Why I read aloud to my teenagers


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Storytime isn’t just for young children, says literary critic Meghan Cox Gurdon

Meghan Cox Gurdon is reading aloud to her daughter Phoebe. The book is Dominic, William Steig’s tale of a benevolent, wandering dog, and a family favourite. But this is no cosy bedtime vignette with a yawning, pyjama-clad toddler perched on a parent’s knee: Phoebe is 17 years old and she is drinking coffee and eating breakfast as she listens, before heading out to school. Like her siblings – Molly, 24, Paris, 22, Violet, 18, and Flora, 13 – she has grown up being read to, and it’s something that hasn’t stopped just because she’s hit adolescence.

Cox Gurdon is a reading-aloud tub-thumper. She is a children’s literature reviewer for the Wall Street Journal and has just published her own book, The Enchanted Hour, which makes the case for reading to loved ones of all ages.

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‘An insult’: French writers outraged by festival’s use of ‘sub-English’ words


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Prominent writers including Leila Slimani have spoken out against the Salon du Livre in Paris’s use of phrases including ‘young adult’, a ‘bookquizz’ and ‘le live’

A celebration of the “Scène Young Adult” at the Salon du Livre in Paris next month has drawn the condemnation of dozens of French authors and intellectuals, who have described the adoption of English terminology as an “unbearable act of cultural delinquency”.

The proliferation of English words on display at the book fair, where the “scène YA” was set to feature “Le Live”, a “Bookroom”, a “photobooth” and a “bookquizz”, spurred around 100 French writers into action, among them three winners of the country’s Goncourt prize – Lullaby author Leïla Slimani, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Marie NDiaye – and the bestselling writers Muriel Barbery and Catherine Millet. Together they have issued a scalding rebuke to organisers over their use of that “sub-English ...

Illustrating Howl’s Moving Castle – in pictures


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Here are the 25 Book Illustration Competition finalists in the running to illustrate the Folio Society’s new edition of Diana Wynne Jones’s classic novel about a young woman’s adventures with a wizard. The winner will be announced on 26 February

Images provided by the Folio Society and the House of Illustration

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Young adult author cancels own novel after race controversy


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Advance copies of Amélie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir were criticised for its depiction of slavery, for which the author apologised and pulled publication

An up-and-coming young adult author has cancelled the publication of her highly anticipated debut novel, following a flood of online criticism from readers over her depiction of race and slavery.

Amélie Wen Zhao’s novel, Blood Heir, was sold to publishers for a high six-figure sum last January. A fantastical retelling of the Anastasia story involving “a princess hiding a dark secret and the conman she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder”, it was scheduled to be published in June.

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On the Come Up by Angie Thomas review – another YA hit


This post is by Patrice Lawrence from Books | The Guardian


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This joyous follow-up to The Hate U Give, about a teenage rapper, shows talent and ambition challenging stereotypes

Angie Thomas’s bestselling 2017 debut The Hate U Give was the story of a 16-year-old who witnesses the police shooting of a friend. The follow-up focuses on another 16-year-old, Brianna “Bri” Jackson, who is trying to lift her family out of poverty with her rapping talent. Her life is a struggle. Her rapper father was shot dead 12 years previously by a rival gang. Her mother, Jay, has been clean of crack for eight years, but Bri constantly fears a relapse. Her beloved Aunty Pooh sells drugs, while her paternal grandmother is disdainful of Jay’s ability to care for Brianna and her brother, Trey. Often, the family has to choose between gas, electricity or food.

Bri has talent. She has the lyrics, the knowledge and the passion. When she raps “Strapped like ...

Dr Seuss’s thank-you letter to man who saved his first book


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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The Cat in the Hat author was going to destroy early story believing it was unsaleable

A grateful letter from Dr Seuss to the former college classmate who stopped The Cat in the Hat author from burning his first children’s book manuscript is set to be auctioned later this week.

Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, was an advertising artist who had written his first tale for children, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1936. It had been rejected by dozens of publishers when he bumped into Mike McClintock. As he writes in a 1957 letter to his old friend from Dartmouth College: “You picked me off Madison Ave with a manuscript that I was about to burn in my incinerator because nobody would buy it. And you not only told me how to put Mulberry Street together properly … (as you ...

Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give: ‘Books play a huge part in resistance’


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The author’s young adult novel became a publishing sensation and an acclaimed film. Here, she answers questions from readers and famous fans on activism, social media and coping with rejection

In book publishing, it seems, they still do fairytales. Really not very long ago, Angie Thomas was a secretary to a bishop at a megachurch in Jackson, Mississippi. At nights – and during quiet periods in the day, she furtively admits – she worked on a young adult novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. She had previously written a children’s book, but hadn’t had any interest from agents. “Yeah, I had more than 150 rejections for that one,” says Thomas matter-of-factly. Thomas’s break came when she cold-contacted a literary agent who was doing a Twitter Q&A. The story speeds up now: the novel became The Hate U Give (THUG), a YA sensation about a 16-year-old girl ...

