Category Archives: Essays

Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde

MOTHER TONGUE is the standalone follow-up to the award-winning and critically acclaimed THE WORDSMITH (published in North America as THE LIST) by Galway native Patricia Forde.
After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.
The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art.
Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life.

Little Island
Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde, cover illustration by Elissa Webb

Little Island have been publishing some great books, unfortunately all ineligible for CKG because they don’t have offices outside of Eire, but definitely worth reading! Mother Tongue, and predecessor The Wordsmith, are both brilliantly devised stories based in a society founded at the end of the world, after flood waters have risen. Noah, the founder of Ark, has decreed that words were to blame for the situation people find themselves in – empty promises and lies of people in power, words instead of action – so all except the most functional 500 words are banned from use. The Wordsmith may store unused words until people can be trusted with them again (but will they ever?). Obviously the idea of storing words appealed to me greatly, so I jumped at the chance of being on the blog tour. The author Patricia Forde wrote a piece about Words for us:

The Need to Keep Words Alive.

I love dictionaries.
As a child, I was often to be found reading those impressive tomes looking for new words, big words, words to impress. Nowadays, as a writer, I still use dictionaries but now to look for smaller words, simpler words, words that are precise.
But what if we start to lose words?
If we don’t have a word for something can we conceive of it? Can we imagine it? And maybe, more importantly, do we still value that which it represents?
There was a thundering brouhaha some years ago when the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed words like kingfisher, acorn and cowslip from its list and replaced them with words like broadband, blog and voice mail. The dictionary is aimed at seven year olds. People felt that the dictionary was adding to the problem of children being alienated from nature. It seemed that the dictionary didn’t value the thrush, the weasel or the wren as much as it valued the grey world of bureaucracy. Committee, common sense and bullet points all had a place while much of the natural world was sent packing.

But, the dictionary argued, the words they chose to include were the words children were using. They had tracked contemporary usage and reflected their findings in their list of words.

How sad that is. As adults, we have to tolerate a diet of grey sludge when it comes to language. We have to talk about Brexit and hard drives and listen to people going on about journeys they’ve made that aren’t journeys at all, and hear them going forward with this that and the other thing and telling us all about it in bullet points. But children?

Their language should reflect the sacred time that we call childhood. I believe that it should be full of beavers and liquorice and droves of dwarves, elves and goblins. We need to keep those words alive because we need to keep that sense of wonder and awe alive.

Many of the words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary had to do with nature. In this time of environmental crisis surely we need to make children more aware of nature and their natural habitat. It should concern us that if children no longer speak about bluebells or brambles it may be because children are becoming increasingly solitary and urban.

Every word in every language represents an entire archaeology and a history of what has gone before. I shudder to imagine a world like the one I created for The Wordsmith and Mother Tongue. A world where people have access to only five hundred words. Letta, my protagonist, says at one stage:

How can we dream if we don’t have words?

I would also ask how can we think? Words give us precision. In this chaotic world we’ve never needed clear thinking more than we do now. We need our leaders to use language like a laser rather than a slurry spreader. We need to cut through the noise, refuse to accept philosophy that can be written as a tweet because it has no complexity, and build a longer list of words – a list that includes all ideas, all languages, all dictionaries.
Let’s make a thundering brouhaha about that!

Patricia Forde

Words Taken Out of The Oxford Junior Dictionary:

Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade, carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe, dwarf, elf, goblin, abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar.

Adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry,
blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Words put in:

Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue.

Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro.

Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph.

Mother Tongue, the sequel to The Wordsmith, has just been published by Little Island and they are both available from their website (thankyou for sending me copies of both!). Founded by Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate, Siobhán Parkinson, Little Island Books has been publishing books for children and teenagers since 2010. They specialise in publishing new Irish writers and illustrators, and also have a commitment to publishing books in translation.

For a sneak peek of Mother Tongue, download this free sample:

Bearmouth

“Time down here is a diffrent thing see. Lyke on the other side you sees seesons change, leeves grow bold an grene an fayde to gold an red, then drop off and kirl up and disappear into snoe. But Bearmouth is black. Black an warm an dark an wet an full o coal. All days all weeks all year. Forever and ever. Amen. “

Newt has been living and working in Bearmouth from a tender age. Daily life in the mine is full of strict routine and a quiet acceptance of how things are – until, that is, Devlin arrives and starts to ask questions. Newt fears any unrest will bring heightened oppression from the Master and his overseers. Life is hard enough and there is no choice about that. Or is there? Newt is soon looking at Bearmouth with a fresh perspective – one that does more than whisper about change: one that is looking for a way out. 

Liz Hyder’s extraordinary debut novel draws on her research into the working conditions of children in Victorian mines and shows a young person daring to challenge the status quo. In Bearmouth, she has created an imagined world with its own dialect, riven with social injustice and populated by characters who don’t simply accept things because they are told they must.

Pushkin Press
Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, cover design by Yeti Lambregts

Bearmouth is Liz Hyder‘s debut novel, told through the voice of a young child trapped working in a mine, barely remembering life outside. It is both literally and figuratively dark, really dark, with some quite harrowing scenes, but also gripping, hopeful, and thought provoking. I read it in one sitting, taking a while to get used to the voice (Newt is writing it, with letters lessons slowly improving the spelling throughout) but then racing through to see what lies ahead for these wonderful (and wonderfully awful) characters. The conditions are terrible but also not unrealistic, the writing really does create the oppressive atmosphere of the tunnels and relentlessness of the workers’ lives, and the doubt sparked by the appearance of a new boy spirals quickly. Newt begins to question the way things are, whether it is actually blasphemous to want conditions to improve, whether it isn’t really the wishes of The Mayker that keep them underground…

Liz has written this piece for Teen Librarian, about the importance of rebellion and asking questions

My nan, my mum’s mum, who died when I was little, was famous for asking ‘who says?’ A tall, formidable woman with a mischievous grin and a fondness for doing impressions, she looks back at me like a mirror image from old photos. I strongly resemble her on the outside but I also think I’m like her on the inside too. Asking questions is always important and more so than ever in our era of fake news and auto-generated bots. ‘Who says?’ encourages us to ask why someone is saying something, what they might hope to get out of it and what vested interest they might have.

