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Gender play is Child’s Play

9 Mar

Child’s Play produce beautiful and inclusive books that celebrate diversity and tolerance. It’s their thing and they excel at it. Here are three brilliant examples that I want to share.

Mayday Mouse by Seb Braun

‘When Captain Mouse sets sail on a bright, sunny day with a birthday present for her brother, little does she know the sea-going perils she will have to face! Her cheerful, optimistic nature refuses to be downcast by storms, caves, rocks and shipwrecks. Resourceful and inventive, she’s able to save the day – with just a little help from her friends!’

Yes, you read that correctly… ‘she’! Captain Mouse is a girl. Hurrah! I’m making a big deal out of it, but Seb Braun and Child’s Play don’t at all. Their casual inclusion is their super strength. Because of course a captain can be a girl, and children growing up listening to and reading this story shouldn’t be surprised by that. They haven’t (yet) been trained to see the world through gender stereotyped eyes and, as long as there are books like this around, they will be able to envision an equal future. But for me, this is glorious and I salute it.

A heartwarming story that celebrates optimism, determination, and the power of friendship,  Mayday Mouse is a beautiful read.

You can get your copy here.

My Tail’s Not Tired! by Jana Novotny Hunter and Paula Bowles

‘How can any little monster possibly go to bed when their tail isn’t even tired? And when their knees still have plenty of bounce in them? And when their arms still want to fly like a jet plane? Bedtime is surely a long way off! Luckily, Big Monster has a strategy to outwit Little Monster, with the inevitable result!’

I love the gender-neutrality of this book. Big Monster and Little Monster could represent any big person/small person relationship and therefore opens up the book to be entirely relevant to every child. They can be Little Monster and Big Monster could be whoever is reading the book to them.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Look at the use of the page layout to make Big Monster always slightly outside of the picture, slightly too large to fit on the page. And Little Monster’s wigglyness is just adorable – and certainly reminiscent of a few energetic toddlers I know!

A delightful celebration of carer/child relationships, My Tail’s Not Tired is the perfect book to act out together.

You can get your copy here.

Henry and Boo! by Megan Brewis

‘Henry isn’t happy when an uninvited guest suddenly interrupts his tea break. And he is less than thrilled when the little creature decides to stay – along with its annoying habit. With the unwelcome visitor getting under his feet all day, it’s easy for Henry to miss the signs that a dangerous and hungry bear has been seen in the area. How can he avoid being the next victim?’

With its catchy refrains and speech bubbles, Henry and Boo! is wonderful to read aloud and act out together. And again, Boo is gender-neutral, allowing any child to become Boo – with all the shouting and jumping that entails. It’s also nice to see a male character in a domestic setting.

Its gentle message of tolerance, and humorous illustrations make Henry and Boo! a winner.

You can get your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by Child’s Play.

I want to see myself in my books – eczema/allergies/skin conditions

19 Sep

A dear friend asked me if I knew of any books that would help her 2 year old son understand his eczema and allergies, something to show him that he is not alone or ‘different’. He has severe allergies and as a family they are still learning what his triggers are and how best to deal with it all. It would really help him and his siblings if they could see him represented in books and understand that other children have the same problems.

So with a little help from my friends I pulled together this collection of beauties:

Hop a Little, Jump a Little by Child’s Play Books, illustrated by Annie Kubler.



I love this for its casual inclusion. It isn’t ‘about’ allergies or eczema, or children that are ‘different’. It is about very young children being children. But the pictures have such diversity and allow children to see themselves in their books. Children with allergies/skin conditions/birthmarks will recognise themselves in the picture above. The illustration shows bandages peeping out beneath clothing and red patches on skin, but it’s subtle. It allows children to recognise themselves in the illustration but it’s not what that child *is*. Brilliant!

Recycling! by Child’s Play, illustrated by Jess Stockham is part of the Helping Hands series.

A brilliant series of inclusive books that blur the line between fiction and non fiction, the Helping Hands books use conversational text to explore tasks that children can help adults with as a natural extension of pretend play. They work beautifully as jumping boards for discussion and play and are perfectly pitched for inquisitive young children.

