Category archives: books for children and young people

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspired by India

Inspired by India 2Lantana Publishing held an illuminating and thought-provoking event at the Nehru Centre in London last week, inspired by two of their recent picture books: You’re Safe With Me, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and Nimesh the Adventurer, written by Ranjit Singh, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.

The authors and illustrators each told us about factors that influenced them. Chitra’s love of story-telling dates back to her early childhood in India. She remembers hearing stories from a very young age. Enid Blyton, particularly The Magic Faraway Tree, inspired all the stories she told her friends and relations.

Poonam, also born in India, was always fascinated by Indian folk art, with traditional textiles a particular inspiration. Aboriginal art has been another major influence on her style of illustration, along with the art of William Morris.

Born and raised in Southall with parents from India, Ranjit said his real education came from the local library, his haven when truanting. Japanese and Bengali film directors, Shakespeare and Sanskrit epics taught him how to tell stories.

Mehrdokht’s interest in books goes back to her childhood in Iran. Her mother taught literature. She fell in love with illustration when an art teacher asked the children to illustrate a children’s story. She chose one of Andersen’s tales.

Both You’re Safe With Me and Nimesh the Adventurer have been extremely well received within the children’s book world, and more importantly by children themselves, both in the UK and internationally. We heard that huge numbers of parents in India want books in English that feature children with lives like theirs.

Alice Curry of Lantana asked the panel their views about ‘the diversity label’ and whether they felt pressure to reflect their backgrounds in their work. All had experienced such pressure, and all agreed that the label is limiting and unhelpful (although Ranjit pointed out its marketing value). Chitra told us she gets more rejections for books without Indian characters, and that publishers frequently request Indian folk tales. Poonam and Mehrdokht were united: ‘We are illustrators. We should not be defined by our ethnicity or religion.’ Alice said Lantana never imposes limits on their authors and illustrators. How refreshing to hear that Chitra and Poonam’s next picture book for them is set in the Arctic.

This piece was written for Armadillo Magazine.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Picture books and their value – and some useful websites and publications

KFP2

I was very lucky to attend the Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist announcement last week. The prize is for the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. These are the books in contention.

I’m a huge fan of picture books. They have an enormous role to play for children of all ages. Is there any better route into reading for pleasure? Surely there is no aspect of literacy they do not benefit. Picture books are great for building empathy, and for supporting every area of social and emotional development. They increase children’s knowledge and understanding of the world. They develop thinking skills. They stimulate curiosity, imagination and creativity.

I felt very privileged to write a guest blog ‘In praise of picture books’ for the wonderful charity Give a Book recently. It gave me the opportunity to try to encapsulate all they offer and think through good practice in using them. They are on my mind again now as I am in the midst of preparing a picture books training course. All this has made me realise it might be useful to list some online and printed resources about picture books that I find particularly valuable.

Lauren ChildAt the start of this I mentioned the shortlisting event last week. Lauren Child gave a delightful talk about her development as an illustrator. This is one of the pictures she shared. How lovely to discover that the wall here is a National Trust one. She photographed that beautiful sky in Hackney. And the plants? They were growing in a New York allotment.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Mind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion

One & StrikerMind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion was a fascinating and important a discussion hosted by Inclusive Minds and IBBY UK at the London Book Fair. Authors Sarah Crossan and Peter Kalu joined inclusion ambassadors Emily Davison, Heather Lacy and Megan Bane to explore representations of disability in children’s literature. Portrayals in the past were rare and where they existed were often negative. The Secret Garden was not the only book with an underlying message that disabilities could be cured with positive attitudes, fresh air and exercise. The ambassadors spoke of the distress this caused them as children with disabilities that did not go away. The panel agreed that the situation is improving but that there is still a long way to go. Publishers often think children will be put off by characters with disabilities, but it’s not the case. Children are very open-minded.

More nuance and understanding about disabilities is needed. For instance visually disabled characters in children’s books are almost all totally blind, whereas in real life the vast majority have some sight. Sensitivity readers can help authors with authenticity. Depicting every character with a disability as good and/or inspirational is neither authentic nor helpful. Children with disabilities need books that show them ‘it’s OK to be you’.

