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Little Rebels and Radical Acts of Kindness

11 May

I missed The London Radical Book Fair and the awarding of the Little Rebels Award on Saturday. We were away visiting family and I couldn’t make it. But I was there in spirit and via Twitter and it prompted a lot of thinking over the weekend. Allow me to share…

Letterbox Library’s Little Rebels Award celebrates radical children’s books; those that stand up for diversity, inclusion and above all, social justice. They are books that show children the world and how they can make it better. These books are the ones we should want our future leaders to be reading now. Books that let us imagine a future that stands against social injustice and discrimination. Hurrah for the Little Rebels shortlisted authors and winner, Gill Lewis! And for Letterbox Library who back the award. 

  

(Picture by Letterbox Library)

I will be honest, I really wanted Anne Booth‘s Girl With a White Dog to win. It is an exceptional book that deals with immigration, inclusion, and what can happen when people demonise difference. It is a book that awoke a real sense of social responsibility in the children I read it with. It is also a wonderful story, beautifully written. I wanted it to win because it warns about excluding people that are ‘other’, and it teaches children to look at the world with empathy and understanding and not to be led by propaganda. After Friday morning’s election results I felt like we needed this book more than ever. 

How do we deal with the fallout from last week’s election? So much disappointment and anger and incredulity. I think it’s easy to feel guilty for not doing enough before the elections, to blame others, and to feel helpless and despondent. But that won’t help those already being squashed and it won’t prevent further injustice. I think reading the shortlisted books would be a great place to start. Share them with your children, your friends’ children, donate them to your local school. Because these books could change the world. And let’s face it… We need a bit of that right now. 

When I heard the results on Friday morning I headed straight for Twitter and was so boosted by the positivity on my timeline. There was (is!) a real desire to work together to fight further cuts and act as a safety net for those who are being affected; to make things better. It has reminded me that real change happens not when political parties win elections, but when people take a stand against injustice, and are willing to fight for an inclusive future, together. My Twitter feed is full of booky peeps, journalists, artists, and theatre peeps. It is generally a very inclusive and forward thinking bunch. But the children’s authors especially were winning Twitter on Friday.

By 9am Friday morning, Michelle Robinson was calling for a mass donation to food banks to offset some of the Tory ugliness. Lots of us did. Later that day, thanks to Polly Faber, #foodbankfriday was born – a weekly food bank donation to support people who are being squashed by cuts. 

There was talk of our kindness being seen as support for Cameron’s Big Society. That he will take the credit for our actions. Well, let him. Just because he is a self-serving arrogant bigot doesn’t mean we have to follow his lead. Let’s be inclusive and empathetic and support those who are affected by the Government and their actions. Let’s help pick up the pieces. But let’s not do it quietly. 

  
Elli is absolutely right with her comment above. We mustn’t mop up the mess quietly. We must rage and raise awareness, we must support those who have the power and legal knowledge to fight the cuts and we must take action to stand up for what we believe in. Together. 

So let’s all be Little Rebels. Let’s make Radical Acts of Kindness. Let’s donate to food banks, volunteer, support, sustain. But let’s back up each act of kindness with action. Join a protest group, join an organisation that fights for justice, support them, donate to them so they can make change happen. And share it all on social media so that others can make their own Radical Acts of Kindness too. #LittleRebelRAK

Here’s my starter:

David Cameron wants to replace our Human Rights Act with his own leaner and meaner version- the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Let’s not stand for that. Share your support here:

https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigning/save-our-human-rights-act

And here:

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Human-Rights-Act

The shortlisted books are available here:

Girl With a White Dog by Anne Booth (Catnip Books)

Grandma by Jessica Shepherd (Child’s Play)

Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, illustrated  by Margaret Chamberlain (Janetta Otter-Barry Books/Frances Lincoln)

Nadine Dreams of Home by Bernard Ashley (Barrington Stoke)

Pearl Power by Mel Elliott (I Love Mel)

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis (Oxford University Press)

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

Trouble on Cable Street by Joan Lingard (Catnip Books)

The Story of Britain – history doesn’t have to be horrible

13 Apr

The Story of Britain by Mick Manning and Brita Granström has transformed the way we talk and learn about history in our family. Mollie is fascinated by history but is too young for the blood and guts versions that seem so prevalent at the moment. The Story of Britain is hugely accessible, full of information, and FUN. 