Children’s and teens roundup: the best new picture books and novels


This post is by Imogen Russell Williams from Books | The Guardian


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Darwin for beginners, a magical journey across India, and polar bears on roller skates in this month’s selection

January brings a burst of exhilarating new fiction for readers of eight-plus. Laura Wood’s Vote for Effie (Scholastic) features an exuberant protagonist: huge-haired, stationery-obsessed Euphemia “Effie” Kostas gets off to a shaky start at her new school by antagonising popular junior council president Aaron Davis – then decides to run against him. Can Effie and her campaign team mobilise a groundswell of support? Wood’s deft, hilarious writing explores big themes – fairness, feminism and refusing to accept a dispiriting status quo – while Mirelle Ortega’s cheery illustrations do full justice to Effie’s luxuriant locks.

An evocative debut novel from Jasbinder Bilan, Asha and the Spirit Bird (Chicken House), weaves ancient Hindu beliefs into a fast-paced quest across modern-day India, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the bustle of the big city. ...

Stonewall defends ‘vital’ LGBT children’s books after spate of ban attempts


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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In the last week, separate moves in Canada and the US threatened to restrict young readers’ access to LGBT-themed illustrated stories

UK campaign group Stonewall has warned that children’s books depicting LGBT people are vital for the wellbeing of young people exploring their sexual orientation and gender identity, following a spate of attempts around the world to remove titles depicting gay or transgender characters from library shelves.

Earlier this week in Canada, the Ottawa Catholic School Board was reported to have pulled Raina Telgemeier’s acclaimed graphic novel Drama from the shelves of primary schools, moving it to middle and high schools where it would “more appropriately target 13+ students”. Aimed at children aged 10 and older, the book follows a girl who wants to help with her school play, and features a side story in which two boys kiss. It has proved controversial in the US in the past, with ...

Book clinic: which books might wean my teenage daughter off screens?


This post is by Fiona Noble from Books | The Guardian


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From ghostly tales to pop music, our expert picks the titles that are just as compelling as any computer game

Q: Do you have any book suggestions for my 14-year-old daughter? I am trying to wean her off screens. She likes to be scared, loves music and has huge empathy.
Marie-Claude Gervais, 51, psychologist, London

A: Fiona Noble, children’s books editor at the Bookseller, writes:
The lure of screens in teenage life looms large but books still have the power to bewitch. A deliciously strange ghost story, Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows bristles with menace and follows the story of a girl possessed by the brutish spirit of a bear.

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John Burningham, children’s author and illustrator, dies aged 82


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Burningham, who was married to fellow children’s writer Helen Oxenbury, created beloved picture books including Mr Gumpy’s Outing and Avocado Baby

John Burningham, the children’s author and illustrator behind some of the 20th century’s most enduring children’s books, has died at the age of 82.

The writer and artist died on Friday after contracting pneumonia, his literary agent confirmed on Monday.

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Send us your questions for Angie Thomas


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Got something you would like to ask the award-winning author of The Hate U Give? With the publication of her second YA novel coming up next month, here’s your chance

Angie Thomas is the author of the bestseller The Hate U Give, a novel for young adults that was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and which tells the story of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old African American girl who is drawn to activism after witnessing the police shooting of a childhood friend. Published in 2017, the book has been on the New York Times young adult bestseller list for 96 weeks and has won many awards, including children’s book of the year at the British book awards, and the Waterstones children’s book prize for 2018. Writer Nikesh Shukla described it as “one of the most important books of 2017” and it has also recently been made into a ...

2019 in books: what you’ll be reading this year


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The Goldfinch takes flight in cinemas, Robert Macfarlane goes underground and Margaret Atwood continues The Handmaid’s Tale … what to look forward to in the world of books

1 Centenary of the birth of The Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger.
7 Winners of Costa category awards announced.
11 Release of the biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley.
12 50th anniversary of the publication of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.
14 TS Eliot prize for poetry awarded.
29 Costa prize-giving with book of the year revealed. Germaine Greer turns 80.

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Children’s and teens roundup: the best new picture books and novels


This post is by Imogen Russell Williams from Books | The Guardian


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Mealtime wars, a puppy without a bark and crazy science … fun and facts for all ages in this month’s selection

The final children’s books roundup for 2018 reflects a brilliant year. From the subtle to the over-the-top, the tear-jerking to the comic, it’s been a bumper crop – and 2019 shows early signs of being just as good.

