July Literature Review

Posted on: 28/06/2021


We often talk about the importance of literature being truly representative of the children we work with and how being able to see oneself in a text is key not only to engagement and comprehension but also to being able to connect with and place oneself in the text. The opportunity for discourse around identity, empowerment, acceptance – of self and others – and main-streaming that which is too often seen as ‘niche’ that can arise from a well- chosen text cannot be underestimated: books literally have the power to change lives.  And so this review is all about the power of reconnecting with ourselves (or, perhaps even connecting with ourselves for the first time) and how literature can give voice to and representation of children from all walks of life: a literary world where all are welcome.


All-age picture book

Hey You! by Dapo Adeola

and illustrators Alyissa Johnson, Sharee Miller, Jade Orlando, Diane Ewen, Reggie Brown, Onyinye Iwu, Chanté Timothy, Gladys Jose, Bex Glendining, Joelle Avelino, Dunni Mustapha, Nicole Miles, Charlot Kristensen,

Kingsley Nebechi, Camilla Sucre, Derick Brooks, Jobe Anderson & Selom Sunu

(Puffin, 10th June 2021) 

Dedicated to all the children of the Black diaspora, both young and old, Adeola cites the emotional response to the tragic killing of George Floyd in 2020 and a wish to set about writing the words I wish I’d heard as a child as being the roots from which this book grew. This collaboration between the author and eighteen hugely talented black illustrators is lyrical, empowering and such a brilliant concept. The idea that one book, filled with powerful messages, some similar in theme spanning several pages yet each illustrated by a different illustrator might seem a challenge in so much as creating cohesion but although stylistically different, the use of colour and the capturing of ideas is, quite simply, stunning. As illustrator to Nathan Bryon’s books Look Up! and Clean Up!, we know that Adeola is the master at depicting black culture but this book is about so much more than this: it is about everyone – regardless of colour, class, gender, sexuality or size working together to turn the tide on endemic racism and, actually, any kind of -ism. That is not to say, though, that this doesn't focus on black identity: Curiosity gives you a special kind of freedom … The freedom that some people won’t want you to know you have. The freedom to express yourself, your culture and heritage – even if it makes some people uncomfortable… The freedom that allows you to break through glass ceilings and be yourself as there is no else exactly like you. The final illustration, depicting unborn twins carried by a mother-to-be frolicking in utero, surrounded by imaginary flowers and butterflies whilst being kissed ex-utero by her pink-haired also mother-to-be partner is joyous. And the earring she sports – a rainbow- coloured Black Power Fist – is a clever nod to two rights movements rolled into one. The perfect book for every child in every class and would make a brilliant gift, too.


Picture book for Early Years

The Longer We Wait, The Bigger the Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar (Faber and Faber, 29th June 2021)

Last year, when While We Can’t Hug was published, we fell upon it as a sweet and gentle story to support discussions with our very youngest children in school around why we need to stay apart and how this will help us get through the pandemic. This – a sequel to the first book where we met Hedgehog and Tortoise – is an allegory of sorts for the winter lockdown and that sense of loneliness that was perhaps even harder for some than things felt in lockdown 1.0, where the weather was better. Hedgehog really misses Tortoise. He tries to cheer himself up with sticky-pawed Badger; slightly bossy and demanding Magpie and Squirrel who, although lovely, really is dreadful at hide and seek…but all is well when Tortoise awakes from his long hibernation. We can hug now…with caution – and perhaps after such a long time, hugs do feel bigger. Perfect for children in EYFS to explore unlikely friendships; acceptance of others in so much that our friends might enjoy different things to us and the idea of reconnecting.


Collection of illustrated stories for primary-age/YA

Ten Stories to Make a Difference multiple authors/illustrators (Pop-Up Projects CIC, 24th June 2021)

Published by Pop Up Projects CIC, a non-profit organisation, these beautifully written and illustrated texts - ten in total and each aimed at different age-groups has two aims in terms of making a difference: the first to give representation and voice to children who perhaps seldom see themselves in a text; the second to provide a platform for authors and illustrators of colour and belonging to the LGBTQ+ community - talent that is so often underrepresented. We were lucky enough to receive advance copies of three of these glorious, limited edition titles and equally as lucky to be able to watch the launch event hosted by The British Library via a live-link.

