Tag Archives: inclusion

The Secrets of Billie Bright

3 Aug

Firstly, let’s all take a moment to stare at this cover. It is clearly delicious and worthy of a few moments of celebration.


I love Susie Day’s Pea books and have been looking forward to this one ever since she first mentioned it on Twitter. Although The Secrets of Billie Bright isn’t a book about Pea, it is part of the Secrets series and is set in the same world – and includes many familiar characters and all the familiar joy. 

What I love most about Susie Day’s books is the casual inclusion. She is an expert at creating fictional worlds that truly and positively represent the diverse world kids live in today. And once again, she has aced it! 

‘Confident, sparky 11-year-old Billie loves being part of a busy, noisy, messy family: chirpy cafe-owner Dad and her three big brothers – grown-up Gabriel who’s getting married, disaster-prone Raffy, and sweet sporty Michael. She doesn’t mind being the only girl; just being the littlest. But she’s catching up, starting secondary school, leaving the little girl behind. When Miss Eagle tells her class to write a Hero Project about someone who inspires you, Billie knows exactly who to choose: her lovely mum, who died when she was little. She can’t wait to pull out her Memory Box, and hear all the old family stories. But no one seems to want to help. When Raffy angrily tells her to choose someone else, she knows something’s up. Mum left behind a secret. And when Billie unlocks it, nothing will ever be the same…’

It is so refreshing to read a book that represents the families and family events that I see and experience in real life and I am ever-thankful that Susie’s books exist for my daughter to read when she’s older. What makes me even happier is that the Pea books and the Secrets series reflect this diversity as casually and as positively as they do; that the inclusion is always secondary to the story and they never slip into becoming issue books. They are all about the things that are important to middle grade kids- the growing up and figuring out Big School and balancing friendships and deciding whether kissing is a good thing or not. Susie Day really gets what children of this age group are going through and her books are like growing up manuals. She is awesome at creating characters that you fall in love with; that are creative and intriguing and flawed and wonderful. She writes with such skill and pace and whips you along on a positive and affirming ride. 

My daughter has never been teased or treated any differently for having two mums. She is growing up in such a beautifully diverse school and inclusion is the norm for these kids. And slowly the books they are reading are catching up with their reality. Hurrah for Susie Day and for Billie Bright.  

But don’t take my word for it – read it for yourself. You can get your copy here. 

#IamCharlie – Inclusion in children’s books as a power for change

10 Jan

It is hard to respond to the events that have devastated Paris this week. Words like ‘shocking’ and ‘awful’ lose meaning and can’t sum up what has happened. I think that’s why so many people have responded with action. People have stood together in solidarity, held pencils in the air, and used hashtags like #IAmCharlie and #IAmAhmed.

The response across social media has been uplifting, inspiring, and hopeful. Cartoonists and illustrators have put pen to paper to show their support. People are thinking and discussing, showing real passion and a commitment to stand up for freedom of expression and equality. My twitter timeline is full of positivity.

A couple of the responses I’ve seen over the last few days have really chimed with me:
This illustration from Sarah McIntyre

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And Zoe’s response at Playingbythebook. She has put together a list of inclusive children’s/YA books that “might help spread understanding of what life can be like for Muslims living in the west.”
Both responses are hopeful; looking forward and celebrating literature’s power to bring change. And that’s what I want to focus on too. Because books really are windows into other worlds. The more children see and understand other cultures, religions, ideas and beliefs, the more they will understand. The more they read, the more they will empathise with others.

So my response has been to sign up to take part in a workshop looking at how to pro-actively improve authentic inclusion in children’s publishing. A Place at the Table is on Wednesday 28th January, run by Inclusive Minds, the Publishers Association, the IPG and EQUIP. Here’s the workshop description:
(A Place at the Table) will give participants the unique opportunity to come together in force to show their commitment to achieving real inclusion and diversity in children’s books. The discussion will range from the importance of access to inclusive and diverse books, to identifying the barriers, to ideas for practical and commercially sound strategies to enable the children’s book world to move forward.

The workshop is primarily for the book industry, teachers and librarians but has places for others interested in equality and inclusion. There are still places available. Come along, have a place at the table. Help make the change.

