I love those Little Rebels

7 Apr

Last year I wrote about the first ever Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for radical children’s fiction. And now it’s back for round two!

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award recognises fiction for ages 0-12 which promotes or celebrates social justice and equality. Right up my street! It is given by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) and is administered by specialist children’s booksellers, and chocolate truffle connoisseurs, Letterbox Library. This is an award that means a lot to me and I am immensely proud to support it.

Last year’s shortlisted books were fantastic, beautiful, inspiring and have become firm favourites here. I am really excited about this year’s award. I know that it will introduce me to books that I will still be reading and sharing and stroking this time next year. This year is also extra special for me because since last year’s award I have started a book group for talented and enthusiastic year 6 kids at my local primary school. Last year I concentrated on the picture books but this year I will have the perfect excuse to devour all the shortlisted books, and have a team of keen 9-11 year olds to share them with. I can’t wait!

Luckily, I don’t have to. The shortlist is out.
The shortlisted titles are:
Moon Bear by Gill Lewis (OUP);
After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross (OUP);
Real Lives: Harriet Tubman by Deborah Chancellor (A&C Black);
Stay Where You Are by John Boyne (Doubleday);
The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean (Usborne);
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams);
The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (Walker).

Out of that cracking list I have (so far) only read The Promise, which is really very special. I have high hopes for the others. Rosie Revere caught my eye straightaway as a book that will flip gender stereotypes and give children something to think about. I have a soft spot for John Boyne’s writing and am already matching books to the kids in my book group. I think we’re going to have a great month of reading and discussing ahead of us.

Kerry Mason, Co-Director of Letterbox Library, said of the shortlist: “We’re delighted with the range of titles on offer this year. From novels to picture books, the shortlist showcases, we believe, the best in bold, provocative and thoughtful children’s fiction of 2013. The shortlist embraces dystopian, historical and contemporary tales and travels across the globe, from South East Asia to the Australian outback. All stir a sense of social justice and all look to a better world, mostly through the actions of children, all little rebels themselves.”

Speaking about the award, Kim Reynolds, Little Rebels judge and author of Radical Children’s Literature (Palgrave MacMillan: 2010) said, “Little Rebels is the most recent manifestation of an honourable but for the most part over-looked tradition in children’s publishing that uses stories to celebrate human rights, equality [and] diversity…Often transforming society requires bold thinking and bold action, and so this prize focuses on books that help readers become the kind of ‘little rebels’ who one day will catalyse social change rather than carrying on in the same old ways regardless of the costs and consequences”.

What a privilege to be able to share these books with the children that Kerry and Kim speak of. What an honour and a responsibility. I hope they all find a book that speaks to them and helps them look towards a better world. Their love for and discussion of Anne Booth’s Girl with a White Dog over the last few weeks has shown me that I already have a group of intelligent, articulate, passionate, empathetic and caring Little Rebels. They have filled me with awe and wonder and hope for the future. Bring on the shortlist!

How Gove stole our books

1 Apr

For the past few months I have been quieter than normal, on the blog and on twitter. I have been fighting hard for education in my own little corner of the world. Now that things have come to a head I feel that it’s the right time to lift my head above the parapet and ask for help. Because I think it’s important to try and make a difference, to do what you can and to do so with honesty and integrity. I am trying to do so, but I need your support. So here it is- Michael Gove has stolen our local primary school’s books. He has essentially taken away our book budget. He is destroying our education system one policy, free school and academy at a time and I need more book donations to stop him from squashing the future of the children at our school.

My daughter’s school has been put into Special Measures and treated appallingly and unfairly by the Local Authority and the Department for Education. Now we are Fighting Back. I want to support the school as best I can and the best way I know is through books. I want to help them get out of Special Measures by supporting their reading improvement, and to instill an ongoing culture of reading. I would love to flood the school with new reading books and books with messages of encouragement for the children. I want to show Gove that he can steal our books but he can’t steal our enthusiasm or our children’s future.