Recycling! shows twins helping with lots of different recycling tasks. The illustrations of the children are wonderfully gender neutral, allowing children to place themselves in the story. For my friend’s son there is an illustration of a child with eczema or a birthmark.


Doctor is another Child’s Play book illustrated by Jess Stockham. This one is from the First Time series of books which, like the Helping Hands series, uses conversational text to explore experiences children will come across for the first time. In Doctor there is a double page spread showing a child with eczema.


Casual inclusion is so important for children – that moment of recognition when they see themselves in their book and feel that sense of inclusion and of being valued. But books that are more overt and ‘about’ an issue can be helpful too, and are often sought after by adults trying to help a child’s understanding of an issue they are dealing with.

Emmy’s Eczema by Jack Hughes (Hachette) aims to fill this gap.


Emmy has eczema, which makes her skin really itchy. She knows she shouldn’t scratch, but sometimes she just can’t help it. One day, she scratches so much she makes her skin really sore. Can her friends help her?

I think this book will help my friend’s son feel less alone and will also help his older sister. The dinosaurs have to work together to support Emmy and remind her not to scratch. They journey together to help her find the flowers to make a cream that relieves the itching. The sense of teamwork and support in this story is one that I’m sure will resonate with my friend and her family. I can imagine them all cuddling up to read it together and discussing how it relates to their own lives.


For older children, The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster and Maryann Cocca-Leffler is a fantastic book that celebrates difference and shows children adapting their daily routines to support a new classmate with a peanut allergy.


Simon loves peanut butter. But Grant, the new kid at school, is allergic to it – he can’t even sit near anyone eating it. Grant sits all by himself at lunchtime until Simon comes up with a great idea: turn part of the cafeteria into “The Peanut-Free Cafe” and make it a fun place! Soon the other kids are leaving their peanut-butter sandwiches at home so they can eat in the cafe with Grant. But it’s not so easy for Simon. Can he give up his very favourite food?

Telling this story from the point of view of a classmate makes it a book that encourages awareness and support for children with peanut (and all) allergies. It also shows Simon – a very fussy eater – being brave and trying new foods so he can join the Peanut-Free Cafe and support his new friend. A great book for friends and families of children with allergies, this is a book that will work equally well in the classroom.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins) is another picture book that celebrates difference.

Marshall Armstrong is new to the school. He looks different, he acts differently and he eats different food. But it doesn’t take long for Marshall to prove that you don’t have to follow the crowd to be the most popular kid in the playground. When he invites the children from his class to his house for a party, they learn that Marshall Armstrong is fun and friendly and they have a great time trying new things.

A quirky and humorous book that celebrates the differences that make us unique, Marshall Armstrong will bring a smile to anyone who feels a bit different.

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions and pointed me in the right direction. If anyone has any more recommendations, please do add them in the comments below – we’d love to hear your ideas!

It’s working!!!!!


Source – all copies bought from these lovely people:
Child’s Play
Letterbox Library
Hive stores

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.

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.


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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Win There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly with Child’sPlay books

2 Oct

October sees the 40 year anniversary of Child’sPlay’s much-loved The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. To celebrate the anniversary of this classic book, the lovely folk at Child’sPlay would like to share the love and give you a chance to win your own Old Lady. We have 5 prizes of the brand new 40th anniversary edition book to give away. Look at it, isn’t it beautiful?


But that’s not all…! Because of my love of all things library based, you can also win a copy for your nominated school or nursery library! So that’s TEN sparkling new copies up for grabs. 5 winners will each receive a book for themselves and one for their chosen school library or classroom. Just add a comment below to win.

This is a book that means a lot to me. I have fond memories of my dad reading this story to me in a sing song voice, getting faster and faster through the repeated sections and then becoming slow and mournful at the end of the verse. I can clearly remember the excitement and the joy, nodding my head along and trying to join in and catch up with him as he sped through all the animals. I remember the anticipation of the end, trying to hold in the squeal of glee. Most importantly, I remember it as being fun! Fun that we shared together, our secret way of singing the story that always ended in fits of giggles and choruses of ‘again, again’.

