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The Sticker Atlas of Scotland - In Conversation with Benedict Blathwayt

Posted By Jacob Hope, 11 September 2019
Benedict Blathwayt's picture books have been firm favourites for decades, offering a unique insight into the countryside of the United Kingdom and visually documenting so much about nature and farming practices.  It was a pleasure to speak with Benedict about his latest book, The Sticker Atlas of Scotland.
Benedict describes the work of inaugural Kate Greenaway Medal winner, Edward Ardizzone, as being a particular influence admiring the efficacy of his simple line and wash.  Although he never read the classics, Benedict was fascinated by the visual worlds in Herge's Tintin books and in Rupert the Bear.  The idea of place and childhood runs through much of Benedict's work and influences.  'I draw from a lot of the places I've lived.' Benedict spent a lot of his youth and chilldhood in Scotland and has worked on three farms, including one on the Isle of Mull.  He has owned a cow, Bramble, who might be familiar to readers of his books.  Even today, he still lives on a farm and, although he occasionally helps with the sheep, is glad not to have the full responsibilities of a far.
Describing himself as not being a naturalist, Benedict nevertheless has a palpable curiosity and intrigue about the world that surrounds him. 'Artists are like sponges, absorbing the things that surround them.'  Benedict is likely more astute than most as he spent some years drawing wildlife in Wales for Nature Conservancy. He explains how he loves nothing more than to watch otters and whales on the nature walks he loves.  'I like to observe and then look up in a book what I have seen.  It's amazing how much you learn that way, I've even remembered some of the Latin names'.  It's no surprise that Benedict also keeps a nature diary where he records his observations, like the swallows that came into his kitchen this summer, perching on the drying rack.  He uses these observations to help inform the natural history column his writes for a local newsletter and to pore over during the colder months.
Discussing his creative process, Benedict tells how he creates the idea for a story, beginning by writing down scribbled text in biro.  He divides this into the number of pages - usually 12 spreads -and creates a mini storyboard (about the size of a matchbox), in fine sharp pencil.  This is how he tests to find whether the continuity and run works.  If approved by a publisher, he will then create full size roughs where he makes all the mistakes of composition.  Placing the roughs onto a homemade copylight, he then copies these onto watercolour paper before colouring these.
Nature and place play key roles roles in his books.  'Part of this is that I always want to be able to go for a walk in a picture, seeing the horizon in the distance, knowing that even if a road goes around a hill you can still get there.'  Place formed a part in his latest project for Birlinn, creating The Sticker Atlas of Scotland. It was an idea Benedict was initially a little sceptical about, seeing it more of a toy than an actual book.  Having produced novelty books before, Benedict felt these weren't always satisfactory 'It only takes a lost piece or a broken tab and they don't even really work as books any more'.  Seeing the sticker books that his grandchildren play with, Benedict felt there was a place for one that does it differently, 'to create a variety of stickers that, like individual mosaic tiles on a Roman floor, work together to give an overall fair and true picture of the country.'  Having visited much of Scotland, there is an authenticity to this.  
There's a sense of synchronicity to this project because, as a child, Benedict used to draw invented maps, creating white sandy beaches and tall mountains, delighting in giving them weird and wacky names.  'I always loved maps, the brown bits that show higher ground, the water - wondering whether it is swimmable, if you could sail a boat in it.  Sat Navs and Google Maps are blinkered by our specific question and only answer the"now" and miss the excitement entailed in laying out a map on the table when everything and anything is possible.'  
As our conversation draws to a close, it strikes me that the wonderfully detailed landscapes and townscapes that Benedict paints act as proto-maps, encouraging readers to explore different areas and the lay of the land, acting too as a places where anything and everything is possible. 


Tags:  illustration  libraries  maps  nature  reading for pleasure  visual literacy 

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Guest Post by Mélanie McGilloway, winner of the Klaus Flugge Bursary 2019

Posted By Jacob Hope, 06 September 2019

Thanks to the generous support of Klaus Flugge, founder of Andersen Press and one of the Youth Libraries Group's honorary members, we have been able to offer a bursary enabling one member of the profession to have a full residential place at our annual conference.  Here Mélanie McGilloway reflects on attending this year's conference.