Newt, in my debut novel Bearmouth, is an asker of questions. Set down a Victorian-esque working coal mine in which the workers not only toil away in the dark but also live down there, Bearmouth is a world of danger. As Newt learns to read and write, the curiosity within also rises and Newt starts asking more questions. Why are things this way? Why, even if it has always been this way, should things continue like this? ‘Who says?’

The act of asking a question can, in itself, be an act of rebellion and is scattered throughout fairy tales and fiction as such. From the child in the crowd who asks why the Emperor is wearing no clothes to Oliver Twist asking for more, questions are, in themselves, powerful things and no-one uses questions more keenly than children and young people. Their thirst for knowledge, their willingness and desire to push at the edges of what is and isn’t allowed, what is and isn’t acceptable, is something that we as adults should perhaps look to a little more often.

Books open up other worlds. Whether they be real or fantastical, they allow us to explore ideas and themes through their pages. They allow us to travel across time and space, encountering characters that live and breathe, lingering on in our memories long after we’ve turned that last page. Books can inspire and enlighten us, make us snort with laughter, move us to tears and even fill us with courage. The books I read as a child and as a teenager – from Hunter Davies’s Flossie Teacake series and Michael Rosen’s Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here, to pretty much all of Paula Danziger’s witty novels featuring awkward teens – made me feel that I wasn’t alone, whether that was in my clumsiness or my creativity, in my sense of humour or in the way I viewed the world. Books encouraged me to be braver in myself, to think that I might be a person who could camp out in the wilds like in the Lone Pine adventures or have the bravery to stand up to sinister forces like in The Dark is Rising series. Books shaped my world, made me look at things around me differently, when I looked up from the page, my own world had tilted on its axis. The impossible became just a little bit more possible.

I hope that Bearmouth will make readers look at the world a little differently, to remember the real children that worked away for long hours in the Victorian mines, to remember that there are children right now working in mines in other countries around the world. Just because something is not visible does not mean that it does not exist…

I hope readers will come to view Newt as someone who, with courage, has the ability to inspire and to change things. I hope it helps readers realise they can make a difference themselves, they too can push for and encourage change. When I first started writing the novel, I hadn’t heard of Greta Thunberg but there is a line in the novel, the line that ended up on the front cover, in Newt’s somewhat unconventional spelling, that reoccurs and resonates throughout the story – ‘it only taykes one person to start a revolushun.’ It is an empowering thought and one that I hope will inspire those who read the book.

Liz Hyder, author of Bearmouth

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder is published in hardback by Pushkin Children’s Books on 19 September at £12.99

(thank you for sending Teen Librarian a copy for review!)

Mythologica – Greek Gods, Heroes and Monsters

An illustrated encyclopedia of Greek mythology like no other, Mythologica features startlingly beautiful and exquisitely otherworldly portraits of mythological characters in eye-popping colour from artist Victoria Topping and authoritative text from Classics scholar and Greek mythology expert Dr Stephen Kershaw. Uncover the colourful lives of 50 powerful gods and goddesses, earth-dwelling mortals and terrifying monsters as you journey back in time to ancient Greece.

Wide Eyed Editions

This book is absolutely stunning. Victoria Topping combines photography, painting and cut-paper collage to create fantastical images. Listed alphabetically, the 50 figures from Greek mythology are presented with a striking image and a page of information, while interspersed with the profiles are summaries of famous mythological tales and historical events, like the Odyssey, the Trojan War and the story of the Argonauts. The writing is wonderfully clear and concise (although perhaps sometimes a little small – but so much to fit in!), and if it is a young person’s first encouter with these legends then they will definitely want to read more…

Aphrodite, in Mythologica, illustrated by Victoria Topping

The author, Dr Steve Kershaw, wrote a piece for TeenLibrarian about how his fascination developed, and who remain his favourite Gods, Heroes and Monsters!

To me as a Classicist, spending lots of my life in the world of dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore, receiving the fantastic opportunity to collaborate on Mythologica was a dream come true. I now teach Greek mythology for Oxford University, but I’ve loved the stories ever since I was a kid myself. Here was a chance to go back to the powerful gods and goddesses, fascinating earth-dwelling mortals, and terrifying monsters who had fired my enthusiasm in the first place.

I become gripped by the world of the Greek myths at the lovely Salterhebble County Primary School in Halifax in Yorkshire. There, our teachers would read to us from wonderful books for the last 20 minutes of each day. This was enchanting and inspiring. Then one day a new young teacher appeared – a Classics graduate doing teaching practice, I think – and he read to us from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I thought this was totally amazing! Gods, monsters, heroes, fighting, astonishing adventures… I was completely smitten!

It was a turning point in my life. I don’t remember doing it, but I must have gone home and enthused about these story-readings to my Mum and Dad, because my Grandpa bought me a copy of the Iliad. Like a good ten-year-old should, I read it with my torch under the bedclothes, and was completely drawn into the world of ‘Swift-footed’ Achilles, Polydamas ‘of the Stout Ashen Spear’, Thetis ‘of the Silver Feet’, ‘Lovely-ankled ‘Nymphs, and all the other brilliant characters. They became my friends, my enemies, my role-models, and my warnings.