Special Measures was not a surprise to us, we knew that we needed to improve. We were, and still are, improving quickly and effectively despite the relentless changes in education policy making teaching an uphill battle. The current climate is not an easy one to teach in and staff turnover is high. It is impossibly hard to achieve consistently outstanding teaching when the budgets are continuously slashed, the rules keep changing and the teachers are burning out. But here’s the thing… We are so nearly there! Our school has fantastic teachers and support staff that are driven and passionate and capable and caring. They are working so very hard and they are making a huge difference to the lives of the children in the school. They understood and accepted the Special Measures Ofsted outcome, took it on the chin and carried on. Because they are teachers and they care more about the children they teach than labels. But Gove wasn’t finished yet.

At this point the Local Authority usually steps in to support the school’s improvement. They also usually provide the school with a much needed budget to support the improvement plan. In our case they thought the best way to do this would be to get rid of the school governors and to bring in their own team to oversee the school, as well as a team of advisors to help raise standards, rather than giving us the improvement budget we so desperately need. They couldn’t give us any reason for this, other than that it was the decision they had made. The cynical among us may look at the fact that the LA were criticised by Ofsted for not supporting the school enough and think that they are attempting to save face by Doing Something, whether it is the right Something or not. Michael Rosen’s recent revelation that Gove is pushing hard for schools in Special Measures to be turned into academies so that he can sell the land to his rich business friends has also aroused suspicion. Whatever their reasons, the Local Authority didn’t listen to what the school wanted or needed. We have been fighting them for months and now Gove has approved their plans.

So now the Local Authority is financially overseeing the school. But there is no additional budget for improvement because the LA has run out of money. Gove has spent it all. In fact, we have to pay them for the privilege of this unwanted team of advisors and, despite our Special Measures status, they require us to build a new classroom and take an extra reception class in September. We are in Special Measures with more need, more children, and less money. How can that possibly be fair? We are outraged and disappointed and let down by the system. But we are also looking forward. This whole process has galvanised the school and the parents. We are determined to come out of Special Measures quickly, with our heads held high and our children happy and learning.

And this is where you come in. The school staff are working incredibly hard to ensure every child achieves their potential. The parents are supporting them by setting up a parents’ volunteer team to help children across the school with their reading. Reading is the basic tool that everything else follows from. It is The Most Important Thing. We will be the crack team of helpers who go in to read stories to the children and enthuse them with the joy of reading, we will run book groups and support the school library. And we will provide reading support to the kids that need it most. Yes it would be better if we could employ a trained teacher to do this but hey, Gove took all our money and gave it to his mates, so we’ll have to do it ourselves. And we will – for free and with passion and care.

So I am being cheeky and asking for more books. Thanks to Gove, we now don’t have any money for new books, but we desperately need them to support these children. I will be throwing review copies at the school and expanding the Rainbow Library into the new reception classroom to support them, but we need quality reading scheme books, and books and messages to inspire and encourage the children and give the staff a morale boost.

We’ve started replacing all our old Biff and Chip books with quality, diverse and fun reading scheme books, like the Usborne Reading Programme, the Franklin Watts books, the Orchard Colour Crunchies, the Collins Big Cat scheme and the new Oxford Reading Tree books. The children really respond to these books and their reading is already improving. We can see it working but we need more of these books, particularly to support the older children in the school. We have a lot of children from deprived areas and a lot of children who don’t get support with learning from home, for a whole host of reasons. But with the right resources we can catch these kids, inspire them and help them succeed. We will work together to lift the school out of Special Measures- and it will be despite the LA and DfE, not thanks to them.

Michael Gove is a despicable human being. I’m sure most readers of this blog are passionate about the same things as me – the power and importance of books, education and equality. But I get the feeling that Gove doesn’t hold the same opinion. Let’s show him that he can steal the state’s property and money, he can take books and teachers away from children, he can destroy the national curriculum and impose tests on 4 year olds, but he can’t win against integrity and passion and honesty and a group of people who believe in the power of books.

The Easter holidays start tomorrow. I’m going to spend a little less money on chocolate this Easter, and buy the school some books instead. When the school opens again in two weeks, I will be delivering a box of books to the Head of Literacy. I’m hoping that you guys can help me make it a really big box.

If you can help, please give me a shout at Carmen.agate@gmail.com or on twitter @carmenhaselup . Or pop a book in the post to
Carmen Haselup
19 Headland Way
Peacehaven
East Sussex
BN10 8TF

Perhaps you have some reading scheme books at home that your child has outgrown. Or you are an author/illustrator/publisher of reading scheme books and could donate some our way? We particularly need the upper band colours, white and lime (2a/3c texts) -then the easier free readers in level 3. But any band/level would be gratefully received.