This year I was lucky enough to be able to attend the YLG/SLA joint conference in Birmingham after being awarded the Klaus Flugge bursary. I had not attended a school/youth librarian weekend conference for several years (the SLA conference in Nottigham in 2007 had been my last one) so this was a fabulous opportunity for me and I was looking forward to getting stuck in, and it didn’t disappoint: inspiring speakers, wonderfully generous publishers, a fabulous bookshop, everything came together brilliantly (under Sue Bastone and Alison Tarrant for SLA and Joy Court and Alison Brumwell for YLG’s expert guidance) to create a stimulating weekend that left attendees utterly enthused but slightly exhausted by the end!

It would be difficult to the pinpoint which talks were the best or the most inspiring. I felt that each brought something different, something worth thinking about, something worth implementing. What I particularly enjoyed about the programme was the breadth of experiences and backgrounds of speakers, several of them not directly linked to librarianship, recognising that when talking about Building Identities and Readers, as was the theme of the conference, we need to look at the bigger picture, one that libraries and librarians very much have a role to play.  

However, as well as the wonderful programme, the networking, the opportunity to meet colleagues and professionals, the reunion with old friends, the joy of celebrating some of our own (congratulations to Marilyn Brocklehurst for her honorary YLG membership; Emma Suffield who was 2018 School Librarian of the Year;
Youth Librarian Award winner Olivia Barnden, and Joy Court for her outstanding contribution to CKG), cannot be underestimated.  Being a school librarian can be a lonely position within our work establishment. There is, more often than not, only one of us there. We need those times to take stock, share experiences, learn from others, and remind ourselves that we do a great job, sometimes in challenging circumstances. Conference is a celebration of all of us, and it is heartening to hear so many of the speakers telling us how important they think libraries are.

I am already looking forward to 2020, when YLG conference will take place in our neck of the woods!

My heartfelt thanks again to YLG and Andersen Press for this wonderful opportunity.


You can see all the tweets using the conference hashtag #buildingidentities here

Some of the presentations from the weekend are available here


Save the date: we are delighted to announce that the Youth Libraries Group annual conference 2020 will be held at the Imperial Hotel, Torquay, it will be held between 18 and 20 September, please look out further announcements and we hope you will join us.





Tags:  Conference  Klaus Flugge Bursary  Libraries 

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An Interview with Illustrator Jon Agee

Posted By Jacob Hope, 05 September 2019
Updated: 05 September 2019

Jon Agee is the author and illustrator of numerous picture books.  Milo's Hat Trick and Little Santa have both beenrecognised as American Library Association Notable Books.  The brilliantly witty and timely The Wall in the Middle of the Book is published by Scallywag Press as is Life on Mars.  We were delighted to have the opportunity to interview Jon for the blog.  


Were you interested in illustration as a child and if so, which illustrators made a particular impact upon you and why?


I was always drawing.  Mom, an artist, encouraged that.  I grew up with Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense.  The limericks – of grown-ups doing silly things to themselves and others – were particularly liberating, along with his lively pen and ink drawings.  Garth Williams was another favorite.  His pen and ink illustrations – for Charlotte’s Web and many other books – exuded warmth and had a tactile, sculptural feel.  There was also a well-thumbed album of New Yorker cartoons from the 1950’s, filled with material by Charles Addams, Peter Arno, James Stevenson, Saul Steinberg – all the greats.  It no doubt helped shape my sense of humor. 


In your work, comedy is often derived through what the pictures show but the text does not, is this an important way of helping pre-readers to feel empowered and to begin inferring meaning?


Yes, the pictures often show you something that the text deliberately leaves out.  This may be for comedic effect, as in Life on Mars, where the text never mentions the very large Martian creature following the little astronaut.  The hope is to create an inviting  tension between text and picture, which draws the reader in.


More often, picture book text is spare because the pictures do most of the work.  Years ago I wrote a book about a grown-up astronaut, named Dmitri.  When Dmitri returns to Earth from a two-year stay on the moon, nobody remembers him.  So, he goes to the Museum of Space Exploration to get an idea of what happened while he was away.  It turns out, a lot has happened.  A vast exhibit hall shows the exotic discoveries of more recent astronauts: a fragment from the ring of Saturn, a Plutonian Asteroid, a Venusian Splurge, part of a crater from Mars, even a small planet called Zoltrop.  The illustration is elaborate, so the text is brief: “The main exhibition had changed while he was gone.  Dmitri was impressed.”