Then I followed ‘Wily’ Odysseus on his incredible journey home from Troy in the Odyssey, marvelling at the grisly one-eyed cannibal Cyclops, imagining the song of the Sirens, and loving the cunning tricks that Odysseus played. From there I moved on to Virgil’s Aeneid, travelling with Trojan prince Aeneas and his band of refugees, and listening to his moving account of the fall of Troy, watching him break lovely Queen Dido’s heart, and accompanying him on his visit down into the Underworld.

In real life, I then went to Heath Grammar School in Halifax, an excellent institution where they made us learn Latin, and lots of grammar. But I was ready for it! I loved it, and when they offered me the chance to do Ancient Greek, I grabbed it with both hands. Now I could read about my heroes in their own language, and I did a lot of that when I studied Classics at University, before gravitating to Oxford, where I’ve been a Classics tutor for over 30 years, travelling in the world of the Ancient Greeks, both physically and intellectually.

So who are my favourite mythological god(desse)s, monsters and humans? Well, making a choice between any of the twelve Olympians is just impossible. Should I choose Zeus, who, can blast even the most awesome of giants into oblivion with his thunderbolts? Athena, his daughter, born from his head, with her mesmerising grey-eyed beauty and fearsome intelligence? The blacksmith Hephaestus, who, even though he was severely disabled, was still physically powerful, not to mention married to Aphrodite, the most beautiful female in the universe? Or someone else? They all command the utmost respect, but they can also be extremely jealous: if I were to show favouritism to any one of them, the others would simply ruin my life in the most horrible mythological way imaginable. So I love them all!

The mortal options bring people with amazing stories, staggering achievements, and brilliant skills that excite admiration, fear, love, hate, laughter, and/or pity. They can do things that we ordinary humans could never dream of – face unimaginable dangers, make terrible mistakes, and possibly win eternal glory. However, my favourite has to be Trojan Hector ‘of the Shining Helmet’. He was a mighty, noble, good-looking, horse-taming, godlike warrior, but he wasn’t a mindless fighting machine. He was certainly a badass on the battlefield, although in the end he was no match for the younger, stronger, and more violent Achilles, but Hector was also a good son and a loving husband and father, who gave everything for his family and city, sharing tender moments with his wife and their baby son, cuddling the boy when he was terrified by the horse-hair crest on his helmet, and caressing his spouse as he told her that he would rather be die than hear her being dragged away into captivity. Knowingly fighting against hopeless odds, he really embodies true heroism.

When it comes to choosing a monster we have the biggest, baddest, weirdest, wildest, snakiest, fire-breathingest, flesh-eatingest, turn-you-to-stone-est, set of colourful, hybrid creatures that we possibly imagine. As a dog lover – our English Springer Spaniel is called Hero, a girl-dog, named after the heroine Hero rather than any male hero – I’ve always been captivated by the ‘Death-Demon of the Darkness’, Cerberus, the multi-headed guard-dog of the Underworld. This terrifying, shameless, greedy canine monstrosity was so massive that he had a cave for his kennel; his tail was like a serpent; his hackles bristled with snake heads; and his triple throated barks of frenzied rage terrified even the ghosts of the dead. He would wag his tail and both his ears for anyone going down into Hades, but eat anyone who tried to get out. His favourite food was raw flesh, after all, although you could sedate him with treats made out of wheat and honey laced with soporific medicine.

I’m the end, I’m so grateful to those inspiring teachers and those magical books for letting me meet the wild and beautiful goddess Artemis and her brother Phoebus (‘Shiny’) Apollo, sail with the brave and bold Jason on his journey to capture the Golden Fleece, and wrestle with the Nemean Lion. They gave me the opportunity to read, write and teach about them, and because of them the world of Greek mythology is still very much alive, at least in my world.

Orpheus, in Mythologica, illustrated by Victoria Topping

MYTHOLOGICA: An encyclopedia of gods, monsters and mortals from ancient Greek
Dr Steve Kershaw (B.A. (Hons.); Ph.D.) with illustrations from Victoria Topping

Publishing 3 September in hardback from Wide Eyed Editions, £20. For 8+ readers and all who love Greek mythology.

Thank you to Wide Eyed Editions for a review copy!

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

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

Guppy Books

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

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

Why We’re Falling in Love with The Verse Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louisa Reid

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

The Deepest Breath

Stevie is eleven and loves reading and sea-creatures. She lives with her mum, and she’s been best friends with Andrew since forever. Stevie’s mum teases her that someday they’ll get married, but Stevie knows that won’t ever happen. There’s a girl at school that she likes more. A lot more. Actually, she’s a bit confused about how much she likes her. It’s nothing like the way she likes Andrew. It makes her fizz inside. That’s a new feeling, one she doesn’t understand. Stevie needs to find out if girls can like girls – love them, even – but it’s hard to get any information, and she’s too shy to ask out loud about it. But maybe she can find an answer in a book. With the help of a librarian, Stevie finds stories of girls loving girls, and builds up her courage to share the truth with her mum.

Little Island
The Deepest Breath

I adored this book. I made a note of pages with favourite quotes and cannot find my copy (thanks for sending it to me Nina) anywhere…I must have lent it to someone, I hope I get it back! Obviously my favourite quotes were about just how special the library and librarian are! But the whole book is just beautiful and lyrical and perfectly pitched for a middle grade audience.

