Tag Archives: Guardian

To be more right than others

Honestly, I prepared last Wednesday’s blog post because I liked the list of books and its ethos, but basically I was being lazy. I imagined the list would pass silently by most of you.

But oh no. When you least expect it, trouble brews. And it brewed pretty stormily, too. Because two of the books celebrating diversity were ‘only spouting stereotyping.’ In this case of Native Americans (and I don’t know if this is the acceptable term, but it was used by my attackers), and no one could have been more surprised than I was.

The authors, on the other hand, were not. They have been the target for this kind of thing before.

As I said, I have not read Apache, so will leave it out for the moment. I have read and enjoyed Amazing Grace. My understanding of the diversity aspect of Grace is that it’s because she is a black girl in England. The fact that she spends a moment pretending to be a Native American is beside the point. There are many of us who have done so.

Now, you could (as an author or a publisher) consult specialists, to make sure you don’t go upsetting anyone. I understand this happens more often than you think. But experts can be ‘wrong,’ too, or not of quite the same persuasion as those who later complain or harass.

What’s more, the comments last week felt as if they were aimed at me. I didn’t compile the list and I didn’t write the books, although I wish I had. I am white, but that doesn’t automatically make me one of the people who have mistreated Native Americans. There are many white people who have also been – and still are – unfairly treated and discriminated against.

When you feel really strongly about something, there is a tendency to forget others. It’s ‘me, me, me’ all the way. It’s also easy to use a tone of voice that will generally not get you far. Even for serious matters, a sense of humour and a portion of intelligent conversation will get you more followers and better results.

Most children like pretending. It’s part of normal childhood. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you use violence or have access to an adult’s weapons (as is far too common in some places). As a dear friend of mine put it: ‘I don’t think little girls wearing head-dresses and sitting cross-legged is the cause of the tremendously awful situation of Indians, or if all these illustrations were wiped off the face of the earth, anything would change.’

When the young Witch played at being an Indian, it was from the perspective of admiring the people she saw in Westerns on television. They seemed exciting and they looked beautiful. To be told now that I was stereotyping, and effectively colluding in the awful treatment of these people in real life is upsetting, and also very useless. No one saw me. If they had, I’d have looked pitiful. It was on the inside of my mind that great things were taking place. I didn’t use books or obtain views of the world from the – apparently – bad British media. I only had Hollywood films.

I’m sure I am far more prejudiced than I would like to think. I don’t always have all the facts, or the totally correct, most recent facts. But I mean well, and any political correctness comes from my heart, not through clichés. It’s human to make mistakes. I’d like to think that any persecution of authors of children’s books are just that; human mistakes.

I make plenty of mistakes, all the time. And I’d prefer not be criticised for it, but I’d rather someone tells me off for the bad things I do, than for an author who has written a rather lovely book about a nice little girl who likes to play and use her imagination. Neither I, or the author or Grace have had anything to do with what mostly white Americans have done to the people who lived there first.

Nor do I believe that removing a couple of books from a list will make life better for Native Americans.

Diverse voices

One more list, and then I’ll be done. (Or possibly not. You never know.) Seven Stories and the Guardian have got together and listed the 50 best children’s books on cultural and ethnic diversity. It’s a really good list,

and I was really pleased because I felt I had read so many of the books on it. Until I counted them and it was about a third, so maybe I have some way to go. I still like the list, though:

Amazing Grace Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The classic picture book about the little girl who loves stories and shows us that we can be anything we want to be.

Fruits: A Caribbean Counting Poem, Valerie Bloom Illustrated by David Axtell. Macmillan Children’s Books. A rhythmic counting poem that describes all manner of delicious Caribbean fruits as a little girl tries to eat as many of these as she can in a single day.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, The Goggle-Eyed Goats

The Goggle-Eyed Goats, Stephen Davies Illustrated by Christopher Corr. Andersen Press. A vibrant and colourfully illustrated tale about Old Al Haji Amadu’s five extremely naughty and very hungry goats who gobble and gulp through whatever they find.