The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly is a well-loved classic and this new anniversary edition is destined to become a must have for a whole new generation of children.
For your chance to win, write a quick comment below. It could just say ‘Hello, me please!’ or you could share your memory of The Old Lady, or the name of your favourite Child’sPlay book.
5 winners will be randomly selected using the traditional ‘names pulled out of a hat’ method. Entry is open to all UK residents. Open until midnight Sunday 6th October. Winners will be announced here and on Twitter on Monday 7th.
Good luck!

Double your chances to win! Head over to ReaditDaddy’s for another chance to win.

Huge thanks to the gorgeous folk at Child’sPlay for giving me the chance to help celebrate The Old Lady’s 40th.

Woooo hoooo! I can happily reveal the winners of the comp.

Congratulations to:
Helen Dineen
Helen Moulder
Rebecca Martland

Please get in touch with me by email or twitter @carmenhaselup and we’ll talk prizes!

Commiserations to those who didn’t get pulled from the hat (technically a biscuit barrel) but thanks for taking the time to enter.

Gender non-specific characters

13 Sep

During discussions about the lack of female characters in children’s picture books, I’ve noticed a few people saying that they swap the genders of characters as they read books to their children. It’s easy enough to say ‘she’ rather than ‘he’ as you read along, and it can do wonders to balance out the genders. No, we shouldn’t have to do it, but when faced with a whole book of male characters a little creativity with the pronouns can make a big difference.

Think about Dear Zoo. A book that is a staple of every library, nursery and reception class. A seemingly gentle and innocent lift the flap classic. But… ‘I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet.’ And they sent me eight animals. Every single one male. Why? And when you really think about it and look at the way the animals are described you see that the words used are describing stereotypically male behaviours. ‘He was too naughty’, ‘He was too fierce’, ‘He was too jumpy’. The book changes completely when you change some of those he’s to she’s.

Dear Zoo was first published in 1982 and things are certainly changing now. I love uncovering great books with inspiring female characters and books that flip the gender stereotypes. Another way that gender views are being challenged is through gender non-specific books. I’ve been interested to see quite a few of these crop up lately. It takes what parents and teachers are already doing to the next level – you don’t have to swap the gender of the character anymore, you can create it yourself. Quite empowering for a little one I think!

In my post about the lack of female animal characters in picture books I wrote about the way we use language in relation to animals and how we have been essentially programmed by society to gender animals. Farm visits and bug hunts become unconsciously gendered affairs. I wanted to know how children would react to books with gender non-specific characters. Would they assume that they were all male? That they were the same gender as them? Would the gender be related to the animal type? In my very small, very unscientific experiment, it turned out to be a mix of those things-and more. I used three gender non-specific books; Momo and Snap are Not Friends, It’s not Yours, It’s Mine, and Pip, Pip, Hooray!. All have gender non-specific characters, all of which are animals.


Pip, Pip, Hooray! is a lift the flap book with a black cat named Pip. Pip is a character that pops up in treat bags alongside Hello Kitty and in a range of activity books published by Hodder Children’s Books. I love the Pip brand for being a bit different. The idea is that Pip is a black cat, only identified from all the other black cats in the book by a name badge. This creates a whole host of spotting opportunities and gender and role play discussions. It’s like Hello Kitty meets Where’s Wally.

The brilliance is that Pip isn’t a girl or a boy, just ‘Pip’ so the children can decide for themselves and use Pip to explore gender concepts. On one page Pip is dressed as an ice cream seller in full pink frilliness. On the next page Pip is wearing a hard hat and controlling a construction vehicle. What madness is this? Is Pip a boy or a girl? The joy is, I really don’t know. The book is very careful not to specify gender with the language it uses and Pip is shown in a variety of costumes so it truly is non-specific. The children didn’t seem fazed by it at all and relished the spotting fun and the counting activities hidden under the flaps. Most of the children assumed Pip was the same gender as them, some asking for clarification when they got to the ice cream cart page- costume seems to be their first stop for gender assigning.

What a brilliant book to use in a role play area and to show children that gender roles are an irrelevant social construct. They can be a fairy or a pirate or a ballet dancer or a construction worker. The sticker books seem to support this idea even more with the tag line ‘who will Pip be today’ alongside pictures of fairies, farmers, astronauts, ballet dancers, racing drivers and pirates. I am a Pip convert.


