We’d like to say a huge thank you to the PTA for buying £1000 worth of new books for the library. That’s 150 new fiction and non-fiction books, all of which reflect the diversity of our student population. It’s important that our students see themselves represented in the books they read and this is a much needed boost to our collection.
As with everything in the last 12 months World Book Day looked a bit different this year but thanks to everyone who entered the Pupil Librarians’ World Book Day Competition. The variety of submissions really surprised and delighted us. From fan fiction, to songs, dressing up and food entries, we loved them all.
The Year 9 Pupil Librarians met the day after World Book Day (on Teams naturally) and voted on their favourites. It was a difficult choice given that the standard of entry was really high but the winner was clear. Congratulations to Advika W. (7-6), your picture was beautifully executed and perfectly captures the mood of the time.
I have circulated an electronic version of the £1 World Book Day book token on Teams but when we get back in the library, if you’d prefer, you can come and collect a paper token. We also have a limited number of the £1 World Book Day books to buy with your token. You can use the token after the expiry date advertised so you’ll be able to use it when the shops reopen.
Take a look at all the entries. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did:
The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
The blossoming of young love across the divide of differing beliefs (or warring families in the case of Romeo and Juliet) is a classic storyline. In this case, we have Michael on one side, who is dragged along to anti-immigration rallies organised by his parents and Mina, who has survived a long and arduous journey from Afghanistan, a Muslim refugee.
Michael’s first glimpse of Mina is from the opposing side of an anti-immigration protest. He’s intrigued and his interest is piqued when he sees that Mina is a new student at his (predominately white) school. Their first exchange is testy and reveals their deep seated differences about Mina’s presence in Australia. As they get to know each other better Michael struggles to reconcile his feelings for Mina with his family’s publicly outspoken, Islamophobic and anti-refugee beliefs.
This book is a page-turner. Each chapter is narrated by either Mina or Michael and that allows us to build up a fuller picture of the characters. In particular, we can see Michael’s growing realisation that his parents’ ideology is flawed and inhumane. Michael and his classmates are forced to confront their privilege and casual racism as Mina becomes part of their friendship circle.
I loved the relationship between Mina and her new friend Paula. They hang out and do regular friend things, like bake and have movie marathons. This, along with the burgeoning romance between Mina and Michael provide entertaining relief from the anger and hatred Mina and her family face as they are trying to establish their lives in a new home and confront their painful past.
This is a good read, ideal for Years 9 and 10. The ending is hopeful and shows how dubious beliefs can be transformed through human relationships.
Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann
At the end of January, the organisation EmpathyLab launched its Reading for Empathy Booklist. Each book has been chosen to do a specific job in building up your empathy. I’ve chosen one of the 20 books in the collection for secondary schools as February’s Book of the Month. Again, it’s a verse novel. Along with poetry, I can’t seem to get enough of this style of writing at the moment. It’s direct and I’m in awe of anyone who can articulate themselves with such brevity and beauty.
Run Rebel is the story of Amber Rai, an exceptional athlete who is growing up in an Indian household in Britain. Her father is out-of-work, abusive and drinks too much. Her mother works long hours in terrible conditions and they are poor. Neither can read or write in either their mother tongue or in English, so Amber acts as their translator, looking at bills, letters and shopping lists for them. Their community is misogynistic and, like their mother, Amber and her sister are scared into submission with stories of the terrible things that happen to girls who try to be independent and pursue their education and careers. Amber is trapped by her father’s violence, the community that spies on her and her own fears. She loves to run and has the opportunity to represent her County but she will have to rebel against her father in order to do this. It is whilst studying the Art of Revolution in History that she begins to form a plan to break the cycle of her father’s abuse. Education as a means to empowerment is one of the main themes of this book.
The book is plotted well and we follow Amber’s story as she works through each of the eight stages of the anatomy of a revolution. The way the text looks on the page is interesting too. The dialogue of each character is written in a different font. On some pages, letters are highlighted to spell out hidden words which reveal the true feelings that Amber is unable to share with her friends and family.