Handa’s Surprise, Eileen Browne. Walker Books. A mouth-watering story about Ayeko who puts seven fruits into her basket, but one by one these disappear as all manner of creatures snack upon them.

Hue Boy, Rita Phillips Mitchell Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books As much as Hue Boy longs to be bigger, he discovers size isn’t everything in this uplifting village-based story about a small boy with a very big personality.

Leon and Bob, Simon James. Walker Books. A quiet reflective book about the unusual friendship shared by Leon and Bob and the sense of fun and fulfilment others can bring into our lives.

Not So Fast Songololo, Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
An African town is brought to life through sight and sound in this touching story of young and old where Grandmother Gogo and grandson Songololo set out on a stroll together.

Over the Hills and Far Away, Elizabeth Hammill Illustrated by 77 artists. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A stunning collection of 150 rhymes from countries all over the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean compiled by Seven Stories co-founder Elizabeth Hammill. The collection contains best-loved nursery rhymes, but also new discoveries, and vibrant rhymes from Native American, First Nation, Inuit and Maori cultures.

Ramadan Moon, Na’ima B. Robert Illustrated by Shirin Adl. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books The festival of Ramadan and its celebration across the world is explored in this thoughtful book which looks at the role faith plays in many children’s lives.

Rastamouse and the Crucial Plan, Michael De Souza Illustrated by Genevieve Webster. Little Roots. A cheeky, cheese-filled tale about super bad thief Bandalulu who has stolen all the cheese from Mouseland.

So Much, Trish Cooke Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury Walker Books. A fun, feel-good and familiar story about the different generations of a family brought together by their love for a new baby.

Where’s Lenny? Ken Wilson-Max Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. An ideal first picture book by an award winning author/illustrator in which Lenny and his dad have a game of hide and seek in the house, enjoying fun and games together.

Azzi In Between, Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A powerful graphic novel about Azzi and her family who seek refuge, filled with drama and tension it shows just how dangerous some people’s home lives can be and the difficult decisions needed to reach a place of safety.

Betsey Biggalow is here, Malorie Blackman Illustrated by Jamie Smith. Random House Children’s Books. Somewhere between Pippi Longstocking and Tracy Beaker, Betsey Biggalow, who stars in these short, pacey stories, is an imaginative and enquiring girl who is sometimes mischievous but always endearing.

The Colour of Home, Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Karin Littlewood. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. Hassan feels out of place in a cold, grey country so different from his colourful Somalian home, which he was forced to leave because of war. But gradually things change… and he sees the new colours of home.

Fly, Eagle, Fly! Christopher Gregorowski Illustrated by Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A story of fulfilment and freedom shown through the parable of the baby eagle who is reared with chickens. This simply told yet dramatic story from Africa will delight children everywhere and encourage them to “lift off and soar,” as Archbishop Tutu puts it in his foreword.

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe

A Hen in the Wardrobe, Wendy Meddour. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
This is a funny, heart-warming family story set in Britain and Algeria, with fascinating glimpses of traditional Berber culture and lots of colourful characters.

Kasia’s Surprise, Stella Gurney Illustrated by Petr Horacek. Walker Books. A moving and hope-filled book about Kasia and her mum who have moved to the UK from Poland, it looks at the importance of the people we are close to and the gradual acceptance of change.

Mirror, Jeannie Baker. Walker Books. Although thousands of miles apart, there are many similarities between the homes and daily routines for the two boys in this book, its minutely detailed illustrations inspire readers to see that, in spite of surface difference, there is often more similarity in our lives than might, at first, be recognised.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe. Puffin Children’s Books. This special book has a fairy-tale like charm as a King takes on the search for a wife. Mufaro has two daughters, one rude and mean and the other generous and thoughtful, which will win the hand of the King?

