Read Along With Us: Greenaway regional nominations

As promised, here is the lowdown on our suggested titles to be considered for nomination for the Kate Greenaway medal this year.

If you’re attending next Tuesday’s event with Cressida Cowell in Preston, we need your help to decide which of these titles we officially put forward as our North West regional nominations for the award.

All nominations for the 2018 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards will be officially announced on 6th November 2017. The longlist will be announced in February 2018, the shortlist will be unveiled in March, and the winners will be revealed on 18th June 2018.

We’ll have copies of the books available for you to peruse on the night. In the meantime, here are our thoughts on the titles we’re asking you to consider for the Greenaway nomination, and why we think they are worthy contenders for the awards.

The Pond – Cathy Fisher (illustrator); Nicola Davies (author) (Graffeg Publishing)

The PondPublisher comment: “This colourful, emotional book is filled with natural imagery, and will teach children not only about death and loss, but the importance of the natural world.”

Our thoughts: “The illustrations in this book have real impact, portraying perfectly the grieving of a family mourning the loss of their father. The colours used reflect the mood – from the dark tones of the muddy hole in the ground to the vibrant water lily and the misty, glowing light of the last page. Beautiful images of pond life fill every part of the book, including the cover, end papers and title page, contributing to a rich and satisfying visual experience” (Karen)

 

Night Shift – Debi Gliori (Hot Key Books)

Night shiftPublisher comment: “With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one’s whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape – it may not be easy to find, but it is there.”

Our thoughts: “The limited colour palette, with occasional use of colour, creates visual drama and immediacy. The theme of mental health and depression is depicted through images and imagination with vast vistas of creeping fog and surreal seascapes making it immediately accessible and easy to understand by readers of all ages. The book is never mawkish and despite presenting an immersive experience of brooding depression, nonetheless ends on a note that there might be some hope. It achieves this without sentimentality.” (Jake)

 

A First Book of Animals – Petr Horacek (illustrator); Nicola Davies (author) (Walker Books)

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Publisher comment: “This book is a glorious celebration of life in the wild in all its variety and splendour, and belongs on every child’s bookshelf.”

Our thoughts: “It’s impossible to tell which came first here – the text or the illustrations – as both work so perfectly together to create an outstanding work of vivacity and exuberance. Nature bursts from the page in abundance. Petr Horacek’s double page spreads allow Nicola Davies’ poetic text to dance across the page whilst his jewel-like colours and textured collages express the remarkable diversity of the natural world on a grand scale. Clever layout and design, with the occasional nod to works of natural history from yesteryear, make this a book which works on several levels with appeal across a wide age and ability range, A true treasury!” (Lizzie)

 

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Kate Pankhurst (Bloomsbury)

Fantastically great women who changed the worlsPublisher comment: “Bursting full of beautiful illustrations and astounding facts, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is the perfect introduction to just a few of the most incredible women who helped shape the world we live in.”

Our thoughts: “Kate’s book, with it’s sweet, charming illustrations, celebrates the lives of women who have made a contribution or positive change to the world that may not typically be recognised within the school curriculum. This book takes the reader on  a whistle-stop tour of women’s history, with images that capture the visual essence of the women being represented.” (Pamela)

 

The Secret of Black Rock – Joe Todd-Stanton (Flying Eye Books)

TheSecretOfBlackRock_RGB Publisher comment: “This surreal modern folk-tale tells the story of an adventurous young girl who must protect a peaceful living creature. Erin is fascinated by the stories of Black Rock: a huge, dark and spiky mass that is said to destroy any boats that come near it! But are the tales really true? One day Erin sneaks on board her mother’s fishing boat to find out…”

 

A Story Like the Wind – Jo Weaver (illustrator); Gill Lewis (author) (Oxford University Press)

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Publisher comment: “In a small boat spinning out on the sea sits a group of refugees, fleeing their war-stricken homes. they have nothing – except their memories, their stories and their music. In this very special, lyrical fable, beautifully illustrated by Jo Weaver, Gill Lewis weaves an unforgettable tale of displacement, hope and the search for freedom.”