Life on Mars really encourages us to look, how important do you think this skill is for young people in the modern world and what role can illustration play in helping to develop this?


Looking is a big part of picture books.  There is a joy to discovering things that are never mentioned in the text.  The picture/text dynamic encourages us to use our intellect, to see beyond the surface of things, to expect the unexpected. 


 In some ways, Life on Mars feels almost an allegory for how picture books can widen our understanding as young children, the world can feel a very unfamiliar and alien place.  You showcase emotions very clearly in your work, are picture books a useful way of helping to make sense of these and even of the world?


When I work on ideas for stories, I’m trying to make sense out of something, even if it’s absolute nonsense.  There is always a clear logic to my stories, no matter how implausible or ridiculous-sounding the plot.  In Life on Mars, a little astronaut misses the biggest find of his life simply because he doesn’t look behind him.  Children can follow his missteps, and empathize with his up and down journey.  And maybe they can laugh along the way.   


The Wall in the Middle of the Book is a masterpiece of minimalism.  It is also a very timely book with so much discussion around borders and movement.  Do you feel picture books can be an effective way to explore often sophisticated issues affecting society and can you think of examples where this happens?  Were you conscious of this when creating the book?  How does it feel to have the book endorsed by Amnesty International?


The idea for Wall was sparked by the architecture of a book; thinking about the opposing rectangular pages as unique places, separated by the binding in the middle.  Many months later, a story emerged from this.  The concept of a protective wall seemed ripe for parody.  So I turned it on its head.  It was simply a coincidence that the book was published at a time when a controversial wall was being discussed here in the States.


Many picture books explore important issues that affect society.  Among Dr Seuss’s books, he covered racism, environmentalism, and nuclear war.  Maurice Sendak’s We’re All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy was inspired by a photograph of homeless children in Brazil.  John Burningham’s Aldo seems to be about a girl whose parents have separated.  In William Steig’s Amos and Boris, a mouse, fearing he’s about to drown in the ocean, talks candidly about mortality.


The Amnesty International endorsement was a first.  I was delighted!   


 The book makes clever use of the gutter to create a physical barrier, how conscious of the format of the book are you when creating the layout and composition of your illustrations and how does this affect them?


Part of writing and illustrating a picture book involves figuring out the way you want to physically (graphically) present your story.  Will it be the standard 32 pages?  Does it need to be longer?  Will it rely on a few big page turns, or many?  Will it utilize single page spreads and double page spreads (where the picture crosses the gutter) or simply double page spreads throughout?  Will the story break the fourth wall?  Will it ask the reader to interact?  Will it incorporate text in the picture?


It’s not enough to simply be a good illustrator, writer or designer.  A picture book is about sequential images, the play of words and pictures, pacing, timing, scale, perspective, point-of-view, etc.  Left and right page (verso and recto) can have distinct roles.  Page turns can set up punch lines and surprises.  There are a lot of things to consider, which is part of the reason I enjoy what I do.   


 The Youth Libraries Group supports libraries and librarians, how important have libraries been to you during your life? 


 As a kid, stepping into the local public library was like walking into a church, because it was so quiet, and – being a kid – I was inevitably told to be quiet, which was awkward, but then I found my book, settled in, and it all made sense.


 I loved my college library.  A beautiful, modern space.  The chairs, though, were too comfortable.  A fair amount of unintentional napping took place in that library.  After college, I used the great New York Public Library.  It was an important resource for rare children’s books, obscure books of wordplay, and the main reading room, with it’s vaulted ceilings, was a beautiful place to be.  Across the street, there was the picture library, where I could find photographs and images of pretty much anything I was researching. 


More recently, I visit schools and libraries across the country, talking and reading to children, and meeting smart, passionate librarians.  


 Picture books can sometimes be overlooked in promotions and activities, have you encountered any best practice that you could share?


I promote my books by talking at schools, libraries and bookstores.  Publishers are always finding new ways to publicize books.  These days many books are previewed with a book trailer – a short video –which readers can access on social media, before the book is published.  


