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The books in this section cover a range of PSHE topics including bullying, family issues and racism. There are both fiction and non-fiction titles and cover age ranges from Toddler to Older Teen.
September 2021 Debut of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2021 | This gripping thriller with a high octane plot and full-on characters takes its readers on an amazing journey across two time frames and in and out of real science and maths while also vividly capturing contemporary teenage life. Esso and Rhia, from different times and, in reality, from different generations, are brought together by chance and, from then on, must work out how best to understand the Upper World and all its secrets. Femi Fadugba’s debut novel will delight and challenge readers.
Perfectly-pitched for its intended age group, Joanna Nadin’s No Man’s Land is a mightily thought-provoking, utterly gripping, and empathy-inspiring story of a ten-year-old boy’s bravery in the face of the terrifying changes that come in the wake of an impending war in far-right Albion, a dystopian imagining of post-Brexit Britain. It started “when the Albioneers won the election. Maybe before, even - before I was born. When England decided it didn’t like Europe any more.” That’s how endearing Al surmises the situation as things worsen in Albion - his non-British, non-white friends are being compelled to leave this intolerant, racist land, and war is on the horizon. As a result, Al and his little brother Sam are sent to safety by their dad, to Kernow in the country, where a community of mainly women eke out survival. While Sam believes this is all part of a game, Al is angry at being sent away, and desperate to be reunited with his dad by his imminent birthday. But time sweeps by, and war is certain. There are valuable lessons to be learned from Al’s realisation that the women of Kernow are, in fact, the true heroines of the piece - “there were different ways to resist… I saw them then. The women in the kitchen, whispering, drinking, planning. Not bad things. But not nothing either. Providing a life for anyone who needed it.” In Al’s words, “not all heroes wear capes. And not all heroes carry guns.” Powerfully prescient stuff, with wonderfully-drawn characters.
At once a page-turning adventure set in the Californian wilderness, and an inspiring call to action for young environmentalists, Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Paradise on Fire teems with real-life issues (grief, racism, climate change and social inequalities) and emotional wisdom. Following the death of her parents in a fire, the novel’s endearing heroine, Addy, is being raised in the Bronx by her beloved Nigerian grandmother. From the outset, Addy’s grief is tangibly evoked - “Being an orphan is like being a crusted-over scab. Leave me alone. Don’t touch.” Similarly, though we never meet her directly, Addy’s grandmother feels ever-present, like a firm and loving hug that inspires confidence. “To know yourself, you need to journey, Adaugo. Remember what’s forgotten” - such advice echoes through the novel, spurring Addy to handle the most perilous of circumstances. This summer, Addy’s grandma has enrolled her on a wilderness program, which she joins with five other kids of colour for a few weeks of camping, climbing and hiking in the Californian wilderness. Usually insular, Addy flourishes at camp - her sharp mind, spatial awareness and keen cartographer’s eye come into their own here. Then, when fire strikes the forest, it falls to Addy to not only face her greatest fear, but to save her fellow campers from certain death. Gripping to the end, and underpinned by potent messages about climate change and the joys of connecting with nature, Paradise on Fire explores literal and metaphoric survival with heartfelt gusto and a mythological vibe courtesy of Addy’s name (which means “of the air. Far-seeing. Watchful”) and connection to eagles.
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.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Animal lover, Suffragette, favourite of Queen Victoria, lifelong campaigner – Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was a truly remarkable person and Bali Rai brings her wonderfully to life in this short, but action-packed biography. He writes it in Sophia’s voice as first-person narrative and readers will absolutely feel they are there in the different moments described and will fully understand Sophia’s sense of being caught halfway between two words – the British aristocracy and her Indian homeland. Everyone should know her story and I’d press this into the hands of all young people to inspire them with the sense that you can make a difference to the world, and to let them see through the eyes of this extraordinary woman. Published by Dyslexia specialists Barrington Stoke, this is super-readable to all.