Our thoughts: “A deeply moving story of hope and freedom. A small boat full of refugees drifts on the sea. The swirling turquoise illustrations mirror the swirling winds and sea. This is a beautiful interweaving of a folk tale and the refugees own stories , demonstrating the power of stories to bring people together and give them a common identity.” (Ann)

So those are our thoughts on our Greenaway suggestions, please do let us know your thoughts on these books. You can find out more about the CKG awards process and the judging criteria here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/awards-process.php

Don’t forget, YLG members can also make up to two individual nominations for each award

 

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Read Along With Us: Carnegie regional nominations

There’s just under a week to go until we’ll be deciding what our regional nominations for this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards will be. We’ll be asking attendees at next Tuesday’s event with Cressida Cowell to vote on a selection of titles, to decide which ones we put forward.

All nominations for the 2018 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards will be officially announced on 6th November 2017. The longlist will be announced in February 2018, the shortlist will be unveiled in March, and the winners will be revealed on 18th June 2018.

We’ll have copies of the books available for you to look at on the night. In the meantime, here are our thoughts on the titles we’re asking you to consider for the Carnegie nomination, and why we think they are worthy contenders for the awards. We’ll be posting about our Greenaway suggestions soon.

 

Carnegie:

Overheard in a Tower Block – Joseph Coelho (Otter Barry Books)

Overheard in a tower block

Publisher comment: “Award-winning poet Joseph Coelho’s astonishing new collection is a powerful and moving poetic narrative about growing up in the city.”

Our thoughts: “Ambitious in theme, the collected poems are held together by an overarching narrative of a boy living in an urban tower block and growing from late childhood to early adulthood. The everyday experiences of childhood are made extraordinary here through astute observation and dexterity of word play – parental discord, peer pressure and the ever-expanding sense of horizons and world-views extending outwards. Each poem offers a childlike vantage point, but collated together there are profound comments about the nature of late childhood, its shift towards adulthood and responsibility and the continuing role it is able to play in determining and defining our lives.” (Jake)

 

Wed Wabbit – Lissa Evans (David Fickling Books)

Wed Wabbit

Publisher comment: “Wed Wabbit is an adventure story about friendship, danger and the terror of never being able to get back home again. And it’s funny. It’s really, really funny.”

Our thoughts: “Lissa Evans’ truly unique writing style combines fantasy and humour to convey complex and difficult ideas with heart and emotional insight. The majority of the story takes place against the surreal and often absurd backdrop of ‘The Land of Wimbley Woos’ yet excellent plotting and characterisation ensure that the sense of jeopardy and eventual resolution feel real. This is a surprising read that takes the reader on an unexpected but rewarding journey.” (Lizzie)

 

Welcome to Nowhere – Elizabeth Laird (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Welcome to nowherePublisher comment: “Elizabeth Laird has succeeded again in writing an incredibly powerful novel, this time about one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our age.” (Belinda Rasmussen, Publisher, Macmillan Children’s Books)

Our thoughts: “Everyone should read this book ! It gives an accessible account of Syrias descent into civil war. It begins in Bosra and follows 12 year old Omar and his family ,as their lives fall apart and they lose everything. Their hopes for the future had been so normal ! Omar wants to be a business man , his sister Eman a teacher . His older brother Musa has cerebral palsy and is greatly underestimated by his family. As the bombs fall they have to leave everything and end up in a refugee camp .

Beautifully written , well researched ,powerful and atmospheric . It contains a message of hope” (Ann)

 

Saint Death – Marcus Sedgwick (Orion Children’s Books)

Saint DeathPublisher comment: “A powerful and timely thriller set on the Mexican-US border.”

Our thoughts: Saint Death is absolutely gripping from start to finish. It’s a pulsating narrative and the pace and urgency of the plot, along with the increasing desperation of the main character, are perfectly reflected in the structure of the story, in which short chapters are interspersed with newspaper cuttings, quotations and thoughts. This is a really immersive novel that highlights some big issues around immigration, inequality and hopelessness. (Emma)

 

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (Walker Books)

The Hate U GivePublisher comment: “A powerful and brave YA novel about what prejudice looks like in the 21st century.”