A morale boost would be gratefully received too. A book signed by the author/illustrator with a message of support is a hugely powerful thing. Imagine the children’s faces when the HeadTeacher stands in front of them all in assembly and says ‘this author knows who you are and has heard that you are trying really hard. This writer believes in you and your reading skills. This illustrator says Keep up the Good Work. This book is a gift from them to say Keep Going.’ A book for their classroom or library that will remind them that they can do it and that there are people out there who want to support and give rather than squash and steal- what a powerful, encouraging message for a young person.

I know I ask a lot, but I’ll pay you back – by supporting the school in educating a generation of children that will care about books and education and integrity, and who will never make the same mistakes that Gove is forcing upon us. That’s worth giving up an Easter egg for, surely!

Huge thanks to Clara Vulliamy, Caryl Hart and Anne Booth who have already donated their books and time to the school. You are AMAZING!

Zeraffa Giraffa

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In Longleat safari park there is a tall wooden platform where you can stand eye to eye with giraffes and feed them lettuce leaves. It is an experience I will never forget. They are such graceful creatures with wise mournful eyes and incredible eyelashes. They look kind and curious and wise, and are full of character and mischief. When you feed them they twirl their long black tongue around the lettuce leaf and gently pull it from your hands. It is an extraordinary sight. They practically have to do the splits to nibble grass from the ground. I will always remember my daughter asking the keeper how the giraffes go to sleep. (They fold their legs underneath them and bend their neck round to use their own bum as a pillow.)

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The recent controversial killing of Marius the giraffe in Copenhagen zoo reminded me of that incredible morning watching the giraffes at Longleat; of being amazed at their grace and beauty, being at their level and seeing the world as they do – as much of an experience as feeding them! I felt so awed and humbled by the giraffes and was amazed that a zoo felt it had the right to destroy such an incredible creature. These feelings were brought into relief by Zeraffa Giraffa by Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray.

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Imagine seeing a giraffe for the very first time. I wish I could remember that feeling, or could experience it now that I know enough to appreciate it. That is what happened in France in 1827 when a baby giraffe called Zeraffa was sent to Paris as a gift for the King of France. It took two and a half years for her to travel from Egypt to Paris – a 2000 mile trip down the Nile, a three week sail across the sea and a 550 mile walk across France. Zeraffa Giraffa describes her journey and her reception in France and explores her relationship with her keeper, Atir, who was her companion along the journey and throughout her new life in Paris.

Jane Ray’s illustrations are, as always, magical. They beautifully portray the changing landscapes and cultures that Zeraffa and Atir experience along their journey and the developing bond between them. The curves and grace of the paintings; the details, colours and characters in the scenes all build to create a sense of beauty and care and wonder.

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The lush language transports the reader to the banks of the Nile and through the valleys and streets of France. Zeraffa Giraffa is bursting with wonderful descriptions and vocabulary to introduce to children – mistral winds; orchards of almonds and olives; felucca; amulet; elegant sails that see-sawed and pivoted; the place where the sea sipped up the Nile; stars that turned the sky into curdled milk. Beautiful! This is the kind of language that we should be whispering into the ears of our young children and encouraging our older children to form with their own mouths. It is beautiful and evocative and mysterious. It is the kind of language that can take you on an adventure.

I love the way the whole book mirrors the character of Zeraffa – graceful and wise, playful and mischievous, but always with an air of magic and wonder.

Source: kindly sent for review by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Encountering dementia

18 Mar

More and more children are encountering dementia in their families and are learning to adapt their relationships to account for dementia’s effects on their loved ones. Grandma by Jessica Shepherd (Child’s Play) and Really and Truly by Emile Rivard and Anne-Claire Deslisle (Franklin Watts) explore a child’s changing relationship with a grandparent who has developed dementia. Both books would be a sensitive and helpful way of discussing dementia’s effects with children who are experiencing them in their families, but they also work on a wider level- celebrating the bond between grandchild and grandparent and the value and power of play and shared stories.

Grandma is a beautifully sensitive and child-centred look at the changing relationship between Oscar and his Grandma.

