Book Reviews

Talking politics

In an increasingly visible year, full of increasingly visible and often questionable political rhetoric, I’ve been looking for resources that help us explain this to children. It’s easy to underestimate what a child knows of society, and it’s easy to not discuss this sort of thing. Childhood is childhood and I get the precious protection of that. But equally, we live in a context of connectivity. We are global, we are social, and people talk.

Here’s a few resources that may help you talk with your children or those you work with. I’ve added the date in brackets after each entry for a static entry. I’d like to list more so please do feel free to comment with anything useful that I may have missed.

Everything else

Thanks Obama

I was thinking today that I can’t remember a politician who has so actively centred books within his public dialogue and persona. Literature. Education. The power of the novel and the belief in collective education. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a British context and that saddens me. But I saw it in the Obama administration and I loved that.

Books matter, and you know that if you’re here. Books, and the reading of them, and the public embrace and advocacy of them matters. And when you’re president or prime minister or the head of a school, or a mum or a dad, you almost have to forget yourself because, in a way, you don’t matter. What matters is the act of reading. Of participating. Of believing that we’re better together. Of knowing that empathy and understanding and knowledge is good. Great. Powerful.

And I think the Obama administration got that.

When you read, when you model behaviours, when you talk about the books that matter to you, you share and you advocate and you talk and you connect. And you build hope and connections and you build the ability to disagree but to do so on the strength of your literacy, of your ability to synthesise and understand and analyse information, and you build the ability to connect.

You build with books.

Thanks Obama.


The politics of children’s literature; patterns, voice, ideology

Where are we in this year, this year that’s seen the paradigm shift, this year of evenings where everything made sense and then mornings where it didn’t, this year of hope and of fear and of confusion and of sheer raw confusion, confusion, confusion, where are we now?

I have written about this before, fogged, pained, post-Brexit, and here I am again, reflecting on the political world we live in and exploring it through the frame of my love, of books and of reading and of children formulating themselves against a scaffold of words and images and ink.

Children’s literature is a politicized space; it is, always, driven by the ideological and cultural and personal instincts of those who write it and make it and publish it. A book exists because somebody wants it to exist, and that want is driven, always, by a need to speak. To say something, anything sometimes, but normally something. A vivid, bright, pointed something that can be said only by the writer of that book at that point in time, a message that only they can give.

I ran a creative writing workshop last week and told them of the theory that there are only seven stories in the world, and that what made them different was not the story they told but how they told it. Voice. Voice, always voice, identity and nuance and crafted, pointed, passionated voice.

Voice comes from context and context, sometimes, is forgotten. The superhero saves the day, the villain gets his just desserts, the world is righted, the girl gets the girl gets the boy gets the boy gets the girl, patterns. Always patterns.

And when they are jagged and broken, then it is hard to know where to begin again, where to find the fit in the shards of glass because patterns matter. We understand patterns but we also pattern ourselves; we turn left, catch that train, have a coffee at eleven, a sneaky extra drink on a Friday night. Structure. Pattern. Books fix those patterns within us at a young age because they are a mirror when we are doing nothing but looking and trying to figure out who we are.

Children’s literature matters, undoubtedly, always, indubitably. But it is political. It is a fought for space, from those stories which urge to be part of it and should never have a space within it, from those stories which are part of it and could never be anywhere else. But they are always political, perhaps not within themselves, perhaps not without themselves, but there is always, always, a discourse of politics around them. From the way they’re shelved, to the sex and gender roles of the children they represent, from the way they mask adult concerns around childhood, or from the way they reflect a dialogue around the idea of childhood, a collaborative attempt to understand this space, not through talking down, nor talking up, but rather, simply, talking; of articulating, of dialogue, of discourse.

Children’s literature is not a safe space.  This is not to deny that it can and should be safe, that children deserve and long for this space where their stories can be heard and understood, that to feel safe and complete is something that children’s literature should not do. Of course it is a safe space. But that is not all it is.

Children’s literature is dangerous, challenging, other. From the picture books which ask the single child to consider the presence of a new sibling in their life to the books which tell teenagers how to live when all around them is dark and horrific, children’s literature questions what makes us human.

To navigate that space requires an understanding of self, and the relationship of that self towards this sector of literature. To navigate that space successfully often requires an absenting of the desires of that self. It isn’t easy. But to participate within children’s literature, particularly as an adult, is to participate in a politicized and political space. To be that adult in this sector is to be transgressive, other. Powerful.


(“Hope is a very unruly emotion” – Gloria Steinman)



Everything else

Europe, Brexit and children’s literature

I think it was this morning  that this post finally came into some sort of focus for me. I believe, very much, in children’s literature and the ability for it to tell stories that cannot be told in any other way. I also believe that sometimes we need literature, books, to be our poles in times when there’s nothing else to hang on. It’s an airy, intangible statement to make, but it’s true. Stories give us hope. Storying gives us hope. You only have to look at the context behind some of the great pieces of literature; the stories of authors and of the writing, to find the great hope that lies behind the act of writing words down on a page and believing, knowing, needing them to be read one day.

(A friend over lunch: I feel like I’m not wanted here)

I voted Remain on Thursday and ever since, I’ve felt a little twist of discomfort in my stomach, a great unease at the state of my country. I am English. I am British. I am European. I am a citizen of the world, of the worlds. I have a foothold in Narnia, a foothold in the Chalet School, and I’m proudly a fan of esoteric English boarding school stories until the day I die. None of those identities are mutually exclusive, nor are they distinct. I voted remain.

(A parent on the bus: how do I tell my child about something that I don’t understand?)

These are some of the resources I have come across over the last few days which may be of assistance to those of you who have or are working with young people and children. Sita Brahmachari and the Guardian have been collating books to ‘help young people find hope and strength in these unsettled times’. Nosy Crow posted a wonderful blog post on their stance post-Brexit. In light of the nature of the voting demographics articles like this top 10 list of political books to inspire action or this Goodreads list of Political YA fiction might be of interest. This storify from last year on political reads might also be of interest.

(A friend on Facebook : this was my home)

(And here, I blog in answer : it still is, you are needed, you are wanted, you are home).



Everything else

Politics / Politicians in Young Adult Literature

Just a quick news in brief sort of article for today, but last night I was wondering a bit about politics and politicians in young adult literature so I asked for some suggestions of titles on Twitter. Here’s the storify of what I was recommended. I hope it proves of interest ! 🙂