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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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Youth Libraries Group - new logo

Posted By Jacob Hope, 03 May 2019

Many of you will know that the Youth Libraries Group has been looking at its governance and communication over the past year.  We want to make sure that the group is best positioned to serve the needs of its members and has a stable future.  As part of this, we have worked with multi award-winning illustrator Yu Rong in creating a new logo that reflects the work of the group and also includes our name in order that the role of the group can easily be acknowledged when working with partner organisations and on collaborative projects and events.

We are very excited to have had the chance to partner with Yu Rong.  She was winner of the Quentin Blake Award for Narrative Illustration, Yu Rong's techniques combines the traditional craft of papercut from the Shaanxi Province of China, together with pencil sketches to create an immediately distinctive style that brings both depth and detail to her illustration.  Yu Rong taught in a primary school and went on to study a BA in Chinese Painting and Contemporary Design before moving to the UK in 1997.  Yu Rong has worked with the Youth Libraries Group to create a new logo that more directly eflects the aims of the group.  We were delighted to work with an llustrator whose artistic style offers readers such a rich visual experience.  We are also pleased that Yu Rong involved her ten year-old son in creating the lettering.  This feels very much in keeping with the focus of the group.  Yu Rong is currently illustrating 'Shu Lin's Grandpa' which will be published by Otter Barry Books in 2020.

"I become an illustrator, as a way to create an imaginative world based on the understanding and passion of the real world.  I love children, I was a primary school teacher and was influenced by Quentin Blake when I studied at Royal College of Art. Working with Chinese publishers and publishers in West, gives the variety of the taste of different culture and of team spirit. Often I think people's life experience can easily be reflected in their art work, I do hope the readers can see the integration of my observation of West and East and that we are a big family living on the earth together."

The new YLG logo has been used for the first time in CILIP's new children's supplement 'Pen & Inc' the magazine and listing guide to promote diversity and inclusion in children's publishing.  For more information and to see Yu Rong's stunning cover illustration please visit https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/penandinc

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Tags:  libraries  reading  YLG 

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'Proud' anthology of poems, stories and art

Posted By Tanja M. McGuffin- Jennings, 05 April 2019
Updated: 05 April 2019
To celebrate the launch of their 'Proud' anthology of poems, stories and art Stripes Publishing offered LGBT groups in schools a chance to pitch to win, read & review & hype about on social media 10 copies of the book & bunting for LGBT month to create a display for their libraries. I pitched for our college's Gay Straight Alliance group and we were lucky enough to be one of the ones chosen.# My friend and colleague at Colaiste Feirste was also kind enough to invite a group of us over to meet transgender author Juno Dawson, stay for a talk and Q & A and do some rainbow painting. One of the pupils also designed identity aesthetics for a flag which they were allowed to keep and it is currently in the library. Here are some extracts from the pupils' reviews. I've also attached their art work in response to the stories they read. The Courage of Dragons "Really enjoyable story that allowed me to gain an insight into the struggles of non-binary teens. The story was told in a way that was fun and more enjoyable for someone who likes fantasy books. My favourite part was the fact that it was told like an adventurous quest that really made the characters feel like heroes and inspired me to really want to make a change to the way things work in my own school." Dive Bar What did you think of it? I thought it was strange but I really liked it. Your favourite part? I like the repetition because it gives you the idea that the event is being relived over and over. It’s very chaotic and the art reflects it. I think the room could be a metaphor to reflect chaos in the mind. I was able to relate to it. Dive Bar What did you think of it? I thought it was really cool. The imagery reminds me of being on a stage. I think the contracting corridors could portray how a room shrinks when anxiety takes hold of you. I thought the art work was really impressive too. Your favourite part? The windowless woman breaking down walls within herself was really vivid and I thought about the imagery of a porcelain doll breaking – how fragile feelings can be. Anything you hated? Nothing. What would you say to the author if you could? Does your poem describe how someone feels when they have an anxiety attack? Penguins What did you think of it? I loved it. I thought it was a beautiful story told from a realistic perspective. Your favourite part? The part at the end with Aaron when they came out to each other. The part describing the penguins which made me laugh. I want to read more Simon James Green because I enjoyed it so much. Anything you hated? No What would you say to the author if you could? Where did your inspiration for the story come from? Did you use your own experiences to reflect what the characters felt? What did you read? Love Poems to the City What did you think of it? I really enjoyed the story. I loved the art work, the imagery, the use of poetry and the relevant storyline. Your favourite part? The ending because of the sense of unity, togetherness, hope and rainbow imagery reflecting the LGBT story. Anything you hated? Nothing What would you say to the author if you could? Thank you for writing such a relevant and powerful story in such a beautiful way. What do you like most about the city of Dublin?

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Exploring the Gothic in 19th Century Literature

Posted By Tanja M. McGuffin- Jennings, 05 April 2019
I was asked by an English teacher on Wednesday to do a presentation /talk on Gothic Literature of the 19th Century (I studied it at university) as an overview for her fourth years focusing on Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Dracula & Jekyll and Hyde. It took place yesterday. It included outlining Gothic themes and reading extracts from the selected texts. I put together a PowerPoint focusing on definition, location, psychology, central themes & a brief analysis of each of the texts. I also included movie clips and a look at Edgar Allan Poe. The response was positive so I was asked to reprise the talk at the end of the day for her 5th years and present it to classes next week also. It was great as all the enthusiasm I felt for the Gothic module at university came flooding back to me and I was able to share my insights with the students. They were particularly enthralled by Mary Shelley's story. They asked if it was real! I thought I would post about the talk as it is an example of how librarians can support teaching and learning. I'm also happy that following the presentation Poe and Wuthering Heights went straight out on loan.

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