Meg Grehan kindly wrote a piece for the blog:

On writing THE DEEPEST BREATH, and on queer representation in books and the media

About a year ago I wrote an article about how queer characters so often get stuck with sad endings. I tried my best to be inclusive in the language I used, I wrote at least five drafts and I spent hours researching the history of this trend to learn and share why it’s so pervasive. Within a couple hours of the article being posted it had over a hundred comments, almost all of them
negative. I tried my best to stay away, to convince myself not to read them, to just close the tab and walk away. But like a moth to a flame I just kept going back, refreshing and refreshing. I watched them flood in, most of them seemed like their writers hadn’t even read the article but just wanted to spread vitriol about the subject or the inclusive language I’d used in the title. But some of them, a surprisingly large number of them, said something along the lines of this: “I’m straight and I’ve never used a character in a book as instructions on how to behave.”

I hated these comments, I couldn’t help it, no matter how hard I tried to let them roll of my back they climbed up and latched on. The point of the article was to discuss the importance of happy endings, of positivity, and all it seemed to have accomplished was to give angry people another place to leave hateful words.

Queer representation in the media is something I’m passionate about, especially when it comes to books. I’m all about kindness and acceptance, with my books all I strive to do is to make a little space safe, to try to make life even the tiniest bit softer and easier for anyone who might find themselves between the pages. Seeing so many people disregard the importance of representation made me feel deflated. Seeing yourself in the books you read makes you feel validated, it helps you understand and accept yourself. It affirms your existence. So many of us need to see aspects of ourselves, especially those that make us different, to know that we aren’t
alone. It doesn’t mean we need instructions on to behave, on how to be gay or bi or however we identify. It means we need to feel less alone. To disregard this need because you don’t share it is cruel.

It is a privilege to never have to look for yourself, to have it be so entirely normalised that you needn’t notice or pay it any attention. To be the default.

A year on I still think about those comments sometimes, about what a strange overwhelming experience it all was. If I was to respond to those comments, which for the sake of my sanity I didn’t, I would ask their writers to have a little empathy. I would tell them that opening a book
and finding a character who identifies how I do was an experience I waited such a long time for, one that fundamentally changed how I viewed myself, how I treated myself. I would tell them that it made me stop thinking of myself as a weird, as someone who might always feel lonely. I would ask them to understand that just because they don’t need it doesn’t mean no one does.

Meg Grehan’s THE DEEPEST BREATH, a beautifully written, poetic, lyrical and insightful story of one girl’s coming into full awareness of who she is, and who she might want to love (Little Island), is out now.

‘Cultural Appropriation, Unconscious Bias and Colonial Aspects of Collections’ – YLG conference session

Anyone who has ever attended a professional conference knows that such events are a mix of the good (catching up with friends after one of you has moved on, being able to look round the room at other attendees and know that you share a passion for the same type of work, FREE STUFF), the bad (trying to sleep in an unfamiliar bed in a room next to the lifts, being reminded of the ever-increasing pressure of working in your field, endless queues for tea and coffee), and the ugly (a full buffet breakfast is inclusive but the packed schedule means you’ve no time to linger and enjoy the spread). Few aspects of the conference experience, however, are as dreaded as those two little words:

BREAKOUT SESSION.

The horror of potential interaction with our fellow attendees – being forced to participate in ice-breaker activities, being asked to share anecdotes, being close enough to the facilitator to make eye contact – nothing can make one break out into a cold sweat faster. Or maybe that’s just me?

It was, therefore, a relief to find that the first breakout session I attended at this year’s YLG Conference (Reading the Future, at the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly, 21-23 September 2018) required none of these things. Titled ‘Cultural Appropriation, Unconscious Bias and Colonial Aspects of Collections’, this session took the format of a panel discussion followed by a Q&A, introducing me to creators whose excellent work I had not previously encountered. Ably guided by academic Chloe Germaine Buckley, Senior Lecturer in English and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University, authors Candy Gourlay and Miriam Halahmy each introduced us to their most recent novels before engaging in a discussion of why and how, even nearly two decades into the 21st century, publishing and libraries still struggle to present readers with a choice of books that accurately reflect the enormous diversity and reality of the world in which we all live.

Buckley began the session by quoting some hard numbers, drawing from data collected and reported by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE): of the 9,115 children’s books published in the United Kingdom during 2017, a mere 391 – just four percent! – of these featured Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) characters. Even more shocking, over half of this paltry total were what is often referred to as ‘social issues’ books – giving the strong impression that BAME characters and lives aren’t thought of by many authors – and therefore, many readers – as ‘normal’, ‘mainstream’ or otherwise ‘unremarkable’, but rather disrupted by racism, violence, or other incidences of social disorder. After allowing a moment for the audience to fully absorb this information, Buckley introduced Miriam Halahmy, author of numerous books, poems and short stories for children, teens and adults.

Those who follow the Youth Libraries Group blog on the CILIP website may recall Halahmy’s recent opinion piece ‘What is on our Bookshelves’, in which she discussed her experience as Head of Special needs in a Camden secondary school during the period in the early 1980s when The Rampton Report ‘on the education of children from ethnic minorities’ was published. The recommendations of this report had far-reaching effects on, in particular, school libraries across the United Kingdom; librarians and teachers, horrified by the exaggerated and stereotyped depictions of children from non-Anglo backgrounds, discarded enormous numbers of books in their attempts to embrace a multicultural society, but often did not have the funds to adequately replace these castoffs with new books reflecting positive depictions of other cultures and peoples. Halahmy says that the question is often asked, is the lack of BAME representation today because ‘[her] generation of teachers threw them all away?’

Of course, the real answer is much more complicated; overcoming the current deficiency of representation will require the cooperation of authors, literary agents, publishers, media reviewers, readers and librarians. Halahmy is certainly doing her part: as a Jewish woman with four Polish grandparents, married to an Iraqi Jew, different languages and cultures (including Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic) have always been a part of her life – in her words, she ‘cannot help but write multicultural characters because this is the world I inhabit.’ Halahmy’s beliefs complement my own primary philosophy as a librarian – that all children deserve to be able to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book. Her newest book, Behind Closed Doors, is about two teenage girls on the verge of homelessness for very different reasons, and features a cast of characters from a range of backgrounds, including Black British schoolboy Dom and Japanese-American swimmer Jordan.

