Category Archives: Mg

A Pocketful of Stars

This place is magic . . . but it’s not the sort of magic that comes from wands and spells . . .
Can piecing together the past help you change the present?
Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange and magical world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar . . .

Egmont

A Pocketful of Stars is Aisha Bushy’s debut middle grade novel, which will fit very nicely in both primary and secondary school libraries, in which Safiya learns more about her mum, her friends, and herself. It is slightly heartbreaking but also very hopeful, a brilliant twist on the quest story, and a really good look at the way friendships change over time.

I asked Aisha a few questions!

I interviewed Yasmin Rahman, your fellow newbie in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, for her debut earlier this month. In your acknowledgments you say how important your support for one another has been, what was the next best thing about being part of it?

Having my short story featured in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was like attending a writer bootcamp. I got to see what it was like to edit a book, attend school visits and festivals, and deal with not-so-great feedback! By the time my own debut novel was published, I felt quite ready for what was to come, and I’m so thankful to everyone at Stripes for guiding us. 

Had you already started writing ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ when you wrote your short story, or was it still just a simmering idea?

It wasn’t even an idea. I was working in a very different novel at the time, one that I didn’t get very good feedback on. I thought of and drafted ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ in the months between being picked for ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and the anthology’s publication.

Did the story start with the gaming idea or did it come to you as a way to make the “dreams” a more modern quest story?

It started off with Safiya witnessing her mother’s memories in a dream-like way, but as I continued to work on ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ I needed to give Safiya something to strive for. That was when the quest came in. And, as Safiya loves video games, it made sense for her to navigate this world in that way.

What is your favourite computer game?

I really love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because it is open-world, which means you can explore as much as you want without any limitations (unlike in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ where the world crumbles when Safiya tries to leave the house). But when I was Safiya’s age my favourite games were Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. I played them both for hours.

Have you any thoughts on how teens might balance gaming as a hobby with “real life” relationships?

I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. Gaming is a very social hobby. When you play online you can create groups for your friends to join and play together; otherwise you can meet up and play in the same room. I see it as bringing friendships together through a shared interest, in the way it connects Safiya with her new friends in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’. 

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

I have two different events planned at the moment that I’ll be pitching to schools in September. The first is a scent-based workshop where I’ll ask students to pick and smell one of several pots filled with different scents. They are tasked with writing the opening of a story leading in with scent, whilst working in the other senses too. 

The second event I have planned can work in smaller groups or larger assemblies (and I’ll be running this one during my school tour). It’s about narrative gaming, and different ways of consuming stories. I will work collaboratively with students to create the basis for our very own video-game by picking a character, setting, and premise. 

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

I am reading lots of things at the moment, some I can talk about, some I can’t. Two books I am dying to talk about, both middle grade, are I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak, written from the perspective of a dog. It is one of the most heart-warming books I have ever read and I’ve already cried twice whilst reading it. It was published at the beginning of August, so you can buy it right now (and I very much recommend that you do).

My second read is an advanced copy of a book out next year called The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook (what a great title). The book is packed with adventure and friendship, and the world is so fully realised that you really feel you are riding through the jungle on the back of an elephant you may or may not have stolen yourself…

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I can’t say much yet (mostly as I’m drafting it and I’m still learning what it’s going to become), but let’s just say there will be a new magical world to explore…

Aisha Bushby

A Pocketful of Stars is out now! Thank you to Egmont for a review copy

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.

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).

The Third Degree with Louie Stowell

Brilliant illustrations by Davide Ortu, including this fab cover!
Matt pipped me to the post and wrote this glowing review of The Dragon in the Library a couple of weeks ago! But I got to ask Louie some questions…

Hi Louie, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

You’ve written/worked on a lot of non-fiction, have you had a story bubbling up for a long time or did it come to you suddenly?

This particular story came very suddenly, but I’ve been writing fiction in the background for a long time. My first novel (in a drawer) was about a half-vampire, half-fairy who gave you a wish in return for blood.

A lot of research is needed for both types of writing, but was it a very different approach? Do you prefer one over the other?