Our thoughts: “The Hate U Give gave me bags under my eyes! I just couldn’t stop reading until I finished it (at 3am!). The book addresses some really big issues, such as police shootings of unarmed black people and white privilege, through simply telling the story of one ordinary girl, Starr Carter, who finds herself in an extraordinary and horrific situation, having witnessed the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend by an officer. The balance of the awful things Starr is having to deal with and the everyday teenage-ness of her character is perfect and the strong family dynamic of the Carters is a joy to experience. (Emma)

 

Encounters – Jason Wallace (Andersen Press)

EncountersPublisher comment: “Inspired by true accounts, this is the long-awaited new novel from Costa-award-winner Jason Wallace.”

Our thoughts: Wallace builds an intense and uneasy atmosphere in which he unravels the brutal complexities of his characters’ lives. This is a work of technical mastery with no less than six engaging and convincing narratives pivoting around the mysterious event at the heart of the novel.  These six apparently disparate voices interconnect in surprising and revealing ways bringing new meaning to the idea of the titular ‘encounter’. The end result is a unique and outstanding slow burner of a book which leaves the reader with much to think about. (Lizzie)

So those are our thoughts on our Carnegie suggestions, please do let us know your thoughts on these books. You can find out more about the CKG awards process and the judging criteria here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/awards-process.php

Don’t forget, YLG members can also make up to two individual nominations for each award.

 

 

Read Along with Us: CKG regional nominations

It’s that time of year again – time for the North West to choose which titles we put forward as our regional nominations for this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals. We’ve come up with a selection of books that we think are some of the most deserving of this year’s honours and we need you to help us choose what to formally nominate.

Voting will take place at an exciting event with Cressida Cowell at County Hall, Preston on Tuesday 19th September. Copies of the books will be available to look at on the night but we wanted to share our choices with you now to give you the chance to read any that take your fancy in advance. 

Our shortlisted choices are:

Carnegie:

Welcome to Nowhere – Elizabeth Laird

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Encounters – Jason Wallace

Overheard in a Tower Block – Joseph Coelho

Wed Wabbit – Lissa Evans

Saint Death – Marcus Sedgwick

Greenaway:

A Story Like the Wind – Jo Weaver (illustrator); Gill Lewis (author)

Night Shift – Debi Gliori

A First Book of Animals – Petr Horacek (illustrator); Nicola Davies (author)

The Pond – Cathy Fisher (illustrator); Nicola Davies (author) 

Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World  – Kate Pankhurst

The Secret of Black Rock – Joe Todd-Stanton

Counting with Tiny Cat – Viviane Schwarz
You can find out more about the awards and the judging criteria here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/awards-process.php

Don’t forget, YLG members can also make up to two individual nominations for each award. Nominations open on 1st September 2017. 

Happy reading! 

#SLAYLG17 Joint Conference

#SLAYLG17

In the lead-up to this year’s joint SLA + YLG conference, dubbed #SLAYLG17, I often joked to my friends that it was really all a ruse: SLAYLG was for trainee watchers, and not for librarians who focus on books for children and young people.

By the close of the conference, it was clear to me that it was both.

Now, as any self-respecting Buffy fan will tell you, a watcher is a trainer or guardian for a slayer (girl who is meant to save the world by killing monsters and demons and vampires). Watchers are usually British trained librarians, partly due to the location of the watcher’s council, in London. A watcher’s role often requires a lot of research, teaching ability and adaptability to the lives of their typically teenage charges.

#SLAYLG17 was my first professional conference. I am currently doing my masters in library and information management, and hold the student position on the YLG Northwest committee.

As a student, I paid for conference myself and would advise anyone who is thinking of doing their masters to start saving a little pot of money, which you can draw upon to attend special events like this.

The conference was held at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate from Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th June 2017. The theme was lightbulb moments, powered by librarians.

On arrival at the hotel I asked a group of school librarians, who turned out to be from the north-west if I could join them for tea /coffee whilst we waited for lunch to be served before starting the day’s activities. I’ve since kept in touch with a few of them via twitter.

Following lunch, the exhibition opened (I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ARCs and proofs in my life!) and we were led to the formal welcome and introduction, which explained what was going to happen during the weekend.

The introduction was hosted by the chairs of the SLA and YLG, and local children’s poet, Sue Hardy-Dawson, read some of her work.

This was followed by a presentation from Amnesty international and Chicken Shed theatre, ‘Dreams of Freedom’. The two presenters talked about how the Amnesty CILIP Honour came to be, how Chicken Shed started and how the two groups came to be working together on various children’s theatre projects. My favourite moment from their talk was how they could show the positive effect the projects have on children, and how books were helping children to express themselves in ways that they had previously found difficult.

