Discussion

Required Reading: Books I Would Put on the Curriculum

Particularly in the last three years, following Michael Gove’s decision to axe American literature from the GCSE English reading list, I’ve paid close attention to the types of literature I’ve been exposed to in school. Here’s all the books I’ve studied from year six to year twelve:

studied

These books are great and generate a lot of discussion. This year, I’ve really enjoyed Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I don’t mean to say these texts aren’t worthy of studying – but classrooms would hugely benefit from more diverse and current books, especially from this century. This is already happening, to a certain extent – for example, with Noughts and Crosses.

I think YA is more likely to make an impact on a student’s life. The YA section in a bookstore is where you’ll find some of the most influential and life-changing reads, as well as a plethora of diverse stories. So much of what I read in these categories spark important discussions.

In my opinion, the current syllabuses fail to do so – of course, there’s discussion of race and patriarchy, but often in the context of eras gone by. As important as historical literature is, it’s also integral to make syllabuses inclusive of books that deal with issues in the current state of the world.

It’s also so vital children see themselves represented. I’m yet to find literature by authors of any Asian origin on a syllabus, and LGBT* representation is shockingly sparse. The ratio of black and female authors to white and male authors is also far from equal on reading lists.

So, what would I put on the curriculum?

A while ago, I wrote a post based on a Twitter discussion, about what books others would like to see in school. I wanted to revisit this idea, using some of my recent reads! Without further ado, here’s a shortlist of books I’d give students, if I had the power:

if you could be mine

GCSE and A Level: If You Could Be Mine is a beautifully written book about two girls in Iran, who have feelings for one another but can’t express it publicly. It would be awesome to see an Iranian author on the syllabus, and the story is an emotional one with lots of themes to be talked about in class, from sexuality and religion to society and tradition.

george

Middle Grade Reading: George would be a fantastic book to discuss with younger pupils. Not only is it a really fun, heartwarming read – it’s also the perfect way to start a discussion about gender with children and promote tolerance of trans kids. Trans children are more likely to feel alienated and be victims of bullying in school: wouldn’t it be incredible for them to see themselves in the books they read?

 

the bunker diary

A Level: The Bunker Diary is controversial, to say the least, and it’s incredibly hard hitting. That’s why I hesitated to put this on the list. But I think it would be fascinating to analyse for students who would feel comfortable talking about its themes. In particular, the narrative is a really interesting point; it’s constantly evolving and switching as the protagonist spends longer in the bunker.

the hate u give

GCSE: Especially on the GCSE curriculum, opportunity to talk about current events is very limited. Police brutality and racism in America is a really important topic to engage students in so they’re aware and informed. The Hate U Give is perfect for this. It’s also a fantastic read that’s hard to put down.

wide awake

GCSE and A Level: Wide Awake is definitely underrated and I’m always eager to recommend David Levithan! The current state of the US is pretty depressing, but this book explores the idea of a gay Jewish president being elected, and the diverse celebration surrounding his campaign. It’s brilliant! David Levithan’s writing is absolutely beautiful and it would be so wonderful for it to be reflected on in classrooms.

 

wonder

Middle Grade Reading: Wonder has to be on this list! I’m pretty sure some primary schools have already used this book as a talking point. Wonder is written from multiple perspectives and follows Auggie as he starts mainstream school with a facial deformity. This book is so heartwarming and has already inspired so many young people to promote kindness.

What books would you put on the curriculum?

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve seen so many articles, tweets, Tumblr posts about acts of police brutality against African Americans in the US, I’ve lost count of the amount of names I’ve seen listed. It’s upsetting. It’s horrible. It shouldn’t be happening. And it’s difficult to raise awareness about it, beyond sharing something on social media – so I really want to share this book as widely as I can.

Published 6th April 2017 by Walker Books UK. 

32613366Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.


My Review: I was so eager to read this, from the minute I learned what it was about. The Hate U Give is focused on Starr, a girl my age, who is in the car with her childhood friend when he’s killed by a police officer who had no reason at all to shoot. Grieving Starr is thrown into the most difficult situation, where she has to decide whether to stay silent or to speak out, even if it puts her life at risk.