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The strength and warmth of their relationship is made obvious from the cover of the book – look at the positioning of them on the page, everything in the picture draws the eye in to them cuddling in the chair. The title is like a banner celebrating Grandma, the word itself embraced by flowers. This illustration cries warmth and love and sets the tone for the whole book.

Told in Oscar’s words, the games they play together and the things they share are lovingly portrayed. When Grandma starts to forget things and needs more care, dad tells Oscar that Grandma needs to move to a special home and Oscar is sad and lonely. When he visits her at the home for the first time he is a bit scared but soon he and Grandma are sharing cupcakes and enjoying their time together. It is not always easy and sometimes Grandma is upset and angry but Oscar still thinks his Grandma is the best in the world.

I love that Grandma doesn’t hide the facts or the emotional responses to Grandma’s dementia. It is dealt with in a very child-friendly way, explaining through Oscar’s eyes and emotions. Jessica Shepherd has captured Oscar’s voice beautifully and included lots of child-observations to really bring the child’s viewpoint to life.

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The map of the home with child’s labelling is a great touch, as are the illustrations of items from a memory box and Grandma’s stories – involving the child reader in the story and inviting them to join in and discuss. Lovely!

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This level of child-friendly interaction continues at the end of the book with a very child-centred fact sheet about dementia and it’s effects on people and their families.

This book radiates love and care, sensitivity and positivity. It is clear that Jessica Shepherd creates from the heart – she is one to watch!

Really Truly takes a more playful approach to the changing relationship between grandchild and grandparent, whilst retaining the emotional sensitivity and child-centred viewpoint.

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Charlie loved his Grandpa’s stories about pirates living in his attic and witches hiding in his shed. But when he got older, his Grandpa stopped telling stories and an awful disease ate up his memories and his smiles. Grandpa’s distance makes Charlie sad and he uses the stories Grandpa told him to catch his attention and reconnect.

The magic in this book comes from the use of storytelling. The relationship between Charlie and his Grandpa is portrayed with such fun and tenderness. Look at how adoringly Charlie is looking up at his Grandpa and how engrossed they both are in their roles.

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The illustrations bring this story to life for the child reader, using black line drawings to highlight the imaginary characters from Grandpa and Charlie’s storytelling and including lots of humorous detail that enhances the portrayal of their relationship. I love the little pirates running off with the biscuits! In Grandpa and Charlie’s world, stories are adventures and are – really and truly – happening all around them.

The role reversal of Charlie becoming the storyteller is a beautifully child-friendly way of describing the changing role of a family member supporting a loved one with dementia. I love Really and Truly‘s positivity and the way it manages to express a child’s fear and sadness and confusion whilst giving the reader coping strategies and the knowledge that they can still have a fun and meaningful relationship with a grandparent.

A beautiful book that celebrates the relationship between Grandparent and Grandchild and the magical power of storytelling.

Source:
Grandma – bought from my lovely local bookshop, Bags of Books.
Really and Truly – kindly sent for review by Franklin Watts, now heading to the Rainbow Library to support the children who need it.

Usborne Reading Programme

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Mollie can read! She can select a book and read words by sight, mostly fluently. When she gets stuck she has the strategies to break words up, sound them out, read ahead and use the pictures as clues. Last week she fell asleep with a book that she had been reading to herself! (So proud!)

Mollie was 4 in July and started school in September. She already knew a lot of her sounds when she started school, and could blend them together to read simple CVC words like ‘mum’ and ‘cat’. But she was stuck there. In her first couple of months at school she brought home reading scheme books and point blank refused to read them, or she read them with such disinterest and lack of engagement that the whole process was completely worthless. She is so used to books with rich language, entertaining and thoughtful stories and high quality illustration. The reading scheme books just didn’t cut it. They bored her and felt like work rather than fun. Until she found Pirate Pat, the first book in the Usborne Very First Reading series, which is the stepping stone towards the full Usborne Reading Programme.
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It was the format that first caught her attention – a small hardback with a ribbon bookmark and full colour quality illustrations. This was the book that changed everything. It had a proper story! Split into sections, the adult and child share the reading – the adult reads the story and the child reads simple words that add to it, using just the initial sounds they have learnt. Genius! Mollie was hooked! Finally a reading scheme book that didn’t try to stretch a story out of the seven words children can read at this stage.
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I can’t tell you what a difference this made to Mollie’s learning. She flew! She inhaled these books, loving the interaction and the shared reading process. The early books have puzzles at the end to reward the reading and support comprehension – a great touch. As the series progresses the children are gently introduced to more sounds. The adult part reduces and the child’s increases until the children are reading by themselves. It’s a subtle process and one that works wonders.