Magnificent! written by Laura Dockrill (who gave a brilliant reading of the poem during the launch event) and illustrated by Ria Dastidar – her debut publication - captures a character’s experience of feeling different through the medium of narrative poem.  Dastidar’s quirky geometrically- shaped characters are so jolly-loooking in their expressions and the use of colour that they are in contradiction to how the main protagonist, a bespectacled, almost pear-shaped person feels: Sometimes I forget that I’m different – it’s an easy mistake to make. I mirror myself on everyone else, because everyone acts the same… But through the character’s musings, a realisation is made when someone new arrives in the playground: That’s why it stuck out when I met you, I was reminded how it feels to be strange… Tomorrow you could be looking for a hand in the dark…I hope it’s mine that you see. Thought-provoking and sweet, this book ends with an impactful piece of advice: Because being different is being alive! It’s not failure or an accident. So why don't you join your smile up with mine…and we’ll marvel at what makes us MAGNIFICENT! A lovely book around which to form a PSHE lesson in KS1.

In In Her Element by Jamila Gavin and Jacinta Read, we meet Sophie – a non-verbal, quadriplegic teenager whose only means of communication is her eye-operated computer. Trapped inside a body that is unwilling, her mind takes her deep into the ocean, imagine the freedom that swimming would bring, being at one with the fish. In conversation with Kathy Maclean, Gavin says of her beautifully written story that she had no trouble immersing herself in Sophie’s world but that keeping up with ever-changing technology around communication aids was fairly tricky. There is such a lyrical and flowing style to her words that they almost float and swirl across the page: the perfect way of capturing what Sophie imagines life would be like were she to be swimming. Read – newcomer to the illustration scene and exactly one of the talents that Pop Up Projects seeks to give platform to – speaks eloquently about her craft as an ‘emerging’ illustrator. She used watercolour which creates such a fluidity and sense of movement… perfect in order to express Sophie’s thoughts and give insight into the imaginary world she inhabits, when her reality is so restrictive at times. Taking up a place at a residential school for children with disabilities, Sophie’s room-mate Amber is less than thrilled at the arrival of a non-verbal resident and doesn't exactly make an effort to make Sophie feel welcome but Amber is angry and that’s what has caused her mad and bad feelings: once competitive swimmer, Sophie’s paralysis was caused by a terrible accident. Then one night, everything changes and they save each other, in a way… A positivity-filled book that is about friendship more than it is disability and how these friendships can transcend any – and many – differences. 

A Match for a Mermaid, written by Eleanor Cullen and illustrated by David Roberts is one of four out of the suite deemed to be queer-inclusive and my word it is stunning! We should say at this point that ‘queer-inclusive’ is the term that the LGBTQ+ authors and illustrators in conversation as part of the initiative’s launch event feel they most identify with and wish their work to be referred to as. The narrative poem tells the story of just-turned-eighteen Malu: a mermaid who is soon to be queen and who doesn't wish to rule alone. So, aided by best-friend Brooke, she begins her search for a perfect match. Trouble is, there’s simply no chemistry. The mermen who present themselves to her either have too-short hair; too gruff a voice; too rough a face… but then, nervously, Brooke points out that she herself has a smooth face, a soft-voice...and whilst she doesn't come bearing gifts or jewels like the other would-be suitors, she would help her friend rule. And then comes the most beautiful of proposal acceptance speeches: Your hair is flowing and as smooth as silk, your laugh is lyrical and I love its lilt. Your face is my favourite and your voice is too; it would be a great honour to marry you. The tale concludes: Malu the mermaid has just turned eighteen, and with her wife Brooke they now rule as two queens. Speaking during the launch event, Roberts explored how he set out to illustrate a book with queer (sic) characters without defaulting to stereotypes and portraying the main characters as ‘other’. He also set out to ‘create a sense of the way that they (the mermen) represent their masculinity’ and debunk any myths around how one might expect mermen to look. He believes that illustrators have the opportunity to represent many different types of family make-up in order that children can see not just themselves and their families represented but also families different to their own and we would agree with this entirely. Both this and In Her Element would make brilliant additions to KS2 book corners.

Posted in: Literature Review

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