Amnesty presentation ylgsla

The following session was a presentation by Paula Wride, a librarian and archivist from the well-beloved children’s literature archives, Seven Stories. This focused on the legacy of Eileen Colwell, who was a pioneer in the field of children’s librarians, and a founder of the Carnegie award.  Eileen herself was one of the first people to insist that children should have their own library space, tailored to their needs.

This led into the publishers’ roadshow, during which various publishers did very fast ‘elevator pitches’ about their hottest and newest titles. My favourite pitch came from Anderson press who wore ‘votes for women’ sashes to promote a new YA title inspired by the suffragette movement (Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls).  As a Mancunian (as Manchester is the birthplace of Emmeline Pankhurst) it is a piece of history that is very dear to my heart. I had spoken to Harriet from Anderson Press very briefly earlier in the day and explained my own link to Manchester’s feminist history and she kindly saved me a proof of that title.

things a bright girl can do 2

After the roadshow, everyone dashed off to their rooms to get ready for the Harry Potter 20th anniversary dinner. I’d made my own version of a Hufflepuff uniform for the party, and was easily the first person ready to go.

There were some amazing costume efforts including Professor Trelawney; Hagrid; Moaning Myrtle and many more. The dining room was decorated with themed bunting and posters, and each guest received some Harry Potter goodies. I sat with the school librarians who I had met earlier in the day, and so my table comprised of Mad-Eye Moody, Rita Skeeter, Luna Lovegood, two Gryffindor students and two muggles.

Partway through the dinner, the winners of the fancy dress competition were announced. Rita Skeeter came 1st, Hagrid was 2nd, and moaning Myrtle, complete with toilet seat was 3rd. The atmosphere in the room was great, and as a casual cosplayer myself I was enjoying seeing how much effort everyone had put into their outfits.

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After dinner we had a talk from Laura Dockrill, YA author of Aurabel and the upcoming Big Bones. Laura read from a few of her books and signed the sampler of Big Bones for me.

Unfortunately, the wine had gone to my head after the long day so I didn’t join everyone at the bar after leaving the dining room, and went to bed instead.

Saturday 24th

I got up around 7.30 am on the Saturday, feeling a little tired but otherwise ok. I joined a few people who I recognised from the North West YLG committee for breakfast. There were more vegan options at breakfast than I had expected to see, and so I filled up as much as I could (my advice to fellow vegans would be to take plenty of snacks with you to conferences as vegan options can be very limited, with small portion sizes).

I had hoped to attend the Aliens Love Underpants 10th Anniversary breakfast session but unfortunately couldn’t find the room. Ah Well!

Saturday began with Welcome to the day introduction for the day delegates, leading into “The Big Debate: Has the Carnegie Medal helped or hindered getting controversial books published?” This discussion was led by Joy Court, with a panel of authors: Melvin Burgess, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Gillian Cross, Will Hill and Lisa Heathfield with the publisher’s perspective from Liz Cross of Oxford Children’s Books. Key points raised during the discussion was how few YA titles make it into the winning selection for the Carnegie award, but also how the award has highlighted titles that have had controversial topics woven into their main plots.

As part of the conference, attendees could select optional sessions to attend during the Saturday.

The first optional session I attended was looking at ‘Illuminating inclusion’, led by Jake Hope (eagle eyed readers might remember Jake from the Carnegie anniversary blogs during which Jake has been reading and reviewing all the past winning titles, which is no mean feat, especially as being a part of the Carnegie team means reading all 140 long list titles as part of the role. You can read Jake’s anniversary blog here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/anniversary-blog.php). This session looked at themes of inclusion within children’s and YA fiction. The author, Glenda Millard, whose novel, The Stars at Oktober bend was shortlisted for the Carnegie award was meant to be present to discuss her novel, but couldn’t make it due to illness. Instead, her publisher stepped in her place to deliver a reading from the novel.

Following on from a Where’s Wally coffee break, the second session focused on ‘Teenage mental health & reading’. This was led by Nicola Morgan, a leading expert in children’s mental health, and writer of books including Blame My Brain and The Teenage Guide to Stress. The authors who took part were Sara Barnard, Tamsin Winter and Katie Thistleton. Both of Sara and Tamsin’s latest novels look at selective mutism aimed at different age brackets – A Quiet kind of thunder is YA, and Being Miss Nobody is aimed at 9-11+ readers.