This is a powerful read. The story obviously means a lot to the author, Manjeet Mann, who has started her own organisation called Run the World, which empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling. The author’s experiences ensure the authenticity of the characters. Amber is a complicated and flawed character. For example, the conflict she feels between her desperation to flee her father and the desperate hope he will change his ways. She also becomes the bully in order to regain some control of her life and these scenes are difficult to read.
There’s a lot to learn about ourselves here too. Amber’s PE teacher cannot understand why Amber’s parents would let her squander her talent and why Amber can’t persuade them otherwise. “You don’t even understand that rebellion is a privilege” Amber retorts.
Without giving too much away, the story has a satisfying and hopeful finale. I found the final scenes, played out between Amber, her Mum and her sister particularly moving. This book, and the others on the Read for Empathy booklist, help us to understand the lives of those experiencing tough situations and in doing so, hopefully, can make us all better people.
Recommended for Years 9, 10 and 11
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jameson and Omar Mohamed
At the end of January, the organisation EmpathyLab launched its Reading for Empathy Booklist. Each book has been chosen to do a specific job in building up your empathy. I’ve chosen one of the 20 books in the collection for secondary schools as February’s Book of the Month.
When Stars are Scattered is a graphic novel based on the true story of Omar Mohamed who was forced to flee, with his younger brother Hassan, from his home in Somalia to a Kenyan Refugee Camp called Dadaab. There, they live with an elderly woman, Fatuma, who has been assigned to look after them in the camp. The book covers six years of their lives in the camp as they, and all the other refugees, try to gain legitimate passage out of the camp for resettlement to another country.
It’s written and illustrated in a beautiful and simple way which makes it accessible but belies the importance of the message. This page is a great example of what I mean:
The story opens a window on a world far away, one that is all too easy to forget exists. When a foreign TV crew turn up to film the camp, Omar wonders “if anyone ever watched these shows back in England or Australia or America? And if people did watch them, why wasn’t anyone helping us?” If the news reports aren’t enough to spur us into action then this story might just do it. Through Omar we see the trauma and uncertainty of refugee life. We also see the love and support the refugees show to each other. You cannot fail to be moved by the heartache and sorrow expressed in this story. I was certainly not prepared for it and read the final few pages in tears. This is a story that will stay with you for a long time.
Highly recommended for Years 7 and 8. (Have a box of tissues close by when you read it!)
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz decides to run for Prom Queen so that she can win a scholarship which will enable her to attend her dream college. She believes she isn’t Prom Queen material and so she has to figure out how to put herself out there, in the glare of social media, a position in which she feels very uncomfortable. She is funny and smart but also anxious.
When I was reading this, I was reminded so much of the films I watched as a teenager, like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. In fact, Molly Ringwald, everybody’s favourite actress of the time, is even name checked in the book. The films seemed fresh and unique, not least because a story told from the female perspective (see also Dirty Dancing) was a rare thing and, in the absence of books written specifically for young adults, these films were the only way we could see ourselves in stories. There is so much to love about these films and though it feels disrespectful to my teenage self to criticize them, there’s no doubt that if I revisited them now they would feel problematic, almost certainly chauvinistic and definitely lacking in diversity.
We’ve come a long way in society to become more inclusive but we still have a long way to go. The idea of feeling other and angry and afraid and isolated as a teenager is timeless. You Should See Me In a Crown perfectly reflects the complexity of where we stand today: Liz is a gay, Black girl living in small town America. Yes, we have all the high school tropes, the mean girl, the platonic boy/girl friendship, the romance, the misunderstanding, the Prom night. However, like the best films from my school days, this book stands out because it takes Liz and her friends’ feelings and dilemmas seriously.
This is a heart-warming, life-affirming and utterly delightful take on the high school romantic comedy. I’ve no doubt that if this had been in the cinema during the 1980s, I’d have been there with my friends, on my feet, clapping and cheering as the final credits rolled.
