“Teenagers go through very very complex changes, especially between the ages of 13 and 16, 13 and 17, those are very very turbulent times – they’re not children, and they’re not adults, they’re sort of something in the middle – they’re a child falling asleep , an adult waking up – they’re like a work-in-progress – so, from a writer’s point of view, trying to write about someone in a coming-of-age situation like that… that is literally it, they are coming-of-age, but they’re not there yet, so you’re writing about someone in a stage of transition – and I think that’s the challenge that I like about writing about teenagers.”
Online voting deadline is 24 January 2014 – here is the voting page
Books for Younger Children
- Superworm – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Scholastic)
- Walter and The No Need To Worry Suit – Rachel Bright (HarperCollins)
- How To Hide A Lion – Helen Stephens (Alison Green Books)
- Hippospotamus – Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross (Andersen)
Books for Younger Readers
- The Land of Neverbelieve – Norman Messenger (Walker)
- Atticus Claw Breaks The Law – Jennifer Gray (Faber & Faber)
- Claude In The Country – Alex T Smith (Hodder Children’s Books)
Books for Older Readers
- Killing Rachel – Anne Cassidy (Bloomsbury)
- The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey (Penguin)
- The Reluctant Assassin – Eoin Colfer (Simon and Schuster)
Laura McInerney raises five pertinent points about free schools, not least the question of when and how failing free schools are closed, procedures for which she believes the government has simply not considered.
4. We need a process for closing free schools
If the government is going to run with the line that “this is the inevitable consequence of innovation”, then it really ought to have a plan for that inevitability. Unlike in the US where most states now issues contracts with very clear quality measures, (so a school will knows the standards it is required to meet annually), the rules around what constitutes minimum required quality in England is fuzzy. There is confusion over funding agreements and Ofsted’s right to revoke a founder group’s ability to run a school. There is no clear line about the length of time a school has to get its quality sorted before takeover, or what processes it must go through. Al-Madinah have already openly questioned whether or not the government is entitled to try and close it on the basis of the current inspection. If these rules are not crystal clear (which I’m not convinced they are), any further action on Al-Madinah could become a lengthy tussle.
5. Who will pay to close free schools?
Even if a free school closes willingly, there is still the problem of contracts. Property rent, computer equipment, cleaning companies. With no contract oversight (and in this case no reconciliation), who is responsible for buying out those contracts? What happens to buildings purchased? State education departments across the US have spent millions on legal bills trying to resolve issues of closure because they didn’t have clear rules decided in advance. I’d have sympathy for the government on this, if I hadn’t been telling them all along that this would happen.
You co-wrote a book – Oliver and the Seawigs – with Sarah McIntyre; considering this was your first collaboration, tell us about the writing experience of this book.
I have collaborated with an illustrator before – the brilliant David Wyatt on Larklight , which was a real privilege. But that was a pretty traditional writer/illustrator collaboration, and David’s style was very close to my writing. Whereas Sarah and I have very little in common; she does lovely, funny picture books and comics, and I’m writing these great tangled complicated novels. But we met at the Edinburgh International Book Festival a few years ago, and got on so well that there was no question of us not working together. And it’s been great, because trying to do a story that suits Sarah’s style, and incorporates a lot of her ideas, makes me try new things; it’s easy to repeat yourself as a writer, but working with Sarah makes my imagination jump the tracks a bit, which is always good. And it’s very much a joint effort: it’s full of Sarah’s spirit, and wouldn’t exist without her. Also, Sarah is great at the performance side of things; dressing up and putting on a good live show at book festivals and school events. So we’ve been swanning about in costume and singing songs and things, which takes me right back to my early days performing comedy skits; it’s a lot of fun! (Well, it is for us, I don’t know what the audience makes of it!)
Have you decided what your next novel with Ms. McIntyre will be about?
It’s already written, and waiting for her to illustrate. It’s called Cakes in Space , and is about a girl who’s on a long space voyage with her family. They’re all asleep in cryogenic pods, but hers goes wrong and she finds herself awake in this silent spaceship in the middle of nowhere, having to deal with cake-related mayhem. We liked that idea of being awake when everyone else is asleep – which is a big deal if you’re a child. And of course it riffs on all the SF movies I remember from my teens – 2001 and Alien – but nobody will notice because McIntyre will work her stripey magic on it and make it look brand new!
via Rachel Herriman.
The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale, reviewed by Linda Buckley-Archer
Weaving the central story with subplots involving bullying and a fatal car accident, Casale barely missteps. Dark, with unexpected twists and a strong – if disturbing – ending, the narrative has a relentless emotional charge. "I have come to you so that you will be free," says the bone dragon, in an outstanding debut that vividly portrays the power and fragility of the human heart and mind.
My Name Is… by Alastair Campbell reviewed by Anna bel Pitcher
Throughout, it’s the teenagers that Campbell does best, another high-point being the narrative of Sammy, Hannah’s first boyfriend. Their barbed but flirtatious exchanges give us a glimpse of the type of writer Campbell could be, were he not so bogged down by his mission to educate the world about worthy issues. This may be a commendable life‑aim, but it does not make for a commendable novel.
For Robert Dunbar, 25 years of reviewing Irish books has allowed him to chart the genre while discovering his favourites: Eoin Colfer, Siobhán Parkinson, Roddy Doyle and Sam McBratney are among the writers of the stand-out titles
Twenty-five years ago, on October 29th, 1988, I began reviewing children’s books for The Irish Times. It has been an opportunity not just to read and comment on a huge number of books but also to trace the way the genre has evolved, both in Ireland and beyond. It seems an appropriate time to take a retrospective glance at some aspects of this evolution and to single out for special recommendation some of the books that have impressed me most. (Where Irish children’s books are under discussion I must point out that, as I have no Irish, my concern here is solely with writing in English.)