Next to speak was Filipino author Candy Gourlay, whose 2018 novel, Bone Talk, originated when the author was conducting research into Filipino immigration for a non-fiction book on the subject, and came across a photograph from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. This photo, depicting a woman dressed in the customary Edwardian fashion of the time, standing alongside a man naked but for a G-string, piqued her interest, for alongside the spectacular displays of scientific and technological progress – including the first electrical socket, incubator, x-ray machine and Ferris wheel – the sights advertised by the Fair’s organisers also included ‘exotic peoples’. Gourlay went on to explain how the subjects of these grotesque living exhibits included a number of displaced people; in this case, the man in the G-string was a Native Filipino, a member of a group of highland people known at the time as the Igorot – but better known to Americans as head-hunters. [Note: in my research for this piece, I learned that the exonym ‘Igorot’ is considered somewhat of a pejorative by the people whom it describes, and that the tribal people of the Cordillera region prefer a number of other terms; hereafter, I shall use the term ‘Cordillerans’.] A number of Cordillerans were brought to St Louis following the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), in anticipation of the World’s Fair; once there, the Native Filipinos duly reconstructed a mock village as part of the wildly popular ‘Philippine Exhibition’, in which they lived in plain view of gawking fairgoers, staging daily shows for the entertainment of their Western audiences.

Gourlay’s research into these people and how they came to be part of the 1904 World’s Fair took her from archives in St Louis all the way to the mountain provinces of the Philippines, where she made two important determinations. Firstly, the story of the Cordillerans was one she wanted to tell; secondly, although she herself is Filipino, this was not her story – and writing it as such would be cultural appropriation. Gourlay went on to clarify this point, saying that to an extent, ‘all fiction is cultural appropriation’; however, the problem with writing a story from the perspective of the Cordilleran people at the turn of the twentieth century is that no authentic record of their voices survives – only American versions. For this reason, although Bone Talk takes place amongst the Cordilleran community – specifically, the people of the Bontoc – it does so during the period of the Philippine-American War, thus enabling Gourlay to draw from those American chronicles of life amongst the Bontoc people at that time and thereafter as she constructed her work of fiction.

Gourlay’s mention of cultural appropriation reminded her audience of our reasons for attending this session in particular, and the subsequent discussion between the authors was fascinating, so much so that I must admit I rather abandoned my note-taking. Particular highlights, though, include:

  • Gourlay’s explanation of what she calls ‘The Lack’ – specifically, the something-that-is-missing at the beginning of every story, which is filled in over the course of the narrative – and how it is our job as librarians and authors to help promote authentic voices to fill that missing element;
  • Halahmy’s reminder that authors have to ‘murder [their] darlings’ – characters should have more purpose than just ‘representation’, and if not furthering the plot, they are just weighing it down; and
  • Gourlay’s discussion of how her writing critique group is made up of cisgender white people authors, and how she had to ‘knock back’ certain aspects of Bone Talk as a result.

Halahmy pointed out that ‘we are very much on the cusp of change’ in terms of elevating lesser-known voices within libraries and publishing, though there still exist ‘a lot of barriers to be broken down’. Gourlay concurred, going on to say that what will really help increase diversity is ‘not having diversity panels’ but instead making the effort to ‘move in the realms of the people you want to invite in’ to the conversation; Halahmy nodded in agreement, musing, ‘the number of book launches I go to where I’m the darkest person in the room…’ before declaring that ‘this is not a box-ticking exercise’, a statement that was met with applause, and brought the panel to a close.

I could not agree more with these sentiments. After nearly two decades of librarianship, I have learned that establishing diverse representation in my collections and avoiding (as much as possible) unconscious bias in my reading is only possible through hard work, constant education, and an open mind. As a white man – and an American one, at that! – stories about people like me have been front and centre for far too long; it is my responsibility to use the privileges afforded to me as a member of that demographic to elevate and promote the voices of those who may be overlooked, and who may struggle to find and connect with readers or books featuring people like themselves. I was still in grade school when Dr Rudine Sims Bishop, children’s literature scholar and Professor Emerita from The Ohio State University, published her seminal essay ‘Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors‘ (Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vol. 6, No. 3. Summer 1990), in which she introduced teachers, librarians and other educators to a framework with which we can build and foster multicultural literacy. Nearly three decades later, I firmly believe in Sims Bishop’s philosophy; our primary duty as librarians is to provide as many different mirrors and windows as possible, in order to enable all of our users to both see themselves reflected, and to learn about other cultures. Gauging by the number of my colleagues who attended this panel, I am not the only one.

As a first-year judge for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals, I was especially gratified to see so many of my fellow judges in attendance; frequent readers will recall that CILIP has recently released the final report summarising the Independent Review of the CKG undertaken from June 2017 and has, or will shortly be, implementing a number of changes to the process as a result of these findings. I feel enormously lucky to have joined the judging panel at this point in time, as the various training opportunities made available to us will be of great use to me both personally and professionally; indeed, I can already identify a subtle shift in how I evaluate this year’s nominated titles against the awards criteria. (Time spent on said evaluations – and the sheer scale of the 2019 nominations list – may explain why this piece is being published some two months after the annual conference. Oops?) My heartfelt thanks to Chloe Buckley, Candy Gourlay and Miriam Halahmy for their time in presenting this panel, to all of the conference organisers for a fantastic experience, and to Caroline Fielding for the extremely late submission of this report….