Katie Thistleton, who some may recognise as being a host of CBBC (I recognised her from seeing her introduce the remake of The Worst Witch) has a book, Dear Katie, due out later this year, in which Katie, with the help of a team of suitable experts and advisors, responds to fans letters about their problems with advice. Katie explained that some of the letters she had received were truly heart-breaking, and that she and her team arranged for help for those people as she knew that their needs were greater than the book would be able to offer. These submissions were not included to protect the privacy of those individuals. Main topics that will be included in the final book will include advice on how to deal with bullying, making friends, first kiss, and where to get advice for various topics that might not have been included.

After lunch, the third workshop was led by Amy McKay, winner of the librarian of the year award, and was entitled ‘Stealth Librarian’. This was easily one of my favourite talks of the conference, and one of the two occasions where the idea of a librarian being a watcher really resonates.  The main section of Amy’s session was about how she teaches the pupils at her school how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Dealing with zombies 101 is something a watcher would really know about. Now, zombies aren’t real, unless you’re doing a zombie walk of course. However, the point of the exercise was to encourage participants to think about all the types of fiction they consume, as well as to build familiarity with the library. I’ll admit I’m rather jealous of the pupils that get to take part in some of Amy’s activities as they looked amazing. If I ever get to work as a school librarian, or in a situation where the audience is YA, this is definitely something I want to run.

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Books glorious books

For the last session of the day I’d opted for the exhibition. If any of you reading this get to attend a similar conference, my advice is to always opt to do the exhibition last. The pictures of my haul will explain why! During the exhibition, attendees get the opportunity to speak with publishers, and pick up arcs, proofs, samples and other goodies. As many exhibitors bring finished and currently released books, you can often get some of these as well if you time it right as they don’t usually want to take books home with them again. My favourites that I received included the hardback V&A edition of Little Women, Hufflepuff edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner.

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More books!

At 16.25 there was a tea break with ‘Dear Zoo @ 35’. The author, Rod Campbell in conversation with Stephanie Barton. This session was really sweet, as Rod explained the inspiration behind some of his characters, including how Buster was based on the child of a neighbour of whom he had spent time with and had adored very much. It was great to see some of the sketches that were used in the creation of his books.

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Following on from Rod Campbell’s talk was a speech by Chris Riddell, ‘My Love Affair with Librarians’, introduced by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Chris did a live drawing of Kevin, whilst Kevin talked about some of the work that he and Chris had done leading up to Chris becoming Children’s Laureate in 2015. Chris then talked about how he feels about librarians, showed some of his other sketches and shared anecdotes from his work history as well as a few light-hearted jokes looking at the current socio-political situation in the UK.

After this session, everyone went to get dressed for the Gala dinner. As it was a more formal occasion, I opted for a blue 50’s style dress.  After getting ready, I joined everyone for a drinks reception which led into the formal ballroom where the exhibition had been previously held.  We were informed that we had a present from Lane Smith, as he was disappointed that he could not make the occasion, and so we all received a signed copy of the Kate Greenaway award winning book, There Is a Tribe of Kids.

During the dinner, several speeches were given, including Carnegie, Kate Greenaway and Amnesty CILIP Honour Presentations and YLG Honorary Membership (given to Chris Riddell). After food was served, the guests could approach the authors present to have their books signed. I had books by Chris Riddell, Gillian Cross, Lauren Child signed, along with a proof of Sarah Crossan’s new novel.

After the gala dinner there was the option to go into the bar, but I opted to go pack my bags ready for the following morning.

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Sunday 25th

I got up around 7am and went down to breakfast, then attended the breakfast session, ‘A Murder Mystery Breakfast with Robin Stevens. During the session, Robin talked about her novel, The Guggenheim mystery, the sequel to Siobhan O’Dowd’s The London Eye mystery – she was approached by the Siobhan O’Dowd Trust to work on the book. Robin also had audience members vote on elements of a fictional crime which she then solved.

A very short AGM for the YLG was held at 9am, followed by an AGM for the SLA. I then checked out of my room prior to attending the welcome introduction for the day at 9.50am.

