A Change Is Gonna Come
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Change Is Gonna Come is a compilation of short stories and poems from 12 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers, ranging freely over a series of topics and themes, and pretty much all of them are rather wonderful, powerful contributions. What really struck me about this collection is the care that’s been taken over every element in it; from the striking and wonderful cover design (for more on that, have a look at this, to the note in the introduction from the editorial mentee (a good thing, publishing world), and the inclusion of debut writers, A Change Is Gonna Come feels like it’s been loved. And that sensation of love is powerful when it slides into the hand of the reader, so very powerful.
A frank highlight for me was Tanya Byrne’s lyrical and incandescent love story ‘Hackney Moon’. Byrne is a writer whose debut Heart-Shaped Bruise was something I called kind of spectacular, and Hackney Moon is right up there. An aching, tender, and fiercely told love story, it’s honestly, one of the best things I’ve read for a long time. I finished reading it and did one of those little ‘oh that was good’ pauses. (Don’t you love them?)
Another highlight for me was Aisha Bushby’s ‘Marionette Girl’, a distinctive, eccentric and powerful story of growth. Bushby’s writing is sympathetic and kind, but also full of a very subtle sense of drive. The sense of a character pushing up against barriers all around her mixed with the knowledge that she’s going to break through. Does that make sense? I hope it does. This is a story full of drive and determination and power, and it’s kind of heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once.
What a way to start the year this is!
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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 🙂
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.
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).
3. NEW CHILDREN’S LAUREATE
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?
Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So I need to tell you something, and it’s something you may need to sit down for. I like school stories. I really, really do. I know right? It shocked me too. There’s something about the genre (something that I explore more here) that appeals to me and I think it is this. The school story is a tiny, tiny thing, set in tiny tight places with fixed boundaries and rules and demands and yet, when done well, it can be about everything in the entire world.
Byrne’s second novel after Heart-Shaped Bruise (my review of that is here) was something I’d been looking forward to ever since I heard on the Twitter that she was setting it in a boarding school. There’s not enough modern boarding school stories in this world, books that explore this genre and fling it at the shadows and bring you along for the ride.
Follow Me Down is something that I greatly, greatly laud because it does that. Byrne’s competence is unmistakeable and even managed to keep me hooked in, me who is hideous at figuring out ‘the twist’ in things and has to flick back a thousand chapters (always) to figure out what’s going on. Byrne’s got a really lovely solidity to her work, a thickness to her worlds that make them believable and make them very, very potent.
And what I really loved is that this is like the after-dark edition of a genre I rampantly love. It steps away from the double entendres and the genre mocking so many other titles seem to do, and it gives us a real and dark and powerful world where people cannot escape the things that burn them. Love, loss, obsession, lies. It’s all here and there’s nowhere for it go other than round and round until everyone’s caught up in it.
Byrne’s really good, you know? And everything should be set in a boarding school from now on. Everything. It should be a rule.
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Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Emily Koll is – well – she’s –
She’s brittle, broken. But she’s here.
She’s here after –
(well, after everything she did, after everything that’s been printed about her, after all the words that have been said)
She’s telling her story for the first time. And oh – what a story. Emily is a glass-edged, vivid narrator full of fragile braggadocio and vicious, vicious pain.
Heart-Shaped Bruise is massively out of my comfort zone and I found it a little hard to get in to at first. It felt a bit too artful for what I was expecting. But then, once I was in there – it was good. Almost voyeuristically good. What Byrne does is, she gives heart to the heartless. Emily’s one of those people who’s done awful things and we shouldn’t love her.
(But we sort of do. We sort of root for her to come back from this place she’s in and pull herself out of the darkness).
Heart-Shaped Bruise is a massive book because, I think, it poses so many more questions than it can ever answer. Revenge. Love. Loss. Everything. It’s big.
Emily Koll is bigger. There was one moment that leapt out of the sky at me. One of the characters asks Emily what she wants when she dies. Her reply? “When I go, I want to punch a hole in the sky.”
That’s it. That longing to make a mark – to just – just matter.
Tanya Byrne makes Emily matter.
Heart-Shaped Bruise is kind of spectacular.
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