Emerson Milford Dickson

Emerson is a secondary school librarian living and working in NE London. He represents London as a judge for the 2019/20 CKG Medals, and tweets about libraries, politics, cats and more at @microfichetaco

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the ‘mirrors and windows’ theory to another individual, when in fact it is Dr Rudine Sims Bishop to whom we librarians owe a debt of gratitude for her lifetime of scholarship in the field of children’s literature. I wholeheartedly apologise for this error, which I hope will serve to remind all reading that no matter how much effort any of us may put into ‘getting it right’, our work is never truly done! – EMD 19/11/2018

Lil Chase: My Life as an Author (and other clichés)

Cliché no 1: I have always been a writer.

I’ve always told stories; either written down or round the dinner table. At the age of 8 I bought a blank exercise book with the Muppet Babies on the front and decided I wanted to fill it from cover to cover. It was a tough challenge for an 8 year old, and I ripped a few pages out so that filling the book would be easier. But in my head, it looked like a proper novel. (See how I laminated it with selotape?) That’s where my dream to become a published author started.

Cliché no 2: Write a gangster movie

Ask any film studies teacher and they’ll tell you that most first year students want to make a gangster movie. I was no different. Aged 21 I wrote a gangster film about an Australian barman working in England who gets mixed with some East London baddies and a big fat diamond. Essentially I had seen Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and wanted to make something similar. And similar is what I made; derivative, one-dimensional characters, but with moments of originality and sparkle. Which leads me on to my next cliché…

Cliché no 3: Write what you know

I know nothing of East London gangsters, but those mean girls in high school, I do know about. Weirdly, there’s a lot in common with gangster mobs and high school cliques – head bosses/queen bees, all-important reputations, codes of Omerta (I wrote about this subject last year for A Dream of Books ). My latest book – Secrets, Lies & Locker 62 – is about a locked locker where every pupil posts their deep dark secrets, and the girl – Maya – who gets to read them. Okay, so I’ve never found a locker stuffed full of a million pieces of paper with a million secrets and lies written on them. But Maya uses the secrets to get in with the cool people, and she loses sight of herself. The desperate desire to be in the popular crowd was something I experienced myself.
 
 
 
Cliché no 4: Come back to your first love

My first book – Boys For Beginners – was based on another one of my first efforts into writing. Gwynnie Goes Girlie was a story I wrote when I was 10 or 11, about a tomboy who tries to become a girlie girl to impress the new boy at school. Twenty years later I told my agent about the idea and she liked it. I dug out that original manuscript from my parents’ attic and rewrote it… but only a little. So many of the story elements – the Belly Button Club, Gwynnie’s best friend Paul, her widower father – all came from the pencil written first draft. I came back to what I loved, and the childhood wish I had to be a published author was finally fulfilled.

My writing life story is pretty ordinary one: with a little skill, a lot of hard work, and keeping adaptable enough to seize opportunities when they arise, my dream came true. Does that make my tale boring? I hope not. I hope it’s inspiring.

So, my final cliché: Never give up

YA in SA: YA Library Services in Cape Town, South Africa – a guest post by Rudi Wicomb

Bless Matthew’s soul. The dude (an allowable word if you live near the sea – I do.) totally came out of left field when he mailed me and asked me to contribute to his blog. (Which I hope my superiors never ever read or else I might be subjected to the Managerial Finger Twinge. See my blog for what that means. Plug)

He asked me to list what we’re doing in teen services in our libraries in Cape Town, South Africa. Also, to discuss the services in our libraries and to mention anything in particular I have done in my library (in Cape Town, South Africa).

I think my initial response to curl up into a foetal position and stay there until he went back home was probably the best and least painful response. But then, I wouldn’t be a Public Librarian in Cape Town, South Africa, if a little pain was going to be the issue. And although he doesn’t know it, he’s the one who set me on the path to Comic Books and YA ‘stuff’ evangelism. (Stuff here being a technical term that I use interchangeably to make me seem more intelligent. So far, I don’t think it has worked, but it’ll do in pinch). So I, in the total dude sense of the word, owe him. (I still use his method of preparing Graphic Novels for circulation).

So, what happens from here on can thus be firmly blamed on Matthew. What I hoped was a short little paragraph, turned into something *shudder* anecdotal and slightly personal even. I couldn’t tell you about my experiences with YA “stuff” if I didn’t give you a little bit of background first about me, the Public Library Service in Cape Town and finally, elves bearing gifts.

And it all started with comics and Graphic Novels….

Comics get old-school librarians’ backs up. (Think of every horror movie you’ve seen where the plucky heroine/hero sees the big bad in all its horrible glory, now times 10.) As a reader of Comics and lover of the Comic book medium I couldn’t let that stand.

So, with the fortitude of a young librarian who has not been broken by too much shelving and my trusty power point presentation, I decided to change some minds by presenting a fair, unbiased view of comics to librarians in Cape Town. The emphasis being that there is NO downside to stocking four colour pages of pure unadulterated joy (be they Marvel, DC, Batman, Superman or even Sandman) in their respective libraries.

It worked!

The biggest public library in Cape Town asked me for selection criteria and a list of recommended Graphic Novels for their shelves. It was a vindication for me on many levels which was only eclipsed by the findings of a Canadian educational and psychological study 3 years ago, that stated quite simply: Comics were good for you. Period.

(The YA ‘stuff’ comes in about now. Thank you for bearing with me.)

The perfect demographic for comics in public libraries are teens.

That’s what I told my librarian colleagues and that’s what I believe (and all the scientists and educators agreeing is just gravy). The plan was to get teens excited about reading and keeping them at the library week after week, to grab Comics. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, to slip in a YA novel and hope like hell I didn’t undo this well nurtured enthusiasm.

The plan played out in my library without an issue.

