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#WorldKidLitMonth starts today

It’s 1 September which can only mean one thing: it’s #WorldKidLitMonth!

Over on the World Kid Lit Blog, we have daily posts discussing all things World Kid Lit: interviews with publishers, editors and translators, book reviews, reports about initiatives and programmes and much more. We are also kicking of some new panel sessions called World Kid Lit LIVE, two online discussions featuring the people involved in bringing about translated books for children. Head over to the blog or take a look at our social media channels on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

I’ll also be tweeting (@ClaireStorey16) some book recommendations from my review archive, looking at some of the books that have stood the test of time since our 2018 World Kid Lit Challenge – 30 Books in 30 Days.

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World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day, a time to celebrate the contribution of refugees to our communities and to stand in solidarity with refugees around the world. The theme for this year’s Refugee Week 2020 has been “Imagine”, with the organisers inviting us to join in with the Simple Acts we can all do. Normally I talk about books in these posts, and I will come to a few of my current recommendations later on, but today I’d also like to share with you a couple of films that I have watched this week.

These are two films that I have had the option of watching previously but which, I must admit, I’ve been too scared to watch. I’ve read lots of books, and I meet people who have made these journeys; I didn’t know if I was strong enough to see the real-life images captured by these film makers. But the people in these films don’t have a choice about whether they are strong enough to face these conditions, and if I want to come closer to understanding their experiences, while accepting that from my position of privilege as a white British person, I can never truly understand what they have been through, I need to see these images and hear these stories. And so this week, I set out to do just that.

The Movement produced by Sharon Walia is a documentary that follows individuals who volunteer their time with grass-roots organisations that offer help refugees. She spends time with the crew of Sea-Watch, a boat that operates in the Mediterranean Sea, rescuing migrants who would surely drown without their help. These groups have come under fire from European authorities, accused of helping the smugglers. In 2019, after the release of this film, the German captain of Sea-Watch 3 was arrested after defying the Italian ban on search and rescue boats docking on their shores. But as the volunteers in the film repeatedly highlight, there is nobody else out there to help.

As well as reporting from the sea, Walia also spends time on the streets of Paris, a major European capital, where migrants sleep under bridges, often in plain view of the traffic streaming past. She talks to volunteers and refugees in Rome and in Greece. It is a damning view of the response by Europe to this situation which, two years after the making of this film, shows no sign of abating. Available to watch free on Amazon Prime.

For Sama directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts. I’m not going to lie, this isn’t an easy watch. For Sama documents the siege of Aleppo in Syria as filmed by a young female journalist. Compiled from over 500 hours of footage, this is a personal story of a young woman growing up, finding the love of her life, marrying and having a baby but all against a backdrop of war. Al-Kateab shows the physical devastation of bombs dropped in a built up city, often focusing on a aircraft flying over and releasing its weapons. She also depicts the human suffering, showing badly wounded people arriving at the hospital, blood stains across the floors as the medical staff, her husband included among these, struggle to keep up with demand.

Just as harrowing as these bloody images are the reactions of relatives whose loved ones are killed. Mothers refusing to put down their dead children, a pair of young brothers, covered in dust, mourning their younger sibling. Al-Kateab talks to young children whose vocabulary already includes words to describe bombs, shells and death. These images will stay with me.

As well as watching these films, I have also read a YA book that focuses on a different part of our globe but that is no less deserving of our attention. The Other Side – Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Villalobos translated by Rosalind Harvey. It tells the true stories of teenagers who are trying to cross the border into the USA. The children, for that is what they are, come from different parts of Central America, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and at their time of crossing are aged between 10 and 17. These short stories give an insight into the lives these youngsters are fleeing – gang violence, extortion, discrimination – and their experiences of trying to escape. In many cases they are trying to reach relatives in the USA. Many of these young people are passed from person to person, vehicle to vehicle, along a seemingly endless chain, with the potential to end up being sent back to where they have come from. They talk of fear, of vulnerability and of courage.

For younger children, I would also recommend the book What is a refugee by Elise Gravel that I reviewed back in March. Gravel emphasizes the fact that refugees are people, “just like us”. With clear, concise sentences, Gravel takes us through the sort of situations that refugees might be fleeing, one idea to a double spread page. The accompanying illustrations are bright and bold. From here, she goes on to depict people at a closed border, in a refugee camp and she discusses simply what refugees are hoping for – a school, a job, a safe place to live. This is a great introduction for anyone wishing to have a conversation with children about refugees and migration.