After introductions were given, the first talk of the day was looking at ‘The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Children’s Literature and its Relevance Today’ by Professor Kim Reynolds (Newcastle University and OUP). Elements of the talk looked at youth self-publishing and at Enid Blyton’s work in which the female had equal roles with the male (famous five is an example of this). The talk ended with a reading from We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen which was pleasant – I am used to reading stories to children at my local public library, but it’s been a very long time since somebody has read to me.

Next up was David Almond and Lauren Child in conversation. Both authors talked about highlights of their careers and Lauren outlined her hopes for her Children’s Laureate role.

Lauren child david almond ylgsla

Following on from this was the last talk of the day, ‘Young People’s Mental Health and Reading’ by Natasha Devon from the Self Esteem Team. Natasha’s talk highlighted how there is a growing need to help young people navigate societal and peer pressure as the online world is harder to escape from, and how targeted advertising can encourage more self-shaming than ever. Natasha showed some of the activities she runs during her school sessions and gave examples of reactions from pupils. The message that I took away from Natasha’s talk is how we (as librarians, supporters, teachers) need to provide teens and young people with the tools they need to avoid mental health issues being created or made worse, including showing boys and young men that there is more than one way to be strong. And also to show girls and young women that the images they aspire to are often false (eg photoshop, sfx).

Afterwards, there were some closing remarks from the SLA and YLG Chairs leading into the farewell lunch at 1pm and then home time!

Hope you’ve all enjoyed my diary log of the SLA + YLG conference! Check out #SLAYLG17 on twitter for pictures and conference highlights by some of the speakers and attendees.

Pamela, @puffybooks

 

Gill Lewis in conversation with Jake Hope

Winner of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for radical fiction, Gill Lewis books often probe at social and ethical issues. Her latest book, A Story Like the Wind, poignantly recounts the story of a refugee boy escaping an impossible situation in his homeland. A powerful treatise on the importance of stories, music and art in our lives, A Story Like the Wind is an emotionally sophisticated, engaging but highly accessible story illustrated throughout by Jo Weaver.  
The book has been endorsed by Amnesty International, an organisation the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals works with on the Amnesty CILIP Honour for a book from the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals which seeks to recognise a book from each shortlist which illuminates, upholds or celebrates human rights.

Jake Hope recently met with Gill to find out more about A Story Like the Wind.


JH: ‘They are only memories; moments of light locked into his synapses and pockets of time spilling away to the stars.’ 

There’s a beautiful blend of poetry and science around this depiction of memory, how key is the idea and past to Rami and the others in the boat?

GL: We are made up not only from our DNA, but from stories. Some of these are the big stories that have shaped the world around us, but many are the smaller stories of our own lives; the people and places that have influenced us. Some of these stories are passed through generations; some are the shared moments with friends and family. Stories make us who we are. They give us our identity. How do you hold onto your identity, onto these memoires when you are torn away from home? In the story, Rami tries to hold onto these memories, and it is through his music that he manages to do so.

There is a sense of community and camaraderie on board the boat, how did you go about building this up and how important is this to the idea of the story as a whole?

Initially the passengers are strangers to each other, all frightened and alone. As Rami shares his music, they begin to share their stories with each other and in doing so, give each other comfort and hope. Jo Weaver’s wonderful illustrations show the sense of community has been built up through the story.

The image of the boat on the ocean seers itself onto the minds of readers and instantly brings to mind all manner of images of refugees from the popular presses, how much research was involved in crafting the novel and were there any stories that particularly stayed with you?

Several years ago, I heard a Mongolian folk-tale Suke and the White Stallion, a story about the power of music to overcome oppression. It is also a story about the origin of the violin. I didn’t know how to tell the story until I saw a news-story about a young Syrian man playing his violin at a border control. The image was a powerful one, showing how music can cross physical and political boundaries and also boundaries of prejudice and fear. Music and stories allow us to connect with each other, and share our common humanity. Not long after the publication of A Story Like the Wind I discovered that the young Syrian I has seen in the news-story had made it to safety in Germany and is continuing his musical studies. He has an album My Journey of which the proceeds are being donated to the Red Cross.

‘My name is Rami and I am still alive’. In spite of the a lot of the sadness of the story, there it is also a tremendously humane and life-affirming story. The writing deftly suggests tragedy and trauma without ever being gratuitous, was this a difficult balance to achieve? 