I convinced my boss that it was absolutely crucial, to the point of the world ending, that we needed the teen section front and centre, so it’s the first thing you see when you look towards the English fiction section. She needed little arm twisting when I asked for regular buys of YA books.

And then I did the unthinkable.

I started talking to THEM, and I asked the staff to do the same.

If you want to court controversy, ask a public librarian to hold up the queue to ask a teenager if they really want to take out that book as oppose to these three books in the same series, that might or might not be something they might like and then casually mention the Girl falls in love with a Vampire that wants to eat her.

At the time (and now still) this sort of one on one marketing helped despite no organisational mass marketing tools. Even though most times we received no visible reaction from teens at the desk, the lending stats on titles that we ‘pitched’ told a different story. Still, what we needed was a magic push to get bodies back through the door and short of teleporting a whole lot of teenagers against their will and giving them a ‘read this or die’ ultimatum, nothing could really provide that push we needed.

That all changed when a Mormon lady decided to write about a girl with a vampire and werewolf fetish.

Twilight. *sigh*

If you would ask any public librarian in Cape Town what the significance of Twilight was for our libraries, they would have said something along the lines of:

”It was just another popular fad book.” (Or, “junk”).

This is true. (Except for the junk part though).

It didn’t have the market awareness and GIGANTIC fandom that Harry Potter had but I believe it still left a lot of public librarians wrong footed because suddenly girls AND BOYS of the Teen persuasion were coming in with their parents. The unseen demographic suddenly got seen and YA sections in public libraries in Cape Town, tucked in their corners, out of sight (and out of mind), suddenly had a whole lot of bodies hanging around them looking for the this Twilight “nonsense”(or so-called “junk”).

What followed was:

Thoughtful customer orientated libraries (the good ones) bought the books in good numbers and supplied the hungry masses, while other libraries approached it from the “let’s wait and see” or “if we ignore them they’ll bugger off” approach (the bad ones). The exceptional libraries realised they had an opportunity and moved their YA sections into the light, bought similar titles, and new authors, marketed them (with home-made posters and an overabundance of glitter) and gained consistent numbers in the YA demographic.

This bore fruit when South African novel Spud by John van de Ruit crossed over from adult to teen reading. In libraries it rivalled Twilights’ circulation numbers. This was due to the word of mouth generated by YA readers, who were now all talking about the books they were reading. The YA demo was staying with intent to loiter and read.

What Twilight wrought, was a clear indication that YA readers and the Teen demographic, when mobilised by whatever they craved so intensely, could have wonderful positive effects on circulation as well as shape market trends. (The impact on literacy levels and comprehension levels was something no one tried to find out, but, I’d like to believe it was positive.) It also helped that they were vocal about what they wanted to read next, which in my library’s case was a clear call to meet demands to get the YA horde to stay.

Some libraries took that momentum and used it to cultivate a readership, but others let the tide ebb. YA readers not seeing the books they wanted, left. Or that’s what my colleagues believed. But they were in for a shock when the tide came back in with The Hunger Games. A handful of libraries stocked the book before a movie was even announced, promoted it and used it as carrot for keeping YA readers in the library. So when the wave hit (again), a demand could be met because the exceptional libraries have staff members dedicated to ensuring the YA section is stocked with appetising titles. Unfortunately, in even the exceptional libraries, this staff member usually has to shout very loudly to be given a fair hearing.
Sometimes, in public libraries popular can be a four letter word.

At present I believe we are at a tipping point in our public libraries.

The YA ‘stuff’ is not going away despite some of my colleagues’ best efforts to not care. The short sighted need to still believe in the “preservation of the library” against so called unworthy material is censorship, plain and simple.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. The deeper significance is ultimately not so deep: we keep pushing away a customer base in a time and place where we can’t afford to. Doing so, when all available data indicates that people are reading less, opting for alternative methods to get their bibliographic fix and buying fewer books due to high prices, is tantamount to negligence.

You see, the stuff of YA ‘stuff’ in Public Libraries in Cape Town, South Africa is one of potential that is for now unfulfilled. The why of it is particularly complex and terribly involved and would in effect require a full time study, 3 bags of ice, a best of Barry Manilow compilation and red bouncy ball. Since the budget is simply just not there at all, I have taken a stab at explaining the whole thing and have decided that the reasoning for the (non)state of YA services is in fact:

Reasoning, the First.
What the Public Libraries lack in Cape Town is an effective marketing tool/methodology/magic wand to market the material that sits on our shelves. The drive gets channelled to other pursuits that are equally worthy: reading, comprehension and basic literacy but effective marketing would have a positive effect on those initiatives as well. (And the City’s Public Libraries footprint on social media is about the size of an ant’s indentations across a block of butter. But I can’t say more: Managerial finger twinge.)
The skill (be it technological, biological or mineral) to take a book, track its market potential, communicate to users about its merits and allow users to comment and interact just isn’t there.
The thing is, we are good enablers of reading but what we are crappy sustainers.
What that means in not so indistinct terms, is that we’re reacting to what our patrons want and not being proactive.

The difference being: that 15 people will have to ask for 50 Shades as oppose to having it waiting when person number 1 walks in the door.

Reasoning the Second:

Imagine this sort of reactive behaviour applied to YA books/services and a demographic that at the best of times is tolerated in a Public Library/ies.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that NO YA books are bought for and by libraries.

Not at all.

What I am saying is that YA books in public libraries in Cape Town end up in libraries because;

  • a quota of the money for books needs to be spent.
  • not all the monies can go to study materials.
  • it made a bajilliion dollars and some pimply faced ‘person’ wants to read it.
  • a staff member recommended the book because it was good, well reviewed and would circulate knowing the demographic, circulate well.
  • If you wondering, the last reason is the one that public libraries in Cape Town should use to buy YA books.
    The hard realisation which I am trying to soften with all these snarky asides and failed attempt at humour is that YA services in Public Libraries in Cape Town, don’t exist.