What happens to Starr’s friend, Khalil, is frighteningly similar to so many deaths I’ve read about – and it’s frightening to think that this happens regularly. It really opened my eyes to the situation of prejudice and racism in America, as before I was aware but not aware enough, as most people sadly are.

The story is heartbreaking, and might be difficult for some to read as it touches on so many relevant themes today – but that’s why this book has to be read. It’s unflinchingly powerful and brave.

The narrative is compelling, and I grew to really love Starr throughout the novel – it’s told in her very realistic voice. She’s torn between what to do, because remaining silent about what she witnessed and raising her voice. She’s also torn between two different ‘lives’ she’s living: her hometown and the mostly-white populated private school she attends. Starr lives with so much internal conflict, and I really empathised with her because I can imagine so many people are in the same situations.

I became really attached to Starr’s family, and Thomas writes so much detail into each character that I can’t stop thinking about them. Starr’s father is one particularly well developed, unforgettable character – an ex-convict who found his way out of gang culture, determined to protect his children and also build up his life with the store he now owns. There’s something about all of the characters that’s incredibly inspiring – their stories stay with you for a long time.

The best thing about The Hate U Give is how unapologetic and real it is. I’m really excited to see how it translates into a visual story, too! The movie rights have been sold, with Amandla Stenberg to star – which is the most incredible news. I really hope this book, and a movie in the future, helps to raise awareness. Not only is this a captivating story – it’s a powerful and unforgettable message about an ongoing issue.

Overall, I obviously recommend The Hate U Give to everyone, especially if you’re not very informed on current events in America and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s the most memorable and moving book you’ll read this year.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of The Hate U Give from the publisher, via Lovereading4kids, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Published 5th January 2017 by Walker Books.

25909375Goodreads Synopsis: With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.


My Review: This book has been gaining so much attention pre-publication – I first picked up some postcards at YALC last year, and was immediately excited even if it wasn’t being published for half a year. When a review copy arrived, I was so eager to start it! This was my last read of 2016 and I couldn’t have picked a better one.

Webber’s debut centres around Wing, a high schooler in 1995 America, who deals with a recent family disaster by taking up running – which she’s surprisingly talented at. Running becomes Wing’s coping method, but it also turns into an opportunity for her to support her family.

Even though books about sports aren’t exactly my thing, I became so swept up in this – because it’s about so much more than Wing’s running. The story is a profound blend of tragedy, hope, family and determination. I adored it. At many points, the plot was completely unexpected. It deals with some heartbreaking issues – a member of Wing’s family is hospitalised, and the reason for it causes people to resent the Joneses, and plunges them into a difficult situation. It felt frighteningly real, as though I was in the situation myself.

What I enjoyed the most about Wing Jones was how diverse its characters were – I don’t think any of the main characters were white, and there’s a really sweet same sex relationship between two minor characters. A large issue Wing’s dealing with is bullying, from a resentful student who insults her because she is mixed race, with Chinese and African-American descent. Wing’s identity plays a huge part in her life, as she lives with both her grandmothers, and I loved how the story talked about this in great detail, exploring the grandmother’s characters as well as Wing’s. The family felt so real three-dimensional and I became so attached!

I can tell that Wing Jones is going to be a hugely talked about, well-loved book, because it just has all of the right things. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read something so heartfelt, poignant and emotional – and witty in all the right places. I’m not 100% sure on how I feel about the ending – it’s satisfying, but I did wish there had been even more of a build up to it, if that makes sense.

Overall, I definitely recommend you read Wing Jones asap, because it’s truly a wonderful story no matter what your reading tastes are. You’ll fall in love with the characters, with the unforgettable family, and you’ll be rooting for Wing the whole way through as she discovers her talent. It’s incredibly sad in places, but so uplifting too.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of Wing Jones from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Uncategorized

THE CURIOUS TALE OF THE LADY CARABOO BLOG TOUR: Catherine Johnson’s Diverse Book Recs

I haven’t helped on a blog tour for a while, so this post is pretty exciting! 🙂

23346317

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo is a YA historical romance by Catherine Johnson, author of Sawbones. It’s out on July 2nd, and for this blog tour Catherine is here on the blog to give some diverse book recommendations!

