Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Misfit by Charli Howard



Waterstones

Charli Howard

PenguinRandomHouse

9780241328828

February 2018

paperback

Charli Howard struggled for years to become the size 6 or under model her (then) agency was demanding. After they finally dropped her, she gained notoriety when her post of protest on Facebook went viral. She is now a highly successful ‘curve’ model known for making a stand against the fashion industry’s obsession with slimness, and for being the public voice of the body-positive movement.

I was keen to read MISFIT, both as a reviewer of YA books and as someone who regularly photographs models and aspiring models.

Told with a free-flowing, highly-readable momentum, her memoir should become required reading for any teenager currently involved in, or with ambitions of becoming involved in, the fashion industry.

At around 250 pages in length, it’s not until page 145 that Charli, encouraged by an ex-boyfriend, makes her first contact with a modelling agency. More than half of the book, in other words, is devoted to her childhood, education and adolescence. Some may feel she over-eggs her early misfit-edness. The first line of the book is “I am not normal” and she is keen to demonstrate how “cray cray” she has been since an early age. Exaggeration is permissible in the name of entertainment, and in order for her story to resonate with readers Howard has clearly realised (or been steered to realise by those helping this book reach its final form) the need to build a narrative.

Maybe it’s not as unusual as she suggests for a 4-year-old to imagine she is a dog, and to keep this up until the age of 6. Many young children imagine things with great intensity and force adults to act in accordance with their ‘delusion’. It’s hardly a sign of not being normal.

Similarly, the story of her disastrous sleepover at a friend’s house when, at her instigation, they climb onto the balcony of a neighbour’s property and smear toothpaste all over the windowpanes – an escapade somewhat magnified when Charli casually throws a hairbrush onto the bed and smashes the screen of a phone belonging to her friend’s father – is surely a fairly typical example of adventurous naughtiness that many of us indulged in between the ages of 8 and 10. To be fair, she does describe herself as a “relatively normal eight-year-old schoolgirl growing up in 90s Britain”. It’s a great story though, and the book would be much the weaker without it.

Charli’s father was in the forces and the family were frequently on the move. While stationed in Germany, Charli is particularly affected by what she remembers as a pervasive sexuality. The school bus travelled each day through “an infamous street full of sex shops”.

Eventually, Charli is sent back to England to stay with her grandparents and attend a boarding school during term time. Even when her mother returns to England, Charli continues to be a boarder.

The picture that emerges from this part of the book and from all the anecdotes both of actual bad behaviour and of being wrongly blamed for other people’s bad behaviour is of a child craving overt love, affirmation and stability from her close family.

In its place, affirmation from her peer-group becomes all-important. Much of her behaviour – pulling the emergency STOP on a train – comes across as attention-seeking. But she does also have a knack for being at the centre of trouble for which she is not principally to blame. The best example of this is when the house of one of her best friends is trashed (£30,000 worth of damage) after it is gate-crashed (a story I remember reading about in the national press).

Born with a pear-shaped body frame she is soon comparing herself unfavourably with her peers and a pattern of eating disorders precedes her involvement with modelling by several years.

There is a telling disconnect between the two main parts of the book. For all the emphasis in the early pages on Charli as headstrong rascal, from the time she makes her first contact with the modelling world her character becomes passively compliant.

A steady relationship with a controlling boyfriend continues alongside a perpetually paranoid involvement with her modelling agency and their obsession with her hip measurement. She is mostly a 36 but continually exhorted to shed sufficient pounds to reduce that to 34 – a theme cleverly picked up on by the book’s cover designers.

The book is dedicated “To all the girls who have ever felt their bodies weren’t good enough”. There are no photographs in the book but scrolling far enough down Charli’s Instagram it is possible to discover images from the time when she was starving herself into an unnatural body condition, complete with gauntness of face, hollowed out cheeks and skeletal upper arms.

MISFIT is highly recommended as a good read and as a wake-up-call to others who may, even now, be travelling down a similar road.

It should also be a warning to model agencies and their bookers to be even more selective in their signings, choosing only those individuals who have a realistic prospect of meeting expectations.

Agencies do have a role to play in managing the young people on their books and encouraging them to keep in good shape and condition, but if models are always as terrified of visiting their agent’s offices as Charli suggests, something is very very wrong.