Number 1 Car Spotter, Atinuke. Walker Books. A witty story about the hugely appealing Number 1 who sets about searching for and solving problems and carrying out chores for his family.

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, ed John Agard and Grace Nichols. Walker Books. A lyrical and lively collection of poetry that captures the sights, sounds, tastes and tales of the Caribbean and its people.

Walter Tull’s Scrap Book, Michaela Morgan. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The inspirational true story of Walter Tull’s life is vividly reimagined here in scrapbook form, drawing on photographs, documents and records of his life. Born in Kent, in 1888, Walter Tull became not just the first black British professional outfield football player – for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town – but also the first black officer in the British Army.

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzman. Puffin Children’s Books. Jamal and sister Bibi want to lead Australia to victory in the World Cup, but that entails a journey from their homeland, Afghanistan where their family has upset the authorities, and a lengthy voyage overseas.

The Island, Armin Greder. Allen & Unwin Books for Children & Young Adults. The poignancy of the pictures in this story about a man washed up on an island beach and outcast by its community explores intolerance and is a powerful and moving conversation starter for discussions around acceptance.

Journey to Jo’Burg, Beverley Naidoo. Macmillan Children’s Books. A deeply affecting modern classic about a brother and sister who journey through the South Africa of Apartheid in a race against time to find their mother thereby saving their poorly baby sister, Dineo.

The Life of Stephen Lawrence, Verna Allette Wilkins Illustrated by Lynne Willey. Tamarind. Full of life and potential, Stephen Lawrence was a boy with huge hopes for the future. Murdered in 1993, the book looks at prejudice, injustice and a family’s fight to uncover the truth.

Little Leap Forward, Guo You Illustrated by Clare Farrow. Barefoot Books. This semi-autobiographical tale looks at Little Leap Forward, a boy who grew up in the hutongs of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, Elizabeth Laird. Macmillan Children’s Books.
Ayesha lives in war-torn Beirut, a city divided by conflict. When Ayesha’s granny falls ill, she must cross the barricades into deadly no-man’s land to try to get the medication that is so badly needed.

A Nest of Vipers, Catherine Johnson. Random House Children’s Books. The youngest member of a collective of pick pockets and con-artists in 18 Century London, Cato Hopkins appears at risk of paying penance for his crimes with his life…

Talking Turkeys , Benjamin Zephaniah. Puffin Children’s Books.
A thought provoking and wide reaching collection of poetry for children that explodes from the page, begging to be read aloud.

Tall Story, Candy Gourlay. David Fickling Books. Quirky, unusual and filled with affectionate humour, this story looks at the relationship between Andi, who is short, and her long lost, enormous half-brother Bernardo who comes to live in London from the Philippines.

Too Much Trouble, Tom Avery. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A fast-paced read about brothers Em and Prince who struggle to make a life and home for themselves on the streets of London. Winner of the Diverse Voices award 2010.

Trash, Andy Mulligan. David Fickling Books. Raphael is a dumpsite boy whose days are spent sifting through rubbish and whose nights are spent sleeping beside it. This deeply affecting story tells how one fateful moment – the discovery of a small leather bag – can radically change one’s fortunes…

The Trouble with Donovan Croft, Bernard Ashley. Oxford University Press. Children’s Books Keith’s new foster brother, Donovan, won’t speak to anybody, will Keith be able to uncover the reasons why and help Donovan to open up?

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Walker Books. This acutely perceptive, gem of a book recounts how Julie tries to help two Mongolian refugees who are struggling to fit in with their new classmates in Liverpool and movingly describes why their friendship ended unexpectedly…

Jamila Gavin, The Wheel of Surya

The Wheel of Surya, Jamila Gavin. Egmont. The violence and danger of India during the Independence movement and its partition from Pakistan acts a catalyst for Jaspal and Marvinder to flee from their village in an effort to reunite with their father who is a student in England.

Apache, Tanya Landman. Walker Books. Following the vicious murder of her brother, orphan Siki vows to become an Apache warrior to take revenge upon her brother, Tazhi’s, killers.