August 2021 Debut of the Month | Two friends, one of Indian descent and one of African descent, have weddings to celebrate in their families. As the families gather for the occasion Amrita is exposed to old fashioned attitudes of colourism from older relatives. The idea that eating or drinking certain foods may make your skin darker is treated with a sure touch by Gangrota – but the strong message that people should celebrate their own skin colour and be happy with who they are comes across loud and clear. This is explored by the way Amrita wants to dress in a bright sunflower yellow dress (a colour thought to emphasize darkness of skin) but Mum is there to support Amrita in her choices and feel safe within herself. The title derives from both girls dressing brightly and beautifully for their family weddings. They then go on to promise each other they will live as ‘Sunflower Sisters’ always – with the joyful outcome that they open a shop selling colourful clothes for everyone. The deftness of touch in this story means no-one is belittled for their ideas, though the message comes through very clearly that colourism is not acceptable. Dias-Hayes background in fashion and textile design shines through the wonderful illustrations of clothes. Beautifully executed with a very sunny palette of colours this book is beautiful to look at, as well as powerful to read. Author, Monika Singh Gangotra shares the inspiration behind her debut picture book.
Never one to shirk from tackling complex topics head on, Melvin Burgess’s Three Bullets imagines future England as a horrific entity in which the controlling body, The Bloods, will stop at nothing to attain their vision of Britain as a country of white Christians. Mixed-raced and trans, Martina (Marti) fits the The Bloods’ definition of “abnormals”. In her own words, “You won’t like me, not many people do”, and she’s certainly a complex, contradictory character throughout the novel. When her house is bombed, killing her mum, Marti and her little brother Rowan go on the run with Maude, who was taken into their fold after her own family were killed. Maude is the kind of person who “stuck to her word, for you or against you, which I liked. She had principles, which I kind of admired because I don’t have any myself,” Marti acknowledges. In addition, Maude can “shoot a gun, she knows first aid, she can drive. She’s pretty. She’s white. She has contacts and perfect tits”. The fear, violence and tension of living in a society at war, a country in which the ERAC (Evangelical Realignment Centre) exists to fix “idolaters and heretics and believers in equal rights” is evoked in all its horrific brutality. And amidst this, Marti is set on saving the father she assumed was dead, set on finding the software he created that might hold the key to transforming their world. Marti’s voice is unique and her will to survive like nothing The Bloods could have possibly imagined, as felt by readers as her story rips and races at breakneck speed.
This book is outstanding in its gathering of talent to provide the illustrations to Adeola’s messages. It is a powerful, personal response to the murder of George Floyd and the awakening around the world to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is an honest and very personal letter to Adeola’s younger self, messages he wishes he had seen and heard at a young age, created now for the children of the future. The messages apply to any child – and the illustrations show a diverse range of children and adults; the writing is simple, straightforward and obviously deeply felt, urging children to be themselves, be curious and love the skin you are in. Each double page spread, and the end papers, are all created by one of the eighteen talented black illustrators assembled from all over the world or this book. It is a joy to see so many different yet complementary styles of illustration creating the whole. A book for every classroom and nursery in the country!
A hugely original story which imaginatively captures the complexity of migration for a child. Having suddenly inherited a house from a relative, Meixing Liam and her family are newly arrived in the New Land to begin a New Life. Everything is confusing. Everything is different and everything seems to be going wrong. Cleverly using a third person voice to tell a first person story, Meixing narrates the practical and emotional swirl of her life in a way that enables readers readily to understand just how baffling a new life is. It also allows Meixing to escape into a magical greenhouse where she can escape into an extraordinary dream world. When the dream world collapses, Meixing finds unexpected help and support which show her the power and importance of friendship even in this strange New Life.
