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An insight into the themes of Nikesh Shukla's 'The Boxer'

Posted By Jacob Hope, 15 July 2019
Updated: 15 July 2019

Fiction can be an invaluable way to explore complex and sophisticated issues that influence us individually and as a society.  Here Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of The Good Immigrant talks about his latest Young Adult book, The Boxer and some of the, much needed, conversations that he hopes might arise from the book.

 

I wrote The Boxer because I wanted young people to have the language to talk about the trauma of racism.

 

When I was a teenager, I was hit by a car, and the driver, angry at me for daring to step out on to a zebra crossing, called me a blind paki. Those words stayed with me. They haunted me. They made me internalise a lot of feelings about what it meant to be an Asian in Britain. Frankly, it ruined my teenage years. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t feel settled. I couldn’t find my feet. It was horrible. I descended into the online world and replaced real friendships with chat room ones. I will never forget that person or that moment. They will not have given it a second thought. And that was the thing that stayed with me.

 

I didn’t have the language to talk about. I certainly couldn’t talk to my dad about it. He would have laughed and called it Mickey Mouse compared to what he went through in the 60s and 70s. Mum would have reminded me that I needed to study hard because that was the only way to show people.

 

I’ve dealt with racism my entire life. From overt and obvious and violent, to small and quiet and subtle and insidious. I feel, now, we’re able to have conversations about these issues. Because of books like The Hate U Give and The Good Immigrant and Noughts And Crosses we can have these open conversations about race and racism. I wanted to add The Boxer to that canon. It’s about a kid who is beaten up in a racist attack, and all he wants, in that moment, is the strength to walk away from the situation. He trains with Shobu, who helps him deal with his trauma and also learn how to box. As he learns how to box, he starts to notice that his new best friend is becoming radicalised by the far right.

 

Keir, his best friend, is not a cookie cutter racist. He is a complicated character, dealing with his own loss and family pressures and sense of isolation. It was important to me to ensure that depictions of racism were as complex and nuanced as our ways of dealing with it. So while this is a book about sport and triumph over adversity, somewhere in there is a conversation about the trauma, the haunting awfulness of racist incidents. I’m so excited to get this book into young boys’ hands, so we can talk about masculinity and sport and mental health, but we can also talk about racism, and bullying and radicalisation and what it looks like.

 

The Boxer is my attempt to start multiple difficult conversations. 

 

Tags:  Diversity  Reading  Reading for Pleasure 

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Coventry Inspiration Book Awards

Posted By Isobel Powell, 06 July 2019
I thought I would tell you about the Celebration Event that we had last week for the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. This was held at the Ricoh Arena with thanks to the Wasps Rugby Club whose sponsorship makes this possible. It is a great afternoon when the schools who have taken part get to meet the winning authors. and illustrators and present them with their awards. There are 5 categories, each starting off with 8 shortlisted books that get whittled down week by week as the books with the least votes get knocked out until we have our winner. What's the Story (ages 4-7) was won by Jim Whalley and Stephen Collins for the hilarious picture book Baby’s first Bank Heist. Telling Tales (ages 7-9) was won by the brilliantly comic Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith. Next was out transition category, Hooked on Books (ages 9-12), which crosses over from the top end of Primary into the first couple of years of Secondary was won by the fantastic House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Our final 2 categories are for Secondary Schools only with the winner of the Simply the Book category (13+) being the amazing Sycthe by Neal Shusterman. lthough Neal couldn’t be here for the celebration event as he lives in America many of our students were lucky enough to meet him back in December when he came to Coventry as part of a very short UK visit. Our final category is for all those teenagers who are short on time, Rapid Reads, quick read books for ages 11-16. This was won by Ann Evans for her scary book A Little Secret. It was a brilliant afternoon with a wonderful buzz of excitement and enthusiasm as a room full of students of all ages talked about their favourite books and checked out new recommendations. It is hard work running the book awards on top of all our usual School Library Service work and we have already announced out shortlists for next year so it is a year round operation! However, it is all worth it when you read the comments left by the students at the Celebration Event. Here are a couple of my favourites; “Every Book was amazing and has inspired me to read”, “I loved this event and look forward to more in other years” and “The Book Awards has drawn me more into reading”. As children's librarians it is important to remember that what we do is important and can have a real impact on children's lives so we should shout about it more often and loudly. If you are lucky enough to have a local children's book awards then find out how you can get involved as together with National Book Awards like the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals they are a wonderful way of introducing children and young people to a wide range of wonderful books which they might not come across on their own. By doing so you increase the chances of them finding the book that speaks to them and switches them on to reading with pleasure. This is how you help to create lifelong readers which is something all librarians aspire to.

