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Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

8 Mar

Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters has the feel of a classic. It is engaging and entertaining with a beautifully empowering message regarding equality and respect. I loved it! 

‘Evie couldn’t be angrier with her mother. She’s only gone and got married again and has flown off on honeymoon, sending Evie to stay with a godmother she’s never even met in an old, creaky house in the middle of nowhere. Her phone is broken and it is all monumentally unfair. But on the first night, Evie sees a strange, ghostly figure at the window. Spooked, she flees from the room, feeling oddly disembodied as she does so. Out in the corridor, it’s 1814 and Evie finds herself dressed as a housemaid. She’s certain she’s gone back in time for a reason. A terrible injustice needs to be fixed. But there’s a housekeeper barking orders, a bad-tempered master to avoid, and the chamber pots won’t empty themselves. It’s going to take all Evie’s cunning to fix things in the past so that nothing will break apart in the future…’

What an excellent premise. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by that? Think Tom’s Midnight Garden for the modern age.

Humorous and witty, Peters has aced the voice, brilliantly portraying the frustrations and worries of an early teenaged girl. Evie’s Ghost is filled with brilliant characters to inspire children, including an awesome 1814 Nasty Woman. It describes the chasm between privilege and poverty and the pain and indignities that such inequality causes. Despite the majority of Evie’s Ghost being set in 1814 these lessons are painfully relevant today.

Forced marriage, poverty versus privilege, inequality, the unwanted attentions of men and unjust repercussions on women, and human beings as commodities. When looked at from a Trump-led 2017 it’s easy to wonder if we have progressed that far at all. And that’s why we need books like Evie’s Ghost. Books that are engaging and entertaining but have an underlying message of equality. I’m thankful that children will be able to read this book and make these connections themselves. I hope it changes the way they see their world and inspires them to be the change they want to see. Huge hurrahs to Helen Peters and Nosy Crow.

Out in April, you can pre-order your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by Nosy Crow.

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)

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!

Max the Champion – a book for EVERY child

21 Nov

Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, illustrated by Ros Asquith is truly and joyfully inclusive. I love it for being a fun story that children will really be able to identify with. On top of that, it is filled to the brim with inclusive images.

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Max is a little boy who is mad about sport. He thinks about sport all day, everyday. As he goes through his daily activities his imagination takes over and he becomes a sporting superstar. Every element of his day is transformed in his mind into a major sporting event. Handwriting practice becomes a javelin tournament with giant pens, diving into his cereal becomes diving into a swimming pool. He dreams of becoming a world class athlete and a fun sports tournament with another school is the perfect place for him to start.

Sports-mad children will love identifying with Max’s passion. All children will laugh as Max confuses a bowl of fruit with a bowl of balls during art class. And, importantly, all children will be able to see themselves in this book. Because this is the first ever children’s book to include so many images of disability and inclusion. This isn’t your usual token child in a wheelchair. The writers and illustrator have thought carefully about every area of life and have included images of tactile paving, makaton signs on the classroom wall, a child with cherubism, someone with an oxygen tube, Max’s hearing aid and inhaler.

The beauty of this book is that the story is fun and positive and the inclusive images feel natural, not forced. No other book has achieved this with so many children able to see themselves in the same book. A sad fact, but a wonderful achievement by the authors, illustrator, and publisher; Frances Lincoln. Hurrah to them!

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Max the Champion belongs in every classroom and school library. Government statistics suggest that every child will come into contact with a range of different special educational needs in their classroom. 1 in 20 children in the UK are disabled and 1 in 5 children in a typical British classroom will have some form of special educational needs. And yet there are still so few books that show these children and allow them to see themselves. Every child deserves the right to see themselves and a true reflection of their community in their books. And that is why this copy of Max the Champion is heading to a school library where it can be enjoyed by every child.

Fancy buying a copy for you or your school library? Of course you do! The lovely Letterbox Library can help with that here.

There are some brilliant free resources to download at Max’s website – maxthechampion.co.uk and if you are passionate about inclusion I recommend a visit to Alexandra’s Inclusive Minds site.