June 2021 Debut of the Month | Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades is an explosively exceptional debut. An incisively subversive, edge-of-your-seat thriller that takes the genre to jaw-droppingly unexpected extremes as it exposes horrific, deep-rooted institutionalised racism. The action centres around an elite high school in the white part of town. It has an all-white student population, except for our two principle characters - musician and scholarship student Devon, and privileged aspiring Yale alumnus Chiamaka. Devon (Von to his proud, hardworking Ma) can’t wear his hair in twists or cornrows here, and Chiamaka, of Nigerian and Italian heritage, feels compelled to hide her natural hair, and has adopted a “kill or be killed” stance - to achieve the success she’s set on, Chiamaka knows she’ll have to be tougher than tough. Devon and Chiamaka are sent reeling when an anonymous texter, Aces, starts revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, and it doesn’t take much to realise why they’re being targeted - the colour of their skin. And so a cruel cat-and-mouse game unfolds - two mice trapped in a destructive nightmare and a malicious cat motivated by racism, with homophobia weaponised too. While there are shocks aplenty (of the rare, ingeniously interwoven variety), the story is compellingly complex, with finely considered character exposition, and no simplified, clear-cut dichotomies drawn between who we can trust, and who should be top of our suspect list. The mounting tension is powerfully palpable, as is the embedded racism Devon and Chiamaka are subjected to - it runs deeper and wider than they (or readers) can possibly anticipate. Turns out, no one can be trusted; that there’s more than one cat in this hideous game. Oh, and there are romantic entanglements too, all of which means Ace of Spades delivers on all fronts - mystery, romance and tackling important issues in explosive style. What more could a reader ask for? *** Find a must-read letter from Faridah to her readers, attached to the extract.
The premise of this fascinating book is two teenagers from opposite sides of the world who form a connection through odd circumstances. Natalie has just lost her Mum to cancer and struggles to find a calm place in the world, whilst her brother reacts by rebelling and joining a hate filled far right anti-refugee protest and action group. Sammy has had to leave his home in Eritrea on the chance of a new life in Europe – running from conscription into the army - which is a form of slavery in his home country. Both characters have huge issues to face. Sammy’s seem more obviously dangerous and overwhelming, though Natalie’s are equally as difficult - without the imminent danger. Told through a narrative poem using both voices to alternately express their fears, dilemmas and friendships this is a book you really can’t put down. You have to know if Sammy and Natalie do get to meet. As the plot carries you along you also want to know more about the plight of refugees and the horrific characters that exploit them in many many ways. Natalie’s decision to swim the channel to raise funds for the refugee charities creates a counterpoint in the narrative. The detail of her struggles and training plan seem an unlikely text for poetry - but it works! The author says “I wanted to make sense of what I was seeing, I wanted to do something that would help build empathy and understanding.” She has most emphatically succeeded in this aim. This is such a profound story of hope, grief, and strength - I do recommend it to all. Be aware you will weep, too.
At once hard-hitting and heart-stirring, Black Brother, Black Brother confirms Jewell Parker Rhodes as an exceptional writer whose work resonates with authenticity, empathy, and powerful truths about race and equality. One of the few black boys at his prestigious school, 7th grader Donte has a hard time of it, to say the least. “I wish I were invisible…Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in whiteness. Most of the students at Middlefield Prep don’t look like me. They don’t like me either.” He’s singled out by teachers, and subjected to racist bullying by his classmates: “You dress thug”. “Your dreads are dreadful.” “Why can’t you be like your brother?” “Can your brother find you in the dark?” The brother in question is Trey, who presents as white and, as a result, occupies a very different place in the world. As Donte is arrested - for nothing - he experiences (yet again) that “Black is not invisible”. So, he resolves to get his own back on the student who got him in trouble, and the best way to do that is to beat the boy at his own game - fencing. Donte’s first-person narrative is pitch-perfect and incredibly powerful, and the brothers’ family life is beautifully portrayed too. Their dad is a computer architect whose family were “poor seafarers from Norway”. Their mom is a social justice lawyer whose family is “descended from captured Africans.” But despite the love and support of his brother and parents, Donte’s loneliness is powerfully palpable, especially when he’s suspended. This makes his determination to track down and learn from an African American Olympian fencer all the more moving, all the more inspiring. What an incredible tale of triumph and fortitude this is. Mention must also be made of the author’s afterword, in which she lays bare historic and cultural prejudices against darker skin, the falsehood of black/white categories, and her fascinating reasons for featuring fencing.
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