Writing about the refugee crisis is a huge challenge, to achieve the balance of reality and yet offer hope. It is important not to shy away from difficult subjects yet bear in mind the age of readership for some of the dark themes. In the story we realise that each of the passengers has witnessed and experienced traumatic events but I hope I have managed to balance this with an offering of hope and a vision for the future.

Whilst being timely and topical, there’s a fable-like quality to the story. Was it very deliberate to make the experiences feel universal?

Yes. I love folk tales and how they have been passed down through history, often through oral story telling. Folk-tales and fairy-tales have universal themes that speak to us all, no matter what culture or religion. The fable in A Story Like the Wind tells of the origin of the violin from the Mongolian horse head fiddle, and how the horse head fiddle carried stories and music along the spice routes and silk roads, and eventually became the violin and cellos that first appeared in Europe. The stories of our global connections go back thousands of years and show how stories and music bring us together now as they did in our past. The passengers in the boat recognise their own stories within the story Rami tells, and it gives them hope for the future and for freedom. There is some comfort from knowing that stories about overcoming oppression can be hundreds, possibly thousands of years old, and what people have fought against in the past can be fought against again.

‘The soldiers forbade us to play more music. Perhaps they knew its power.’ The role of the arts and stories are massively important as mechanisms for change in the character life. How important do you think they are and what contributions can they make to our everyday lives?

Stories and the arts are incredibly powerful for telling universal truths and for shining a light on the darker side of humanity. In many countries today musicians and artists are restricted from creating and sharing their art as it threatens the authority of those in power. During the Second World War, the Nazis classified any art they deemed ‘unpatriotic’ as degenerate art. They didn’t want art to reveal the truth of the horrors and reality of war. We need art now more than ever, in all its forms, from books, to art and sculpture, to music and films to satirical cartoons to speak out for us all, for justice and freedom. I was honoured that Amnesty International endorsed the book, as the charity supports artists and writers around the world whose voices can’t be heard.

Rami’s story about Suke and the wild foal is heart-breaking but ultimately is uplifting. A lot of your novels have explored quite dark issues but shine moments of hope into these. Is hope necessary in fiction for children and young people?

My stories do explore some dark issues, and I try not to shy away from the bare truths and realities. I think children see many worrying stories in the media and need access to a way to understand these issues and have an opportunity to discuss them. Fiction is unique in providing this, and a offering a narrative to understand from another person’s perspective. For me, hope is a vital part of story telling, because stories become our maps and guides. They are there to shine a light in the darkness, to offer hope when there may little to be found.

You won the ‘Little Rebels’ award for radical children’s books with ‘The Scarlet Ibis’, what did winning the award mean to you and has this altered any of your approaches to books and to your writing?

Winning the Little Rebels Award was a huge honour. The award recognises children’s fiction which promotes social justice or social equality, challenges stereotypes or is informed by anti-discriminatory concerns. So, I was very chuffed to be considered a little rebel. I think my books have always had a central theme of justice for both human rights and animal rights. However, the award has brought to my attention the need for more diverse books so that children can have books as mirrors to their own worlds as well as windows to others’ experiences. The award also champions the need for the voices of more BAME authors to be heard to offer a greater variety, richness and depth of stories in the world of children’s publishing.

Jo Weaver’s illustrations create an incredible sense of place and emotion on the story. Can you tell us a little about the process of how these were created? Did you and Jo have any interaction over stories, characters or moments in the stories?

Jo Weaver’s charcoal landscapes and her characters and animals are indeed wonderful and add another layer of depth and understanding to the story. I was lucky to meet Jo and hear about her approach to the illustrations. The art director at Oxford University Press designed the layouts and spreads for Jo to create her artwork to fit within the pages. Then Jo created her vision of the book. I think it’s wonderful to see another person’s interpretation of your words and Jo manages to capture the moments of isolation on the sea, to the warm memories of home and the stunning sweeping landscapes and horses of the Steppe mountains in Mongolia.

What would you hope readers take away from reading ‘A Story like the Wind?’

I hope that the book enables the reader to empathise with those people fleeing war and conflict, and to understand the human stories behind the headlines we see in the media.

Many thanks to Gill Lewis for this interview. A Story like the Wind is published by Oxford University Press and is out now.