By the late 1980s and on into the 1990s Irish children’s writing and publishing had, after a long period of relative nonactivity, established themselves as significant players on the local literary scene, certainly where the quantity of material appearing was concerned. (Questions of quality came later.) In 1993, for example, some 60 children’s titles appeared from some 15 Irish publishers; 20 years on, thanks largely to our economic downturn, these figures would be radically different. There have always been Irish children’s writers who have published abroad, but in recent years their number has grown dramatically, provoking speculation about how this development has affected the thematic and stylistic aspects of their work.
The reputation of several of our writers has moved from the merely local to the international. Eoin Colfer, Derek Landy and Michael Scott, with, respectively, their Artemis Fowl, Skulduggery Pleasant and Nicholas Flamel novels, are globally successful, as are the picture-book texts of Martin Waddell and the horror series of Darren Shan. Additionally, some individual books have attracted universal notice. Among these are John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Marita Conlon-McKenna’s Under the Hawthorn Tree and Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You.
This acclaim extends to a number of our writers and illustrators creating picture books, an area that 25 years ago barely existed. PJ Lynch’s The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and When Jessie Came Across the Sea have won the Greenaway Medal while Waddell has earned the Hans Christian Andersen award. Currently, the prolific Oliver Jeffers draws widespread attention for his idiosyncratic art and storylines.
Young-adult fiction, after a very slow (and not particularly distinguished) start, has begun to address contemporary adolescence much more realistically, a development that sees literary and societal change proceeding simultaneously. As the boundaries between childhood, adolescence and adulthood dissolve, the possibilities for all sorts of crossover will multiply.
What, then, of the hundreds of Irish children’s books of the past 25 years? Here, in alphabetical order of title, are 12 that continue to make an impact well into a third or fourth reading.
I love the look of film right from the scanner. I always loved black and white photography, but when I was shooting digitally I was never happy with the conversion and the resulting tones, regardless of the tools used. My first scan of a simple black and white negative was already a revelation. Film is like a beautiful canvas the image is painted upon.
Another reason are the beauty of old film cameras. They are a joy to use, their simplicity, their vintage feel, the big, bright view finders to look through, the sound of the shutters, the feel of the mechanics when forwarding the film. All these factors are not measurable in megapixels, dynamic range or frames per second, but they inspire me and contribute to the joy I have when photographing. Maybe I am stretching it a bit, but I think they also have a positive impact on most people I photograph. Especially using a large format camera tends to fascinate people, they feel like being part of something special.
On 14 October 2013 Neil Gaiman gave the second annual Reading Agency lecture at the Barbican Centre, London. The full transcript of the talk is now online. Follow the link underneath the quote:
I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was R. L Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.
It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.
There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st century equivalents of Victorian "improving" literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.
Frances Lincoln Poetry Evening, October 2013
Four poets, each published by Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln (the publisher only began publishing poetry in 2011) gave an hour-long reading last night at Swiss Cottage Public Library.
More than 100 people had booked tickets in advance, but several dozen extra people arrived so that rows of additional chairs had to be put up outside the main reading space.
After an introduction from Sam Eastop of Camden libraries and from the poetry books’ editor Janetta, Wes Magee was the first poet to read, getting the event off to an entertaining start with his short set that included The Boneyard Rap.
Magee is a seasoned performer and Kathy Henderson who has written many rhyming picture books before but whose The Dragon With A Big Nose is her debut collection, acknowledged that she is a less experienced performance poet.
Towards the end of her 10 minute slot, she improvised some audience clickety–clack participation when she read her poem Look At The Train! that I am sure will become a regular part of her live repertoire.
I could listen to Grace Nichols all day. Once you hear her read a poem aloud the intonation stays in your mind next time you come to read the poem from the page. Wouldn’t it be good if all poetry collections came with an audio attachment of the poet reading the poems aloud? Just a thought.
No surprise that John Hegley was saved till last. He is a performance poet par excellence, in the sense that it is only really in performance that the poems truly live the life they were meant to live. Anyone who has been to a Hegley reading will know what I mean. In my own case, after seeing Hegley perform for the fist time at an Apple Festival in Sussex a couple of years ago, I found that I could not exactly emulate – because Hegley is a one-off – but at least make a half-cocked attempt to copy the Hegley delivery when reading the poems to children in a way that would not have been possible had I never heard one of his live readings. It certainly made the poems go down well with my young audience, in a way in which they might not have done had I been reading them ‘blind’ from the page.
So, go and see Hegley in performance if you get the chance, or hunt out some clips on YouTube. Part of what makes him such an effective performer is his alert and fine-tuned sense of audience behaviour coupled with a cross-generational sense of humour. His final poem about an orange parrot who looks like a fluffy carrot had every single one of us – old, young, seasoned, less seasoned – in stitches.
As you can see, Vivian of the Newham Bookshop was extremely busy after the readings selling copies of the books for the poets to sign.
At the end of the readings, Tulip Siddiq, a Camden councillor, announced a poetry competition for Under12’s. Children made up some 25% of the audience, which included several other poets and notables: John Agard was there, as was Alan Brownjohn. Adrian Mitchell’s widow, Celia, was there. I spotted Kaye Umansky in the audience. James Carter (Hey Little Bug, Poems for Little Creatures) and Cheryl Mokowitz (Can It Be About Me?) , two other poets published in the same series of FL collections, were there too, as was illustrator Ros Asquith.