A character’s disability should not be the main element of any book. Many readers of Crossan’s YA novel One, a sensitive and deeply moving story about conjoined twins, are so gripped by the plot and the characters that they forget the twins are disabled. She never knows whether that’s a good thing or not. She did a huge amount of research before writing the book, and found she had to get rid of her own prejudices. It had not occurred to her that conjoined twins would want to stay together. In Kalu’s book The Silent Striker the main character’s increasing hearing loss is an important part of the plot, but far from the first thing the reader knows about him or the key issue they care about. Because Kalu himself has hearing loss the portrayal is very natural. (Having recently reviewed the book for The School Librarian, I can vouch for this.)

It was useful to be reminded of the IBBY catalogue of outstanding books for young people with disabilities. These were the UK books nominated in 2017. The asterisked titles were included in the international list.

Ian Beck, Grey Island, Red Boat
Cece Bell, El Deafo
Anne Booth, Girl with a White Dog
Holly Bourne, Am I Normal Yet?
Tim Bowler, Game Changer
Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish
Cocoretto, Getting Ready
Cocoretto, Off to the Beach
Sarah Crossan, One *
Vanessa Curtis, Baking Life of Amelie Day
Susie Day, Pea’s Book of Holidays
DK Braille, Counting *
DK Braille, It Can’t be True *
Amber Lee Dodd, We Are Giants
Julia Donaldson, What the Jackdaw Saw
Mary Hoffman, Great Big Book of Feelings
Kim Hood, Finding a Voice
Pete Kalu, Silent Striker
Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis
Cammie  McGovern, Amy and Matthew
Gemma Merino, The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
Ann Rand, What Can I Be
Jackie Wilson, Katy

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Wonderful quotes about books and reading

Lana 1For my last blog of the year, some of my favourite quotes about books and reading, illustrated with one of my favourite family photos.

There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. Philip Pullman

Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger. Ben Okri

A book is a place where children can try on all the lives they haven’t got. Margaret Meek

Children’s books can be bridges connecting people. S F Said

Books allow you to see the world through the eyes of others. Reading is an exercise in empathy. Malorie Blackman

Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood. John Green

Reading is the most powerful gift we can give a child: it puts stardust in their imaginations. Emma Cox

I guess that’s the beauty of books. When they finish they don’t really finish. Markus Zusak

Reading is a first class ticket to the outer limits of your imagination. Juno Dawson

Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. Nick Hornby

You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book. Dr Seuss

Literacy is the bridge from misery to hope. Kofi Annan

Reading gives you knowledge, it gives you power. Andy McNabb

Our books and out pens are the most powerful weapons. Malala Yousafzai

Books are for life, not just for homework. Keith Gray

Read. Read anything… Just read. Neil Gaiman

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Some fabulous picture books

SloughIt was lovely to see this girl immersed in her picture book during a library visit last week. And what a fantastic time it is for picture books. These have particularly delighted, impressed, moved and/or intrigued me in recent months. (Not all are new, just newish discoveries for me.)

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alamagna
Quiet by Katie Alizadeh
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Welcome by Barroux
Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Baking with Dad by Aurora Cacciapuoti
The Cloud by Hannah Cumming
King of the Sky by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin
The Pond by Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher
If I Had a Dinosaur by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
I am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon and Vivianne Schwarz
The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty
The Everywhere Bear by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
The Boy Who Lost His Bumble by Trudi Esberger
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Here I Am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez
15 Things Not to Do with a Granny by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling
Zeki Can Swim by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield
My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner
One Cheetah One Cherry by Jackie Morris
Ossiri and the Bala Mengro by Katharine Quarmby and Richard O’Neill
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
Mi and Museum City by Linda Sarah
How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz
A Rainbow in My Pocket by Ali Seidabadi and Hoda Haddadi
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
How to Hide a Lion at School by Helen Stephens
There’s a Tiger in the Garden by Lizzie Stewart
Sun by Sam Usher