Let’s work together to get these stories told, these inclusive books published. Let’s make 2015 the year that inclusion in children’s literature and equality in choice and access become a reality. You can help make it happen. Use your voice, your keyboard, your pen or your pencil. Think about the power you have in your words and your creativity- what you choose to make, what you choose to buy, what you choose to read to your children. Above all, think of the people who are listening and watching, reading and looking. What do they need to see? What do they deserve to hear?
Make the change.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

UPDATE
It’s working!!!!!

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

Pea’s Books of Pure Joy by Susie Day

17 Jun

I spend a lot of time looking for and championing inclusive books. Books that show real people and real characters, reflecting the true diversity of our world. If I could have given you an overview of what I have been personally looking for, it would have looked a bit like this:

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I can’t tell you how happy the Pea books make me. If only there had been books like these around when I was a girl. I would have devoured them then as joyously as I am savouring them now.

Full of wonderfully diverse characters that are beautifully real and flawed and intriguing, Susie Day’s Pea books are the books I am foisting upon everyone at the moment. My friends, their children, my year six book group, my daughter’s school librarian, anyone who will listen to me! Because I think these books are really important and I think people deserve to be able to read them as much as the books deserve to be read.

I am so thankful that my daughter will be able to read these when she is a bit older. She will be able to read about real children who grow up in diverse families that are brilliantly unique and creative and imaginative and caring and fun. She will be able to read about a family like hers – one that has two mums. And she probably won’t even notice because the story won’t be about that. The story will be about things that she will care about – finding a new best friend, settling in at a new school, having a really good birthday party, planning what job to do as a grown up.

Hurrah to Susie Day for creating genuinely diverse characters that are refreshing, relevant, unique and casually included. For me, casual inclusion is when you have no idea that you are about to meet these characters. When the book is all about the story and the fun. When the book looks like it could fit nicely in to any child’s bookcase or any school shelf and looks enticing enough for the child to want to grab it and read it. The inclusion is secondary to the story itself and the book is something that children want to read. Congratulations to Susie Day – she’s nailed it on all those fronts.

This is storytelling at its best. Brilliantly skilful writing, fantastic characters, and a series that you will never want to end. I am off to read the latest book in the series, Pea’s Book of Holidays. Treat yourself to a few copies – you’ll be wanting to share!

This book will change the world.

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In the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot of books for older children and looking for books to recommend to my year six book group. There is a wide range of ability and interests in the group but a lot of passion and a lot of great ideas. I want to start sharing a few of the books that are inspiring my year six kids. This one has been more than a hit.

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Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth. Quick disclaimer – I would consider Anne a friend but she hasn’t pulled my arm behind my back or bribed me with chocolate to recommend her book. She just wrote a stonkingly good book that genuinely has the potential to open eyes to the wider world and inspire children to want to change it. She wrote a book that I feel compelled to thrust upon people and buy for all my friends and recommend (fairly forcefully) to my year 6 kids. There’s no wonder that Girl with a White Dog was chosen as one of Booktrust’s Books of the Month in March.

Jessie is excited when her gran gets a white Alsatian puppy, but with Snowy’s arrival a mystery starts to unfold. As Jessie learns about Nazi Germany at school, past and present begin to slot together and she uncovers something long-buried, troubling and somehow linked to another girl and another white dog.

I love this book for its sensitive portrayal of a child growing up and learning about moral responsibility in a world that can be full of intolerance and discrimination. It is beautifully and naturally inclusive and manages to quietly raise the reader’s awareness of the importance of moral and social responsibility.

My year six children have relished this book. Are relishing it. I bought them a copy to share within the group and they now have my copy on loan too. They all know exactly who has a copy and are watching closely for their opportunity to grab one as soon as it is finished. They have been moved by the story and inspired by Anne’s writing. It has provoked, awakened, engaged and changed them. We have had wonderful and passionate discussions about immigration and UKIP and social responsibility, about discrimination and the responsibility of honest and fair media reporting. Girl with a White Dog has enabled them to look at their world and question what they see, and that is hugely important. That is a life skill that will help them change the world for the better.

Congratulations, Anne. You have written a book that is engaging children and inspiring them to think and assess their role in the world. It is making them look towards a more positive and fair future. Hurrah to you and hurrah to Girl with a White Dog.

Buy your copy from Hive here.

Inclusion in How to Catch a Dragon

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

Take a look:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max the Champion – a book for EVERY child

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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