The Arrival, Shaun Tan. Hodder Children’s Books. This wordless graphic novel explores the many reasons that lead people to leave their old lives and homes behind and set out upon the journey entailed in starting afresh.

Artichoke Hearts, Sita Brahmachari. Macmillan Children’s Books. Aged twelve, Mira’s life changes when her Nana Josie becomes ill and Mira begins to learn about the secrets of her family and loved ones in this emotionally honest novel.

Blood Donors, Steve Tasane. Walker Books. A skin-crawling novel about Marshall O’Connor who lives in the ‘Finger’ a block of flats with a deep, dark and deadly secret. This distinctive, fresh and decidedly creepy novel explores stigma and prejudice.

The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis. Oxford University Press Children’s Books.
Kept house-bound by the Taliban’s law that women and girls should not leave the house on their own, Parvana, her mother and sisters are in danger of starvation when their father is arrested.

Half-Caste & Other Poems, John Agard. Hodder Children’s Books. The poems in this highly original collection, penned by John Agard uncover a wealth of human experience and on differences in race.

Moonfleece, Philip Ridley. Methuen. A playscript that explores the tensions between two groups of teenagers who come to learn the way party politics influence the everyday lives of individuals and the devastating impact this can have.

Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman. Random House Children’s Books. Sephy and Callum live in a world of split communities and civil unrest, can their feelings for one another grow and blossom against this backdrop and what will occur if those feelings are discovered?

Palestine, Joe Sacco. Jonathan Cape. An extraordinary piece of current affairs reportage told in graphic novel form and recounting the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Persepolis 1 & 2, Marjane Satrapi. Vintage. This eye-opening graphic novel about author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Tehran uncovers the way a country’s politics, religion, history and traditions, influence a sense of identity.

Refugee Boy, Benjamin Zephaniah. Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Thrilled to have left his home country of Ethiopia for the first time, Alem is excited to be spending a holiday with his father in London. Happiness turns to despair when he discovers his father has left him alone in an unfamiliar country…

(Un)arranged Marriage, Bali Rai. Random House Children’s Books. This highly personal story was partly influenced by Bali Rai’s own experiences, it looks at the impact cultural traditions can have on young people growing up in modern times and the book will resonate will all who have experienced the pressure of expectation at the hands of their family.

The Weight of Water, Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Poetic and reflective, the story tells how Kasienka comes to England from Gdansk in Poland with her mother, a suitcase and a laundry bag full of clothes, desperate to search for her father.

I shall have to magic up some extra reading time for a few more of these. I strongly suspect none of the books have wizards or vampires in them. (Although, I would – obviously – welcome corrections from my well informed readers on this.)

Sorry for copying in the whole list. I simply felt it was important. And it made me feel better, after not having been able to join many of the authors on the list at the Guardian’s HQ on Monday.

The never ever books

Almost exactly seven years ago – when I was a brand new little Bookwitch – I blogged about which book from a list of 100 I would never read. Today the challenge has been upped somewhat, in that I’m supposed to find 100 books I would never read. I blame the Guardian. They started it. Then Maria Nikolajeva picked up the gauntlet and in turn got Clémentine Beauvais to pick hers.

And here I am, copying them, while having no clue what I am about to claim I will never read. So that is fine. I so know what I’m doing.

Anyway, the Guardian’s idea is that what is not on your shelves is more revealing than what is. Although that relies on you giving shelf space only to what you read and like. Some of us have books to show off with, or books we hope to read one day. Some of our best books might not be there at all. We could be in love with novels borrowed from friends and libraries, and actually returned to them again. We are not all shady types who steal what we can’t get hold of by any other means. Tempting, but …

Clémentine seems to agree with me on Martin Amis, so I was more topical than I realised the other day. Between them, she and Maria disagree on John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Clémentine won’t read it and Maria loved it. Well, I have read half, and am more than satisfied not to be taking it any further.

