Friday, 30 May 2014

How Maya Angelou touched one member of The Edge, by Bryony Pearce

I expect to see many articles written about Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson) over the next week; she was a woman who touched a great many hearts, but despite this I could not allow her death to go unremarked.  

I, like a great many students of my generation, studied Maya Angelou at school.  Our A level class read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in conjunction with Grace Nichols, The Fat Black Woman's Poems. 
To this day I clearly remember a scene in the first tome of Angelou’s autobiography; the moment when her mother makes her sleep with the newborn she had been rejecting and she awakens with the baby in the crook of her arm.  Her body had naturally curled around the baby and kept it safe while she slept.  This scene stayed with me, and spoke to me most especially when I became a mother. 
Warned by the midwives against co-sleeping, I was terrified of having my daughter in bed with me, but exhaustion and a long bout of breastfeeding led me to fall asleep and wake, hours later with Maisie in almost the exact position that Maya Angelou had described. Even in the midst of total exhaustion I had known to keep her safe. 
And this is one of Maya Angelou’s great talents: even with our great cultural divide, she and I had a common experience that made me feel at one with her.
I had the unbelievable honour of going, with my A level class, twenty (ahem) years ago, to see her speak in London.  Her mellifluous voice, to this day, remains in my ear. 
She made me understand how poetry should be read, how literature could have a lyricism and music with which I had not previously realised it could be imbued.  I remember our whole class, boys and girls alike, falling silent and listening to her speak with open-mouthed adoration. 
Maya Angelou once said ‘Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory’.
She has returned to her creator and left behind a glorious legacy, touched the hearts of generation after generation, and inspired numerous writers like myself.
Thank you Maya Angelou.


Friday, 23 May 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Savita Kalhan

Last week was the 8th anniversary of Teen Librarian Monthly, run by the amazing Matt Imrie, @mattlibrarian. All the Edge authors were invited to write a piece on ‘Getting Kids Reading’, which is becoming more and more important in a world bursting with social media: You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Instant Chat – the list is endless. Factor in all the other distractions of being a teenager, and it’s easy to see how reading a book begins to fall way down their list of priorities.

My piece for Teen Librarian Monthly was about diversity in children’s literature. I’m cross-posting it here because it’s important to highlight the problem as many times as possible.

I recently blogged the lack of diversity in children’s books - Black and White and Everything in Between: You can read it here.

It was one of very many blogs on the subject – on both sides of the Atlantic. The subject seems to be gathering momentum – particularly in the States.

Following BookExpo America’s (BEA) BookCon line up of an all-white-all-male panel of ‘luminaries from the world of children’s and TEEN/YA writers’, an online campaign was conducted with the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

Here’s the link to their Facebook page.
And this link is to their Tumblr page

#WeNeedDiverseBooks ran a three day event. Most of it was online on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, but from the photos on Tumblr you can see that librarians were very much involved – as were readers, who took photos of themselves saying why they felt the need for more diversity in books

The American Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also initiated a programme to address the lack of diversity in libraries in the States. The letter, below, was posted by Alyson Felman-Piltch, a librarian at Indiana University:
Dear Colleagues:
Many of you have already read ALSC’s White Paper entitled “The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Materials for Children” (available here). If not, I highly urge you to read it, as well as participate in the “We Need Diverse Books” social media campaign.
In lieu of all the recent hubbub around these important measures, I wanted to re-advertise and advocate for participation in an important effort currently being undertaken by members of the EMIERT (Ethnic & Multicultural Exchange Round Table). I am currently the Chair for the Task Force on Establishing Guidelines for Selecting Multicultural Materials for School & Public Libraries, and we would love to have additional voices and advocates on our task force. This is a virtual committee, though we will be trying to get together at Conferences, such as ALA Annual, ALSC Institute, and the YALSA Lit Symposium. If you would like more information on the Task Force, or are interested in joining, please do not hesitate to contact me by replying to this email. Please feel free to proliferate and share this email amongst groups and listservs.All the best,AlysonAlyson Feldman-Piltch, MLS/MIS CandidateDepartment of Library and Infoalyf
In the UK, the Guardian also followed the debate as authors added their voices to the call for more diversity. You can read it here here. 

As a direct result of the campaign, BEA decided there was a need for a panel discussing diversity in children’s literature and consequently invited authors and librarians to a special event at the Convention.

What’s very clear is a call for more diversity in children’s literature, from picture books to books for young adults, diversity in not only colour and race but in everything. In  Malorie Blackman’s words, “diversity in literature fosters knowledge and understanding of others outside our own sphere of experience. It is only through knowledge and empathy of how others live that we can attempt to communicate and connect with each other.

Setting aside the other factors that might contribute to teens generally reading less, are teens partly reading less because there isn’t enough diversity in the books available to them? And does it start when they are much younger, when they are frustrated by not finding a voice they can identify with or a character to relate to?