What challenges do you think exist in the field of illustrations and how do you feel these are affecting – or likely to affect – the market?


The challenge for illustrations would seem the same as always.  The difference might be that illustration is moving more to digital art.   There are new technical challenges, I suppose.  But, for now, publishers are just as happy with hand-painted artwork as they are with art that arrives via the internet. 


What is next for you in your work?


I’m working on picture book projects, as usual, and a graphic novel where everybody speaks in palindrome, which is to say, everything that’s said In the book, will read the same forward and backward.  It’s been a longer project than I’d imagined.  



We are grateful to Scallywag Press and to Jon Agee for their time and support with this interview.



Tags:  Humour  Illustration  Reading for Pleasure  Visual Literacy 

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Geiriau Diflanedig: Finding Lost Words in Welsh

Posted By Jacob Hope, 03 September 2019
Updated: 03 September 2019


Fighting the cause of lost words is a familiar effort in Wales where language itself is endangered. While both Welsh and English by today have equal status in the eyes of the law, over the past 150 years, we have seen the number of Welsh speakers decline from 90% of the population to only 19%. During the past sixty years or so, there have been many campaigns for the survival of Welsh, or Cymraeg as it is known in her own language. As well as official status, these campaigns have led to the restoration of original Welsh place names (and marking them with bilingual road signs), the right to be educated in Welsh and to have Welsh television and radio programmes. And things are certainly looking up, with the Welsh government recently setting itself the ambitious goal to double the number of Welsh speakers from half a million to a million by the year 2050.

This matters. Saving words and languages matters. It matters because they are more than just sounds. They are windows that enable us to see and understand the world about us. A bluebell and a dandelion may both be flowers, but without being called by their own names, they become somehow less visible, less important, more prone to be ignored ...  and eventually, more likely to vanish.

This is one of the reasons why I was so delighted to be asked to try to recast Rob Macfarlane’s spells into Welsh and project them against Jackie Morris’ extraordinarily beautiful artwork. Inspired by the original ideas, I took a deep breath and imagined my pencil into a magic wand. Together we were facing a task of great responsibility - to conjure the words of the world about us back from the brink of unbeing and place them in central sight!

Some of the challenges were obvious. If the way the three letters in the English ‘ivy’ grow to five in the Welsh ‘iorwg’ cause a conundrum, then what about how the four in ‘newt’ expand to ten over three words in ‘madfall y dŵr’?! Beyond their length, the names also sometimes focus on different characteristics. While the Welsh ‘clychau’r gog’ and the English ‘bluebell’ reveal the same ‘bell’/’cloch’ component, ‘blue’ is not reflected in the Welsh, but instead it recalls the ‘cuckoo’ that shares its May landscape. And if the regal status of ‘kingfisher’ is not evident in Welsh, here the colour blue, that’s missing from the bell flowers, is clear for, literally translated, this royal English fisherman is known in Welsh as ‘the blue of the water’s edge’.

As is the case in other languages such as French or German, in Welsh we have two ways of expressing knowing, enabling us to ‘know’ facts on the one hand, and places and people on the other in different ways. In our language we recognise that to know facts is somehow a more superficial undertaking than to know places and people; the former an act of mind and memory, the latter more an act of the heart and soul.

In working on these spell-songs, I have been allowed to meet the twenty words they conjure up and get to know what they represent beyond the mind and memory. They have become more than facts. They have become friends that need to be known by the heart and soul.

With the help of the craftsmanship and artistry of the design team at Graffeg, and the generous encouragement of Jackie and Rob, it has been a great joy to work on Geiriau Diflanedig. I can only hope that the readers will share some of this pleasure and that the Welsh version will play its part, along with its counterparts in the other languages, in calling back onto our tongues some endangered species of wondrous words.

To help ensure a copy of Geiriau Diflanedig reaches every primary school in Wales please visit:

Geiriau Diflanedig published on 10 October 2019

Grateful thanks to Mererid Hopwood for writing this guest blog.