Catherine Johnson on Diverse Books:

Hello and thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog to share some books.

There are honestly more books with diverse characters than you might imagine. It really is a question of looking for them.  There are even more where the sidekick or the love interest is a POC or LGBT or ‘different’, even though we all are. Different, that is.

So I’ve decided to rule those out – who wants to be the sidekick?  Most of us have been fed up with being the sidekick since primary school.  What we love about books is the chance to be swept away to stand in the shoes of someone else and see where that takes us. That was one of the reasons I started writing historical stories. I wanted the person in the front, in the swooshy frock to be someone who looked like me.

Anyway. The following are all favourites of mine – even though there is one I haven’t read yet….

PicMonkey Collage

1 Liccle Bit, Alex Wheatle

This is a fantastic book. It’s set on a council estate in South London as Liccle Bit –  real name Lemar, he’s small for his age  – attempts to ask the girl of his dreams out and not fall foul of the local bad guys. But there is so much more to it than that. This is how a lot of London looks and sounds and the writing sizzles with life. This is Alex Wheatles’ first YA book – he’s written lots for adults – and I hope it’s the first of many.

2 Running Girl,  Simon Mason

My favourite book of last year and my favourite YA lead character in a million years. Garvie Smith’s IQ is off the scale, but he is also pathologically lazy, a stoner and (from my adult pov) entirely annoying. I could slap him SO many times! But he’s also charismatic and brilliant and he’s going to find out what happened to the girl in question whether the police – in the shape of DI  Singh- get in his way or not.

3 Noughts and Crosses Graphic Novel,  illus. John Aggs, written by Malorie Blackman

I haven’t read this yet but I have pre-ordered the hell out of it. Blackman’s book was truly a blockbuster in every sense of the word. Using reversals to give white readers a sense of what it might be like to be in the minority as well as deliver a cracking story, Blackman builds an utterly believable brand new world and has us willing her characters to win through on every page. I cannot wait to see this as a Graphic novel.

4 Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson

This is one I use in teaching. Look at the first chapter. No, just look at the first line. If you don’t read the whole book after that then I don’t believe you have any kind of a heart. At all. Halse Anderson is a brilliant writer and in this book she takes us back to the American War of Independence and shows us events though the eyes of young Isabel, born a slave.  Fabulous.

PicMonkey Collage

5 Web of Darkness, Bali Rai

A chilling psychological thriller. Why Bali Rai is such  woefully under appreciated UK writer is a massive mystery to me. In this novel, set in a school in modern day Leicester, our protagonist Lily, seems like an ordinary girl,  she’s a little bit insecure and her and her mates spend a lot of time on social media. But the story soon twists as Lily’s life takes a  series of dark turns. This novel handles modern themes, suicide, the internet, and how much we give away about ourselves. It’s one of his best I think.

6 The House You Pass on the Way, Jacqueline Woodson

I have to be honest here, I picked this one up just because the heroine was called Staggerlee – like in the song. She chose the name herself because she felt her given name Evangeline wasn’t fierce enough. That was enough to set me off. And then there’s the writing. Woodson, winner of The Newbery Medal, is an utter genius and this is a coming of age story –  with a lesbian protagonist – that will knock your socks off.

7 If You Were Me,  Sam Hepburn

Another almost brand new book and another one that shows us what London is really like from the point of view of new Londoner Aliyah and her family – resettled from Afghanistan. When her brother is arrested as a terrorist she’s going to fight to clear his name. She finds an unlikely ally in local boy Dan, who has his own secrets. This is a brilliant modern thriller, I can’t recommend it enough.

8 This is Not A Love Story, Keren David

Keren David’s book is unusual for UKYA in being set overseas in Amsterdam and in having a cast of young Jewish teens. It’s about love and identity and dark secrets, but there’s a total and utter freshness and modernity to these young people, to their actions and their choices. It’s like seeing characters come of age as you read.

A couple more very recent books that I LOVE are Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, and Carnegie listed Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman, and can I say I am dying to read For Holly from Tanya Byrne? And I am going to stop now or I will go on forever (and ever).

Catherine is the author of The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo out July 2 from Penguin Random House.