I never see it as stories OR non-fiction. It’s both. Facts are magic too. I still work on non-fiction at work so it’s great to keep doing that. Fiction obviously gives you more scope to take things in any direction you want, unconstrained by reality, although writing stories that feel real is very important to me. I love fantasy that happens in the midst of everyday life, just out of sight.

This is quite a love letter to libraries & library staff, why are they so important to you?

As a child, going to the library was a ritual – and having an (apparently) infinite supply of books was incredible. The thing I remember most is the book smell. It smelled like possibility. As an adult, I want new generations to have that sense of infinity.

What made you decide to make the main character a reluctant reader instead of a bookish child?

I felt like I’d read a lot of books where the main character was into books, but a lot of children I meet in real life aren’t so… I suppose I wanted to give them a go in the driving seat. Also, because it’s fun to put characters in uncomfortable positions, so the idea of forcing an unbookish person to do something that requires lots of reading felt enjoyably mean. [C: I really enjoyed listening to Louie explain this to a room of book lovers at the YLG London AGM, but she didn’t need to worry, we love the challenge of reluctant readers!]

Who is your favourite Dragon in fiction?

Smaug. It’s always Smaug. What a class act.

Have you done any school visits? If so, what’s the best bit?

I’ve done loads of non-fiction ones but I’ve just started doing ones for the Dragon in the Library and what I’m really enjoying is the suspension of reality – creating a fictional world in the real world, and pretending that magic is 100% real. (Or am I pretending…?)

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

I’m currently reading A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby. I was lucky enough to get an early copy and it is beautiful and magical. One for anyone who’s in touch with their emotional side… but also people like me who aren’t at all, but books like this help me learn more about how feelings work.

What’s next for Kit & co.?

I’m trying to work out how to say this in unspoilery terms… their next adventure involves a journey and a new wizard… and a new monster. 

Huge thanks to Louie for answering my questions on top of her actual blog tour, and to Nosy Crow for sending me (and Matt all the way in America!) proofs, and to both Louie and Nosy Crow for the brilliant talk and signed books at the YLG London 2019 AGM last week! I loved what Louie said about the importance of just having books around (in lots of formats) and you might just “slip into one”, quite literally in this story.

The Dragon in the Library is out now!

The Third Degree with Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, with illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik

You might recognise Omar, he was originally published as The Muslims by small, independent publishing house Sweet Apple, and I wrote a post about how much I loved it (not long after it won the Little Rebels Prize). Now, with new illustrations, Hachette are taking him to the mainstream into his own series of books. I enjoyed reading the proof copy I was sent (thanks Hachette) and noticed that although the story has changed slightly, the humour and everyday touches that I loved remain, and I was very happy to be able to ask author Zanib Mian a few questions about it:

Hi Zanib, thank you for agreeing to undergo the Third Degree!

You’ve written a number of picture books but this is your first book for older readers, what prompted you to write a longer story?

My writing is often inspired by my own children, so when they were younger, I wrote a lot of picture book stories. When I started writing the book that is now Planet Omar, my son was nine years old. He was growing up, which meant there were so many more dimensions to his often hilarious personality. I was compelled to write a character like him! But I wasn’t quite sure what kind of story I would write, until I began to notice how much young children were suddenly politically aware – discussing Trump in the playground and often overhearing adults discussing the news (usually involving Muslims!). The NSPCC reported a surge in faith-based bullying in playgrounds. Primary aged children were being called ‘terrorists.’ This was all very upsetting and the inspiration behind the book. I thought it was time that the world met a regular Muslim family, like Omar’s.

Why do you feel that it was important to include so many details about the everyday actions of practicing Muslims?

I feel that prejudice arises from a lack of awareness. People may not understand our reasons for doing certain things – they are completely alien to them. For those people who don’t have any Muslim friends and are reluctant to ask questions, the book gives a nice insight into why we do things like fast during Ramadan, or wear hijab. It also includes lots of comical situations that go on in Muslim households that are related to our practices.

I loved Science Sundays! What made you decide that both his parents should be scientists?

That was easy! I am a Molecular Cell Biologist, who loves all things Science. I thought it would be a great way to inspire children towards the subject and show them how ‘cool’ and fun it can be. Making both Mum and Dad Scientists meant that I could really trickle it through the pages, as with Science Sundays, which I very much enjoyed doing!