It’s almost impossible to know for certain what you won’t ever read (again). But I do feel very strongly I won’t be going near anything by G P Taylor.

Sitting here and squirming won’t get me to even ten, let alone 100. But I really don’t like saying negative things about books and authors. OK, I have severe reservations about Lionel Shriver and Jeanette Winterson.

Am in agreement with Clémentine on not wanting to read sequels to some books, whether I enjoyed the first one or not. I also have several more than TFIOS as a half-read-but-no-further book. Disagree about The Knife of Never Letting Go, which just got better and better.

It’s a relief to see that one is allowed to have no intention of reading certain classics or the big iconic books. You know, the kind that people you admire swear by, claiming it made them who they are, and all that. On that basis I honestly still don’t expect to read Hilary Mantel, however much Meg Rosoff likes her.

I unpack books from jiffy-bags every week that I will never read. Either because I don’t want to, or because time is limited. And that’s interesting in itself, since whatever people send me, it does tend to be children’s books or crime, which are my favourites. Just think how much worse it would be if my letterbox suddenly started spitting literary novels.

No, I give up. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t know, and when I do know, I don’t always want to put it in print.

To G P Taylor: I want my wasted week back!

At least there were some children’s books

It’s the Guardian top 100 bestselling books of 2012 I’ve got in mind. Maybe I’m wrong to feel pleased there are 23, or 24 if you count The Hobbit, children’s books in the top 100. It’s children from the Hunger Games age group down to the Julia Donaldson age level, with The Wimpy Kid and David Walliams in the middle.

There are rather a lot of Wimpy Kids and David Walliams books on that list, at the expense of more individual fiction. But if the books have been bought, they have most likely been read too, because that’s the kind of books they are. And that has to count as A Good Thing, surely?

The Hunger Games film caused hundreds of thousands of books to be bought, and if the Bookwitch Towers experience is anything to go by, they were definitely read, and very quickly, too. Not by me. The film was enough. But I recognise that fervour, awakened by a cinema visit. I saw Five On a Treasure Island before reading the books. Almost before I could read, but that didn’t stop me. And look where it got me.

War Horse stage play

Even theatre can cause book buying, as evidenced by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I would guess the books are bought by adults, but most likely read by children as well. Or was it ‘just’ the film effect again?

War Horse film

Whereas I am – reluctantly – conceding that it might be mainly adults who bought and read John Grisham’s latest Theodore Boone, simply because they are Grisham fans. Or possibly because they didn’t realise it’s a children’s book.

But what of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger? It comes in the top twenty children’s books in the 100 list, but has not made it into the children’s top twenty. Might that be the adult fan reading everything by their favourite author again?

The fact that Jacqueline Wilson is not in the top twenty, is an indication of how well the film industry sells books. (Did I just say that?)

Wimpy Kid film poster

What makes me happy, is that at least a couple of million readers benefitted from the top twenty titles. I hope they will also be reading other books, lower down in the sales league, and that they will continue reading. Always.

A true story for Christmas

You must ‘click through’ and read this! Even on re-reading the true story by Eva Ibbotson (from the Guardian) I found that my eyes developed some inexplicable dampness.

It’s about libraries, war, refugees and more. Eva Ibbotson is no longer with us, and our libraries seem destined to go the same way. Wouldn’t it be lovely if stories like this one could stop library closures, while also opening our hearts more to those who have had to leave their homes, through no fault of their own?

Kensal Rise library

Here is to knowledge and reading and friendship and languages, in and out of libraries!

We’re on our way

Now, why am I going to link to an interview which most of you can’t read*? Or tell you about a book review with the same problem?

Because it would be a shame not to. Have I ever mentioned that the Resident IT Consultant likes books that are different from what I like? We dragged him off for some shopping as soon as he joined us on holiday. (That means he drove us to town where we ditched him, and went off to do our own thing, leaving him to do likewise.)

So he found a book, which he wanted to buy, and I let him, on the basis that I thought it’d make him happy and keep him quiet for a bit. It was about the place where we stay, so seemed suitable. Pretty pictures, if nothing else.

Haverdalsvy - omslag till Haver du sett Haverdal, av Ingrid Magnusson Rading

But, you know, we’d barely got back before he had to show me a map in the book and before I knew it, I found I was hooked. I began to read through the book for my own entertainment, rather than to just pretend an interest. It’s good, this Haver du sett Haverdal. It features places I know and people I’ve met, and is bursting with facts and beautiful pictures.

Then I mowed the grass one afternoon, and that is as good for the creative juices as ironing is. ‘I must interview her!’ I said to myself. If we are both in Haverdal at this time, I must interview Ingrid Magnusson Rading.

I trotted inside to check for means of contacting Ingrid and found a website for the book, including an about page different to what was in the book. I noticed the photo of her, which was different (=better) than the one in the newspaper. In a split second I realised that we had gone to school together, so I sent her a rambling email to that effect.

Before too long she was sitting on my sofa drinking tea and chatting non-stop. We even fitted in a short interview, but it was mostly chat. So, even though only five of my regular readers can read about Ingrid, or read the book, I still felt I should mention this.

The book is self-published, and has had two print runs in the less than two months it’s been out, and is currently oop, until the third edition comes (soon, I think). It is a fantastically well done job, both from the woman who decided she could write a book like this (her original intention was a small leaflet for private consumption…), and from her Resident IT Consultant who did all the technical, fiddly bits.

It’s a very professional book. And once someone has translated it into English, you can read it, but I would ask you to not all visit Haverdal at the same time. You’ll want to, but it’s a quiet-ish kind of place.

And now that I am back from there, I am already on my way elsewhere. Edinburgh, here we come! (I found last Saturday’s Guardian Review, where it said EIBF starts today [4th]. I nearly choked on my Weetabix.)

*I have been reminded that you can use online translation programmes. They aren’t all hopeless all the time.

Here’s one they made earlier

I’ve been working on educating the Resident IT Consultant. Whenever the Guardian publishes a photo of whoever they are writing about, you can be fairly certain it will be an ex-Edinburgh Book Festival photo, if the person ever appeared there. And let’s face it, most people seem to have passed through at some time or other. It’s a convenient way of collecting images. And having been on the other side (I don’t mean that other side; just the right side of the cameras) I can now recognise them instantly.

The Guardian on a Saturday also does a My Family Values regular thing, which featured Jacqueline Wilson last week. Her photo ‘hit’ me from across the room (well, it was big) and when I quizzed him, the Resident IT Consultant gave me the correct answer at once.

This time there was nothing really new, seeing as I keep up with who Jacqueline is. It was as I got to the end, where they mentioned her most recent book, that I worked out that these columns are most likely made quite some time in advance. OK, so they don’t expect people to pop two books every year, but her September book is no longer the most recent.

And then I thought about the mention of the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories in Newcastle, and the penny dropped, albeit slowly. Maybe they prepared this piece back in October, when both exhibition and book were brand new? That’s when there was extra media interest in both.

So even national newspapers ‘make things earlier’ and keep until needed, or wanted.

Jacqueline Wilson and paparazzi

As for the photo which started this post, can you see me there? On the other side? I’m not there all the time, but increasingly I have my own version of what the ‘real’ press use. And sometimes it feels as if the Witch Photo Gallery (I just made that up) actually has pictures the ‘real’ photographers never end up using. Whereas I have used this one several times. (To be fair, Colin McPherson who is getting ‘his’ book signed here, recently let me use one of his photos for free.)

I too do Blue Peter style blog posts. You never know when you’ll have a rainy day and need a magically transformed bottle of washing-up liquid. It’s not Sapphire Battersea which is the latest. It is The Worst Thing About My Sister. And if it isn’t, then this post has Blue Petered out of all control.