Thanks Catherine for an awesome post, it was an honour to host it! I better go check out some of these titles now – This is Not a Love Story by Keren David has been on my radar for a while and that’s at the top of my shopping list! 

Uncategorized

Book Review: You’re Not Proper by Tariq Mehmood

Published 19th March 2015 by Hope Road Publishing.

You're Not ProperGoodreads Synopsis: Karen thinks she’s not proper white.
Her dad is Pakistani and her mother is white Christian, and somehow she feels as if she doesn’t quite fit in… anywhere. So she’s made a choice: she’s switching sides.
Karen’s going to convert to Islam to find her true identity.
But Shamshad, her Hijab-wearing school mate, isn’t making things easy for her. What’s her deal, anyway? Is Shamshad really any more proper than herself?
Trouble and turmoil await in the old textile mill town of Boardhead East, as school battles are replaced by family troubles, name calling turns to physical confrontation and cataclysmic secrets are unveiled.
Set against a backdrop of seething Islamaphobia, You’re Not Proper is the first in the Striker series, written by Tariq Mehmood to shine a light on issues of identity, religion, politics and class affecting young people today – a unique new series in young adult fiction.

My Review: I was curious to see what this book would be like, as I can’t say I’ve read many books on the same subject; and Islamaphobia is a really prevalent topic in today’s world. I was really interested to see how it was written about here!

I loved the concept of the story and I wish books like this were more talked about. The plot of You’re Not Proper was a complete emotional roller-coaster, as Karen is so desperate to find faith and belonging in a pretty divided Manchester community. I found it really eye-opening to read about the harsh treatment of people because of their backgrounds – even from their peers.

The pacing felt a little strange at points, and I’m not sure how to describe it. I felt like some scenes felt rushed where they could’ve been longer and more descriptive of the narrator’s feelings. The switching narratives between Karen and Shamshad were great and I found the girls both really realistic and I wish I’d gotten to know their mindsets a bit better.

The plot twist towards the end of the story was really unexpected and made a really interesting ending. There’s careful hinting throughout the novel as to some kind of family secret – but the truth was far more shocking than I’d imagined! Very quickly, the story spirals from bullying to a really dark outcome – which in turn reveals the huge secret. It was a little strange how the final events played out – I would’ve preferred to see how everything developed.

Overall, You’re Not Proper is a really thought-provoking read and I enjoyed it! I definitely recommend it for those who want a brilliant, relatable insight into what it’s like to be a teenager and Muslim in a place where it’s often frowned upon. I had a few thoughts while reading it and would’ve liked to get to know the characters in more detail, and the ending didn’t feel completely solid to me – however, it’s a short and enjoyable read that’ll definitely make you tear up a few times!

My Rating:

three

I received a copy of You’re Not Proper from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Uncategorized

DIVERSITY IN YA: Book recommendations!

I was sitting at my computer, procrastinating by scrolling through my twitter feed, last Friday night. I was completely stuck for blog post ideas: I’ve been so behind with blogging because the first term at school has been hectic, to say the least!

I’ve been very aware of the inspiring, brilliant #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter since it launched, but seeing tweets from that evening’s #SupportWNDB talk were the deciding factor that led to me making this post. Also, that I haven’t done a infographic post in quite a while. I hope you enjoy it!

There were a lot of books to pick from to fit onto this quick graphic, but picking out of my recently used Goodreads shelves… I honestly didn’t actually find it difficult to narrow it down, to pick only a few titles with diverse characters; of colour, a different cultural background, an LGBT* identity or disability. I think that proves that a) I really must seek out more diverse books, and read those sitting on my TBR, and that b) the WNDB campaign is so necessary: I’m so glad it’s encouraging and publicising books that otherwise wouldn’t be as visible.

Anyway, I’m aware I’ve rambled on a bit, and this post was meant to be just an infographic… (:

Diversity_In_YA1

I hope you liked the infographic! I would love to take any recommendations on books similar to these (or completely unique ones of course!) and hear what you thought of these titles. There’s a lot of amazing sounding YA/MG fiction that’s out next year also, like Lara Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal (A very hotly anticipated one!) – are there any titles you are looking forward to reading?