Tag Archives: Letterbox Library

Books for a Future

12 Nov


We are all reeling from the American election results and the impact a Trump-led leadership is already having on tolerance, equality and justice. And all that on top of our own Brexit backlash! This shift to a right wing leadership is going to have a huge impact on the most vulnerable in our communities and will leave a lasting legacy for our children to fix. 

So what can we do? We can stand together and stand up to bigotry and hate. Now is the time for solidarity, kindness and inclusion. It’s more important than ever to teach the children in our lives to stand up for what they believe in and to look out for others. My social media has been full of positivity and plans for action. It’s one of the things I love most about social media – when the shit hits, there’s always an uprising of hope. 

So here’s what I’m going to do, and I’d love for you to join me…

*Goes full Whitney* I believe the children are our future. And I believe that books can change the world. So I’m going to bring the two together by gifting an empowering, inclusive book to my local school every month, as well as highlighting the best of the bunch on here. 

Books teach children about the world they live in, and in turn about tolerance, appreciating diversity and supporting others. I want to arm children with these qualities. They are going to need them!

This is something everyone can do to make a difference. We all have children in our lives, whether in our families, in our social groups or in our communities. Sharing empowering books with them could make all the difference. And it doesn’t have to cost money. You could donate your time and talk to these kids about books and the world, or share the book recommendations with parents and teachers you know to help get these books to the kids. 


The first book I’m going to give is Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst (Bloomsbury). It seems very apt! I love this book more than I can say. It’s a hugely empowering, fun and fact-filled picture book about women who changed the world across very different fields, including Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Amelia Earhart, Agent Fifi, Sacagawa, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, and Anne Frank. I want to push this book into the hands of every girl and tell them it will be okay. That they can do it. That we believe in them and that we’ve got their backs. 


Want to join me? Perhaps you could gift a book to your local school, library or community group? Or to a child in your life? Perhaps you could give your time to read with a child at a local school. Have a look at Beanstalk and see if they work with schools in your area. Because reading unlocks the future. 

Sadly this awesome book is out of stock pretty much everywhere at the moment – that’s how good it is! – but more stock is coming and there are tons of fantastically inclusive and inspirational books out there. Perhaps you could gift one of these:

If you are concerned about right wing views on refugees and migration you could gift The Journey. If you fear for the freedom of the press and the impact of a biased media you could give Girl with a White Dog. If you want to empower young women you could give What’s a Girl Gotta Do? If you want to support inclusion try any of The Great Big Book… series. For LGBT awareness you could gift Made By Raffi. Or have a look at Letterbox Library for inspiration. 

I’ll be using #booksforafuture to share the book giving and highlight other awesome world-changing and empowering books that our children deserve in their lives. Come and join me. What books would you add to the list? 

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!

What Are You Playing At?

10 Dec

Sometimes a book comes along that makes me jump out of my seat and do a happy dance. It makes me thankful and thoughtful and incredibly grateful that there are people out there who care enough to produce books like it. Finding books like this makes the hours that I put into this blog entirely worthwhile. It makes me proud.

Today is one of those days and What Are You Playing At? is one of those books.

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This is a book that demands your attention. It is Important. It is clever and, like all the best books, it is brilliantly simple. What Are You Playing At? takes commonly used phrases that restrict children’s play with gender stereotyping, and flips them.

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Or flaps them! Lifting the flap reveals a photographic counter argument that stands loud and proud in the face of gender stereotyping and discrimination.

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Photographic proof! You can’t argue with that! Such a beautifully simple concept that will show children so much without the need for any words.

From the very first image you see on the front cover you are being shown children playing. That is it. That is the focus. Look at the front cover image. Look at the angle of that shot and the way it has been centred. The focus is very much on their smiling happy faces. Initially we don’t even notice that the boy has a doll and the girl has a plane. And that is perfect! Because children don’t notice those things and they shouldn’t notice. They should be blissfully unaware of society’s gendering of toys, they should just see toys. And smiles. And children having fun playing together. Unfortunately gender marketing is such a massive part of children’s lives and their constant bombardment with heavily gendered images means that they are aware of gender stereotyping from an early age. But it doesn’t fool them. They know that toys are toys and books like this can work magic and reinforce children’s ability to laugh in the face of gender stereotyping.

When they open up the book and start looking through the pictures, children will be able to discuss the roles that they see and laugh at the stereotyped comments. They will be able to share this book and use it to inspire their play. Children’s play is their way of learning about life and exploring their futures. Limiting their play limits their futures. What Are You Playing At? shows children that there is no need to listen to society’s gender stereotyping, no reason to limit their own play, there is nothing that they cannot do in their futures. How powerful this book could be. How inspiring and empowering. It could open up a world of discussion and exploration and imagination. Imagine if every nursery and reception class had this book in their role play areas!