Learning With Nature

Marina Robb, Victoria Mew & Anna Richardson

Green Books

9780857842398

January 2015

paperback

I attended the public launch of this title a week ago, and since then have been able to have a leisurely look through the book. What an impressive collaboration between writers and the publisher’s design team this is! “A unique must-have resource for families, schools, youth grouops and anyone working with children,” the back cover proclaims – and yes, it is! I commend it without reservation.

I hope particularly as many schools as possible will obtain copies for their staff libraries. Although many of the recommended activities included in the book, together with the accompanying photos, suggest the need for a forest or woodland context, there are also numerous suggestions that would work just as well within the boundaries of schools that enjoy at least a little bit of green space. It is also undeniably the case that many of the children who are fortunate enough to be taken to the kinds of workshop organised by the book’s authors are from backgrounds that are already sympathetic towards outdoor learning. The book can have most impact if its ideas are taken up in classrooms up and down the country.

One of the speakers at the launch event remembered attending a local primary school in the 1960s. Every Wednesday afternoon the class would be taken up onto the Downs for nature study. The teacher would sit down with a packet of Weights cigarettes, while the class was given freedom to identify wild flowers and plants using Ladybird field guides. A bygone era indeed. The loss of such experiences from the school curriculum (how many infant classrooms even have a Nature table any more?) would not matter so much if children were still doing more of the same in their own time. But they’re not.

The book carries an impassioned foreword by Chris Packham, who notes, alongside a sharp decline in the numbers of kestrels, skylarks and lapwings, another “tragic extinction”:

… that of the young naturalist. I walk my dogs twice daily through the woods near where I grew up, and in years I have not seen a single child making camps, climbing trees, damming streams, let alone looking for birds’ nests, catching grass snakes or tracking foxes. Not one; they have gone.

Well, not gone exactly. They have been iomprisoned, protected from the dirty and dangerous outdoors by being locked up inside in front of televisions and computers.

Each of the three authors has been actively and successfully involved in running outdoor workshops for children over several years. They don’t pretend to have thought up all the activities themselves. This is a compilation of tried and tested activities guaranteed to engage and enthuse.

The book has four main sections – with easy to navigate coloured page tabs:
GAMES
NATURALIST ACTIVITES
SEASONAL ACTIVITIES
SURVIVAL SKILLS

The book is generously illustrated with photographs that have all been scrupulopusly credited to no fewer than thirty separate photographers.

The book has an excellent index, an Afterword from Jon Cree, Chair of the Forest School Association, and author biographies.

Marina Robb is founder and managing director of the outdoor learning association Circle of Life Rediscovery; Anna Richardson is a forest school facilitator and trainer; and Victoria Mew, also a qualified forest school practitioner, has a particular interest in animal tracking.

I very much hope it comes to the attention of the judges of the SLA Information Book Award.

The Conversation Train

Joel Shaul

Jessica Kingsley

9781849055314

February 2014

hardback

This is a really clever and helpful book aimed at giving autistic children a better understanding of how everyday conversations work, using the analogy of a steam train.
The engine or locomotive starts the conversation up with a greeting. The tender provides some locomotive power with a ‘How are you?’ or similar. And then, using illustrations of the freight wagons, the author shows how important turn-taking is in conversation, and how a non-sequitur remark can potentially derail things.
It’s very appealingly done, and there are photocopiable worksheets at the back for reinforcement and assessment.
This is a very high-quality resource, confidently recommended.
It was first published in America in 2010 by Autism Teaching Strategies.

The Asperkid’s Game Plan

Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Jessica Kingsley

9781849059596

April 2014

hardback

Jessica Kingsley is an independent publisher known for its strength in publishing books about mental health and autism. The author of this title was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in adulthood and is the mother of three children with Aspergers.
Her book explains in very practical detail how to structure play that engages Asperkids in a way that will reinforce ASD strengths whilst also addressing ASD weaknesses.
It’s a substantial very well-produced hardback, plentifully illustrated with colour photos.
Recommended both for parents and educational settings.

