Tag Archives: Elizabeth Acevedo

2021 ALMA hopefuls

The nominations for next year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award have ‘arrived’. Many are the same as in previous years, some are probably new. The list is long.

I was most pleased with recognising the Palestinian name, seeing as Palestine isn’t as big as it perhaps should be in the Bookwitch mind. Sonia Nimr. I have even heard her talk live!

There are some worthy names from, say, Sweden and Norway, but in most cases I feel these authors need a few more years to be ready. For the burden, if nothing else. Maybe excepting Jakob Wegelius. And then there is Maria Turtschaninoff from Finland.

I am mostly interested in the English language writers I read a lot by, and the contrast between those who have been around for a long time, and those who are really quite new, is interesting.

Beverley Naidoo comes under South Africa, and from Ireland we have Siobhán Parkinson and Sheena Wilkinson.

The UK contingent have Quentin Blake and Shirley Hughes on the one hand, and Juno Dawson and Katherine Rundell on the opposite hand, with Theresa Breslin and Aidan Chambers somewhere in the middle. As well as many others, I hasten to add.

Among US authors are Elizabeth Acevedo, Kate DiCamillo and Laurie Halse Anderson, to mention a few.

So, may the best unknown win?

Clap When You Land

Cheating fathers is not an uncommon occurrence, although discovering that your beloved dad had another family, and another daughter, the same age as you, can be tough. Especially if your dad has to die for this to become apparent. That way you have just about lost him twice.

Clap when you land is the book Elizabeth Acevedo talked about last year in Edinburgh. It’s another poetic novel, set in New York and the Dominican Republic. Yahaira and Camino are at the relay changeover for the summer; i.e. early June when their dad leaves New York after nine months and goes to DR for the three months of summer. Except this time he dies in a plane crash just outside New York.

The girls take turns describing the news and how they feel and what their families and friends do, and while they both sense there is something else not quite right, it takes time for the secret to get out there. And as with all secrets, the question is how many people know about this?

Yahaira is an ace at chess. The way you play chess matches the way her father went from one square to the next; where it’s impossible to be in two squares at the same time.

Camino helps her healer aunt in their poor neighbourhood in DR, and dreams of studying in the US and becoming a doctor.

Both girls have been, or are, victims of men much older than themselves. Both keep all the bad stuff in, not telling anyone.

But there is much to be said for women power, and when Camino’s aunt gets her machete out, well…

New York and the Dominican Republic have good sides and bad sides to them. It’s not only the gloss of the big city, but there is plenty that’s good in the simple life as well. It’s easy to see why Señor Rios wanted to have his cake and eat it. Until he couldn’t.

This is a powerful story, told in few words, and it just sweeps you up.

Are we not all the same, then?

How many times can I jump in, feet first, and say the wrong thing about who is allowed to write what? Too many, probably.

But honestly, in a world where so much is wrong, should there be this much arguing about whether people are brown-skinned enough to write certain books? Somewhere at the back of my mind runs a song which claims that we are all the same, regardless of colour [of skin]. I mean, I know we are not. Not really. We should be, but life isn’t fair or equal.

I’d quite like to be paid a seven-digit sum for a novel, should I ever write one. But I’d rather not be at the receiving end of threats. (Could these people not have a go at someone who’s done something worse than write a book?)

This made me think of Elizabeth Acevedo, who identifies as Afro-Latina. She writes books about young people with a similar background to her own; black, Spanish-speakers, born and living in the US. That’s good, because it’s what many of us need, whatever our colour.

I’d like to think that no one will question Elizabeth’s ‘right’ to write these stories.

But then my mind wandered, as it does. You know those acknowledgements at the end of a book? I remembered that in her latest book, With the Fire on High, she thanked someone for advice on what it’s like to be a teen mother. And that’s good. It means Elizabeth, who I understand has no children yet, got feedback on what she ‘made up’ for her heroine Emoni.

If you really wanted to, though, you could take this cultural appropriation thing as far as you need to, to get an argument going. Maybe only someone who’s not only a mother, but who was a teenage mother, should write this book? Stupid, but isn’t this what’s happening when white people get it into their heads to write about a topic they are not ‘qualified’ to cover?


I obviously believe that anyone may write what they want. If someone wants to publish that writing is another thing, as is whether anyone will read it.

Meanwhile I’m more than happy with the efforts of  Elizabeth, and authors like Angie Thomas and Jacqueline Woodson. There could and should be more, and with time there probably will be. Unless we should all have worried more about the men who have the power to end the world right here and now. Maybe argued some more, and stopped them. Instead.

With the Fire on High

Not poetry this time, but a prose novel about Emoni, a young single mother still at school, living with her grandmother and working really hard to keep afloat both as a high school student and as the mother of a toddler.

Elizabeth Acevedo, With the Fire on High

Elizabeth Acevedo has written another fabulous book, that I would like to think many teenagers will love. The topic is interesting and the writing is great. While the short chapters make it easy to read, they also make it hard to stop. ‘Just one more chapter. All right, just another chapter then. And one more.’ I could have read on and on.