Tags:  awards  book awards  children's books  Children's Literature  libraries  Reading for Pleasure  school libraries 

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The Slovene Book Fair - Book Awards and Criteria

Posted By Jacob Hope, 06 July 2019
Updated: 06 July 2019
The Slovene Book Fair was eye-opening, it was incredible to see the levels of engagement and enthusiasm it generated among the public with schools, families and individuals attending to hear talks, meet with authors, peruse exhibitions of illustration and buy books.  Slovenia was under a Socialist regime as part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  Books and the arts played a key role in helping to preserve the national identity of the country and it feels there remains a great sense of pride and loyalty towards books.  Despite this there are concerns about the future.  The proportion of books published from the United Kingdom, combined with other media in spoken and written English leads to anxieties about the long-term impact on the Slovene language.

Alongside public engagement, one of the notable elements was the support mainstream media gave to the events with television and radio both present.  Sessions provoked lively discussion and attendance and involvement from publishing students meant there were clear succession lines for the industry contributing to an impressively well-structured and sustainable base for the countries publishing and book trades.

The talk I was involved with looked at the role of criteria in book awards, how those are articulated and applied and the impact these have in terms of selection of books.  As well as exploring some of the major children's book awards in the UK - the Costa, the Blue Peter, the Federation of Children's Book Groups and the proliferation of regional book awards that take place across the country and are aimed at empowering young people through enabling them a platform for their views and a vote.

Looking at the CILIP Carnegie medal gave pause for thought and the opportunity to think back to the Library Association review of children's literature in 1932 which described 'a few admirable books, submerged in an ocean of trash.'  The medals were set up to lobby for change.  

During the trip to Ljubljana, an interview took place with a publishing student.  One of their questions  was what differentiates the CILIP Carnegie Medal.  It's a question that has led to much reflection.  One of the many answers is the transparency of its processes and criteria.  Following on from the Diversity Review for the awards which happened in 2018, this is something that is being evaluated with thanks to the University of Central Lancashire.  As one of the last public speaking engagements for 2018, talking at the Slovene Book Fair served was a genuinely upbeat, inspiring and uplifting occasion and one that has certainly given considerable food for thought around the role of book awards and their increased relevance as part of an array of models for recommending and profiling books, stories and information.  It was fascinating to be part of the Fair and learn more about how Slovenia's award works and the impact that criteria has upon selection.
 

Tags:  Book Awards  Carnegie  Children's Books  Controversy  Reading 

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New Class at Malory Towers - an insight from Rebecca Westcott

Posted By Jacob Hope, 28 June 2019

Having had the privilege of being her editor on her first three novels, I knew Rebecca Westcott would bring an outstanding emotional depth to a story about girls at boarding school. I also knew that her own background, as well as her work as a primary teacher and special needs co-ordinator, would help her bring a very different perspective to the situation.
Alex Antscherl

 

I was a late reader and nobody could understand why because I grew up surrounded by books and being read to is one of my earliest and happiest memories. And then my mum introduced me to her battered old copies of The Faraway Tree and everything changed. Suddenly I was hungry for more – so I learnt to read, informed my mum that her bedtime-story reading services were no longer required and lost myself in the wonderful world of Moonface, Silky and Saucepan Man.

 

The Enchanted Wood turned out to be my gateway drug and I was soon desperate to get my hands on all things Blyton. I raced through Amelia Jane and The Naughtiest Girl in the School – my first introduction to boarding school books. The Famous Five followed and then everything screeched to a halt because I discovered Malory Towers and I was completely hooked.

 

I fell instantly in love with Darrell Rivers and her friends. I borrowed the books from the library and looked for them at jumble sales and, over the course of the next few years, was given the occasional copy as a gift. I didn’t own the full set but the ones I did possess were read and reread and then read again. At one point my mum gently suggested that it might be a good idea for me to expand my reading choices and explore other genres – and by ‘gently suggested’ I mean that one Easter she gave me The Hobbit instead of an Easter egg. I dutifully plodded my way through the tale of dragons and dwarves and wizards but quickly returned to my beloved Malory Towers. I didn’t need a fantasy book because I already had it. As far as I was concerned, everything that Blyton wrote about in those books was one-hundred-percent fantasy and escapism. There was as much chance of a girl like me, living on benefits on a council estate, going to Mordor as there was of me going to Malory Towers…

 

Being asked to contribute a story for New Class At Malory Towers was the kind of experience that I heartily wished I could have somehow told my eight-year-old self about. Instead, I have written the story that she would have loved to read – a story that suggests that, just maybe, there is a place at Malory Towers for girls who know that midnight feasts and swimming pools hewn out of the cliff and ponies in the school stables are not the norm. A story that aims to promote inclusivity while building on the wonderful world that Enid Blyton created.