Malala – The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Changed The World

Mamalal Yousafzai, with Patricia McCormick

Indigo

9781780622149

August 2014

hardback

When I was young (pre-teen), reading biographies and memoirs of famous and inspiring individuals was commonplace. I had a particular penchant for reading about explorers and adventurers. When I visited the children’s section of the public library there was no shortage of such books. But individual biographical subjects no longer feature so prominently on children’s publishing lists.
The subject of this book has, of course, just been presented with the Nobel Peace Prize. Back in the summer Orion published her memoir on their teenage Indigo list. Although the book has all the appearance of an adult hardback biography (with inset coloured photos) it has been co-written with Patricia McCormick in a manner that makes it eminently accessible to children of older primary age, and would make an excellent present for anyone aged 10+.
It’s thought-provoking and engaging. Malala herself comes across as extraordinarily well-balanced and rounded.
At the end there is a very useful Timeline of Important Events, but also a set of Discussion Notes which give the book an unnecessarily overt educational agenda.

Josh And Josh – Small, Towns, Big Leagues

Jim Pransky

Tate

9781628541076

2013

paperback

Sampled

In this age of satellite TV there is quite a substantial UK fanbase for American football and baseball. Finding good sports books for young readers is not at all easy. So it’s good to be able to recommend these small softbacks available from an independent American press. Jim Pransky, a professional baseball scout with the Tampa Bay Rays, writes a good clean American prose. Josh and Josh is a biographical study of two young Pensylvanian sportsmen. Pransky’s previous two books – Championship Expectations and Playoff Run – were fictional baseball adventures, ideal for readers aged 9+. The books were sent to me from America by the author himself and are published by an American publishing firm that is open about its agenda of promoting family values.

The Power Of Sloth

Lucy Cooke, writer and main photographer

Watts

9781445127903

April 2014

hardback

Finished

This delightful photo-info-essay will make a perfect gift for any animal loving child. Lucy Cooke is a film-maker, photographer, zoologist, TV presenter (Talk To The Animals) and National Geographic explorer. The photos in this small hardback are sure to raise smiles and ‘Aww!”s. The text is unpatronising and humorous. The kind of title that bookshops might not stock so I’d recommend getting an order in fast if you want to give this to someone for Christmas.

Atlas Of Adventures

written by Rachel Williams, illustrated by Lucy Letherland

Wide Eyed

9781847805850

October 2014

hardback

Finished

Last year the big oversized book success was Maps by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski. This year the big book title being stacked high on display tables in children’s departments is Atlas of Adventures, a really well-produced highly-illustrated compendium of geography and general knowledge. Interestingly, it was Rachel Williams who was the publisher of Maps while at Templar. She is listed as this book’s author, and is now publisher at Frances Lincoln, part of the Qaurto group responsible for Wide Eyed editions.

My Pop-Up World Atlas

Anita Ganeri and Stephen Waterhouse

Templar

978-1-84877-398-1

July 2012

16 pp

Whole book read

Young Olympic watching children wanting to know more about competing countries and where they exist geographically will find this new pop-up atlas packed with information. Anita Ganeri is very experienced in creating information books for children and Stephen Waterhouse has illustrated in a lively and colourful picture atlas style. They make a good team.
Adults may find some of the information snippets a trifle trite and simplistic, but let a curious 7-9 year old pour over this for a few hours and they’ll emerge with a substantial body of general knowledge.

1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

edited by Julia Eccleshare

Hodder

9781844036714

October 2009

This lovely whopper of a reference book weighs in at just under 1000 pages. The first thing to be said about it is that has been splendidly designed and presented, as well as printed to a high quality. The typeface is sharp and easy on the eye. The page layouts are straightforward and uniform throughout the book. For the most part the illustrations used are the book jackets from a title’s first edition. Indeed, much pleasure can be derived from 1001 Children’s Books without reading a single entry; just admiring the book jacket designs and (for an older consumer such as I am) taking a trip down memory lane is delight enough.
Of course there are omissions. That goes without saying. Each of us might have found room for titles not included here if we had been the book’s editor. I would have wanted a place for Robert O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah (in addition to his Mrs Frisby and the Rats Of Nimh, which IS included here), for Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, for at least one book by Joan Bauer. But to be honest a couple of dozen changes out of the 1001 would probably be sufficient to bring the selection closer into line with my own editorial preferences, and I daresay the same would be true for everyone. Achieving a 98% satisfaction level should more than please Julia Eccleshare.
A fine book currently available at a cutdown price.