A book that belongs in every library, nursery and school, I can’t tell you how happy What Are You Playing At? makes me. It gives me hope. Currently book of the month at Inclusive Minds and book of the week at Letterbox Library, you can buy a copy at a specially reduced price here. Actually… buy two – your local school or library NEEDS this!

Hurrah to Alanna Books for publishing such a wonderful book. Alanna Books is a very small independent publisher, only founded in 2006, but already well-known for producing brilliant naturally inclusive books for children (see my review of their Lulu books here). I am very proud to be able to support them and very excited to see what they create next.

Source: Kindly sent for review by Alanna 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.

We All Sing with the Same Voice

18 Oct

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We All Sing with the Same Voice is full of inclusive joy. I must admit to not knowing the Sesame Street song that it comes from but the book works beautifully as a standalone. Each page shows children celebrating their similarities and their differences in a brilliantly simple way.

The children sing about their different hair colour, the different places they live and the different ways they feel. The repeated refrain ‘and my name is you’ grabs the reader and pulls them in. It includes them in the song. Then we get the chorus, ‘we all sing with the same voice, the same song, the same voice. We all sing with the same voice, and we sing in harmony.’ Beautifully matched with illustrations of a diverse group of children dancing together. What a clever and gentle way to introduce young children to the ideas of diversity and inclusion. How much they can unconsciously learn from reading or listening to this book, singing the song or looking through the pictures.

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I love the nearly-last page with children floating on their pillows and the nod to the power of bedtime stories. But obviously this is my favourite page:

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Diverse and inclusive in every sense of the words! Did I mention I love this book?

And guess what I found… A lovely video linking this book and the song. Play it to yourself with a smile, play it to your kids, put it up on that whiteboard and get your class dancing. Enjoy!
YouTube – We All Sing with the Same Voice

Source: kindly donated to The Rainbow Library by the Truffle Snufflers at Letterbox Library

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.

‘This is Me!’ Book packs

19 Jun

After a few weeks away from the blog I am back and picking up right where I left off, with the ever-inspiring Inclusive Minds and Letterbox Library. But this time… Together! Exciting, hey?

In my previous posts I have chatted with Beth from Inclusive Minds and Fen from Letterbox Library and celebrated the amazing work they do to champion inclusive books. Now they have combined forces for a special project creating two ‘This is Me!’ book packs, one for early years

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and one for primary years.

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These book packs have been carefully selected by Letterbox Library in collaboration with Inclusive Minds to celebrate the best and brightest in inclusive children’s books. Here’s what they have to say about them:
“Bright, breezy and fun-packed. A gorgeous mix of board books and picture books. Ideal for nurturing positive attitudes to diversity and difference in the very young. Multicultural, global, images of disability and gentle challenges to gender stereotyping. A perfectly embracing collection!” (Early years book pack)
“Our celebration of diversity and ‘natural’ inclusion continues with these Real Books which have also been selected for their strong characterisations and engaging narratives.” (Primary book pack)

I am genuinely excited about these book packs. As well as a few familiar titles there are some new and intriguing books that I can’t wait to get my hands on. They look great, and they have passed the Letterbox Library and Inclusive Minds test, so I know they will be great.

The Early years pack includes:

Daddy, Papa, and Me (1056)
Mommy, Mama, and Me (1057)
Freddie and the Fairy (1401)
The Great Big Book of Families (1018)
Lulu Loves Stories + CD (1318)
Mary Had a Little Lamb (0192)
My Face Book (0012)
Max The Champion (0193)
One, Two, Three…Run! (0194)
This Is Our House + DVD (9539)
Siddharth and Rinki (9870)
The Worst Princess (0195)

And the Primary pack:

10,000 Dresses (0196)
Because Amelia Smiled (0197)
Being Ben (0198)
The Big Brother (1343)
A Bus Called Heaven (0199)
The Django (0142)
Fussy Freya (0143)
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (8736)
Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon (0200)
Pass It, Polly (9813)
The Unforgotten Coat (0053B)
What’s Up With Jody Barton? (0201)

Over the next month or so I plan to review the early years ‘This is Me!’ book pack and the lower age range books from the primary pack. Watch this space! All the books can be bought separately from Letterbox Library. They have done all the leg work to ensure that the books they sell are truly inclusive, so if any of these titles catch your eye, visit them and reward their efforts by ordering the books from them, here.

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.