Since October Mollie has worked her way through the Very First Reading books and well in to the full Usborne Reading Programme. She also dips in to the Collins Big Cat books which are often written and illustrated by authors and illustrators she knows from her picture books- she particularly loves their non-fiction titles. Gone are the days of bribing her to do her school reading. Now she is reading way above the expected level for her age and she chooses these books at the local library – they are fun and engaging with great stories- not a chore!

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Luckily for us, the Usborne Reading Programme has seven levels (eight including the Very First Reading books that come before it) so it will take Mollie right through to chapter books that she can read independently. There’s a lovely mix of fiction, non fiction and retold classics in the series, and a wealth of resources online to back the programme up. You can even download a chart to compare the Usborne books with the book banding and National Curriculum levels that are used in schools. A good selection of titles are available as e-books too, so Mollie has been able to easily catch up on some of the books that we haven’t been able to find at school or the local library.

Thank you, Usborne, for producing a series of books that really work, that see story and content as important as skill level, and are genuinely engaging for children (and adults- I’m having a great time too!)
Thank you for teaching my daughter to read.

Source – Pirate Pat from school library. I bought a boxed set of 50 books across the reading programme from The Bookpeople. The rest have been borrowed from the school library and our local library.

Lift the Flap books with a difference

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I love quirky lift the flap books. I love it when they are smart and innovative and have beautiful design. When the flaps are really incorporated into the concept of the book and stretch the minds of the readers.

Three of my recent favourites are Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? by Craig Shuttlewood (Templar), Little Tree by Jenny Bowers (Big Picture Press) and Peep Inside the Zoo from Usborne. They are very different books but all deliver wonderful design and use the flaps to create something unique and delicious.

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Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? initially appears to be a book where children lift a flap to discover the hidden character on each spread. Young children love this concept and it offers a brilliantly interactive reading experience for little ones. But this book doesn’t stop there, it gives oh so much more. Each beautifully designed double spread shows a different habitat – a tree, the desert, underwater, even deep space- and children are asked to find the animal that shouldn’t be there. Under the flap on each spread is an out-of-place creature looking suitably bewildered. One of the things I love about this book is the characterisation of these creatures, beautifully done just through their wide eyes. Just look at this bewildered octopus!

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Children can hunt through the book matching the creatures to the correct habitats and giggling over the lost-looking ones in the wrong places. As they are spotted, the creatures congregate in the bottom right corner of the book as visual clues to help children match them to their real habitats. The text is rhyming and each creature on the spread adds a rhyming snippet of their own, a lovely touch which really adds to the humour of this book and ups the appeal for older children.

A perfect spring board for discussion about habitats, animal names, animal groups, or for rhyming games, this has a lot to offer and will appeal to a wider age range than basic lift-and-find books. Full of fun with gorgeous design and detail, Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? will keep adults smiling as well as the children they are sharing it with. Spot on!

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Little Tree is stunning!

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Beautifully illustrated and designed, this is a stroke-worthy book. Following a little tree and it’s surroundings through a year, Little Tree shows children the beauty and wonder of the seasons whilst teaching about life cycles and nature.

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The flaps are used in the way that non-fiction books traditionally use labels – they highlight, reveal and name parts of the illustrations. But Little Tree takes it a step further. Although each double spread looks completely different, each shows the same area in the wood – the growing little tree on the right and a mature tree on the left. Every page turn shows how nature has developed through the seasons. By placing a flap over the same place on each spread, Jenny Bowers has used the revelatory nature of flaps to show children how a tree changes over a year. The flap covering a hole in the mature tree trunk shows an insect in winter, a nest with eggs and then chicks in spring, birds in flight in summer, and then a squirrel and a mouse using the empty nest. This really gives the book a sense of progression and development and opens up a world of discussion points.

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There is so much to look at and talk about in this book. The gentle rhyming text, the creatures that appear across the pages and under the flaps, the developing little tree and the changing seasons, the colours that are used to such wonderful effect. This really is a joy to share and explore. It would be perfect to share with a class of children for a topic on seasons, life cycles, or colours. Imagine the art work or poetry this could inspire. Imagine, imagine, imagine.