Tags:  Diversity  Enid Blyton  Inclusion  Reading  Reading for Pleasure 

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A New Class at Malory Towers - an insight from Narinder Dhami

Posted By Jacob Hope, 27 June 2019

Discovering that Narinder was a devoted fan of Enid Blyton was a thrill. Narinder has a fantastic knack of introducing humour into unlikely situations, which I knew would be perfect in a Malory Towers story. I wanted to see girls from diverse backgrounds created by authors from an ‘own voices’ perspective in our new book, and Narinder has incorporated this in a brilliant way.
Alex Antscherl

 

When I was asked to contribute a story to New Class at Malory Towers, I said yes straightaway. I didn’t even have to think about it. Enid Blyton was one of my childhood favourites, although being a precocious reader – like many authors – I’d raced through pretty much all of her books by age eight. I hadn’t re-read the books since then, but I’d lived through the Blyton controversy when her literary merits – or lack of them – and her attitudes to class, race and sex were endlessly debated. Whether she was in favour or not, I’d always had a sneaky admiration for just how very prolific she was, the way she handled different genres of fiction with ease.

Maybe I should have thought more about how to approach writing a new Blyton story. I didn’t. I simply re-read the original six Malory Towers books, then plunged straight in. I’d absolutely forgotten just how laugh-out-loud funny they are, and that was a feature I definitely wanted to keep. I had no particular qualms about recreating Blyton’s style. It’s spare and clear – OK, perhaps a little too spare at times as details are glossed over to keep up the pace – but my main concern was to maintain the integrity of iconic characters such as Darrell, Alicia and Mam’zelle Dupont. I think the characters are the backbone of these stories. All of them are flawed in some way – for example, Darrell and her hot temper – and although the portrayal of Mam’zelle sometimes threatens to tip over into caricature, it’s her warm, upbeat, kindly character that keeps her real.

The plots of the original stories are often very much of their time, and I wanted my story to be something that Blyton herself might have considered writing – an Indian princess in disguise becomes a pupil at Malory Towers! The postmodern, feminist twist on this scenario is my own. Whether Enid Blyton would approve, I don’t know, but it was a joy to breathe new life into these well-loved characters.

Tags:  diversity  Enid Blyton  libraries  Reading  Reading for pleasure 

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New Class at Malory Towers - an insight from editor Alex Antscherl

Posted By Jacob Hope, 26 June 2019

With a new collection of four stories from Enid Blyton's popular Malory Towers series, we are delighted that editorial director of Enid Blyton Entertainment has written a guest blog about the series.  Look out for upcoming features with authors Rebecca Westcott and Narinder Dhami about their stories in the book.

Boarding-school stories are an enduringly popular genre. The absence of parents and the close-knit communities created in dorms, classrooms and sports fields make it a perfect setting for children’s authors to explore. The Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer were a success from their first publication in 1925 and Angela Brazil’s books had been popular for two decades by then. Enid Blyton had already written The Naughtiest Girl in the School in the early years of the Second World War when her publisher at Methuen suggested she write other stories in the genre, set in a more conventional girls’ school. Enid Blyton’s First Term at Malory Towers was published in 1946 and she wrote five further books about the school, with the last one being published in 1951.  Enid drew on events related to her by her then teenaged daughters, who were boarders at Benenden School, as well as recollections of her own schooldays. Knowing her (second) husband was called Kenneth Darrell Waters and was a doctor, we can see the origins of Darrell Rivers’ name and her father’s profession.

 

Malory Towers books sold 350,000 copies in English alone in 2018, so we know they still have huge numbers of fans. With a theatre production and a major children’s TV adaptation on the way, Malory Towers is about to be introduced to an even wider audience. When these potential new readers turn to the books, I want them to be instantly drawn in by covers that will appeal to the savvy young girls of 2019. Our brief to the illustrator Pippa Curnick was to use her bright, distinctive style to illustrate girls from the 1940s and ’50s. There’s no pretence that these are contemporary books – no mobile phones or trendy rucksacks. But the new covers are as appealing and relatable now as the friendships and dramas in the plots.