‘Planet Omar’ was first published as ‘The Muslims’ by Sweet Apple publishers. When you were re-editing it for a larger publishing house did the process feel very different?

Yes, it did. It was the first time I worked with a larger publishing house, so it was very a very different, but hugely positive experience to when I publish books under Sweet Apple. My editor, Kate Agar, wanted to expand the book in areas where I had already felt needed more work, so I was happy to jump on it. Her suggestions and prompts were very inspiring, allowing me to imagine more scenes (just like Omar imagines!) and bringing out the best in my writing.

How did you feel about the illustrations being replaced? Were there any parts you weren’t happy with and asked to be redone?

The illustrations were actually the hardest part of the transition, at first. That’s because, as the book had had a life of its own, I had images in my mind of the characters as they were in The Muslims. Especially for Omar. Seeing him change completely was a bit of an adjustment! The creative team at Hachette were wonderful about getting my input and thoughts. I really have enjoyed working with the whole team there and was really touched by how much they valued my opinion on the artwork and cover. I asked them to make Omar’s face cheekier and the Mum a bit more quirky. They came back with more drafts until I was happy and now I’m in love with the end result!

Do you enjoy visiting schools to talk about Omar?

Oh yes, visiting schools around the publication of Planet Omar. I love seeing the children giggle in complete relation to Omar and his family antics. They seem to be very intrigued and inspired by Omar’s imagination, which is fabulous! One of the schools I visited had already read the book, so their line of questions at the end was very specific. I was extremely warmed by their concern that I might have written the book because I had myself been bullied or suffered a nasty neighbour. I reassured them that it wasn’t the case!

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

I am reading Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland, because I want to read all the awesome books by my author friends. It’s hilarious. I’d recommend it to any kid who wants to have a laugh and likes poo jokes. For some adult reading, I’ve dug into Jonas Jonnason’s Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All – I love this author’s unique writing style. Makes me smile all the way through.

What’s next for Omar, and what’s next for you?!

Planet Omar is a series! Book 2 will be out in Febuary 2020, where you can read about more of his shenanigans! I’ve loved writing for middle grade and had a blast writing Planet Omar book 2.

Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet is out now!

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea!

The first two Narwhal books by Ben Clanton

These graphic novels are a brilliant introduction to the medium for young readers, written and drawn by Canadian Ben Clanton they are short and simple but wonderfully silly, about the adventures of best friends Narwhal and Jelly. The first two books are out in the UK now!

Narwhal and Jelly meet for the first time in the first story

I literally laughed out loud at the banter, the stories are just joyful and so much is said in very few words. I can’t imagine anyone of any age, from 5+, not loving this series (book 3 is due in September). They tackle friendship, embracing difference, and all sorts of emotions, and they’re totally adorable and really funny. For information lovers, there are pages of facts about creatures mentioned in the stories.

Yes, that is a narwhal and a jellyfish enjoying waffles on the other page!

When Egmont asked if I’d like review copies for the blog I jumped at them (thankyou for sending them to me), because the glimpse of the comic strip on the press release immediately brought to mind another underwater character that I love, who could really do with a Narwhal and Jelly in her life: Lucy the Octopus by Richy K. Chandler. He’s visited two of my schools to do comics workshops and all of the students have had a great time with him, I highly recommend getting him in. When he visited my current school a couple of years ago he gave us a couple of printed volumes of the webcomic (still available to buy), but there is now a hardback graphic novel you can buy for your library to bring cheer to the lives of all your anxious (& possibly bullied) faves (recommended to age 9+)

The 2019 Little Rebels Award Shortlist: Propaganda, War and Autocrats

The Little Rebels awards shortlist was released whilst I was away, and it is a fantastic bunch of titles for children (aged 0-12) which “promotes social justice or social equality, challenges stereotypes or is informed by anti-discriminatory concerns.”

Government propaganda, militarization, misjudged Western ‘aid’ and the UK’s participation in the slave trade are just some of the themes highlighted by this year’s shortlist for the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction.

Small, independent publishers figure strongly on the shortlist, including titles from HopeRoad and Lantana Publishing. Anne Booth makes her second Little Rebels Award appearance (Girl With A White Dog was shortlisted in 2015) and former Little Rebels Award judge, Catherine Johnson, is shortlisted for her historical fiction novel, Freedom, an account of the UK’s role in the slave trade which takes the 1781 Zong Massacre as its cue.
 