 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  Kate Greenaway  Lost Words  Translation  Visual Literacy  Wales  Welsh 

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Introducing 'That Asian Kid' by Savita Kalhan

Posted By Jacob Hope, 30 August 2019

We are delighted to introduce author Savita Kalhan who discusses her new and intensely thought-provoking novel, That Asian Kid.  Part gripping thriller, part ethical dilemma it's an utterly absorbing view into power, control and contemporary teenage life.  Here Savita talks about her influences both as a reader and as a writer.

Growing up as an Asian girl in High Wycombe in the sixties was challenging. My family was poor, my parents were very strict and traditional, and my mother was completely illiterate – in her own language as well as English as she never had the chance to go to school when she was growing up. We couldn’t afford to buy books, but for my parents education  was synonymous with books and reading, so they made every effort to take me and my siblings to the library once a week. Education was the key to achieving success and financial security; it was also the key to overcoming prejudice and racism.

Very quickly, the library became our safe place, our haven. It was where we discovered the many worlds and possibilities outside of the four walls of our home and the strictures and pre-conceptions of Asian children in our schools. We couldn’t change our colour or our background, but we assimilated as fast as possible because not to do so would have consequences. We tried to make ourselves as English as possible.

I read voraciously – my first and abiding love was fantasy. The Narnia books and The Hobbit will always hold a special place in my heart. But I read every book I could lay my hands on in the children's library. In all that time, I never read a story by an Asian author, and I never came across an Asian character. Because there were none. So I never thought I could ever be a writer. How I ended up becoming a writer is another story. But my experiences have inevitably informed what I write, both with The Girl in the Broken Mirror and That Asian Kid.

The Girl in the Broken Mirror explores the themes of identity, culture clash and the patriarchy that exists in Asian communities, where girls are often treated as subservient second class citizens. Through the main character, Jay, the book also deals with the trauma of rape, the feelings of shame and being at fault in some way, and also the long journey to recovery. I wanted to provoke discussions in classrooms about respect, boundaries and consent, which, judging by the horrific figures collated by the NSPCC, both girls and boys need to talk about in a safe environment. The book is not graphic and it is sensitively told because I wanted it to be accessible to teenagers. I am always mindful of who I am writing for, but I strive to be honest.

That Asian Kid is a very different story. It’s the story of Jeevan, a fifteen year old boy growing up in Britain today. He is third generation Indian. His parents and grandparents would have gone through much the same experiences as my parents and me. He’s got great friends, enjoys school, but he is a bit of a smart-aleck, which gets him into trouble with one particular teacher.

He is walking home from school, taking the shortcut through the woods, when he sees two teachers. He ducks and hides when he sees that it’s his favourite teacher and his least favourite teacher, the one he feels has been unfairly marking him down. They’re talking about him, so without pausing to think, he presses record on his phone. And then the teachers get it on, and the camera is still recording.

Jeevan now has a radio-active video on his phone that feels like a ticking time-bomb. He’s caught in a moral dilemma. As tempted as he is to upload the video on social media, Jeevan knows that it would be wrong to do so. He knows that two wrongs don’t make a right. But as the situation between him and his teacher escalates and with expulsion looming on the horizon, Jeevan’s struggle to do the right thing becomes compromised when matters get taken out of his hands.

Ultimately, That Asian Kid is about one boy’s struggle against the abuse of power by a figure in authority – hard enough for an adult to deal with, much harder when you’re a kid.

Tags:  Conference  Diversity  Reading  Reading for Pleasure 

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The Inner Child

Posted By Alison D. Brumwell, 27 August 2019
One of the significant takeaways from this year’s SLA/YLG joint weekend course in Birmingham was identified by delegates as increased stock knowledge. Building Identity, Building Readers focused on the theme of children’s mental health and well-being, particularly in terms of identity. The weekend course also coincided with the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; never has it been more important to ensure these are embedded in our daily work as librarians. Small, independent publishers have recently been at the forefront of commissioning innovative illustrated material to support building empathy and developing emotional resilience. Picture books The Suitcase (Chris Naylor Ballesteros, published by Nosy Crow) and Umbrella (Elena Arevalo Melville, published by Scallywag Press) are two examples from 2019 lists. Cicada Books adds to this with a quirky picture book, Melbourne-based artist Henry Blackshaw’s The Inner Child. The importance of making time to play and be joyful is conveyed in this open letter to both children and adults. The value of cherishing our inner child, the lessons learned in childhood and that fact that adults feel fear and anger too is delivered with subtle charm and limited text. There are positive messages about friendship, love and growing old. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes; “Nasty adults…have a nasty child inside.” Blackshaw encourages his readers, regardless of age, to look beneath the surface; his adult characters dance, stride and ride across the pages in vivid colour while their child selves are superimposed in pencil. Perhaps The Inner Child’s key message is about tolerance; preserving the inner child in each of us, and listening to their voices, makes us kinder and more thoughtful adults. The Inner Child, Henry Blackshaw Cicada Books 978-1-908714-68-8 £6.95

