A YA novel told from the perspective of someone with Down’s syndrome. A love story inspired by the author’s experiences alongside her severely autistic brother.
Taylor Pittman has rounded up 25 titles that “celebrate various differences in ways children can both understand and enjoy.”
A big image of the book jacket and a short blur accompanies each entry…
I hadn’t previously been to the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education aka CLPE, which is surprising given my background in both education and books. How heartening that such an organisation has managed to buck the trend of closed services and inservice training centres – not only to survive but to flourish.
If the quality of the day conference I attended yesterday is typical of events and training days CLPE organises, I am not a bit surprised that schools are, at least for now, willing to spare cash from their strapped budgets to allow teachers out for the day and benefit from such programmes.
The cost of peak rail fares probably limits attendance to those working in schools in the London area, which is a shame, because, especially with the diminished role of local authorities in organising training courses and the closure of all but a small number of teacher centres, an event such as the one organised today would have so much to offer teachers further afield.
Shifting the start and end times of the day forward by one hour might help attract those who are able to reach London for 10:30/11:00 on off-peak fares.
Yesterday’s event was billed as Reflecting Realities: British Values in Children’s Literature
CLPE’s own Learning Programme Leader, Farrah Sarroukh, argued in her opening address that, in the context of both Brexit and the Trump presidency, the emphasis in teaching literacy needs to be somewhat more positive than merely encouraging ‘tolerance’ – much more important is empathy, and an understanding acceptance of difference (throughout the day there was a commendable effort to refrain from jargon and the use of too-frequently-tripped-out terminology – as in the avoidance, where possible, of the overused word ‘diversity’).
Cue the first keynote speaker, Miranda McKearney OBE, founder of both the Reading Agency and the Summer Reading Challenge. McKearney retired from the Agency when she turned 60 but, after a brief spell trekking in foreign parts, found herself compulsively researching recent studies into the effect of reading on the brain. This led to her setting up EmpathyLab, the subject of her talk.
The second keynote speaker was author Elizabeth Laird who used personal anecdote, family snaps and photographs from her travels to give the audience an insight into the way authors collect bits from their past and use brief encounters on overseas research trips to put the elements of a novel together. She did this with particular reference to her latest book Welcome To Nowhere.
Floella Benjamin spoke (and sang) with powerful passion about her experience of moving to England from the Caribbean. Her father, a jazz musician, was the first to make the trip, later joined by their mother. Losing the loving presence of her mother had a shattering effect on Floella, who had to spend fifteen months separated from her siblings and living with a cruel and authoritarian ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’. Finally arriving in England, the reunited family lived in a single room in Chiswick. Floella sufffered frequent racist abuse, but gave as good as she got, often responding physically. Indeed, the way the 67 year old squared up to her audience in boxing mode, fists ready to fly, gave a pretty clear indication of how intimidating her angry responses to those who dared slur her must have been. She is still getting her own back. When the family moved out of their single room and were able to buy a house in Beckenham the racist abuse continued. Her mother stayed on in that house for 40 years undaunted by the antipathy of some. Now Floella is proud of her full title, Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, the sweet irony of which she is pleased to enjoy on her mother’s behalf.
She called the assembled teachers ‘chosen ones’ who must not let a single one of the children in their care feel unloved.
After a really excellent buffet lunch (five-star conference fare) the delegates split into four workshops, each of which allowing for greater activity and participation than in the morning sessions.
- Candy Gourlay, in a session titled ‘Rosy Cheeks and White Picket Fences” (because that’s how the world was depicted in the British and American children’s books that she read when growing up) talked about her childhood and young adulthood in the Philippines and working as a journalist and illustrator before moving to England and becoming an author
- Catherine Johnson used some of her recent historical fiction to help provoke discussion in her session titled ‘Black History is All Our History, Finding Ourselves in Stories from the Past’
- Artinuke in ‘Drawing on our own Stories to Create New Narratives’ retold a traditional tale in a manner that generated lots of contributions from those attending the workshop, commenting on their experiences of how children respond to ‘told’ as opposed to ‘read’ stories
- Poet Anthony Anaxagorou (artistic director at London’s coolest spoken word and music event Out-Spoken) led a session called ‘Helping Children Find Their Voice’ in which teachers became pupils for a while, encouraged to find poetic pairings of adjectives and nouns
The day ended with a question and answer session featuring two directors of Letterbox Library (booksellers for the conference) and Verna Wilkins (original founder and publisher at Tamarind Press, and now of Firetree Books).