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Helen Oxenbury: ‘I used to hide books from my children – I couldn’t bear to read them again’


This post is by Lisa Allardice from Books | The Guardian


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Ten Little Fingers, Clap Hands, Farmer Duck ... the pioneering illustrator talks to Lisa Allardice about her 50 year career and the real story behind We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

The house opposite Hampstead Heath where Helen Oxenbury has lived with her husband, fellow children’s writer and illustrator John Burningham, in north London for more than 40 years, is a home you might find in an old-fashioned children’s book: turreted, with steps up to a porch, a sun-lit kitchen – all paintings, pots and pans and piles of books. It is easy to imagine it as a family haven for their three children; the youngest, Emily, an artist, now lives next door with her baby and toddler. And Oxenbury, a sprightly, upright 80, with angular features and hair in the messy bun she has worn all her life, is the sort of no-nonsense grandmother you might find in such a ...

Judith Kerr: ‘I like this generation of teenagers. They seem kind and idealistic’


This post is by Tim Adams from Books | The Guardian


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At 95, the author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea still works every day. ‘Stories are a huge comfort,’ she says over lunch at the Savoy

Judith Kerr has a theory about life. The first half of it, she suggests, lasts until you are about 18. All the rest counts as the second half. “Children’s years go on so long,” she says, “and pack so very much in.” Kerr’s own formative years – fictionalised in her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – are more than a case in point. She escaped from Germany in 1933 with her mother and her father, who was a journalist and fierce critic of the Nazis. They lived for a while in France before being welcomed as refugees in London. She recalls being bombed out of a hotel in Bloomsbury in the blitz. “I was sleeping on a chest of drawers in ...

The best children’s books of 2018 for all ages


This post is by Fiona Noble, Imogen Carter, Kitty Empire and Kate Kellaway from Books | The Guardian


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From celebrity-penned tales to fresh interpretations of the classics, here is our pick of the best for hungry readers from tots to teens

Children’s books have had a record-breaking few years. The sector was worth £381.9m in 2017, according to Nielsen BookScan, and 2018 may well top that. One in every three physical books sold is now a children’s book. Judging by bestseller charts and supermarket displays you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of those were by celebrities. Famous faces certainly continue to sell in big numbers: David Walliams’s The Ice Monster (HarperCollins), David Baddiel’s Head Kid (HarperCollins) and Greg James and Chris Smith’s Kid Normal series (Bloomsbury) are among the year’s most notable. But beyond this, a rich and varied landscape of books for children and young adults is very much in evidence. This year, Jacqueline Wilson returned to her best-loved heroine in My Mum Tracy Beaker ...

Matt Haig: ‘You can go to the dark place and find the optimism in it’


This post is by Lisa Allardice from Books | The Guardian


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The Reasons to Stay Alive author talks to Lisa Allardice about finding solace in children’s fiction, his Twitter addiction and why his breakdown made him happier

Last Boxing Day Matt Haig was having “a bad morning”. This was not just the usual post-Christmas blues: Haig’s struggles with depression and anxiety, almost leading to suicide in his mid-20s, were acutely documented in his phenomenally successful memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. To cheer himself up, he decided to write a poem for his kids, and the result is his latest book, The Truth Pixie, completed pretty much that day. The uplifting tale of a young girl cheered by a cheeky sprite who is unable to lie, The Truth Pixie is short and very sweet. “I wanted to think of something that would comfort them,” he says. “In the same way that Reasons comforts adults in that you are acknowledging that pain....

‘Mum this is me!’: the pop-up bookshop that only sells diverse children’s books


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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#ReadTheOnePercent, run by publisher Knights Of, has reopened in south London for Christmas – and after selling out its stock, is now crowdfunding to become permanent

When Aimée Felone and David Stevens opened their pop-up children’s bookshop in Brixton in October, featuring only books with black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) protagonists, they had one reaction they weren’t prepared for: a customer burst into tears. “I went and asked her if she was OK,” says Stevens. “She said she’d never seen anything quite like it, she’d picked up six books in a row and they all had brown faces on. All I could say was, ‘I’m sorry it took so long.’”

Felone and Stevens, who have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to open a handful of inclusive pop-up bookshops around the UK and Ireland, aren’t usually in the retail business: they’re independent publishers. They decided to open their #ReadTheOnePercent ...

Mortal Engines: what Philip Reeve’s predator cities tell us about our world


This post is by David Owen from Books | The Guardian


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The steampunk dystopia, Reeve explains, was not intended as a comment on capitalism. But as a new film version shows, his story looks less far-fetched these days

Philip Reeve is reluctant to concede that his children’s book series about titanic mobile cities roaming a post-apocalyptic wasteland to hunt and devour each other is a bit weird. “People do seem to find it a hard idea to grasp, but I never did,” the author says. “I suppose it is a little strange.”

Mortal Engines, now in cinemas almost two decades after Reeve’s first instalment hit shelves in 2001, takes place centuries after the dust has settled on a cataclysmic global war. Civilisation has rebuilt itself around the tenets of so-called “Municipal Darwinism”: a survival-of-the-fittest technological ecosystem that sees whole cities mounted on outsize tank tracks, picking off and consuming smaller, slower towns for their metal, fuel, and flesh. ...