  

Beginning fifty thousand years ago with an explanation of how the British Isles were created and continuing chronologically through to the present day, The Story of Britain covers the key periods and historical figures that children will come across at school with tons of detail and brilliantly engaging illustrations.

We have used this book so much over the last few weeks, and it has worked – Mollie has referred back to it constantly. During a week in Wales she was fascinated to stand on the edge of a hillside and look down at the valley and see where the ice would have been. She found a piece of flint and declared it an original axe head. A piece of broken plant pot was a real Roman relic. This book has lit a fire of interest and there’s enough information here to fuel it for years to come. 

The joy of this book is its accessibility – the book has a wonderfully chatty tone and simple explanations of tricky terms or ideas. It truly is the story of Britain and it’s story-like chronological structure and language makes it hugely appealing to children, without relying on blood and guts to try and catch their interest. It makes history relevant; showing children their place in the story of Britain and making them a part of the story. The structure of the book is well thought out, allowing for reading through in bite-sized chunks or searching for a favourite topic.  We particularly love the use of speech bubbles to give real life perspectives on events, and the brilliant timeline that runs across each page. 

   

 

I cannot recommend this book enough. If you are looking for a book to inspire young minds, to kindle a passion for history and an understanding of society, or just something to pop on a shelf to help with homework, you can stop the search now. This will do the lot. Job done. 

Source- kindly sent for review by Franklin Watts/Hachette Children’s Books. 

Once by Morris Gleitzman

20 Feb

Yesterday I took my daughter to the library and had a dig through the Junior fiction shelves and stumbled upon Once. It is a book I’ve heard so much about but never picked up before. I know I am years late to the party on this one, but that’s the joy of libraries – you come across gems like this entirely by accident. And that’s one of the many reasons that libraries are vital in every community…but that’s another rant for another time.

Last night I devoured Once and then immediately downloaded the next book in the series onto my phone. And I devoured that too. This morning I am a bit blurry eyed and downloading the third book. I am totally under Gleitzman’s spell.

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“Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad. Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house. Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh. My name is Felix. This is my story.”

These are powerful books. Harrowing, yes. But also moving and affirming.

The way Gleitzman uses childhood innocence and imagination against the backdrop of nazi brutality is what makes Once shine for me. In SF Said’s brilliant piece in the Guardian this week, he said “re-reading is a given for children’s authors. It’s one reason why we try to write books that have many layers and work on different levels, rewarding re-reading by growing richer each time.” And that is where the child’s perspective excels in these books. The layering and contradiction of the reader’s awareness and the characters’ innocence is hard to bear but it’s also what makes this book so successful and what is making me itch to start on book three, Now.

Source- my lovely local library.

National Non Fiction November – Usborne spotlight

5 Nov

Usborne, Usborne… How I do love you!
Usborne publish awesome non fiction. Finding out books, activity books, spotter’s guides, they do the lot…and they do them well! Their design is always spot on and they are immensely interactive, entertaining and kid friendly. Best of all, Usborne are very good at keeping their finding out books clear of gender stereotyping. Their books about animal facts don’t go all pink and sparkly when it’s about kittens or black and shouty when it’s about sharks. These books are for all children. And they are a million times better for it. Bravo, Usborne!

Here’s a round up of some of our favourite Usborne finding out books:

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For little fingers, the Peep Inside series illustrated by Simona Dimitri is stunning. Peep Inside the Zoo and Peep Inside Animal Homes are full of loads of fun flaps to lift and facts to find out. You can read my review of them here.

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Usborne’s Lift the Flap series is a real winner with loads of information and big flaps for children to lift and engage with. This series really makes the most of the format, using the flaps to show children information in an interactive way. This is something I think Usborne really excel at. The books in this range are large – picture book sized, perfect for pre-school children and above. Our favourite is the shark book with it’s strange and menacing goblin shark. *shudder*

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I really love these books! The Usborne Beginners series is a beautiful fit for newly independent readers or children who are just getting the hang of it. These A5 sized books are packed with fascinating facts and the short snappy sentences support independent fact-finding missions – perfect for those early homework projects. There are more than 60 titles in this series, so certainly something for everyone. Each book has a contents, index, and glossary page to help children learn how finding out books work, and a link to websites to explore the topic further. A great mix of photographs and illustrations and a new sub-topic on each double page spread make these books brilliant for reading from cover to cover as well as dipping in and out of. They are wonderful! You can snap up a starter set of 20 books here.