Savita Kalhan website

Twitter @savitakalhan

Friday, 16 May 2014

Thanks, Caitlin! by Keren David

So, I was going to post about something else completely and then the awesome Caitlin Moran, fabulous journalist and author of the brilliant How to be a Woman, was interviewed about her new YA book in The Bookseller. Her first and only YA book. 

Moran, who said she would always write about “fat, gobby teenage girls”, argued that writing about sexual adventures was important for that age group.  “I grew up reading Jilly Cooper at the age of 13; I think it’s really important which sexy books you read - particularly when you’re a girl," she said. "These form your sexual imagination and I wanted to get in there before anyone else and talk about sex.”

OK, I thought, she doesn't mean 'before any other YA writer writes about sex', because that would be crazy. Also impossible. She means 'before kids read sexy books by other writers.' Or before they get their ideas about sex from porn on their phones, or Hollywood rom coms. Possibly  she's aiming at 9 to 10 year olds, possibly older.  Good stuff anyway, and she joins quite a few of us who are trying to do the same.  

 Anyway, the article went on: 

She is keen to redress an imbalance in books about teenagers, she added. “It’s always about teenage boys going off and having amazing adventures. You don’t see teenage girls anywhere unless they’re being bitten by vampires so I wanted to write about a funny, weird teenage girl having adventures, particularly sex adventures."

 And that seemed odd to me, because does anyone really think that all the teenage girls in books for teenagers are being bitten by vampires? Surely not. But then I looked again and focussed on 'you don't see teenage girls anywhere' and I thought, she's not talking about the books that get written, she's talking about the books that get talked about in the mainstream media. Because we all know that books about girls and love and sex and all that girly stuff don't get a lot of attention in the mainstream media, unless, as happened in the Daily Telegraph recently, they are being dismissed as 'teenage schlock'.  And frankly if you rely on the mainstream media for information about YA, you probably think it's still all Twilight and Harry Potter and Hunger Games, and isn't there someone called Meg Rosoff? 
Anyway, as the queen of Twitter, I am sure Caitlin knew that the UKYA world would respond appropriately with an awesomely positive hashtag #caitlinmoranshouldread recommending great YA books about girls who do more than kiss vampires, I mean get bitten by vampires. Among the names mentioned were Cat Clarke, Katie Dale, Keris Stainton, Sophia Bennett, Liz de Jager, Rae Earl,Sarra Manning  James Dawson...I could go on and on. 
 Naturally I took the opportunity to mention my own Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery, about money and sex and inequality and Islam and...just read it, Caitlin, please, read it, because if you recommended it on Twitter I'd be so happy.  
And even happier if you went on and read  other YA books as well, and tweeted and wrote about them, because girl-centred YA really needs a great, outspoken champion with a loud voice that people listen to. I really hope that's going to be Caitlin.

So, welcome to the world of YA, Caitlin,  where lots of people write books about lots of things, and we generally read eachother's stuff and tweet enthusiastically about it, and only take offence very occasionally. I'm looking forward to reading your book, because I love your writing. And I look forward to you reading lots of ours. 

Friday, 9 May 2014


Paula Rawsthorne discusses the importance of empathy in stories.


Over the last couple of years there has been research published showing that children who read books voluntarily (i.e. outside of set books in school) do better academically across a range of subjects.  However, reading books comes with a multitude of benefits aside from the academic.  First and foremost is the pleasure that can be gained from being engrossed in a great story but also, an important and powerful benefit is when a story produces empathy in the reader.

We may spend our whole lives trying to make sense of the world, however, the teenage years can be a particularly intense and questioning time and having powerful, accessible stories can help in the process of trying to understand ourselves and others.

Empathy is the ability to feel someone else’s emotions or experience.  The ability to cultivate empathy in the reader seems particularly strong in many stories written for Young Adults. 

Creating empathy can help break down prejudice and lazy stereotypes that surround us.  Within a gripping story, the best Young Adult books can create an emotional connection between the reader and the main protagonist (who is usually also a teenager).  The reader is allowed inside the protagonist’s head to feel what they are feeling and to hear their inner thoughts.  This can be especially powerful when the protagonist is in a place or situation that the reader has never experienced; this then offers the reader the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, to see the world from another perspective, to gain insight and understanding of why people may behave the way they do and so be more understanding and accepting.  It can also show that, no matter how different people’s cultures, upbringing or situations may be, there are also similarities between us and aspects that connect us.   

The YA books that do this successfully, do it organically, through the story and characters, without being forced, preachy or ‘worthy’.  The empathy developed when reading a powerful story can remain and hopefully, be carried over from the world of the book to be used in everyday life.

Here’s a small selection of the many novels YA readers cite as producing a strong sense of empathy;

The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

To Kill A Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

In Darkness - Nick Lake

Before I Die – Jenny Downham

Please let me know which novels you’d select and why.