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Each week our team of book lovers choose a selection of books they have loved and think deserve an extra shout out. Everyone fights to get theirs on the list. Here are this week’s faves...
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Award 2022 ages 11-14 | Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2021 | Shortlisted for the Iris Award | Longlisted for the YA Jhalak Prize | Longlisted for the YA Diverse Book Award | Written with luminous, crackling style, Cane Warriors is an unforgettable account of Jamaican and British history that must be known, with an unforgettable narrator at its heart. In the words of fourteen-year-old Moa, “the hope of our dreamland churned in my belly,” a powerful statement that pulses through this extraordinary story of Tacky’s War. Based on a revolutionary real-life 1760 Jamaican slave rebellion, a visceral sense of the atrocities Moa and his fellow field slaves are subjected to is evoked from the start. Their bodies are lashed and “roasted by a brutal sun”, Moa hasn’t seen his house-slave mama for three years, his papa lost an arm in mill machinery, and his friend Hamaya fears the day predatory white men will “come for me.” Spurred by the death of Miss Pam who “drop inna da field and lose her life”, and led by Miss Pam’s brother Tacky, who “trod like a king” and whose brain “work quick like Anancy”, the uprising hinges on the freedom fighters killing the plantation master. While Moa is glad to be given a pivotal role in the rebellion, he fears that success and escape will mean he’ll never see his parents or Hamaya again - his conflict is palpable, but he’s set on being a cane warrior. Outside the plantation, Moa’s world is immediately transformed, with his life as a freedom fighter evoked in fine detail (I loved the depiction of him tasting creamy, fleshy sweetsop for the first time). There are bloody battles ahead, executed in the presence of Akan gods, and driven by brotherhood and hope for that dreamland. Lucidly lyrical and raw, I cannot praise Cane Warriors enough.
Your big sis in book form, Grown is a celebration of Black British girlhood that will empower you to live your very best life. Grown. It's a mood. It's a mindset. It's a mantra. It's a lifestyle. It embodies everything that makes us who we are. Being a teenager and trying to understand who you are and what you stand for is hard. Period. But if you're a Black girl and don't always see yourself represented in the books you read, the films you watch, the adverts you see or the history you're taught, it can be even tougher. Grown: The Black Girls' Guide to Glowing Up was written with one thing in mind sis. You. From understanding identity to the politics of hair to maintaining squad goals to dealing with microaggressions to consent to figuring out what career you might want, Grown has got your back. Natalie A. Carter and Melissa Cummings-Quarry, founders of Black Girls' Book Club, share stories - the wins and the Ls - and offer honest, practical advice that will show you how to own your choices. To live your truth without fear. To be grown on your own terms without limits or apologies. With a foreword from the inimitable Spice Girl Melanie Brown and contributions from inspirational Black women such as Diane Abbott MP, Dorothy Koomson and Candice Carty-Williams and gorgeous illustrations from Dorcas Magbadelo, Grown is a celebration of Black British girlhood that will empower you to live your very best life.
A Children's Anthem | After the triumph of her performance at the inauguration, this first picture book from poet Amanda Gorman has been hotly anticipated and it certainly does not disappoint! The combination of the lyrical writing with the luminous illustrations from the acclaimed Loren Long, is a marriage made in heaven. From the first page, where we meet the young girl with her guitar, centre stage on a white page and she announces “I can hear change humming/ In its loudest, proudest song./ I don’t fear change coming,/ And so I sing along,” we are swept along by her gentle, quiet confidence. The second spread is a glorious technicolour image of an inspiring community mural of Martin Luther King and we see her meet a light skinned boy carrying a tuba. She offers him a rubbish bag and together they begin to clear litter from the park. As page follows page they continue to reach out to others, “though it might take some courage” and to model little acts of kindness: feeding the destitute, delivering groceries to an elderly person, constructing a ramp for a disabled child and all the time building the song, gathering instruments and changing their community for the better; building towards a glorious symbolic mural of their own. We end as we began with our narrator on a white page, this time looking directly at us with an invitation to carry the song onwards and leaving the reader with a belief in collective action for positive change. Powerful words and images that repay multiple visits and leave an indelible impression. A must have addition to school collections and children's bookcases.
From the team which brought you the critically acclaimed If All the World Were… we have an inspirational story about finding your voice, both literally and metaphorically. The lyrical text and expressive images capture the intense anxiety of the shy protagonist who never speaks in school and also the transformative power of a good teacher. The illustrations show us the colour, vivacity and joy which Miss Flotsam brings to the classroom and the creativity which she inspires. Getting the child engaged in responding to poetry is the first step into unlocking her feelings and revealing what she needs to say. Gradually and cleverly building confidence and ensuring a nurturing atmosphere in the classroom, Miss Flotsam supports the child until she is ready to read her words aloud. The visual representation of creativity is so well done and is a perfect match for the carefully considered words. This lovely story has a powerful message of resilience, courage and determination and will encourage all children to unlock their potential.
From Onjali Q. Rauf, the award-winning and best-selling author of The Boy at the Back of the Class, comes an incredible story about missing histories and the concept of a universal family, told with humour and heart. Leo and his best friend Sangeeta are the odd ones out in their school. But as Leo's dad is always telling him, it's because they're special. Only thing is, if they're so special, how come they never see anyone who looks like them in their school history books? Then, on a class trip to a nearby cathedral, Leo's attention is drawn to a large marble slab high above the doors of the hall. Right there, bang in the middle of a list of war heroes, Leo finds himself staring at something incredible: his own name. Desperate to know who this other Leo was, the two friends embark on a search. And together, they begin to uncover missing stories from the past, ones which they are determined to put back into their rightful place in the pages of history. Touching on themes of historical racism, The Lion Above the Door shines a light on the stories our history books have yet to contain and the power of friendships that can last through generations. Following Leo's story, the first edition of this book contains a special collection of historical photos and stories of real life 'forgotten' heroes from World War Two.
Absolutely dazzling. With exemplary research that beautifully integrates details of time and place, outstanding characterisation that rings with empathy and authenticity, and powerfully resonant themes, Celia Rees’ Pirates is a true triumph of historic fiction. I could say what a swashbuckling adventure this is. How brilliantly the book conjures the thrills and dangers of life on the piratical high seas; what an incredible page-turner it is. And, while Pirates! certainly is all these things, it’s also much, much more. Centred around two extraordinary young women readers will truly care about, it conveys the brutality of slavery in the West Indies, and how women were but pawns in a man’s world - forced into slavery on white-owned plantations, and enslaved by marriage, too. Nancy is the free-spirited daughter of a merchant. Minerva is a strong young woman enslaved in Jamaica. Following his death, Nancy travels to Jamaica, where she meets Minerva on her father’s plantation, and they immediately strike up a bond. As grotty circumstances escalate and close in, the young women flee the lives the world has set out for them by becoming pirates. There’s tremendous tension, epic action, and a gorgeous sense of sisterhood (and romance, too) as the women sail the world determined to live the lives they deserve. May this reissue make its way to legions of new readers - teenagers, young adults and adults alike. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
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