For more reading suggestions, please take a look at my recommendations.

If you feel you would like to support the work of organisations working with refugees, particularly during these challenging times, please take a look at the Care4Calais website. If you are local to Derbyshire and wish to get involved, please visit Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity.

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Book Review: The Umbrella Men by Keith Carter

When I received this book from Neem Tree Press, I must admit I was a little dubious. I’m not (too) ashamed to say that numbers and finances are not necessarily my strong point and being presented with 450 pages based on the financial crisis from the late 2000s, I did wonder if this book was really for me. However, like several other reviewers over on goodreads, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. 

The book follows three main groups of characters and while there are a lot of names to follow, they generally crop up together in their groups, so it wasn’t particularly hard to keep track of them all. There’s also useful character list to help keeps tabs on everyone. There is the group of investment bankers, headed up by American Jay Andersen; the business partners of rare metal mining company Rareterre, with a particular focus on CEO Peter Mount and his family based in London; and finally, Amy Tate who has recently exchanged the rat race for a life in rural Oregon. Upon arrival at her beautiful new home, she is horrified when her peace and tranquility is disturbed when large trucks from the local mine begin driving up and down the road several times a day, leading her to join a local group of environmental activists.

When Amy and her new friends decide to try and stop the mining company from digging up the land nearby (each individual with their own motivation for doing so), it has unexpected repercussions around the world, with a particular impact on the financial markets. Author Keith Carter looks at the crisis from the perspective of individuals and smaller companies as well as from the big investment bankers at the top of the food chain. He looks not only at the financial losses but also the personal cost involved in the aftermath of the crash. The writing and character development leaves you really rooting for some characters, empathising with others and yet when others get their just desserts, you despise them alongside the other characters in the book.

Author Keith Carter, himself a former banker who lost his job as the CEO of a smaller company as a result of the crisis, wrote a interesting piece about the book and his motivations for writing it for the Big Issue. While I will admit some of the financial discussions went over my head a little (there is a glossary of financial terms at the back), that didn’t detract from my pleasure of reading the book or stop me from really getting caught up in the story.

So if you’re looking for a book to really get your teeth into, look no further than The Umbrella Men.

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Lockdown reading recommendations

At the beginning of lockdown, like many people I have spoken to, I really struggled to concentrate on reading. For someone who always has her nose in a book, this has been somewhat disconcerting. Over the last couple weeks however I seem to have regained my ability to concentrate, perhaps partly aided by some really good books. What with having my kids at home full time now, time to write is really at a premium, so rather than individual book reviews, I thought I’d give you a bit of a summary of what I’ve been reading over the last few weeks, most of which has consisted of some amazing young adult and children’s books.

The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff, translated from the Finnish by Annie Prime (Pushkin Press)

Having read books ones and two, Naondel and Maresi, I was really excited to read the third book in the Red Abbey Chronicles: Maresi Red Mantle. This is the book that ended my reading drought and it won the 2020 Global Lit in Libraries Initiative Translated YA Book Prize. This young adult fantasy trilogy tells the story of the Red Abbey. While the books together form a series, they also work well as standalone books.

Naondel tells of the Abbey’s founding mothers (check out the World Kid Lit blog for a great in-depth review on this one) and is a tale of the brutality of the male-dominated world the women inhabit. Together the women combine their strength and, leaving their old worlds behind them, they embark on a journey and find a place where they can live together in safety. On an island, they found the Red Abbey.

The second book Maresi jumps forward many years to a later time when the Red Abbey is well established as a place of learning for girls and women and the founding mothers of the first book are revered in books and legend. This book follows the arrival of Maresi, a girl who has had to leave her family because of a famine in their region. Over the course of the book, we see her grow and the women of the Abbey must come together with the spirits of their predecessors to overcome the threats from outside. At the end of this book, Maresi leaves the Abbey to return to her homeland, setting the scene nicely for book three.

Maresi Red Mantle follows Maresi’s voyage back home with the intention of setting up a school to educate her fellow countryfolk. Facing resistance from the local community, Maresi realises that while this is her home, her upbringing at the Abbey has left its mark on her and she is singled out as being different. To gain acceptance within her community, she must overcome barriers and, when their whole region is under threat, she must gather all her knowledge and her strength and call upon the spirits of the region’s ancestors to save it. 