It’s not Yours, It’s Mine by Susanna Moores is a gorgeous book about a rabbit called Blieka who has a beautiful red shiny ball. Blieka is worried about sharing the ball and keeps it close at all times. Yellows, reds, oranges and pinks wash across the page as we see Blieka’s love for the ball. It really does go everywhere, until it becomes a little flat and Blieka needs to call in some friends to help restore the beloved ball to its former glory. Blieka slowly begins to share the ball and the story ends with all the friends happily playing and sharing their toys together. There’s just the right amount of gentle humour to keep an adult reader interested and the book perfectly portrays the early struggles of sharing something really precious.

Blieka can be a girl or a boy, there are no clothing clues, no ‘she said’ or ‘he said’s to help. The readers (or listeners) are left to decide for themselves. Interestingly, I read this to a small group of girls who all asked if Blieka was a girl or a boy- it seemed important for them to know what gender they were dealing with. I told them I didn’t know and asked them what they thought and they all decided Blieka was a girl. I wonder what a group of boys would say? Next week I will try to find out.


Momo and Snap are Not Friends by Airlie Anderson is delicious! It makes me smile for so many reasons. It tells the story of Momo the monkey and Snap the crocodile who bump into each other and instantly begin competing. They try to scare each other away, then attempt to prove their superior strength and skills until potential predators arrive and Snap snaps into action to rescue Momo. It tells this story beautifully, with only the pictures and the animals’ sounds, making the book a riot to read aloud and a wonderful chance for children to act out and explore story lines.

They can talk about what is happening in the pictures, make the noises, understand and ‘read’ or perform the book themselves without the need for an adult. Momo and Snap are Not Friends is a book that works across ages as younger children explore the animals’ expressions in the pictures and the adventure of the story, while the older children pick up more information from the pictures and are able to read some of the text themselves. I love the bright pictures, and I adore the purple outline around Snap. This book is so much fun for children that the ones I read it with didn’t stop to ask about the gender of the animals, they were far too busy chatting about what was going on in the pictures. But here’s the thing- they did slip into using ‘he’ for both characters, even though I was reading the book with an all-girl group. Hmmm!

There are a lot of books around that use gender non-specific characters, and often these characters are assumed to be male. Think about The Gruffalo. Before The Gruffalo’s Child and James Corden’s voice in the film version, the mouse wasn’t gendered. If you take The Gruffalo book as a standalone, the mouse is consistently referred to as ‘the mouse’. No gender was given until The Gruffalo’s Child. Yet how many people assumed it was a male mouse? I think I probably did. I have found it really interesting to see how many times a gender non-specific character pops up- and if I’m really honest, how many times I have had to stop myself from referring to it as male! My latest one was the dragon in The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie. Such a brilliant affirming book and I go and trash it by slipping in a ‘he’! I’ve been brainwashed! But I’m really trying to reprogram. So hurrah for books that allow us to think about and explore gender roles and how we respond to gender non-specific characters. Hurrah for Pip, Momo, Snap, Blieka and Dragon, and all who created them and brought them to our shelves. Because we have had a lot of years of mainly male characters and we have some serious re-learning to do. These books are the ones that will help our children grow up with a more evenly balanced view. Hurrah to that!

Source: Momo and Snap are Not Friends, It’s not Yours, It’s Mine kindly sent for review by ChildsPlay
Pip, Pip, Hooray!</em kindly sent for review by Hodder Children's.

The Rainbow Library – looking ahead to the next 6 months

26 Jul

The Rainbow Library has come back to the Rhino Reading Room for a well deserved rest and repair during the summer holidays. By the time it goes back to the nursery in September it will have been running for six months. In that time I have seen such generosity and support. People have sent me loads of brilliant books for the library, and I have had wonderful advice, support and encouragement along the way. Thank you to everyone who has helped in these important first six months. It has made a real difference to the children. Special thanks to Kerry Haselup, Clara Vulliamy, Letterbox Library and ChildsPlay.