Tags:  illustration  Reading for Pleasure  visual literacy 

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Fire Girl Forest Boy- Response

Posted By Tanja M. McGuffin- Jennings, 15 August 2019
Updated: 15 August 2019
What an insightful travel blog from Chloe Daykin. From exciting locations to yummy alfadores. It is terrible the way the environment is being treated by humans. Deforestation is criminal and writing about it promotes awareness. Really look forward to reading this book. It has a gorgeous cover. The sloth reminds me of a video I saw on Twitter of a man picking a sloth up from where it lay in danger in the middle of the road, carrying it across traffic lanes back into the jungle and lifting the animal back up onto a tree. The sloth actually turned away from the tree and waved one paw in thanks. What a lovely competition idea too. Roll on Libraries Week

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People, Place and Peru - How far do you go to taste a guinea pig - by Chloe Daykin

Posted By Jacob Hope, 01 August 2019
Updated: 01 August 2019
We are delighted to welcome author Chloe Daykin who talks here about her new novel, 'Fire Girl Forest Boy' and launches an exciting competition for National Libraries week supported by Faber Children's Books.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a couple of amazing trips for writing research. The first was thanks to the inaugural Julia Darling travel fellowship (after the much loved and missed wonderful person and author/poet/playwright Julia Darling). On that trip I travelled up to the arctic circle and beyond, to the Lofoten Islands on a sleeper train, staying in log cabins, swimming in fjords and eating cinnamon buns and salmon and hot potato cakes and seeing what emerged into my second book The Boy Who Hit Play.

Last year I was lucky enough to be awarded an arts council grant to travel to Peru to research my third, Fire Girl Forest Boy.  I travelled to shiny white volcanic towns, high altitude lakes, canyons, in rickshaws, buses (so many buses), reed canoes, up through the forest mists to Machu Picchu, the water filled streets of Ollaytaytambo stayed in houses with hot water bottles made from old Inca Cola cartons, soaked in hot springs and drank herbal altitude remedies up high, so high your lungs shrink so small you feel like you’re walking on the moon. 

A key thing to me when writing set in different places is people. As much as I like seeing landscapes and places it’s really people for me that matter and it’s them, their food, their culture and honest way of being that I need to soak up. It feels important to be genuine. And personalities for me need to come from a really real place. So, as much I loved it all it was really the people I went for. The people and the food!

I ate rice pudding from carts, hot dripping charcoal roast chicken with sweet purple chicca morada, alpaca, a little bit of guinea pig, alfadores (cookies sandwiched with caramel), passionfruit three milk cake with thick whipped white icing and red tea, and quinoa. Loads of quinoa. My favourite was quinoa porridge from a family up in the mountains. Delicious! 

On coming home and getting on with the writing it’s hard to know what’s going to make it in or out. 
What I hope that’s made it through into the book is the people’s soulfulness. Their honesty. Integrity. Openness and kindness.  I love their belief in magic. And if you belief in something enough you see it around you. I hope I’ve been able to capture some of that.

As a kid I thought the most exciting place to explore was the jungle. Flying over the amazon while eating my inflight dinner is something I’ll never forget.  So I hope that’s in there too.  A love of the jungle, told at a pace that feels like running through it..  A wild environmental journey through the cloud forests, lawless towns, crisp cities and up into the otherworldly Lima Cathedral - with its art of decapitated martyrs, monsters exploding out of bellies and guinea pig last supper! 

Some of the landscapes are remembered. Some imagined. The environmental aspect came later from home based research. I guess if you love a place you want to protect it. So raising awareness of the illegal logging that’s going on (largely un-reported) - that’s effecting Peru so badly right now felt really important. 