20141105-140048-50448441.jpgFor slightly older children, or children who crave more information, The Usborne Little Encyclopedia of Animals is a beauty of a book with a huge amount of information and loads of links for curious minds to follow to find out more. This is definitely a step up in content but without losing any of the Usborne joy.

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The See Inside range is a stonkingly good series of books covering a wealth of topics. They are a4 sized hardbacks crammed full with information and diagrams and hundreds of flaps to lift to see what’s going on inside. The level of information in these books suits inquisitive minds, and they can get quite technical, but there’s so much to look at that they work across a broad age range. See Inside Your Body was Mollie’s favourite book in the world when she was 3 and she still loves to look through it now nearly 3 years on. They really do grow with children – a sure sign of a quality, well-designed series!

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And last, but certainly not least, are these two gems. The Usborne First Illustrated Maths Dictionary and it’s Science counterpart. These are every parent/carer’s best friend! No more tricky homework explanations- these books are easy to use and have fantastic illustrated examples throughout. The science dictionary explains terms and gives ideas for experiments and projects and the maths dictionary uses plain everyday language to explain and illustrate maths concepts to children (and the grown ups scratching their heads next to them). Brilliant!

Bravo, Usborne! And hurrah for fantastic finding out books!

Source – all books from the rhino reading rooms.

Line Up, Please!

23 Oct

I love a picture book that beautifully and seamlessly brings together different genres. Line Up, Please! by Tomoko Ohmura (Gecko Press) is part counting book, part finding out book and part humourous story. It even includes a catchy game for families to play together. And all with fantastic design and illustration and a lovely surprise ending.

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Gecko Press specialises in publishing English versions of curiously good books from around the world by well-established authors and illustrators. Their books have already been successful in their own countries so you know you are in safe hands. This is certainly true of Line Up, Please!

The story, and the line, begins on the title page where the reader is encouraged to join in and see what everyone is waiting for. A frog is joining the line with the reader, labelled number 50. Turn the page and the fun begins with a line of animals gradually increasing in size and counting down in number, all labelled with their animal name and number. They are all chatting away and building anticipation. What is at the end of the line? As with any queue, the waiting causes problems and the animals start bickering and squashing up – with very good reason!

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The line counts down from 50 and finally the reason for the queue is revealed in a glorious gatefold spread that will delight children – it made me beam!

50 different animals to count and identify, lots to look at and learn and a ton of wit and smiles. This book will appeal to children young and old. The word game in the middle will catch the imagination of older children and is still keeping us entertained on car journeys weeks later.
This book is a real gem! Get your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by Gecko Press.

Shhh! A lift-the-flap book with a difference

21 Oct

We LOVE Keep Out! Bears About! by Sally Grindley and Peter Utton. It’s a brilliant concept which involves the children directly in the story – the narrator speaking are they sure they want to carry on? Are they brave enough to go through that dark wood, even if there might be bears? And all the children I have read it with relish the interaction.

Shhh! came first, first published in 1991, but we are very late to the party and have only recently discovered it.

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SHHH! You are about to enter a giant’s castle. Will you get through without waking the giant? Do you dare try?

Based on the familiar story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the narrator leads the reader through the castle, creeping past the characters from the story and peeping back to the previous page to check that they haven’t been disturbed.

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I love the illustrations, with tons of detail and magical things for children to spot. But the true joy of this book is the way it reinvents the way children respond to and interact with a book. It invites them in, right in to the story and the setting. It asks them to get involved and encourages them to play.

Repeated phrases, beautiful interaction and building of tension that leads to a squeal-worthy ending. What’s not to love?