As a side note, The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now accepting nominations and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see this on the short list. The Award website says:

‘For the purposes of this award, a ‘radical fiction’ book is defined as a story which-
*is informed by any of the following: anti-discriminatory, environmental, socialist, anarchist, feminist concerns
OR
*promotes social equality or challenges stereotypes and/or the status quo or builds children’s awareness of issues in society
OR
*promotes social justice and a more peaceful and fairer world.’

Tick, tick, tick! Although this book is certainly an inclusive book rather than a radical book, it certainly fits the requirements for the award in my mind. Watch this space!

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

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction is back!

21 Nov

Regular Rhino readers will know that I have a soft spot for Letterbox Library. They have a special place in my heart because they stand for everything I believe in and they work their socks off to promote brilliant books for children. And they love chocolate truffles (nearly) as much as I do. A very important quality!

Earlier this year I wrote about the wonderful Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction. The exciting news is that it’s back for its 2nd year to celebrate more radical children’s books, and Letterbox Library have been asked again to administer the award on behalf of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. Hurrah!

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction celebrates children’s fiction for readers aged 0-12 which promotes social justice.

This year’s Little Rebels Winner was Sarah Garland for her Amnesty-endorsed graphic novel, Azzi In Between (Frances Lincoln). Other shortlisted titles were Hans and Matilda by Yokococo (Templar/Bonnier), Wild Child by Jeanne Willis (author) and Lorna Freytag (ill.) (Walker) and The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne (Random House UK: 2012).

I loved covering the Little Rebels Award last year and discovered some really special books that I might otherwise have missed. In fact, I just looked up as I wrote that and saw my book nook on the landing. Look what two special books are on there this week!!

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Wild Child and Hans and Matilda have become firm favourites in this house, and I can’t wait to see the new short list and join in the Little Rebels journey next year. What radical gems will they uncover this time? We’ll all have to wait a little bit longer as submissions have just opened and the closing date for publisher nominations is Jan 13th 2014. The shortlist will be announced in April 2014 and the winner will be announced at the ARB’s 2nd London Radical Bookfair on Saturday May 10th 2014 at the Bishopsgate Institute, London. This year’s London Radical Bookfair was a huge success, so mark the date in your diary now (or if you’re like me, scribble it in the margins of the December page of your calendar and spend Boxing Day updating it on your nice new one).

Another exciting piece of news is that Kim Reynolds* will be joining the Little Rebels guest judges. Speaking about the award, Kim Reynolds 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, diversity, and efforts to transform society in ways that are inclusive and sustainable…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”.

I love that quote- ‘this prize focuses on books that help readers become the kind of ‘little rebels’ who one day will catalyse social change’. Yes! *That* is why I write this blog and *that* is why The Little Rebels Award is so important. So let’s all get behind it this year, and spread the word to publishers, authors and illustrators of books that can help our children change the world.

(Publishers are being invited to submit children’s fiction for readers aged 0-12 which promote social justice and which were first published in 2013. Full submission guidelines can be found at www.littlerebelsaward.wordpress.com)

*Kim Reynolds is the author of the award-winning Radical Children’s Literature (Palgrave MacMillan: 2010). She is a Professor of Children’s Literature at Newcastle University and is the former President of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature as well as former chair of Booktrust. She will be joined by the 2012 Little Rebels guest judges: award-winning children’s author, Elizabeth Laird and Bookstart co-founder, editor and Eleanor Farjeon Award recipient (2006), Wendy Cooling.

Wild Child by Jeanne Willis and Lorna Freytag

21 May

You know that feeling when you see a book and you get a thrill of excitement? When you have found something new and exciting and daring to be different. When you pick it up and read it and that thrill of excitement is transformed into butterflies as you realise that this book is truly something special. And then you finish the book. You probably stroke it a bit and hug it to your chest. And you feel different. You feel slightly changed. Altered by the experience of this book. You feel warm and invigorated and inspired. You want to share it with someone. Anyone. Everyone.