Peep Inside the Zoo is a finding out book with a difference.

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Like Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be?, Peep Inside the Zoo speaks directly to the reader, asking them to explore the zoo. Each spread focuses on a different species at the zoo and uses the flaps to give children fun facts and additional information.

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Little peep holes add interest and give you a sneak peek at what’s to come on the next page. With so much to look at and learn about on each page, this will appeal to a wide age range and grow with children as they access the book in new ways.

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Also perfect for that tricky stage where children are just learning to read independently and want small chunks of text that doesn’t talk down to them. Bravo!

You know what else is great about all three of these books? They are not gendered! They are beautiful, innovative, fun and for all children. Hurrah for that!

Source:
Who is in the Tree that Shouldn’t be? kindly sent for review by Templar Publishing, now heading to The Rainbow Library.
Little Tree – kindly sent for review by Big Picture Press, now heading to The Rainbow Library.
Peep Inside the Zoo – purchased for Rhino Reads shelves.

The Yes

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I love it when a picture book catches me out. When it taps me on the shoulder and stares me straight in the eye. The Yes by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura did just that, with a raised eyebrow, saying “you think you know picture books? Do ya? Do ya? You don’t know nothin’!” And it appears I don’t. Because this book caught me out from the moment I looked at the cover.

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This is not a book that gently holds your hand and leads you through a lulling story towards a cosy feeling. This book holds you square and shouts “PAY ATTENTION!” It is almost Brechtian in its attempts to make you stop and question.

It begins with ‘a soft comfy nest in a safe warm place’ but do not be taken in by the reassuring familiarity of that sentence. For next we are introduced to the ‘great big orange thing called the Yes’. This is where the questions begin and familiar comfort zones vanish. What is this big orange thing? What is it representing? The questions keep coming.

The Yes travels through the Where and is constantly surrounded by Nos that try to stop him at every step. He reaches a tree and wants to pick the fruit, the Nos say no. He reaches a bridge and wants to cross. The Nos say no. The Yes continues to ignore the Nos no matter how loudly they shout or how tightly they surround him. In the end he climbs to the top of a hill, looking out across the land and leaving all the Nos behind him. A story about listening to yourself and following your dreams, about not letting anything get in your way. But a story created in such a unique way that you will feel like you have never come across that message before.

The text is wonderful. Every word is precise and perfect. It is so tightly and uniquely formed that it forces you to stop and slow down, to look at each word carefully and listen to the rhythm of the sentences. Try it:

‘They were so many and so very that you could see nothing but Nos. They made all the Here and all the Else a no-ness and a notness.’

It makes the adult reader a child again as we try to stop our assumptions and stumble over the words. To read this book you have to throw away all prior knowledge and take it word by word. What a leveller. What a wonderful experience. As an adult reader, this book feels enlightening. It has opened my eyes further to the possibilities of what can be achieved through a picture book. But what do children make of it? Does it appeal to them? Is there enough of a character and storyline for them to relate to?

Initially I wasn’t convinced. But yet again The Yes raises many questions. Are all picture books only meant for young children? Can older children learn about their place in the world through picture books? Do young children benefit from being exposed to art and literature that makes them think and question their world? Like Shaun Tan’s work, this book has a much wider audience and will resonate with different age groups in different ways, making it the perfect book for a school library or classroom. The language becomes playful and lends itself to voices and expression:

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Great for reading aloud to children. The concept and the characterization of yes and no are perfect for discussion. Think of all the areas that could be covered. What would a four year old see? What would a seven year old ask? What would a ten year old wonder? This book gives children so much to question and I’m excited about hearing their answers. Watch this space- I’m taking The Yes into a primary school library next week to find out.

Source: kindly sent for review by Anderson Press.

This book is crying out for analysis of form. It is so genuinely clever. Have a look at @chaletgirl’s analysis here. She’s done it beautifully. Go, read it!

Mum’s the Word

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Mothers’ day is doubly special in this house because, well, there are two of us! So when these books popped through the letterbox I was very smiley indeed!

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Mum’s the Word by Timothy Knapman and Jamie Littler is delicious! It celebrates the relationship between mother and child through the play of a puppy trying to remember the word ‘mum’. Told from the puppy’s point of view in lively rhyme, the book explores how a mum makes a child feel and the special things they share together.