Source- kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon

20 Oct

A group of children find a sloth snoring away in their garden. Not knowing what it is, they pile it into their wagon and set off to find out. Two of the children use their imagination to play out where the sloth could have appeared from, while the smallest looks to books to find out what the creature is and where it belongs. Once they have identified the sloth they need to send it home…

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This is a beautiful book that celebrates things close to my heart – children’s imaginations, the power of books, and the natural joy of animals.

Frann Preston-Gannon’s textured illustrations are just delicious. I love the sloth’s smiling sleepy face, the cracked paintwork for the trees and fences, and there’s something very loveable about these faces with their upturned noses and their squishy cheeks.

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She’s done a fantastic job of capturing childhood curiosity and adventure, and really celebrating their imagination and play. The hints hidden throughout the book suggesting where the sloth has come from, and the double page spread of sloth facts give the book an extra level of interaction. And the ending…the ending is delicious!

Sloth Sleeps On is also beautifully inclusive and gives more than a nod to equality. The children are wearing non-gender-stereotyped clothing and their imaginative play isn’t gendered. They ask Dad what he thinks but he is too busy cleaning. The other adult pictured is hidden behind a newspaper and is gender-neutral.

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I’m happy to see some diversity in the illustrations too- how refreshing to see children of colour in the book. These purposefully ambiguous characters leave it open to the reader, allowing them to find themselves in the book. This could be a family with two dads. It could be a foster family or family with adopted children. It could be a lot of different things because Frann Preston-Gannon has thought about diversity and thought about how children see themselves and their families in their books. Hurrah for her!

Source- kindly sent for review by the publisher, Pavilion Children’s Books.

Diverse Voices with Seven Stories

13 Oct

Attention please… Something very exciting has just been announced in the world of children’s books.

This morning, Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, announced it’s new Diverse Voices season – 50 of the Best Children’s Books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK.

This is a list of 50 books chosen by an independent panel of experts for all children, from birth to teens. Books published since 1950 to the present day were considered. The list looks fantastic and includes a beautiful mix of picture books, poetry, novels, and biographies. These are books that will help children explore the world around them, giving them the opportunity to see themselves and the selves they could become and helping them understand all those around them.

Kate Edwards, CEO Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books said:
“Children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, building understanding, empathy and tolerance. Despite this there is still a lack of representation of children from different cultural backgrounds – especially as main characters. By drawing attention to some best loved and well crafted children’s books, our Diverse Voices season will curate an exciting and diverse list of books that will help to inform the choices of librarians, teachers, booksellers and readers when they pick books to recommend, stock, read and enjoy. Britain’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is something to be celebrated and championed.”
Kate Edwards, I would very much like to shake your hand.

It’s a beautiful list. But it’s more than just a list. Seven Stories will be using these books as the basis for a whole world of exploration, discussion, creativity and play. They say:
“The aim is to raise the profile of these books, for the books to be read and celebrated, for children to see themselves, step into another’s shoes and find their place and belonging among the characters and settings of many cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”
Yes yes YES!!!

Seven Stories will be hosting a celebratory weekend on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 October with storytelling, music and activities inspired by Diverse Voices. And for the teachers and librarians out there, Seven Stories have also created learning resources for use in schools, which will be available from Thursday 16 October to encourage the use of books that reflect the diverse world we live in. See http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/learning for details.

The Guardian children’s booksite is celebrating diversity in children’s books all this week with features, discussions, author interviews and galleries. I can’t wait! Join in the fun here

Now for the list. Let’s celebrate, discuss, wave flags and break open the biscuits for these books. Which are your favourites? Which have spoken to you or the children you’ve shared them with? Which will you add to your ever-growing wish list? Have a look here.

I think Sarah Crossan’s Weight of Water is my favourite. But I have only read eleven of the fifty! This excites me! Look at all these lovely new books for me to discover. *orders them all*
What are your favourites??

Diverse Voices Book List and season is supported by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and has
evolved out of the Diverse Voices Book Award, which was founded in memory of Frances Lincoln
(1945-­‐ 2001) to encourage and promote diversity in children’s literature.

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

3 Oct

This book is a gift. A book that I want to share with all the children (and adults) I know so that they can experience the journey of reading it.

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The best books change you as you read them. They offer you a view of another way of life or a different perspective when looking at your own. You come out the other side refreshed, with new-found understanding of yourself, the world and the people in it. That’s what great literature can do, and why it is so important. That’s what Sarah Crossan does so beautifully.