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I want to share Wild Child with you. Look at that cover. It is beautifully different and new and enticing. How often do children get to see actual children on the cover of a picture book aimed at this age range? Baby books, yes. But picture books are far more likely to have an illustrated child or an animal character. This is exciting. This will catch a child’s eye and imagination. Look at the textures of the toadstools, the light in the clouds, the reds bringing the picture together and bringing the Wild Child into focus.

And then we open the book.

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Footprints tracked across ripped paper and scarred ground. Animal and human side by side. Thrilling, dangerous, leading us on.

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And we are in the story. We are wondering what it would be like to live in the wild. In a house like that. To run with wolves and sleep with bears and have the whole of the world at our feet.

Wild Child was short listed for The Little Rebel Children’s Book Award and I can absolutely see why. It celebrates the rebel, the non-conformist, the wild child. I love Jeanne Willis. One of my absolute favourite books is Bog Baby. I love the way she can slide in to the consciousness of a child and really understand them. This book shows her ability to see the Wild Child in all children and to celebrate the child. To celebrate play and adventure and exploration and the freedom of fun. What child will read this and not want to run outside and explore and roll around and run and hide and play? Or to imagine themselves living in a forest, to imagine themselves bigger and braver and wilder than they are. Hurrah for Jeanne Willis and her celebration of childhood. Hurrah for Lorna Freytag and her celebration of nature and the wild. Hurrah to Walker Books for publishing something that dares to be different and celebrates the radical. And hurrah to wild children everywhere.

You can buy this wonder of a book here from Letterbox Library.

Source: The RhinoReads bookshelves.

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.

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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.

Equal marriage and inclusive publishing

20 May

This evening I am watching BBC Parliament. This is not something I do on the average Monday evening but tonight they are arguing about whether I should have the legal right to marry the woman I already call my wife. So far 3 amendments have already been defeated and positive progress towards equality is in sight. I have been disheartened by some of the bigotry I have listened to tonight and I have been thankful that my daughter is too young to understand the language they are using and the prejudice they are showing against her mums and our family. But I have also heard some hugely passionate and positive speeches. Maria Miller, David Lammy, Chris Bryant, Catherine McKinnell, Stephen Doughty, Kate Green, have all spoken with common sense and given me faith in the process.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, I suggest you listen to some of the arguments against equal marriage and replace ‘same-sex’ with ‘black’. I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel uncomfortable and that it will all click. It is about equality. It is about society not viewing my family as other, as less. These blog posts by Shelley Harris and Shelley Silas explain it far more eloquently than I can.
Nelson Mandela and other arguments for equal marriage – Shelley Harris.
We’re not equal until we’re equal – Shelley Silas.

So tomorrow the debate continues and I hope that I will soon be raising a glass to progress and planning my wedding to my wife. But in the meantime, these books arrived from the progressive and equality-driven Letterbox Library this morning.

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I hope that these books are an antidote to some of the homophobic speeches I have listened to this evening and I hold on to the fact that my daughter and her peers see these books. They see same sex families and they accept them in the way that children see everything through eyes clear of prejudice. I hope that by the time my daughter’s peers are old enough to start taking on and learning prejudices from others, the equal marriage bill has been passed. I hope that my wife and I are legally married and that we have the equality that we deserve. Until then, I shall read these books with my daughter and show her that all families are different but all families are equal. I will take the books to the Rainbow Library and show her peers. I will answer their questions and do my best to be a role model for equality. Thank you Letterbox Library for supporting my family and helping me support the next generation’s view of families and equality.

The ARB and the Little Rebel Book Award

20 May

Continuing the spotlight on radical and inclusive books, we have a visit from Nik Gorecki, restorer of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and creator of The Little Rebel Book Award? He is passionate, inspiring, and radical. He sees a gap and works to fill it. Read on and be inspired.

1. Firstly, could you tell me a little about you and Housmans bookshop/ARB?
My name is Nik Gorecki and I’m a co-manager at Housmans Bookshop. Housmans was established in 1945 and born of a vibrant peace movement, which had wide support in the aftermath of World War Two. Housmans is still committed to promoting peace movement ideas, but today also stocks titles from other radical political traditions.