    It’s a hard pill to swallow. The Library and Information Services Department’s specialised groups have been established along lines of Children’s and Adult Interest groups amongst our librarians. YA has a small representation in the children’s groups but not in any meaningful sense. These groups generate a lot of genre based content ranging from reading lists, all the way to developing basic marketing strategies but none seem to touch on the specifics issues or needs of the YA demographic.

    Instead, what we have is more like a movement that exists despite the uninterested that seems organisationally hardwired into the existing work structure. (Any more explanation about that and I’d be shot.) There’s a movement of public librarians within the Public Libraries in Cape Town, who not only keep in touch and recommend and talk about (lament) books, but also try to persuade, cajole, wheedle and just plain nag the Powers That Be to give a little ground about starting a YA interest group, developing better marketing tools and branding for libraries and its services, making eBooks available for cell phones and getting the Public Library “Institution” seen on Facebook, Twitter and Mxit. (Something the Local Authority wants to prevent with all their might).

    It’s not ideal, but grassroots movements have been known to foment great change, and we wouldn’t be public librarians, Cape Town – South Africa, if we didn’t think we could try.

    …and Elves bearing gifts: Just say no* .

     
     
     

    *Thank you Terry Pratchett. Just because.

     
     
    Rudi Wicomb is a South African Librarian based in Cape Town. You can find him blogging at http://fromthelibraryfloor.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/Floorlibrarian

    Laura Jarratt: Why I wrote Skin Deep

    In the first instance I wanted to write a book that teenage readers would want to read and re-read. A page-turner that would stay with them. And the inspiration for that was a book I read when I was thirteen: The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. I adored that book and its characters. Before I wrote Skin Deep I saw some reviews of The Changeover on Amazon from people who’d read it years ago like me and still remembered it and loved it. I knew I wanted to write a book like that, where you could be a crazy little bit in love with the male mc and also totally rooting for the female mc.

    So I sat down to think about how I could write this page-turner that readers would remember and then promptly forgot all about that as I met Jenna and Ryan. They took over and I wanted to let them tell their stories in their own way. So writing the book became much less calculating than it initially sounds. There they were with their respective problems: when I put them together on the page, Skin Deep is what happened. I didn’t set out to write a book that preached a message. Any message a reader gets from Skin Deep is one they discover as a result of spending time with Jenna and Ryan and walking in their shoes. Neither of them is perfect; they have their flaws as do all the characters in the book.

    There is one factor that crucially influenced the direction of the book. Jenna’s accident didn’t initially open the book until a friend sent me a link to a clip of The X-Factor. It was Susan Boyle’s first performance and my friend thought it was inspirational. I didn’t. I was disgusted by how the judges and audience reacted to Susan when she first came on stage. After that, we had a vigorous discussion (read slight argument) about how people are judged on appearances. It was then I decided to bring in Jenna’s disfigurement at the very start rather than it being something that happened in the past so the reader could better see how it had changed her.

    Whenever I write a book I really have two desires: one is to entertain and the other is to make the reader walk a mile in the moccasins of my characters. I don’t see those as two separate desires but as two twinned essentials which must exist in the book for me to feel satisfied with it. If my characters don’t have something of value to say, then I’m not happy with my book. It’s not about preaching but about opening up someone else’s world for the reader to visit.

    The Girl Who Was on FIre

    Sarah Rees Brennan asks: Why are readers so hungry for the Hunger Games?
    Carrie Ryan looks at how the Gamemakers shape the truth for television.
    Jennifer Lynn Barnes rejects both sides of the series’ love triangle and declares herself Team Katniss.
    Does real-life media training look anything like Katniss’?  Ned Vizzini says yes.

    Who holds the real power in Panem

    Trauma and recovery among Hunger Games survivors

    Muttations in the real world

    What the rebellion has in common with the War on Terror

    The Girl Who Was on Fire answers lingering questions, provides new points of view, and will remind every Hunger Games fan why they love the series in the first place.

    Having read The Hunger Games trilogy twice I was getting itchy to return to Panem for a third time when I heard that they were making a movie.  My heart leapt for joy as I have a fondness for dystopias.  My heart was still go-going in my chest when I bumped into a competition being run by Smart Pop Books – pay them a visit – they have some amazing things on their site!

    Anyway to cut a long story short I won a copy of The Girl Who Was on Fire, which is a collection of essays by some of the best and brightest YA authors. They are (in no particular order): Leah Wilson, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Mary Borsellino, Elizabeth M. Rees, Lili Wilkinson, Ned Vizzini, Carrie Ryan, Cara Lockwood, Terri Clark, Blythe Woolston, Sarah Darer Littman, Adrienne Kress, Bree Despain

    Reviewing a collection of essays is not the easiest thing in the world, with a novel you can give a brief synopsis and write about the story structure, characters and all the good stuff the story holds but in such a way so as not to give it all away and make the review reader want to go out and buy or at the very least borrow the book.

    It is slightly more complicated with an essay collection (at least for me).  SO I will just say that the essays are witty, thought-provoking, deep and above-all readable.  They can be used for personal enjoyment but also for group discussion and sharing.

    The blurb on the back cover says it perfectly:

    In The Girl Who Was on Fire, thirteen YA authors take you back to Panem with moving, dark, and funny pieces on Katniss, the Games, Gale and Peeta, reality TV, survival, and more.

    Go on!  Grab a copy! join some of the best-known authors of YA fiction (and maybe even discover some new ones) and be taken back into Panem and The Hunger Games.