A big thanks to the nursery staff too, who have worked tirelessly for the children and never once moaned about lugging a heavy box of books out of the cupboard everyday. I’ve had the opportunity to watch them in action over the last six months and they really are a dream team. They know and understand every child and are there for every child, no matter what home life they come from or what extra support they may need. No child is turned away and every single one leaves as a happier, healthier and more confident individual. They truly inspire me when it all feels a bit pointless and making a difference seems unachievable.

Caitlin Moran wrote an awesome letter to her 13 year old daughter in the Times a couple of weeks ago. In it she said ‘always believe you can change the world-even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there.’ I love that! So I’m using the summer holidays to take stock, say thank you to all the wonderful people who have helped in the first six months and to plan how to change the world in the next six.

I spent some time last week sorting through the books that were in the library box, with my sticky labels and book bandages at the ready. When I set up the library I made a point of explaining to all the grown ups that I didn’t want them to be precious about the books, that I wanted the children to enjoy them and use them, and if that meant that a few books got sucked and ripped and eaten by the dog, then so be it. Some of the adults were wary of borrowing the books, nervous of the responsibility of having someone else’s book in their home. It took some convincing but the book box has been used regularly by about a third of the children and dipped into every now and again by more. I was expecting to have a big repair job on my hands. I was expecting rips and scribbles and missing pages and lost books. However, a bit of tape was needed here and there but only one book was beyond help. Even that one is going to be recycled into badges and activity sheets for the children. Part of not being precious about the books means that I haven’t kept track of how many I have added in along the way, so a few books might have flown the Rainbow nest and been adopted. I like that.

I’m feeling very proud of all the Rainbow Library children and their grown ups. They have embraced the library and helped make the first six months a success. My aim was to get books into the hands of the kids that most needed them and I feel that I have achieved that. They all have access to the library every day. Their daily story time session is enriched by the staff dipping into the library books, and I read with them once every few weeks. One of the best things I’ve been able to achieve is to give each child a book to take home and keep for World Book Day, thanks to the amazing generosity of ChildsPlay. Even now in the summer holidays children are still asking for books when they see me and the Rainbow Library has become a bit of a mobile unit!

But I think I can do more.

So what’s next?

First I want to get better.
When I take the library back to the nursery in September I will read with the children more frequently and for longer. I never quite managed to do it once a week and I often left the children wanting more because I had to go after an hour or two. That’s not really good enough. I want to be more organised and make sure I can give them more quality time.

I want to print or make activity sheets to go with the books I take in, for the staff to use or to keep in the library for the children to take home.

Sites like Playing By the Book are a wonderful source of book-related activities. I hope to be able to share these ideas with the staff at the nursery to support them with linking books and stories into their everyday adventures with the children.

Story sacks! I love story sacks! With help from Loll of Storyseekers fame, I’ve started work on a Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Heart School story sack to use with the children. I want to make puppets and toys and games and fun resources to enhance the books. I want to work with dual language friends and make a Polish one and a French one. I want the staff to be able to use them during the day and the children to be able to take them home and play with them with their families.

I’d love to organise a trip to the local library. The children’s librarian is wonderful and inspiring and I think the children would really benefit from seeing the ‘real’ library and all the joy it holds. Maybe it could encourage the adults to join the library for their children.

I want to work harder to catch the children who are falling through the net. There will always be children whose adults wont want them to use the library, for whatever reason. When I go in to read I want to try and have time to read one-to-one with those children and help them learn to love books.

Then I want to get bigger.
A friend is working on an exciting project to create a new child-focused community space in Brighton. I hope to be able to set up and maintain a branch of the Rainbow Library there. I’m thinking author and illustrator visits, book-inspired art sessions, story times, children’s creative writing sessions.

I have Ideas and Plans. But I’m open to more. If you have any links to activity sheets, printables or websites that could help then please add them in the comments box or give me a shout on twitter. If you have any great ideas that I can steal, please share.

If you are an artist or illustrator who would be interested in becoming a friend of the Rainbow Library and supporting it in any way- visits, activity sheets, or ideas to link with your books- I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you to everyone who has helped in the Rainbow Library’s first six months. Here’s to the next six and to changing the world a tiny bit at a time.