The ARB was brought back to life after I found out about it’s previous incarnation, the Federation of Radical Booksellers, which fizzled out at some point in the 80s. It struck me that it would be a good time to start up a similar organisation.

Ambitions for the ARB were modest, but it was hoped that a natural momentum would take a hold, and before long activities under the ARB banner would start to take place. The most prominent of those so far had been the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, and in addition to the prize this year we have held our first ARB organised radical bookfair. The bookfair gave us a platform from which to announce the winner of this years Bread and Roses award, and also this year the inaugural winner of the Little Rebel Children’s Book Award.

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Packed hall at the first ARB Radical Book Fair.

2. How was the Little Rebel Children’s Book Award born?
Working in a bookshop I’m aware of the new titles that are out there, but a big blind spot for me was what good progressive children’s books were being published. It was primarily of this frustration that the idea for the prize came about. Luckily within the ARB we have the Letterbox Library whose expertise has been invaluable in getting the award off the ground.

3. 69 books submitted by 20 publishers is a hugely positive and uplifting response. Where do you see the award going in the future?
The book prize exists solely to try and promote progressive children’s literature and radical publishing in general. As such the test will be how well we can get the message out about the shortlisted books. We’re off to a good start but there will always be more to do.

It would also be good to have a category for teen readers, who are currently missed out on by the two ARB prizes, but it’s important to take things a step at a time and grow at a capacity that we can manage. The ARB has no funding and all activities are organised by booksellers giving their time for free, so we mustn’t overstretch ourselves or burn out. Naturally, if anyone has any resources that might help us to do our work then please do get in touch.

4. What has been the best thing about the Little Rebel Award process?
It’s been genuinely inspiring to see the positive response the award has had from publishers and readers alike. I think there is a genuine need for the prize – it’s not just being done for the sake of it.

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Sarah Garland talking about her book Azzi, the winner of the first Little Rebel Book Award.

5. What is your great passion?
Music is probably my greatest passion. My reading is almost exclusively political non-fiction so books for me are tied up with politics and harsh realities, and so it’s important to have a place to go to keep inspired and positive. Music does that for me more than anything else. Desire for political/social change is less a passion than a necessity – being thirsty isn’t being passionate about water!

6. What book are you in love with right now?
I think the last book that really had a big impact on me was Mark Fisher’s ‘Capitalist Realism’. In particular it made me question how much I personally have come to assimilate the logic of capitalism, and how insidious that process is amongst us all.

7. What is your hope for the future of children’s books?
My impression is that parents are often very cautious about what kind of books they encourage their children to read, and the desire to give children idyllic happy childhoods might mean that parents err away from books that challenge their children’s assumptions. My hope is that we can play our part in supporting and encouraging the reading of those books that help get our children questioning the way the world is.

Hurrah to that, Nik! Thank you for sharing your passion with us.

Photos by Adam from http://www.ivereadthat.com/

Hans and Matilda by Yokococo

19 May

This book ticks all the boxes for me. It has a strong female animal character, it is quirky and clever, both in design and concept. It is a book that begs to be stroked, makes you smile and makes you think.

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Hans and Matilda was shortlisted for the Little Rebel Children’s Book Award. Guest judge Wendy Cooling called it “A quirky picture book packed with humour and surprises. People, or cats in this case, are not always what they seem.”

There was once a little cat called Matilda. And there was once a little cat called Hans. They were SO different.

Matilda is a very good cat. She is shown in colourful scenes sitting quietly reading her book, watering her garden and sweeping her floor. Hans is the polar opposite, shown up to mischief in greyscale against a black background, with just a hint of red for danger.

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I love the way the pictures echo each other. Matilda and Hans playing with water, both using their brushes.

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But then one night Hans goes too far and causes chaos and calamity at the zoo. Can Matilda save the day? And are they so different after all?

It is hard for me to review this book without ruining it. It is hard to explain why I love it so much without spoiling the joy you will experience when reading it for the first time. So instead I will say this… Go and find it and experience it for yourself. Ask your local bookshop or library or buy it here from Letterbox Library. You won’t regret it.

Source: The RhinoReads bookshelves.