Just after finishing the novel I read of a man was burned alive in Iquitos (where a chunk of the book is set) for standing up for indigenous communities, against mining and logging. His braveness and courage is humbling. I hope this books brings awareness of this cause in whatever small way it can. Without people standing up for each other we’re sunk.  And the people of Peru need standing up for and alongside.

I hope you enjoy the book. When I was writing it I was thinking a lot about Journey to The River Sea, Trash, Matilda, Rooftoppers, Keeper and One Hundred Years of Solitude. So perhaps some of that may have seeped in too.  
This week we have the incredibly lovely news that Fire Girl Forest Boy has been long listed for the Guardian’s Not The Booker prize.  And I am very proud and honoured! If you fancy a look at the list - for there are many many wonderful books on it - or a vote the link is here.
Before I was an author I started out as an artists/designer//bookbinder and to celebrate the brilliant National Libraries Week (organised by CILIP, the library and information association), in October we’re running a prize of having a library window painted in a lush tropical jungly style (by me!).  Simply tweet a pic of your library window with the hashtag #firegirlforestboy #librariesweek to be in with a chance to win. I would love to meet you and make your library look even lovelier!  Till then, happy reading and a massive thanks for all the hard and wonderful work you do!!!


Tags:  National Libraries Week  Reading  Reading Development  reading for pleasure  travel 

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The Agony of the Untold Story

Posted By Jacob Hope, 30 July 2019
Updated: 01 August 2019
We are delighted to welcome Tariq Mehmood to guest blog about his latest young adult novel, You're Not Here and to discuss the gaps in the publishing market and how he came to write this.

'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.' Maya Angelou,

When I was in my teens, I was homeless in Bradford and always hungry. In those days the Central Library opened 9am-9pm. It had a cafe where my friends often fed me. I spent all day in the library browsing through all sorts of books. I read John Locke and David Hulme, and many other writers who often I didn't even understand. I usually found comfort in the world of fiction of Tolstoy, Harding and others, but felt something amiss in this. It would take me 30 years to realise what this really was: I was fictionally invisible, as were my stories and those of my friends.

In 1981, along with eleven others, I was imprisoned falsely on charges of terrorism in a case that was known as the Bradford 12. We were all acquitted.

If convicted I was looking at two life sentences, plus 14 years. I desperately wanted to leave a record of my story behind, and  started write my first novel, Hand On The Sun, whilst in prison. I completed it whilst on bail and sent it to Penguin who published it in 1983. At the time of writing the novel, I didn't understand anything about the tools of fiction, such as character, tension or pacing. I didn't even have an 'O' level in English, and besides I am dyslexic.

Three decades later, I'd had children of my own and as they were growing up, I realised that the world of children's literature was all but white . I began to publish some illustrated books for them, which would eventually lead to me publishing my first YA novel You're Not Proper. Most of us writers don't really know what will happen with our novel if ever we actually finish it. I was lucky and entered the manuscript for the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices in Children's Fiction Award, which the novel won in 2013. This is set in a Northern English town seething with Islamophobia, where two young girls struggle to find out who they are. I tried to address issues of love, loss, war, racism, tolerance and Identity all with a generous sprinkling of Northern English humour.

Some time after the publication of You're Not Proper, I met a white woman in Manchester, who was vociferously opposed to the 'War On Terror' and had campaigned against it. She was distraught. Her son had joined the British Army and was due to go to Afghanistan. My next novel, You're Not Here, is a squeal to You're Not Proper. In this novel the characters are older, and looks at how the effect of the never ending war working class communities. In this story, one brother goes missing in action in Afghanistan, whilst the other falls in love with an Afghan girl in England. The story is told through Jake, a white boy, the son of an ex-soldier. Jake's love, Leila comes from the same village in Afghanistan where his brother goes missing. This novel tries to bring the war out there, is connected to the strife back home. I really enjoyed writing this novel, as it allowed me not only to deal with complex issues of the infiltration of the British Army by Far Right groups, but also into new depth of working class humour – something I grew up with, and continues to put a smile on my faces in the dark and dreary times.

Tags:  diversity  Libraries  Reading  reading for pleasure 

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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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