The full Little Rebels Award 2019 shortlist (for books published in 2018) is:
Across the Divide by Anne Booth – Catnip Publishing
Freedom by Catherine Johnson – Scholastic
The Ghost and Jamal by Bridget Blankley – Hope Road Publishing
The King Who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth – Pavilion Children’s Books
The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre – David Fickling Books
Running on Empty by S E Durrant – Nosy Crow
Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadaan – Lantana Publishing

 
War and conflict are recurrent themes while receiving very different treatments: Across the Divide explores the pacifist movement and the militarization of local communities; picture book, Tomorrow (by Nadine Kaadan who moved to London following the onset of the Syrian conflict), portrays civil war through the eyes of a family forced to stay indoors; The Ghost and Jamal exposes young people as the real casualties of wars and critiques Western charitable ‘interventions’ in conflict zones. Two of the shortlisted titles foreground disabled characters as significant voices and agents: The Ghost and Jamal’s protagonist has epilepsy and AJ’s parents in Running on Empty have learning disabilities. Durrant’s novel, set in Stratford (London), stars a working-class family struggling under the pressure of financial hardship and a welfare system ill-equipped to support them. Picture book, The New Neighbours, hints at themes very familiar to previous Little Rebels Award shortlists -the treatment of refugees and pre-conceptions about new arrivals- while the protagonist of the third picture book on the list, The King Who Banned the Dark, is an autocrat who instills obedience in his citizens through imagined fears.
Fen Coles, Co-Director of Letterbox Library, said of the shortlist: “From a king who bans the dark to a tower block community fearful of the ratty (!) newcomers, the Little Rebels Award shortlist demonstrates again that weighty topical themes can be brought to the youngest minds in ways which are playful, provocative, thoughtful and fun. Social divisions, conflict, the rise in far right parties and ideologies, threats to democratic rule as well as very home-grown human rights abuses such as the Windrush scandal are all ‘live’ topics which children are hearing about through ubiquitous social medias. The Little Rebels titles continue to offer young people and children texts to help them navigate, question and make sense of the fractured world which surrounds them”.

From the press release

I’ve seen all except 2 of these so will have to seek them out, what I’ve seen/read though is fantastic. Do have a browse of the award’s site for the history, past winners, and current judges! The winner will be announced on 10th July.

The Third Degree with Sharna Jackson

I reviewed High Rise Mystery last month and enjoyed it so much that I asked to send some questions to Sharna Jackson!

Hi Sharna, thank you for agreeing to undergo the Third Degree!

What or who were your influences when writing? How did Nik and Norva come into your head?

I loved the idea of transposing classic mystery genre conventions and seeing what happened to them when placed in a contemporary, city setting. I was thinking about Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, The Thin Man, books by Kathrine Woodfine and my lovely editor Robin Stevens, but also TV programmes like Luther, films like Attack the Block and the Nothing Beats a Londoner Nike ad.

Nik and Norva are both a bit like me. I love shaving my hair off and being practical like Nik, but I can also be dramatic and excitable like Norva. Norva is actually named after a ceramist I met in The Hague in the Netherlands at her exhibition one day. She was very cool.

What made you decide to pitch a murder mystery to a young audience? Was there anything you consciously toned down because of it?

Alongside the thought of murder mystery in the city being interesting, I was also keen to see young black characters being sleuths – being clever and cunning.

I did tone down some of gory aspects of finding Hugo’s body. I took it a bit too far.

How did it come to be published by KnightsOf?

I knew David Stevens from conferences – and Twitter – and was delighted that he and Aimée Felone – his business partner – had launched Knights Of. What a fantastic thing! I had been speaking to them about other matters and one day they said, why don’t you write? I thought about it for a hot second, said yes and pitched High Rise Mystery to them. I described it to them as “PIs in the Projects, they sent back two black girl detective emojis and that was that.

In your day job you’re concerned with social engagement in the arts. Is The Hub, or indeed any character, based on places or people you have worked with?