Inclusive Minds

21 May

Beth Cox and Alexandra Strick work together under the name Inclusive Minds. Inclusive minds is a collective for all those with an interest in children’s books and diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature and are committed to changing the face of children’s books. Despite only running for a few months it is already gathering huge momentum and a reputation for quality and passion. You only have to look at their website to see the support pouring in for Beth and Alex and the work they do. Big names from the world of children’s books – Julia Donaldson, Meg Rosoff, Nick Sharratt, Joyce Dunbar – join with Letterbox Library, editors, publishers, book bloggers, librarians, teachers, lecturers, students, parents and equality campaigners such as Let Toys be Toys. It is clear to see that through Inclusive Minds, Beth and Alex have tapped into an area that people feel real passion for. And they are working hard to bring us all together, to educate and inspire, and to create some truly inclusive children’s books. Over to Beth to tell us more.


1. Firstly, could you tell me a little bit about how Inclusive Minds came about?
Alexandra Strick and I first met when we were on the steering group for the In The Picture project. Since then we’ve worked together in a number of ways, but we wanted to formalise this, and also find a way of bringing together all the people interested in this area. We debated over a name for months, then inspiration struck Alex over coffee and a chat. We set up the website there and then.

2. What have you been involved in since creating Inclusive Minds?
We’ve only been going a couple of months, but just last week we had our first official Inclusive Minds event. We spoke at the Equip (Equality in Publishing) conference ‘Developing the Publishing Workforce‘, where, following some informal research, we spoke about the link between a diverse workforce and diverse content in children’s books. Some of the details from this research will be on our website soon.
Alex also ran an ‘Equal Measures’ seminar at the London Book Fair which had an Inclusive Minds slant. I was on the panel, which also included Fen Coles from Letterbox Library and Erica Gillingham, and the inspirational Verna Wilkins was a keynote speaker.
Alongside companies such as Letterbox Library, we are also lucky enough to work closely with other great organisations like Booktrust (to whom Alex is a regular consultant) and Child’s Play, both of whom share our passion for making books inclusive and accessible. For example, we have recently worked together to create a tactile book, designed around the needs of blind and partiality sighted children. It’s involved a lot of research to get it just right, including visits to places such as New College Worcester to get direct feedback from children themselves. Most books designed for blind and partially sighted children are individually produced, and mass-market touch and feel books are often unsuitable for these children. This will be the first mainstream book of its kind (with hopefully more to follow). The book will be included in the Booktrust Booktouch pack, as well as being sold in mainstream outlets.
We’re also editing a special edition of Write 4 Children Journal, which will be due out very soon.

3. The special edition of the Write 4 Children journal you are editing is on the theme Diversity, Inclusion and Equality in children’s writing and literature. This topic is very close to my heart. How has the process been so far?
It’s been an interesting process for both of us, and certainly a learning curve. We’ve had such a great response, so instead of the usual eight articles that are included, we’ll be having around twenty! Once we received the submissions, we had to send them off for peer review. Once the articles had been accepted, I edited them, then passed them on to Alex for additional editing and comments, and now we’re in the process of sending them back to the authors for approval and amendments. Once they come back to us, we’ll just have time for a final proofread before publication!

4. Can you give us a sneak peek at some of the topics you’ll be including?
There are a number of articles looking at gender stereotypes, a few at the representation of disabled characters. Adoption; fairy tales; cultural diversity; accessibility. As well as one looking at political and radical messages in children’s books, it’s going to be a great edition.

5. What other exciting projects do you have tucked behind your ear?
Now, that would be telling. We’re hoping to have some exciting announcements soon, but we can’t say anything just yet. We are actively seeking funding for some big projects that will really kick start our mission in changing the face of children’s books.

6. What is your great passion?
A lot of the work that Alex and I do on Inclusive Minds is currently unpaid and has to take place during the evenings and weekends, but neither of us mind that too much, because we truly love and believe in what we do – so I’d have to say that my greatest passion is my work. That and cheese.