 

And I felt that today’s readers deserved not just new covers but new stories too. It’s ten years since six extension titles were introduced to the series, following Darrell’s younger sister Felicity through her Malory Towers years. A new book would give journalists and bloggers a talking point, booksellers and librarians a reason to restock, and fans some irresistible new content. I wanted authors who would honour the atmosphere of the original books, introduce new characters from diverse backgrounds who would interact with the original characters, and give us something unique based on their own take on the world. In the next four blogs I look forward to introducing these authors to you as they tell you how they approached this unusual commission.

Tags:  Enid Blyton  Libraries  Reading  Reading for Pleasure  School Stories 

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Remembering two times CILIP Carnegie Medal Winner Jan Mark

Posted By Jacob Hope, 22 June 2019
Remembering and celebrating the life and work of Jan Mark Earlier this year I noticed a flurry of activity on Twitter from admirers of the late, great Jan Mark. She twice won the Carnegie Medal, for Thunder and Lightnings (recently reissued by its original publisher, Penguin Books) and Handles, and was shortlisted or runner-up for many other awards with a host of wonderful titles including Trouble Half-Way, The Eclipse of the Century, They Do Things Differently There and Turbulence. I could go on. Jan wrote over 70 books, after all. Now, I think about Jan Mark all the time. As well as being a favourite author, she was a good friend. (She did friendship as well as she wrote, which is to say, exceptionally.) I’ve always dipped back into her work for a shot of laughter or a gasp of truth about human nature in her typically sardonic, laconic way. She viewed her short stories as her best work and perhaps they were. It takes no time to read one of the ten tales in the classic collection Nothing to Be Afraid Of but the effect of each short story stays with you long after you’ve finished it. Not every book can remain in print; not every writer can be remembered. So it was deeply satisfying to know that other people were reading Jan, too, and that she means as much to them as she does to me. A lot of them had met her. In addition to publishing two novels a year (plus picture books and young readers), she’d criss-cross the country, armed with the National Rail Timetable, visiting schools and teaching colleges, encouraging a love for reading and writing in the young and not-so-young. There are a lot of writers out there today who wouldn’t be practising their craft if it hadn’t been for Jan. They’ll be on prize shortlists for years to come. Jan spent six years as a teacher before stopping to have a family. She probably would have started teaching again if she hadn’t won a one-off competition to find new writing talent in 1974. Instant, early success with Thunder and Lightnings (1976) led to readers’ hunger for more books so she spent the next six years solidly writing to generate a formidable backlist. She escaped her home office from 1982-84 to become writer-in-residence at Oxford Polytechnic – teaching, again – but didn’t stop writing, and continued with both right up until her sudden death, far too young, at the age of 62 in 2006. Jan was also active as a prominent book reviewer and judge for literary awards (for adults and children). It’s true that there’s very little of her work in print now, but every year, as Jan’s literary executor, I’m notified by her committed agents at David Higham that someone, somewhere in the world wants to publish a new edition of one of her stories. And people are snapping up second-hand editions wherever they find them. I firmly believe there will more new publications to come in the future. I wanted a place to bring these readers together – and to help new fans discover Jan’s work – which is why I’ve launched a website, janmark.net. To start with, I’ve published Jan’s own accounts of her writing experience. Not all writers like to talk about the inspirations behind their books or their processes, but Jan did, I know it helps to share them with readers, students and writers. But the website also contains memories of her fans and friends, who are spread throughout the world. There’s room for everyone to have a voice so if you’re a fan – or a new reader – so I really hope you will get in touch. Visit https://janmark.net

Tags:  Libraries  Reading for Pleasure 

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Children's Book Award 2019 Winner Announcement

Posted By Jacob Hope, 08 June 2019
Updated: 08 June 2019

 

 

Founded in 1980 by national children's reading charity, the Federation of Children's Book Groups, the Children's Book Award is now in its 39th Year.  It is the only National UK Children's Book Award to be voted for entirely by children.  Each year an impressive 150,000+ votes are cast, involving nearly 250 schools across the UK.

The winneers have been announced today at a special awards ceremony and Arree Chung's Mixed, a book exploring colour, tolerance and embracing difference has come first.  Aree won the Books for Younger Children before winning the overall prize this year.   Commenting on his win Arree said, 'It touches me to know that the message of diversity, acceptance and love has resonated with the harts of the youth in the UK.  The world indeed is a colourful blend of people and culture.'

Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer has won the Older Reader category and The Dog Who Lost His Bark, written by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by PJ Lynch is named the Books for Younger Readers Category winner.

Congratulations to all of the winners and to the Federation of Children's Book Groups for a superb initiative.