The Hub is based on community centres I’ve seen across the UK – flexible spaces used by people in the area to use. I’m the Artistic Director at Site Gallery in Sheffield, and have worked with museums and galleries across the world, and have met some interesting people. Hugo is definitely an amalgamation of some people I’ve met along the way!

What do you think is most important about community spaces such as The Hub, and how are they faring in the face of austerity?

Community Spaces are incredibly important as they allow people in the immediate areas access and spaces to use in ways that are directly relevant to their needs and wants. Unfortunately austerity has a knock-on effect on everything – especially the arts. There is less funding for artists, and less money for the public to spend on events.

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

I’m just about to start Ghost by Jason Reynolds – can’t wait!

Have you done any author visits to schools and/or libraries yet?

Not yet – my first visit is on Thursday 11th at the Basil Griffith Library in Sheffield and then Waterstones Durham on Saturday [13th April]. I’m excited – and nervous!

When can we hope to see more Nik and Norva?

Soon I hope!

Scholastic Voices

A series of gripping adventures that reflect the authentic, unsung stories of our past.

The series so far!

Last year Scholastic announced the launch of their new series of books, Voices, a series bringing to life BAME figures from British history, who’s stories are rarely told. I have been lucky enough to be sent the first two, both of which are fantastically paced, evocative, believable, heartbreaking, exciting, thought provoking, rage-inducing, and full of historically accurate information ripe for discussion. They are both brilliant stories in their own right, I expect to see them on topic reading lists in primary and secondary schools and in every school library, and I am really looking forward to finding out what is next in the series!


The world is at war and standing on the shores of Dunkirk, a young Indian soldier fights in defence of a Kingdom that does not see him as equal.
My trust in the kindness and decency of others ended. It seemed I had reached a point of no return...”

Bali Rai’s Now or Never

Bali Rai wrote the first, Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story, about a period of time that every British school child has to learn about, but an aspect of that historical event that has been brushed under the carpet by the history books. Faz is one of hundreds of Indians that volunteered to join the British army during WW2 and who were then so badly treated. Scholastic interviewed him about it here. It has been out since January.

When Eve and her mother hear that one of the African divers sent to salvage the Mary Rose is still alive, and that another wreck rich with treasures lies nearby, they set out to find him.

“The water was my destiny. I knew it…I breathed in slowly and slipped over the edge of the boat into the water.”

Patrice Lawrence’s Diver’s Daughter

The second book is Diver’s Daughter: A Tudor Story, from Patrice Lawrence, makes it clear that black people have been in Britain for a lot longer than the Windrush generation, and focussing on another oft-taught about feature of English history: Henry VIII’s flagship, Mary Rose. Her author’s note says she didn’t want to focus on slavery, but it is definitely clear that people of African descent were not safe despite it being illegal on English soil at that time. It is being published in May, look out for it.

Diver’s Daughter brought to mind Catherine Johnson’s many (and brilliant) historical novels…maybe she’ll do one of the future books in the series (fingers crossed)?

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

If you think finding a body is a fun adventure, you’re 33% right.

fantastic cover art by Wumzum


There has been a murder in THE TRI, the high-rise buildings where know-it-alls Nik and Norva live. Armed with curiosity, local knowledge and unlimited time – until the end of the summer holidays – the dogged and determined detective duo take it upon themselves to solve the complicated mystery.

Sharna Jackson’s debut novel for children is set in a tower block (surprisingly enough) on a SE London estate. Our detective duo are sisters Nik and Norva, aged 11 and 13, living with their dad on the estate. He is the caretaker of the block and, also, becomes the main suspect when the sisters find the body of their art teacher. Luckily they’ve been honing their detecting skills and are ready for a bigger mystery to solve!

It isn’t only brilliant because it is the first Black British children’s detective series for 9-12s, it is brilliant because it is one of the best children’s detective mysteries I have ever read.

I enjoyed reading this *so* much. It is pretty long for a “middle grade” book (I say MG, but it could easily be enjoyed by older teens as well…and indeed adult readers), but the pages flew by as the investigation continued. Really pleased that it is the first in a series, I want as many of these as there are Poirot novels please!

HIGH RISE MYSTERY is beginning to appear in shops now!

(huge thanks to Colour PR for asking me if I’d like a copy to review)