Recommended for all fans of the RomCom but especially Years 8 and 9.
Congratulations to Charley W and Chi-Yan N of 9-5 who were the first pupils to get a bar of chocolate from the Year 9 Library Loyalty Scheme. Since their English class visited the library on December 1st, they’ve returned 4 more times to take out books. If you are in Year 9 and haven’t yet got a Loyalty Card, drop in on Wednesdays at Rec or Friday lunchtime to get yours. You’ll get a bar of chocolate on every 5th visit to take out books. (Terms and Conditions apply!)
Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay
I’m diversifying my reading habits and have just read the classic Things Fall Apart, one of the first works of fiction published in the West to present African life from an African perspective. It’s a strong recommend. The author, Chinua Achebe is quoted saying, “There is danger in relying on someone else to speak for you. You can trust that your message will be communicated accurately only if you speak with your own voice”.
Around the same time I finished this book, I had a conversation with Aizza, one of our Year 7 students, when she returned a book she’d borrowed called Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay. She rated this book so highly that I decided to read it myself. Echoing the words of Achebe, Candy Gourlay wrote this story to record a little known period of her own country’s history.
The story begins in the Philippines in 1899, within the Bontok tribe. Samkad is pleased that the Ancients think he is ready for the Cut, a coming-of-age ritual, which will announce his transformation from boy to warrior. A bad omen at the pre-ritual reveals that Samkad’s soul is tied to Kinyo’s, the son of his mother’s best friend, who has been living outside the village. Samkad’s father seeks out Kinyo and brings him back with an American, called Mr Williams. Kinyo is much changed, speaking English fluently and wearing western clothes. More Americans appear, ostensibly to help the village defeat their blood enemy, the Mangili but Samkad and his village must decide who the true enemy is.
This is a beautifully written story. We are plunged into the traditions and magical culture of the Bontok people. The imagery is brutally vivid and suspense builds nicely. The inner conflict of the three young characters: Samkad determined to prove himself a man, Luki, a young girl who feels restricted by the role she must play in the village and the Americanised Kinyo was really well drawn.
As in Things Fall Apart, the village is threatened with violence by Westerners and the story looks at the devastating effects of colonisation. I learned a lot about another culture and a period of history I’d never read about. Aizza loved reading from the perspective of Samkad, a young Filipino boy, as it was point of view she had never heard before. She loved the weaving of fact into fiction and I think you will too.
Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and are both available in the School Library and recommended for all year groups.
Black and British: a short, essential history
In 2016 the historian David Olusoga wrote a book and presented a BBC TV Series called Black and British: a forgotten history. This year, in response to many requests and in conjunction with the social enterprise The Black Curriculum, he has written a children’s edition. Both versions are available to borrow from the School Library. I deliberately waited until November to write this review so that the conversation around Black History can be continued after Black History Month has ended. School is committed to addressing the themes of race and diversity throughout the year and to providing a space in the curriculum for you to engage with issues of diversity and inequality. This review also serves as the starting point to the library’s pledge to ensure that the books in the library fully reflect the diversity of the school and wider British society. I will prioritise the purchase and promotion of books written by BAME authors and about BAME characters until the imbalance in the stock is redressed. This will take time, but the publishing world is slowly catching up and you deserve to read stories with different perspectives and see yourselves in the books that you read.
Olusoga guides us through the unreported history of Black people in Britain, stretching back from the Roman occupation to the felling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol this year. It highlights exactly how little is taught about the contribution of Black men and women to British history. Our lives have been affected by peoples from different continents for hundreds of years. Records can be found in parishes, in legal documents, private papers, artwork and human remains and yet so little is widely known.
What is striking is that the egregious idea of Black inferiority was created by the slave traders of the Eighteenth Century and continued by the Empire builders of the Nineteenth Century to further their own agendas and line their own pockets. It turns out that fake news isn’t just a Twenty-First Century phenomenon.
This isn’t however, a history a racism in Britain, rather a celebration and reminder of the influence on Black people on British society. It should be read by everyone.