Tags:  awards  children's books  reading 

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Tunnels Below

Posted By Jacob Hope, 21 May 2019
The Youth Libraries Group blog is delighted to be part of 'The Tunnels Below' blog tour.  Celebrating the publication of a compelling new fantasy, here author Nadine Wild-Palmer talks about how a passion for libraries and working with children influenced her debut.

I discovered I had a real passion for working with children after university when I was hired by The House of Fairy Tales to travel around festivals with a caravan of creatives, running workshops that focused on creative storytelling, singing songs and immersive play. However, like so much of life this job was seasonal and I found myself needing and wanting to develop my skills in a more concrete way. I did a lot of soul searching and discovered I was missing a connection – Books! This was very much a eureka moment for me, I had spent my childhood writing and reciting poetry and making up languages so it made perfect sense to literally hit the books.  I was going to embark on a mission to become a Children’s Librarian and that, is just what I did.

I applied for a part time job at St Nicholas Preparatory school (Part time because I still needed time off for writing) and the head teacher at the time - Jill Aisher – Invited me in for an interview. I remember discussing my love of books and children with her during the interview and that I was very keen to start writing my own books. I landed the job and I believe it was at this point that The Tunnels Below, although already deeply seeded in my mind began take roots. I was in an environment that was filled with thousands of doorways to different worlds all aimed at the people I was working with: Children. It was magical. I know now, that when you are conscious you are being given an opportunity, even though you don’t know where it might lead it is full of anticipation and this excited energy is what I used to create the world of The Tunnels Below.

However, once I actually started working with the children I discovered that what I thought about what made a good book, was more often than not at odds with what the children I was working with actually wanted to read. Despite already having a masters in Creative and Critical writing there is nothing like hands on experience to really highlight what you don’t know about your chosen field of study or your profession! I learnt a lot about language, illustration, style and subject matters from the children and the librarians I worked with. A big thank you to:  Mrs Skipworth, Ms Pepper and Mr Bruce is deserved here, a trio of kind intelligent people who generously shared their wealth of knowledge with me and which, I have never forgotten.
Working in the library brought me back to the feeling of reverent calm that I had as a child walking to the local library in Balham. I’m grateful for that, especially when so many of our local Libraries are under threat.  
 
After a year or so working in the Library the school and parents of St Nicholas presented me with an opportunity I could not refuse. I was commissioned me to write and illustrate my first children’s book for the Library and Chicken & Egg was born. The process of creating this book made me realise that I had more to say than a picture book would allow and that, although I was alright at drawing I was no illustrator. So I kept going back to The Tunnels Below, flashes of inspiration followed me around London until I had written the first four chapters at which time a chance meeting with my editor Sarah Odedina, flung the doors wide open.

However, I know, in my heart of hearts, that had I never spent the hours I did in the Library, I may never have been brave enough to write a book. I am dyslexic and dyspraxic and as a child I was a painfully slow reader (I am still pretty slow but I remember books in a lot of detail). Being back in a children’s library gave me a chance to catch up on the titles I couldn’t keep up with as a child, which gave me a chance to reconcile some of the negative feelings I harboured about books. Libraries have always evoked a sense of wonder in me but working as a Librarian in one showed me how much healing they can provide as well as how much magic they can work on a non-believer who needs reminding that they have the power within them too!

Tags:  libraries  reading development 

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Reading Rebels at Ystrad Myanch Library

Posted By Alexandra J. Ball, 11 May 2019
Wow this year is really flying by. I can’t believe it’s May already and we have had the fifth meeting of the Reading Rebels. Reading rebels are a tween book group that meet the second Friday of each month in Ystrad Mynach Library (South Wales). The group consists of four girls, two from the local English medium high school and two from the local Welsh medium school. I am pleased to say they all get on well and sometimes it’s hard to get a word in as they are so eager to discuss the books they are reading as well as what they have been up to in school that day. They all love reading different books and I normally take along proof copies I have received from publishers. They love looking through the choices. The one book they did all read and enjoy was Storm Witch by Ellen Renner. They are not so keen on writing reviews though so I suggested making a collage of the books they have been reading. It is not completed yet otherwise I would have included a picture. At the last meeting we looked at the short list for the CILIP Kate Greenaway award and they were amazed by the illustrations which they hadn’t previously thought about. For their next meeting they requested a book quiz so that is my homework sorted for a while. I’ve been told not to make it too difficult and choose questions about books they have read. We’ll see about that. It wasn’t a group I set up but when a member of staff took retirement I stepped in. I had never run a teenage reading group before and I was a bit apprehensive but it’s the best thing I have done in a long while. They are so enthusiastic about books and reading it is a pleasure to be part of it.

Tags:  children's books  Reading for Pleasure 

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