I loved her debut Weight of Water. It made me think and look at the world through fresh eyes. It gave me a window into another way of life. And it sparked something in the year six children I shared it with too. So much so that I found myself having to buy another copy…and another…and another. I can see the same happening with Apple and Rain.

Apple has lived with her Nana since her mother walked out when she was tiny. All her life Apple has longed for her to return and answer her burning question – why did you go? But when her mother does return it is a bittersweet reunion. When Apple meets someone else who is feeling lost, Apple sees things as they really are and learns that you need to feel whole from the inside out, not just on the surface.

This is writing at its very best. Oh to be able to write as beautifully and intelligently as Sarah Crossan! Her characterisation of Apple is so spot on, so perfectly constructed, that you go on an emotional journey alongside her. Her emotions, thoughts, hopes and fears are explored and shown with such skill that you feel them with her at the same time as wanting to protect her from the inevitable crash. As a reader you become her friend and her helpless guardian. And thus you learn and grow alongside her. Her moments of clarity become yours, her realisations and growth fuel your own.

Throughout Apple and Rain Sarah Crossan demonstrates poetry’s power to heal and give strength. The joy of Apple and Rain is Crossan’s ability to write really great literature which explores and demonstrates the power of really great literature. It’s a perfectly constructed double whammy.

You need this book in your life. And so does everyone you know.

Source – bought from hive.co.uk You can get your copy (copies!!) here.

Binny for Short – Hilary McKay

26 Sep

Attention please…! You must all read this book:

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I am newly converted to Hilary McKay’s outstanding writing. She has such a gift for observation, understanding, warmth and wit in her writing. This is a book that feels like coming home.

‘Binny’s life has been difficult since her father died and her dreadful old Aunt Violet disposed of her beloved dog, Max. Her world changed then, to a city flat with not enough space for her Mum, her big sister Clem and her small brother James. Definitely no room for a pet.

Then one day Aunt Violet dies, leaving a small cottage in Cornwall to Binny and her family. Binny finds herself in a new world once more, full of sunshine and freedom and Gareth, the enemy-next-door and the ideal companion for dangerous dares. But Max is still lost in the past, and it seems impossible that she’ll ever find him again…’

Binny is a character that readers can aspire to be like. All of McKay’s characters are so beautifully realised that they jump from the page and follow you around. They get into your head and pull you in to their story, their lives. And then, without your realising it, your lives have become intertwined and you look up from the book, unsure as to what is real and what is written.

McKay is a truly gifted storyteller and she invites you inside the world of Binny and her family through a brilliantly delivered dual narrative. One layer tells the story of Binny and her new enemy, Gareth, as they attempt to pull out a huge barbed fishing net tangled amongst rocks.
The second layer provides the background, the family history and the build up to their mission.

McKay’s writing is pared down to perfection with sentences that surprise with their exactness:
‘For Binny it had happened the way some people become friends. Totally. Inevitable from the beginning, like the shape of a shell.
Only it wasn’t friends; it was enemies.
Binny had known at once that she was looking at her enemy, and the boy had known it too. The understanding was like a swift brightness between them.’

The best children’s writers can place themselves inside the mind of a child. They can remember and imagine what it feels like to be a child, the everyday thoughts, worries, dreams and actions. McKay has the fantastic ability to master this across a wide age range. James, six, is portrayed beautifully. His dreams and inspirations, his ideas and imagination feel plucked straight from the mind of a creative six year old boy. Binny is adventurous and headstrong and big sister Clem is full of determination and self belief, and McKay excels at Gareth’s anger and hurt, his fear and bravado.

McKay really *knows* children. She writes about the things that affect children and play on their minds. And that makes her books so perfect for child readers. They can see themselves in these books. They can read about characters believably going through the same experiences as them. And they can see these characters come out the other side, they can watch them develop and learn and grow alongside them. By including positive images of older children, teenagers and adults, McKay is filling her books with role models and inspiration. I can’t wait for Binny in Secret to be published so I can catch up with them all again

You can get your copy of Binny for Short here.

Try the Casson family stories too. The first book, Saffy’s Angel is stunning.

Source – kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.