Lampie by Annet Schaap, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson (Pushkin Press)

There has been quite a buzz around this book since it was shortlisted for the 2020 CILIP Carnegie Medal, the first translated book to do so. Lampie, or Emilia to give her her Sunday name, lives in a lighthouse with her father and every night she is responsible for lighting the lamp. However, one evening she goes to light the lamp and realises that she has forgotten to buy matches. A storm is rolling in and she has to fight against the elements to buy some matches.

This all takes place during the opening chapter which I found absolutely breath-taking. The imagery of the storm, the little girl soaked to her skin, pushing herself to the limits; it had me hooked from the beginning. The lamp does not get lit that night and in the darkness a ship crashes into the rocks. As punishment she is sent away from the lighthouse to work as a maid in a large creepy house which is rumoured to have a monster living there. This isanother fantasy story, weaving together fairy tales and reality to create a story ultimately highlighting the importance and power of kindness.

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius translated by Peter Graves (Pushkin Press)

The Murderer’s Ape is another book I had heard good things about and I was not disappointed. Sally Jones is a gorilla who can read and write. She can’t speak but she can play chess, tinker with engines, fix accordions and this is her self-typed testimony of her adventures. Together with the Chief, she has sailed around the world but when the Chief is falsely imprisoned in Lisbon for a murder he did not commit, Sally Jones sets out to clear his name. In doing so, she uncovers something much darker and more sinister than she could have imagined. Her journey sees her working as an instrument maker’s apprentice, setting sail aboard a ship to India, working as a spy and flying aeroplanes with a Maharajah. While the book in all is quite long, each adventure feels almost like a separate mini book within a bigger one. Great imagination with the plot twisting and turning while Sally Jones’ steadfast loyalty to her friend never wavers.

Akissi Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Mathieu Sapin, translated by Judith Taboy and Marie Bédrune (Flying Eye Books).

Hailing from Côte d’Ivoire, Akissi was recommended to me by a good friend when we were in a book shop and I must say I am glad I took the recommendation. Akissi is a mischievous, gutsy little girl who is far from the cutesy, “girly” image that society sometimes portrays our girls to be. Akissi climbs trees, she makes friends with animals (mice, rabbits and tapeworms!!) and she loves to get her older brother Fofana into trouble. This graphic novel is just such good fun. Each little mini adventure lasts 4 or 5 double pages meaning you can dip in and out of the book. The illustrations are bright and colourful and Akissi’s exploits just make you want to laugh out loud. My six-year-old daughter has particularly enjoyed this book, often demanding I sit and read it with her. One of her favourite stories is where Akissi decides that she going to have a pet, one of the mice that live in her house. The speech bubbles for the mice simply say “squeak”, with an asterisk directing you to the “translation”. Great fun! For a more in-depth look, please head over to the World Kid Lit Website for my full review.

For more reading ideas, as well as a list of independent publishers of children’s books who are delivering books to your door, check out the World Kid Lit Blog.

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ITI Virtual Coffee Morning

On Friday morning, I was privileged to be asked to participate in the ITI’s inaugural Virtual Coffee Morning. The idea had been put forward by Professional Development Officer Ann Brooks. In these strange times that we are living in, the idea was to provide support and light entertainment to ITI members, rotating around the different networks and regional groups each week to form a panel.

Waving the flag for the East Midlands Regional Group alongside my good friend Ellen Worrell, I was ready to talk about the benefits of joining your local group as well as discussing the World Kid Lit blog. We also shared our recommendations for books and films to enjoy, that also help towards your annual CPD target of 30 hours. We also had to play the game of “Who’s mug is this?”

The bit I was dreading was the quiz. Teamed up with my fellow EMRGer Ellen, we were up against the ITI Office team. Sadly, despite our best efforts, we lost 3 questions to 4. But it was good fun and all in the spirit of bringing people together and connecting in these times of social distancing and isolation. With an attendance over over 250 participants, it’s fair to say it seems to have gone down well.

The next one is this coming Friday at 11am with the ITI Welsh Regional Group helping to form the panel. A great initiative and a pleasure to have been involved.