Emoni has a talent for cooking. It’s what she does to relax, and it’s what she wants – needs – to do for a living, once she graduates high school. But there’s Babygirl, there’s ‘Buela who’s struggling to make ends meet, there’s Emoni’s absent father, her best friend Angelica, Babygirl’s dad, and then there’s the new boy at school, Malachi.

I could identify at least four ‘problems’ that would need solving by the end of the book. Elizabeth surprised me, again, by taking the story somewhere a bit different, and the plot did its own thing, and it was exactly right. Emoni is a first rate role model for young girls, having learned the hard way to stand up for herself.

This is lovely and life affirming. Single mothers are a good thing. So are young ones. It’s not age or marital status that makes or breaks a parent. It’s the world around them.

And I wouldn’t say no to some of Emoni’s food.

Farewell to EIBF 2019

Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

This may surprise you, but I occasionally wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In this case the ‘thing’ is children’s books and their authors. But the event honouring Judith Kerr this week, proved to me I was in the right place, and not even crime – the fictional kind – can hope to reach such heights, pleasant though it it.

George Street

There was such a perfect feeling of how good it can be, and I suspect that this is hard to achieve away from children’s books.

And chatting to Chris Close about Judith, I was pleased to find that he too had special memories of her. I was also a little surprised to discover that while he couldn’t instantly recall Daniel Hahn’s name when he walked past, he knows perfectly well what t-shirt Daniel wore in 2010. As you do.

What I was really wanting was to talk to Chris about his photo of Sheila Kanani [in Space], and I like the way he remembers virtually all the people he has shot in his spot in Yurt Gardens. Apparently most of Space this time was made up of St Abb’s Head, which I suppose is the photographer’s ‘bottle of washing up liquid’ in using whatever comes to hand.

Sheila Kanani by Chris Close

When it doesn’t rain, the new style Yurt Gardens is a good place to hang, as proven by the gang of crime writers just round the corner from my sandwich spot. There’s ducks, Chris, and the passing through of many people, who either are very famous, or carrying trays of food. All are important. (Though no ‘Kevin Costner’ this year…)

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

What’s always good in the festival’s second week are all the school children. They have come for the same thing as I have, and often getting the most exciting events combos. I even spied a few teens wearing the authorial blue lanyards the other day. Made me green with envy, that did.

It’s not only old age and feebleness that determines when I attend. Trains have a lot to do with it. They were better this year; partly to do with the new electric rolling stock (pardon me for getting nerdy), and partly because I tried to avoid the worst hours of the day. But when the doors refused to open as we got to Haymarket one day, I learned from the guard that it’s all down to computers now. I wish I didn’t know that!

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

We mentioned teeth in connection with Mog’s nightmares. I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that so many authors also have teeth. Well, I suppose most people do, but I am always struck by the wide smiles, full of perfect teeth. And not just the Americans, either. I’ll be spending this winter practising smiling in front of the mirror, but am not hopeful.

Here’s to EIBF 2020, when we will see more clearly?

Jim Al-Khalili

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

Speaking Up

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

Dean Atta loved ‘Elizabeth Acevedo’s brother,’ and she in turn loved ‘his uncle.’ That’s their fictional family members. I reckon these two could easily have chatted to/interviewed each other in the Speaking Up event on Thursday. As Elizabeth said when her awards were listed, ‘this isn’t awkward at all!’

They are both debut authors, writing in verse. Elizabeth won the Carnegie Medal this year for Poet X, while Dean’s first book has only been in the shops a week. I’d like to think that’s why I’d not heard of it, or him.

I like the sound of it, though, and The Black Flamingo looks fantastic in pink. It features a black, gay character, who never got that Barbie he wanted at six. And when he’s an adult he starts doing drag, just like Dean. The idea behind the black flamingo is that colour doesn’t matter. Dean read short extracts from the book, covering several age stages of his character. Elizabeth kept nodding and murmuring her approval throughout, which proves how differently a novel in verse comes across.

Elizabeth Acevedo

In Elizabeth’s reading she gave her character Xiomara a rather different accent than I’d been expecting. Done like this it would make for a great audiobook. She said she’d had no choice about writing poetry, having been ‘forced to sing to plants’ at the age of five, and realising the following day that she didn’t remember what she’d made up, because she couldn’t write. ‘Poetry is being aware of your thoughts.’

She said she used to be so nervous reading in front of people that her hands shook and she couldn’t see what was on the paper, which led her to learning the words by heart. This made her confidence grow. Elizabeth pointed out that you can look at global leaders and see if they read poetry. Or read at all. Empathy makes us human.

Dean Atta

Dean said it was important for him to have a gay main character. He had read books featuring black characters before, but felt that Poet X was special. His next books are two picture books, written for his nieces. And he’s been inspired by his mother, and by Maya Angelou. Teachers can help with confidence boosting by sharing their own problems, such as dyslexia.

Elizabeth’s inspiration comes from hiphop; people who don’t conform. Her next book will actually be in prose, as it was written before Poet X. ‘Big prose,’ she calls it. Reading a lot could help make boys softer [in a good way].

