to enter, and good luck!

Sebastien De Castell



Display Idea: Keanu Reads

Over the past few years, Keanu Reeves has emerged as one of the most popular and intriguing actors working in Hollywood. He has been the subject of a number of memes, rumours and heart-warming tales from a variety of sources.

A while ago I came up with the idea of Keanu Reads on twitter (I am probably not the only person that thought of that). It was a two second chuckle that refused to leave my brain. Recently I noticed that he has acted in a number of movies that are based on novels (& two that were turned into graphic novels) and the idea of creating a display based on his works was born.

Books made into movies starring Keanu Reeves

Movies starring Keanu Reeves adapted as Graphic Novels

To go along with the display I have put together a poster that can be downloaded below.

Keanu Reads UK Poster:

Keanu Reads US poster:

You can find out more about The Artists’ Prison by Alexandra Grant & Eve Wood here: https://www.xartistsbooks.com/books/the-artists-prison

X Artists Books is a small press run by Keanu Reeves and Alexandra Grant, you can read about it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/t-magazine/keanu-reeves-art-book-publishing.html

‘Celebrating’ Banned Books Week

Over the years I have started looking at what I do as a Librarian and Human more critically, one of the (library-related) things currently taking up brain-space is Banned Books Week, and the question should we be ‘celebrating’ it?

Should we have a week to recognize the dangers of censoring books and ideas?

Yes

In an ideal world it would be more than a week, an on-going program of events and displays highlighting censorship and challenges to literature and the reasons behind them may have more of an impact.

Should Banned Books Week be cutesy and fun with photo opportunities, badges and social media opportunities to show how aware we all are? Your mileage may vary but recently I have been moving even more into the no camp on this. I have worn “I Read Banned Books” badges in the past, but my displays have mostly featured a history of banned books and books that were (and are) banned in specific countries as well as the reasons for banning.

My personal favourite display always featured Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence with prosecutor Mervyn Griffin-Jones’s question to the jury during the obscenity trial: Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?

Books are dangerous, they are carriers of ideas – the Nazis knew this when they organized book burnings. The Catholic Church for centuries had the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) until it was abolished in 1967.

I grew up in South Africa where, in my lifetime, books were routinely, and often with the assistance of librarians, banned and burned – I only discovered this recently while researching the effects of Apartheid on Public Library provision.

Today we live in a world where state censorship and the banning of literature and people occurs globally. People in America, parts of the European Union and beyond still have good old fashioned book burnings.

The American Library Association compiles lists of books that are regularly challenged in schools and public libraries around the country.

Links:

Banned Books Week US

Banned Books Week UK

ALA Frequently Challenged Books

Library Philosophy vs Apartheid Legislation

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

Nazi Book Burning

The song of the canary… a review of Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick

Ash boards a Greyhound bus heading to the place where Bly was last seen: Snowflake, Arizona. Six thousand feet up in the wide red desert, Ash meets Mona, her dog, her goat, and her neighbors, and finds stepbrother Bly, too.

In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, almost all the residents of Snowflake are sick. But this isn’t any ordinary sickness: the chemicals and technologies of modern life are poisoning them. They call themselves canaries, living warning signs that humans have pushed the environment too far, except no one seems to be taking their warnings seriously. The healthy “normies” of Snowflake have written them off as a bunch of eccentrics, and when Ash too falls ill, the doctor’s response is “It’s all in your mind.”

Snowflake, AZ contemplates illness and health—both our own and our planet’s. As Ash lives through a cycle of illness and recovery and loss, the world beyond is succumbing to its own affliction: a breakdown of civilization only distantly perceived by Ash and the isolated residents of Snowflake, from which there may or may not be a chance for recovery. This provocative novel by one of our most admired storytellers explores the resilience of love and community in the face of crisis.

Marcus Sedgwick has never let me down! He has written in a variety of genres under the YA banner and his latest, Snowflake, AZ is a timely warning of a planet and population under threat from ourselves.

While reading the book I kept my notebook open and jotted down things I wanted to find out more about (Snowflake Arizona, Monsanto, Glyphosphate, MCS, EI, Tennessee Fainting Goats and so much more).

The relationships between Ash, Bly, Mona and within the community as a whole are beautifully written; their struggles with coping and interdependence put a human face on the slow-motion collapse that is occurring around the world!.

This book is a phenomenal, scary read, it is a warning – for everyone, but aimed at the current generation of young adult readers that will hopefully take note do something in the face of the inaction and untelligence of their elders!

It tells the truth in a wrapper of fiction, and, if you pay attention (note-taking optional) while you read, you will learn something.

Useful Links:

Undiagnosis (newsletter by Marcus Sedgwick – the latest one is about Snowflake, AZ and a fascinating interview)

Allergic to life: the Arizona residents ‘sensitive to the whole world’ (Guardian article)

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?

Snowflake, Arizona

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!

Little Rebels Prize

The Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) is delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction is Catherine Johnson for her book, Freedom (Scholastic 2018).

A short historical novel, Freedom tells the story of Nat, a young boy enslaved on a Jamaican plantation, brought over to England in the late eighteenth century. Hopeful that, once on UK soil, he will finally be free from bondage, Nat instead witnesses the pivotal role Britain played in building the slavery industry. Praising the winning title, the award judges commented:

“Freedom is radical in a number of ways. It tells a story of a young enslaved man in Britain. It explores the humanity of those whose humanity was denied through chattel slavery. It subtly examines the similarities and the differences between class oppression and a system of slavery rooted in racism. It tells a story of Britain that continues to be neglected. Johnson’s writing is a masterclass in the maxim ‘show don’t tell’ – through the point of view of her protagonist we are brought into his world and yet we are afforded space to emotionally engage with the story she offers us.”

Darren Chetty, Teaching Fellow at UCL and contributor to The Good Immigrant.

“Catherine Johnson brings the horrific history of slavery to life in this important piece of historical fiction for a middle grade audience. A brilliant adventure story that shines a much-needed spotlight on the UK’s role [and which also introduces us to] real life people who should be more famous than they are, including former slave turned author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and Shadrack Furman, the first black army Pensioner. A well deserved win from one of the UK’s most fabulous storytellers.”

Emily Drabble, head of children’s books promotion and prizes at BookTrust
2018 winner Zanib Mian congratulates Catherine Johnson after the announcement

The winner of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2019 was announced at an event held in the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) Literacy Library on Wednesday July 10th by Zanib Mian, the 2018 winner for The Muslims (now Planet Omar). This followed on from a panel discussion with the other shortlisted authors (all except Sarah MacIntyre) and a chance to have a look around the beautiful CLPE library.

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now in its 7th year. The Award recognises fiction for ages 0-12 which promotes or celebrates social justice and equality. It is run by booksellers Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB).