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“Rosa” – Doctor Who, and Malorie Blackman

I’m still shaking after last night’s Doctor Who episode. Written by the illustrious Malorie Blackman, a legend in the world of children’s and young adult literature – and former Children’s Laureate to boot, Rosa was set in Montgomery, Alabama and concerned the equally illustrious figure of Rosa Parks.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand story when you’re crying on the sofa. When you’re made breathless by it, and you can’t look away. When sentences make you sick and horrified at the world and then, in the next breath, make you laugh out loud. Emotions matter. They’re a total asset. And when a story triggers them, whether that story’s rendered on a television screen, written in a book or stuck onto the back of the HP bottle, you know you’re onto a good thing.

Malorie Blackman is a good thing. Rosa broke me and remade me and it reminded me of the utter power of story. It’s an unrelenting episode, stark and unflinching and with a remarkably final ten minutes or so. It’s perhaps more remarkable in that the agency of Rosa herself is never affected. She changes the world. She changes the universe. And she does it herself. There’s no machinations, no zapping of an alien to make her sit in the seat, it’s just the circumstances of history and the power of an individual voice. Beyond that, yes, there’s a Doctor Who episode but there’s also one of the lead characters being threatened with a lynching. There’s a moment where two of the leads reflect on how they face modern day racism. This is raw, horrific, outstanding storytelling and it felt like a statement of intent, not only for the show but also Malorie Blackman’s work. She is a storyteller of intense power.

If you’d like to discover more about Blackman’s work, I’d suggest starting with the outstanding Noughts and Crosses series. I review the first one here.


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Sunday round up and reflections

Look, it’s a new series! I’m hoping to do this sort of catch up post as a bit of a weekly thing. There’s a lot of good stuff that flies around the Twittersphere and so this series of round-up posts is designed to catch some of them that you may have missed and stuff that I think warrants highlighting. And things I, to be frank, just like.

1. It’s been a big week in children’s literature as Malorie Blackman continued to storm the media following her being announced as Children’s Laureate. I’m in great love with what she’s been saying and long may it continue. Here she talks about the need for “more books about non-white children” (a sentiment reinforced here by Tanya Byrne). In a separate article, Blackman discussess how honest sex scenes in books will stop young people learning from p*rn (asterisked solely to prevent errant search results) and I have to say, she’s on point. Very much so. (As is Sarra Manning who is a bit brilliant in this post on the topic.)

2. Related to the above, there’s been a flurry of interesting posts relating to the issue of diversity in children’s literature. The new issue of Write4Children came out and it was a themed issue on diversity. The range of topics covered, and the skill that they’re covered in, is massively impressive and I’d urge you to have a long look through it. In addition to this, there’s been some interesting blog posts on the topic of diversity. I was particularly struck by this heartfelt and vital post from Rhino Reads “Mommy, Mama and Me and the importance of diversity in children’s books”.

3. In the land of picture books, this article on reading wordless picture books is really interesting (and lavishly illustrated which is always a plus). And I discovered the best / most bonkers range of children’s board books ever! Have you touched these? Are they amazing? Are they terrifying? I need to know!

See you next week 🙂

Everything else


As you may know, I’m a one for taking a moment out every now and then to reflect on things. I think sometimes, especially in this golden age of children’s literature, it’s possible to become lost in the ever wondrous newness of things, and so this post is an attempt to redress that. And also it’s to share some other stuff (I know, pithiest sentence ever. I’m ill, don’t give me grief :p)

1. Representation of Children’s Books in mainstream media

Julia Donaldson wrote an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph about how we don’t take children’s literature seriously enough. I read the comments on this piece (don’t, as one of my fabulous Twitter friends advised, ever read online comments) and wrote this in response. A few days later, the Guardian published this piece of eye-opening (and infuriating) research about the nature of reviewing and being reviewed in the print media.

I think this topic is Becoming A Bit Of A Thing for me. I know that papers like the Guardian have substantial online coverage, but it’s an attitude that does not translate into their print version. And that’s sort of my issue. It’s about breaking out of the echo-chamber, outside of the ‘children’s literature space’ and into the ‘literature space’. It’s about not housing the children’s literature, picture books, YA reviews, whatever, in a fenced and contained space at the back of the supplement, or fifteen clicks away from the main site corralled in a children’s book section, it’s about treating these books (which are the first thing your children read) with the respect and excitement and the time that they deserve. Recently the Independent announced that they’re launching a new Children’s Book blog which is very exciting and something I’ll be definitely watching. And my offer to write for the Guardian (I’ll even do my own proof-reading!) is still on.

2. Reviews

Just in case you missed them, here are some of my most popular reviews / pieces of the last thirty days. Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne,  Pantomime by Laura Lam, two Chalet School reviews (Genius and Two Sams), and two slightly more theoretical pieces:- The Use Of Framing And Composition in Ellen and Penguin (by Clara Vulliamy) and a thing about the Complications of Being Merely Whelmed by a book. I’m hoping to do a few more ‘in-depth’ picture book reviews in the future so would welcome titles of a particularly writeable nature (I think my next may be something on the use of colour in  Beegu following this lovely review over on Childtastic which made me discover this incredible book).


There was a point on Wednesday, when I fell in love with our new children’s laureate. Of course I knew how good Malorie Blackman was (I gave away copies of Noughts and Crosses for World Book Night 2013 and reviewed it here). And then I read this and saw her namecheck the Chalet School and I swooned a little bit. Malorie, if you ever fancy being interviewed about the Chalet School, you let me know okay?

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World Book Night 2013

So. I did it. I gave away 20 copies of Malorie Blackman’s epochal Noughts and Crosses to students, staff and faculty. I gave them away to the guys who make the coffee and the girls sunbathing outside. And I left some in public areas in the hopes that they’ll fall into the hands of somebody who’ll appreciate them.

It was quite possibly the most nerve-wracking, nerve-shredding, buzz-inducing lunchtime I’ve ever spent.

Thank you to those people who helped me out when I couldn’t think how to say what I wanted to say.  Thank you to the lovely guys at Random House who gave me some posters to give out with the books.

Noughts and Crosses is one of those books that, when I told people that was what I was giving out, made people go “Oh – wow – I loved that!” and “It’s REALLY good” . So I hope you enjoy it too. I really, really do. And thank you for letting me give you a book today. Thank you so much.


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The day before World Book Night

DYESTAFTSA Towers is busy prepping for World Book Night. Tomorrow I’ll be giving away 20 copies of the seminal Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman.

And this is why.

Children’s Literature has, I feel , helped to make me who I am. I read a lot as a child. Hungrily, desperately. I worked my way through the libraries at both school and at home. And when I “grew up” (though I still don’t quite feel that I have), books came with me. I worked my way through my local library, my local bookshops, my local charity stores and then I went further afield. Always. Wanting. Always. Reading.

Books are a sort of superpower. And we give that to people for free. I still can’t quite fathom the wonder of a public library, a place holding knowledge and comfort and fun – that gives that away for free. How amazing is that? You’re standing there, right there, lost in the mess and haze of life and if you wanted, you could have the words of a thousand warriors at your beck and call. Wilfred Owen. Sylvia Plath. Marian Keyes. Patrick Ness. Life is confusing, brutal, brittle, and these people will help you to understand it – to define it – to make it your own.

Books do that. They mirror our struggles and they give us escape. They give us hope and they give us sadness. They give us potential.

Every book deserves a reader. Every reader – everybody – deserves a book. Emerging literate? Illiterate? Pre-literate? Conquer this, this bastion of intimidation and mystery and lines that mean nothing yet but will, it will, and you are powerful. You are a superhero.

You always were.

And that’s why I’m doing World Book Night. That’s why I’m doing it with Noughts and Crosses, a book about being brave, about being a hero, about standing up for your beliefs, about being a fighter.

Because everyone deserves to be a superhero.

Book Reviews

Noughts & Crosses : Malorie Blackman

Noughts & Crosses (Noughts & Crosses, #1)Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came back to this book as part of my preparation for World Book Night. As part of World Book Night, I will be giving away twenty copies of Noughts & Crosses for free to members of the public. And I can’t wait.

Noughts & Crosses is one of those immensely powerful books, built on the subtlest and cleverest of notions – what if black was right, and white was wrong – and developed into something quite spectacular. Sephy is a Cross. Callum is a nought. This is the story of their lives, and their differing experiences in a heavily and viciously racially aware society.

Callum is a nought, a word never capitalised in the text (oh Malorie Blackman, you are so good at what you do), and society seems determined to knock him down. As a blanker, a nought, you are fated to not be represented effectively in positions of power, to an equal education, to just be allowed to compete on an equal level to that of a Cross.

Sephy’s life is one of privilege in comparison. Her father, Kamal Hadley, is a wealthy politician. His family lives in luxury, drinking things like orange juice (something Callum doesn’t taste until he’s given some by Sephy), and being looked after by staff.

And, just as Romeo and Juliet are fated to have their lives intertwined, Callum and Sephy realise that their futures are locked in each other. Come what may. That future involves an increasingly emphatic war on the part of the noughts for equality, and an increasingly vicious war on the part of the Crosses to keep them subjugated.

I chose this book primarily because I remembered how it made me feel when I first discovered it. It was ( and is!) one of the few books that addresses society, and its ills, without skimping or becoming sensitive over it being a book “for children”. Noughts & Crosses is searing; intensely acute at points, forcing the reader to take an ideological stance and then forcing them to reconsider that stance time and time again, and then at other points, it is the tenderest of love stories.

I am nervous about giving this book out to strangers, but I’m not nervous about what the book will do for them once it’s in their hands. This is a book that makes the reader work – and think – and earn their keep. And it is a book that is just more than a little bit brilliant.

View all my reviews

Book Reviews

The awkward second album

There’s a saying in music that the first album may be a smash, but the second will be infinitely more difficult.

I think the world of literature is the opposite. It’s the first book that’s the difficult one, and it’s the second – and the rest that follow that – that make an author someone special.

Consider Malorie Blackman. In the depths of my local uni library, I recently came across a short story collection of hers: “Not so stupid : incredible short stories“. It was obviously from the dawn of time (the cover told me that much) and a quick Google revealed that this was her first published book.

Huh. Cool.

And yet, I was still a little nervous.

There’s an almost fetishistic aspect towards reading the first novel of such a well known author. You read it aware of the brilliance that she’s achieved. You read it aware of the groundbreaking(ness) of the Noughts and Crosses trilogy. You read it in the context of the author you now know.

This collection of short stories, some only a page or two long, is like a blueprint for her later work. I’d not recommend it from choice. Some of the stories are oddly shaped with regards to length and depth. There’s an awkward predilection towards having a final twist in the tale.  I’d be a little uneasy about my niece (ten) reading this as she’s too young for some of the more graphic elements.

I would recommend this to those who are genuinely interested in viewing an authors early work. Very few people are brilliant first time out. It takes time to get established and comfortable in their voice. JK Rowling’s a prime example of this – compare the naivety of the Philosopher’s Stone with the wide-ranging depth of some of the later novels.

Blackman is a cracking author. Not So Stupid has a palpable sense of her finding her feet with the medium.

Thank God she did.