The final question from someone in the audience was a request for Dean to come to her school and do a workshop. Let’s hope he does!

(Photos by Helen Giles)

A sunny evening in Charlotte Square

Luckily the couple attempting to cross an Edinburgh street by stepping out in front of a bus were fine. Otherwise we’d have been a Poet Laureate short. Although, Simon Armitage wasn’t the only one in town, as we’d come across Carol Ann Duffy in a a pavement café earlier that afternoon. You can’t have too many poet laureates.

Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Arriving at the book festival, Photographer and I breezed in and started by snapping Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara signing books in the bookshop in Charlotte Square. She had a queue of very small fans. She was soon joined by Harriet Muncaster, whose hair will have outdone just about every other hair in the square. Harriet’s fans were slightly bigger.

Harriet Muncaster

I picked up my ticket for the day, and then we hung around, hoping for the promised photocall with Carnegie medalist Elizabeth Acevedo. We might have missed her, or she us. Her events partner Dean Atta had a go though, as well as doing much clowning around in front of Chris Close and his camera. Felt like pointing out that it’s better to have authors break a leg after their event…

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

After an inspiring talk in the Spark theatre in George Street, we joined everyone else in the – much improved – George Street bookshop. They even have roving staff who relieve you of your money as you queue for the signing. Very efficient. My Photographer might just have told Dean Atta about her hair, while I told poet Elizabeth Acevedo how I don’t really do poetry!

Had hoped to catch Konnie Huq still signing, but were too late. Instead we headed to the Kelpies Prize award ceremony, where we encountered Lari Don and Linda Strachan, as well as Gill Arbuthnott and Sarah Broadley in the audience. It was very crowded. And hot. I sat on what seemed to be a soft, plush birch trunk with a rounded bottom. But I could easily have been mistaken.

Kelpies Prize

Left early so as not to miss Ian Rankin’s photocall. His fans were already queueing for his event, well before the event before had finished. We had to wait while the ever calm and cool Ian slipped into something more comfortable. While he did so Photographer discovered Phill Jupitus a few metres away, and was [un]suitably excited. I’m afraid I had no idea who he was.

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

Then it turned out Phill was also attending Ian’s photocall (I’m guessing he was going to chat to Ian at his event). The Photographer sort of gasped as she went off. I understand that she told Phill that he’s very funny. So he shook her hand.

I’m now looking forward to a considerable saving on the cost of hand soap.

And Simon Armitage is still un-run over by a bus.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The 2019 Carnegie and Greenaway medalists

Carnegie/Greenaway 2019

Congratulations to Elizabeth Acevedo and Jackie Morris for their new medals! Much deserved.

Jackie Morris and Elizabeth Acevedo

Bookwitch’s 2018 selection

It’s that time of year again. Here are some of the books I enjoyed the most, chosen with some difficulty, because the next tier consists of really excellent books. Too.

I haven’t always felt that ‘picture books’ belong here, but the two I’ve got on my list are more literature with pictures. They make you cry. I mean, they made me cry. And that’s good. They are:

Michael Morpurgo and Barroux, In the Mouth of the Wolf

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones (translated by Peter Graves)

And then for the more ‘regular’ children’s novels:

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

Candy Gourlay, Bone Talk

Michael Grant, Purple Hearts

Matt Killeen, Orphan Monster Spy

Hilary McKay, The Skylark’s War

Sally Nicholls, A Chase in Time

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable (translated by Guy Puzey)

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

Ellen Renner, Storm Witch

Books like these make everything worth while. There are a couple of ‘beginners,’ some ‘mid-career’ authors – whatever I mean by that – and some established authors with decades of great writing behind them. And, only two that I knew and loved before Bookwitch became famous for her reading, meaning that this blogging business has been responsible for many introductions, without which my life would have been the poorer.

The Poet X

This is such a beautiful book! Elizabeth Acevedo has written a teen love story, a story about finding your place in the world, and a story about how to stand up to your family and a society that only sees one thing when looking at you. And she has written it as poetry. It really works.

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

I had my doubts, but I quickly lost myself in the book, realising that you don’t need all those words found in other novels. It’s perfectly doable to describe a complex story about a teenager in Harlem this way. X (Xiomara, really) likes poetry and writes a lot of it herself, keeping it to herself as well. She needs it to make sense of the world.

X’s mother is hard on her, but as an adult I could see that she loves her daughter. She just doesn’t trust anyone, and wants X to be careful and pious, not to see boys, and to go to church.

Were it not for the poems and the beauty of this book, it’d be just another teen story, set in New York, featuring girlfriends and boyfriends and enemies and bullying at school, teachers, neighbours, the priest, and so on.

I’m not a great fan of poetry, so the fact that I loved this so much, is proof how well the concept works, and what a captivating story Xiomara has to tell. I’m not at all surprised the book has been nominated for the Carnegie medal, and I hope it goes a long way, maybe even to the top.

I was also pleased to see that Elizabeth incorporated a lot of Xiomara’s Spanish home language, without always translating every word or line. There is even a whole poem in Spanish, although that does get a translation on the next page.

So very lovely, in so many ways.