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The illustrations are gorgeous and full of energy and movement. I love that this book hasn’t gone down the soppy hugs route for Mothers’ day but instead really reflects a child’s joy. Everything comes together – the pace of the text, the spot-on vocabulary choice, the design, the use of medium and the expression in the illustrations all work to create a real sense of the child. The first person narrative and the fact that the puppy isn’t given a gender throughout the book* allows children to read themselves in to the story. In fact, this book is crying out to be read out loud by a child – imagine what that would be like as a mothers’ day present!

A beautiful book that will appeal to a wide range of ages. Younger children will enjoy the pace and rhyme as well as the very accessible illustrations; older children will appreciate and relate to the concept; and adults will be reminded of their own little ones and their boundless energy and enthusiasm. Just gorgeous!

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Little Mouse by Alison Murray is another celebration of the mother and child relationship, told from the point of view of a little girl who is sometimes called Mummy’s little mouse. But this little girl doesn’t think she really is like a mouse.

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I love Alison Murray’s illustrations and in this book she uses them beautifully to reflect a child’s imagination and emotion.

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A gorgeous book to celebrate mums, it is worth buying this book for this spread alone.

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Anyone who has ever had a cuddle like that will go a little bit melty at seeing that picture. Delicious!

Source: Mum’s the Word kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s books.
Little Mouse kindly donated to The Rainbow Library for International Book Giving Day by Hachette Children’s books.

* Such a shame that the back cover adds a ‘he’ in, potentially cutting out half of its child readers. Luckily the back cover blurb tends to be more for the adult purchasing the book rather than the child.

Inclusion in How to Catch a Dragon

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Following on from my Inclusive Minds call to action, I want to share something with you all. I want to tell you that I love the Albie books by Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves! In fact my whole family loves the series – for differing reasons. My daughter, Mollie, loves the concept, the adventure, the pace and the fun. My wife, Kerry, loves the story lines and text that give her so much to work with when reading aloud to Mollie. (Kerry is very good at voices!) I love them because they are hugely popular award winning books that appeal to children – not ‘just boys’ or ‘just girls’ but children- and because they are gently infiltrating mass market publishing with inclusion. It’s a tough thing to do, but Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves have worked their magic and thought about inclusion when creating these books. That is huge! Being aware of the importance of including diverse characters that reflect society is further than many authors and illustrators ever go. The fact that they have thought about it, discussed and planned and worked with their publishers and achieved some diversity of character, is much to be proud of.

Take a look:

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A female pirate and range of skin colours in Plunge into the Pirate Pool.

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How to Catch a Dragon, my favourite book from the series (so far!) A female troll – much rarer than you’d think – a lovely range of race and a celebration of libraries! “Nobody could EVER be bored in a library”. Brilliant!

Books are so important in helping children to understand the world they live in. In order to do that, books need to be truly representative of our diverse society. Every child should be able to see themselves in their books, whatever their gender, heritage and race, culture, disability, or sexual orientation. For that to happen mainstream books need to represent every child.

The result of a truly inclusive society is that you don’t notice differences. Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves have achieved this in these books. These are not ‘token diversity characters’. Share these books with a classroom of children and they won’t notice that there’s a female pirate or that there are different skin colours on show. They will be too involved in the story and the excitement of the illustrations. But those characters are there and they will be seen without being noticed. And that is a wonderful thing. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me. Because true inclusion should go unnoticed. Radical books are important in paving the way and leading by example. Then inclusive publishers take the lead and publish books that portray a truly diverse society. But when mainstream publishing houses start to follow that lead and inclusion becomes everyday and unnoticed, that is when we know we are getting somewhere. Yes these are baby steps but these baby steps are leading us firmly in the right direction.

Keep going, Caryl and Ed! Keep pushing for what you believe in and know that you are making a difference and helping to change the face of children’s publishing. And thank you to Simon and Schuster for taking steps in the right direction. Keep treading that path!

Source: Bought from our lovely local bookshop, Bags of Books.

My Inclusive Minds call to action

25 Feb

You know when you meet up with a group of like minded people and you instantly feel at home, at ease? Well on Friday I took my family to the Inclusive Minds ‘What About Me?’ event at the Imagine Festival. The whole day had that warm and special feel to it. The day was devoted to inclusion in children’s books and, although we walked in to a room of mostly strangers, before very long we felt like we belonged. We felt like that because it was entirely inclusive. Everything about the event was set up to include everyone and make everyone feel equal. And it worked beautifully.