The whole day was wrapped up by CLPE’s Chief Executive Louise Johns-Shepherd.
Keep an eye on future courses and conferences organised by CLPE – https://www.clpe.org.uk/professionaldevelopment/conferences
Cerrie Burnell might be best known for being a presenter on CBeebies, but having recently launched her third book she’s becoming a well-established author who champions diversity.
The 36-year-old, who originally studied acting before becoming a CBeebies presenter and kids’ author, is dyslexic and was born without her right arm.
She was named in the Observer’s top ten children’s presenters and featured in the Guardian’s 2011 list of 100 most inspirational women where she received praise for tackling disability head on.
I sat down this morning with my 11 o’clock espresso and spent some time browsing through the Autumn Catalogue of the Quarto Publishing Group. When I came to the section for Frances Lincoln Books I stopped on p80 and thought to myself, “Ooh, this looks interesting – hope I’ve been sent a review copy.” So up I get and look at my pile of recently received picture books. Yes! It was there. And what a wonderful debut it is.
Felix Massie is a London-based award-winning animator and illustrator. He designed the short, animated trailer for the book:
Massie’s illustration style is disarmingly simple, but perfectly suited to this rhyimng tale about a young boy who is fine, until he starts to speak, when all his words come out garbled, as if they have been written upside-down. The doctor recommends a straightforward remedy to Terry’s mother. Turn the boy himself upside-down and then the words should come out the right way. Which they do. But all is not well. Now he can talk. But can’t walk. He has to be pushed around in a trolley. He is teased mercillessly at playschool. Then a girl called Jenny befriends him at a playground. She is hanging upside down on the monkey bars, and when she means to say “Boo!” it comes out as “Poo!”and Terry finds himself laughing for the first time since being turned upside down.
It’s an amusing story about being different and will be especially helpful to parents of young children who have speech difficulties.
Massie is already signed up to create a second picture book for FL which will be called George Pearce and his Huge Massive Ears.
Josh Lacey reviews Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norris:
Norris has a friendly, avuncular narrative voice, jumping from one character’s perspective to another, and inserting occasional snippets of his own commentary. His teenage characters are charming, articulate, witty and wise. Jessica’s Ghost is both a hymn to the joys of “being different” and an earnest exploration of the serious traumas suffered by teenagers who are lucky enough, and unlucky enough, to be unconventional.
Kate DiCamillo is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US. The job takes her around the country to advocate for the importance of reading.
This is from a Q&A piece in the Baltimore Sun
What’s the difference between a children’s book and a book with young characters that also appeals to adults?
I would posit that some books for children, like "Charlotte’s Web," deal with the central issues of what it means to be human that we keep turning over all of our lives.
But when I’m writing for children, I have it in my mind that I’m "duty-bound to end the story with hope." That’s a quote from [author] Katherine Paterson.
In addition, when I’m writing for kids I’m always aware of possibility and of magic. Impossible things can happen in stories for kids.
It makes me more hopeful myself, and more aware of possibilities. That’s why I love writing for kids.
This list of culturally diverse books to read, savour and recommend is a joyous celebration of the 50 most fabulous books for children of all ages living in multiracial, multicultural UK today.
Thanks to Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books for sharing the list with us today – and to the experts they called on to pull it together: Julia Eccleshare (the Guardian children’s books editor), Jake Hope (from Youth Libraries Group), Library specialist Sarah Smith and Katherine Woodfine from the Book Trust.
When SF Said was growing up as an Arabic Muslim boy in 1970s Britain, the only place he really felt at home was in the books he found where difference was celebrated. Now with 13% of the UK population non-white even more young readers are hungry for stories where difference is a source of richness – and that’s why the plea for more diverse books is so important