7. What book are you in love with right now?
I’ve been raving about Maggot Moon for a good six months now, it’s an inclusive books that is very much mainstream. I also finally read A Monster Calls and have never been quite so moved by a book. The Inclusive Minds website will spotlight some of the books that we love, we just need a few more hours in the day to get the reviews online!

8. What is your hope for the future of children’s books?
I truly hope that one day, I can walk in to a book shop, pick up a book at random, and find a diverse range of characters inside. Whether that’s a same-sex family, a disabled character (who isn’t a wheelchair-user), a ‘sensitive’ boy, an independent girl, a youthful looking granny, a black or asian protagonist… the list goes on. When I’m confident that ANY mainstream children’s book can offer me that, then I’ll be happy.

Hugely inspiring stuff. Beth and Alex are working hard to make a difference and their work is already paying off and influencing how children can see themselves in their books. If you share Beth and Alex’s belief in diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature then why not show them your support by adding your name to their supporters page on their website. You can also follow them on twitter at InclusiveMindsA and InclusiveMindsB.
Thank you so much, Beth and Alex, for your time in answering these questions and for all your support for this blog. I think Inclusive Minds is a hugely important and inspiring movement and I am proud to be involved. I am very much looking forward to your edition of the Write 4 children journal and excited about what you will achieve in the future. Congratulations on such an impressive start and thank you for using your passion to bring about real change.

The Cloud by Hannah Cumming

26 Mar


The Cloud was Hannah Cumming’s debut picture book in 2010. It’s a stunner and she has since released The Lost Stars and The Red Boat. Seek them out, for I am sure they will please you greatly!

The Cloud sees a happy group of children all enjoying their art class. All, that is, except one little girl who sits by herself, draws nothing and seems to have a cloud above her head.
A classmate wants to be friends and heads over for a chat.


When that doesn’t work she tries to build a friendship through drawing together. Creativity and persistence win and soon the girls are both smiling and the whole class is drawing together.

This is a smart book about the power of creativity and friendship, great for children learning about feelings and supporting others.

There are loads of nice touches to this book. At the start the room is dull and grey with clouds and rain at the window. As we progress through and the children become happy inside, the rain clears and the weather and light in the room reflects the children’s emotions. The use of the cloud is wonderful and children will love to point out and talk about all the split drawings in the book. I am particularly fond of the EleBee.


I love the children’s creative freedom. In their art class they are allowed to splodge paint about, stomp in it, roll it, explore it. They are seemingly left to their own devices to explore and create. How very refreshing. It’s lovely to find a book showing children enjoying art and celebrating the healing power of creativity.

A special hurrah for the inclusiveness of the book. The illustrations show boys and girls of various nationalities, as well as showing a child using a mobility aid. The joy is that these are all incidental images, they are just there in the story blending in rather than being pointed out as if ticking a box for diversity. Well done, Hannah! A joy to read and explore together and a wonderful resource for helping children learn the importance of creativity and friendship.

Published by Child’sPlay in 2010.
Source: Our bookshelves.

Harold Finds a Voice by Courtney Dicmas

22 Mar


Harold Finds a Voice is the debut picture book from new talent Courtney Dicmas. It tells the story of Harold the parrot who spends his day mimicking all the wonderful sounds he hears in apartment 4b. He is a gifted bird and only has to hear a sound once to mimic it perfectly. He loves all sorts of sounds but is particularly partial to the watery ones.


Look at him, lovely, crazy, upside-down Harold. But the poor parrot can’t help wondering what other sounds are out there in the big wide world. One morning he seizes the chance to find out and swoops off to explore. And what wondrous sounds he hears! The air is full of new and exciting noises, everything has its own voice. Everything except for Harold. Where is his unique voice? With a deep breath, Harold gives his own voice a try and with it he finds new friends and new confidence.

I think this book is wonderful! I love the sense of self, the idea of a unique voice, of following your dreams and your talents. Harold Finds a Voice is a great book to subtly inspire and build confidence in children. The illustrations are vivid, alive and full of character and children will relish the chance to join in with all the mimicry.


I am just a bit in love with Harold!

Published by Child’sPlay in Jan 2013.

Source: Kindly donated to the Rainbow Library by Child’sPlay