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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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Through the Eyes of Nikesh Shukla

Posted By Jacob Hope, 06 September 2018
Updated: 06 September 2018

We are delighted to welcome Nikesh Shukla editor of The Good Immigrant, author, columnist for The Observer and tireless champion for representation in publishing and books to discuss his journey into Young Adult fiction with the publication of Run, Riot.


Run, Riot is my first book for teenagers and it’s an interesting journey, I think, for why I decided to write for teenagers. One of the more inspiring things about working on The Good Immigrant has been the wealth of teenagers who feel represented by the book and that they are seen, their stories valid. Some have said that it’s the first time they’ve read books featuring about people just like them. Others told me that it was the first book they read that wasn’t for school and now they can’t get enough.


So working on The Good Immigrant has been a real vindication of my desire to find young readers of colour and why it’s so important that they see themselves in books.


But my journey to writing YA starts well before that.


In around 2012, I was invited to do some creative writing workshops at a Young Offender’s Institute, not long after my first novel came out. I hadn’t ever really taught creative writing and I didn’t know how I should be in front of the young people. What did they want to get from me, the session, the day? To cut a long story short, I was terrible. I sucked so badly at teaching creative writing that the guards had to intervene and most the kids back to their cells, because I didn’t know how to be with them. I didn’t know how to inspire them or what I wanted them to do. I think, sadly, I wanted them to think I was cool. And when they asked me questions about how much money I earned as a writer, the facade dropped, for them, and for me, and I realised what an utterly stupid thing to wish. To look cool. How facile of me. The thing that stayed with me was that sense of failure: knowing that I could have made a difference.


I decided that the thing I needed to do was youth work. Be with young people, inspire them, help them find their voice. I remember talking to another workshop leader at the YOI, an ex-gang member who had turned his life around and did motivational talks. He impressed on me the importance of inspiring the next generation. And I believed him.


This is how I found myself, a few years later, working on a youth project called Rife magazine, designed to give young people in Bristol where I live a platform to tell their stories in their own voices and talk about the issues directly affecting them.


One of our first team of journalists was a young Asian filmmaker/poet/stand-up called Adibah. One of her first pieces for Rife was called ‘We Need To Talk About Stokes Croft’ and discussed her experiences of growing up in this ‘cool’ area of Bristol, and how it was now utterly gentrified, to the point where she no longer felt welcome there.


It led me down a rabbit hole of exploration about gentrification: how ultimately most of us are complicit in how it manifests. Live in any city in the UK and you will see property developers buy up properties in low income areas, offer out cheap space to artists, who create a cool vibe, which attracts people, which drives up property prices, which in turn then allows those property developers to flip properties for huge amounts of money. This is a very ‘dummies’ guide to gentrification’ way of looking at things, but talking to the young people I worked with in Bristol, this is how they described what was happening in the city they all grew up in.


And I was complicit. I moved here from London cos it was cheaper to live. I’m part of the problem.


Talking to those young people about the types of book they read, a lot of them said the same thing about YA: they didn’t feel it was for them. One of them even went so far as to say she felt ‘UK YA was written by white women in their late twenties for white women in their late twenties who wanted to read the books they wished they’d had in their teens’. Whether this is an accurate reflection of UK YA or not, it is still a valid perception by a young person outside of the industry. However those of us who are inside the industry see it, we have to listen to the consumers who have no insider knowledge. All this young person was, was someone who wanted to feel seen. She wanted to feel like her story was being told.


So I wrote Run, Riot for Adibah and for all the young people I met along the way at Rife, who felt like their stories weren’t being told, and the issues they felt were important weren’t being seen on our bookshelves. This is a thriller about gentrification and corruption and the things we hold on to in order to maintain our communities. I know that young person I mention feels seen. Because this one is for her.

Tags:  author  diversity  inclusion  representationreading  YA 

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Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s Books and Libraries at The Curve in Slough on Friday June 8, 2018

Posted By Elizabeth F. Beverley, 27 June 2018
Updated: 27 June 2018

Youth Libraries Group South East and South West held a joint training day called Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s Books and Libraries at The Curve in Slough on Friday June 8, 2018

Our objectives for the day were to achieve the following:
• To increase understanding of issues around diversity and inclusion in children’s books, and why they matter
• To consider how we, as library staff, can support and promote diversity and inclusion in children’s books and in our libraries
• To showcase examples of diverse and inclusive children’s books
• To provide opportunities for discussion and sharing good practice

Many thanks to everyone who attended our training day with YLG South West and a special thanks to Slough Libraries The Curve - Slough for hosting & the library tour.

The amazing Tales on Moon Lane for selling a selection of the inclusive and diverse books on the day.

We had fantastic talks provided by:

Alexandra Strick from Inclusive Minds
Storyteller and Author Chitra Soundar
Caroline Scott from Empathy Lab
Anna McQuinn from Alanna Books
Poet and Author A F Harrold

Thanks to Jake Hope, Slough Libraries and West Sussex Libraries for sharing an insight into their diversity and inclusivity work they have been doing.

 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  children's books  diversity  inclusion  training course  youth libraries group south east  youth libraries group south west 

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