When we arrived Ben Hawkes was working magic with a large group of children. Sprawled across the floor with felt pens and sheets of paper, Ben and The Curved House Kids team had children of all ages and abilities happily imagining and creating their own stories. Ben is a natural with kids and had them all so engaged. They were all clamouring to show him their work and chatting excitedly about what they were doing, and sharing felt pens with each other. It was a lovely welcoming atmosphere to walk in to. And it stayed that way all day.

Throughout the day there were workshop style events where children could reimagine a story and put themselves in a book. They could include themselves in popular stories like Handa’s Surprise, join in with sensory storytelling, alter character illustrations to reflect themselves, create their own comic strip with their own characters taking centre, or draw themselves and their families on a giant canvas covering the whole wall – all with the help of a team of enthusiastic and approachable illustrators. Rebecca Elliott, Jo Empson, Claudia Boldt, Trudi Esberger, Gem Ahmet, Louie Stowell, Pippa Goodhart, Eileen Browne, Jane Ray, Carol Thompson and more were all at hand to help the children to create, to see themselves in books, and to play. Because that was what it was all about. To allow children to have fun creating their own stories and putting themselves in the picture. Everyone joined in. Everyone was involved and smiling and chatting and drawing and creating. Nobody was left out of the story.

Beth Cox and Alex Strick from Inclusive Minds and all the illustrators and authors that were there to support them did an amazing job of showing the importance of inclusion through showing inclusion in practice. And it worked! During the day we met with Caryl Hart and brought her up to the event. We chatted about The Rainbow Library and the Patron of Reading scheme and the importance of books and the power of seeing yourself and the world around you in them. It was eye opening for both of us. I told her about struggling to find books with same sex parents or books that reflect the beautifully diverse classroom of children that our daughter is a part of. She told me about her efforts to get diverse characters ‘signed off’ by some publishing houses. To stand in the centre of an entirely inclusive event talking about the importance of inclusion was a very powerful thing. We could see it working around us. The proof that it is the right thing to do was everywhere.

We were all there because we care about children and how they see themselves and find themselves in their books. We were all there with the same hopes and passions. We were all included and equal. And that’s how it should be for every child. But it isn’t… yet. Children learn about the world around them by seeing it and reading about it in their books. Their acceptance of all the wonderful differences in life are developed and supported through the literature they are exposed to. But my daughter’s picture books do not reflect the world she lives in. No matter how hard I try to provide her with books that truly reflect society, the majority of books that are published have predominantly white male middle class children (or animal) characters. And then she goes to school or out into her world and sees a very different reality.

So how do we achieve inclusion in children’s books? How do we take the energy and hope and warmth from that room and put it into every child’s book? How do we convince the resistant publishing houses that it is a viable way forward? By buying smart, raising awareness in our reviews and by talking openly. By gently nudging the right people in the right direction.

As the people that buy the books (and I know you guys… you buy books!) we have the power to influence change. We should be supporting the people that are helping us find inclusive books, we should be buying these books, borrowing them from our libraries and supporting the authors, illustrators and publishers that are brave enough to create them. Go to Letterbox Library. Buy from ChildsPlay, Alanna Books, Tara Books, Frances Lincoln and Barefoot Books.

Reviewers can do a lot to raise awareness of the books that are inclusive, that do have female characters, that do show somebody other than a middle class white male.
But we should also be talking about this and raising awareness. We can help by seeing it in action, watching children’s faces as they spot a picture of a child just like them, or a family just like theirs, in a book. By realising the power and positivity that it gives them. By remembering that every child has the right to see themselves in their books, and to be seen and understood by their peers. By knowing this and talking about it with others we can remind authors and illustrators that the world around them is beautifully diverse and that perhaps they could (should?) include that in their work. Perhaps they shouldn’t be writing from an adult’s memory but instead, be writing for a child’s potential. They in turn can gently nudge their publishing houses. Because a lot of small nudges can move mountains.

It really was a wonderful day and a very important and inspiring event. I left it with a renewed sense of possibility and purpose. And I certainly wasn’t the only one!

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