How thrillers offer an antidote to toxic masculinity

This genre’s modern incarnation of the ancient hero myth can give boys essential but neglected lessons in how to be a good man

In the cultural conversation – whatever the hell that is – we hear endless talk about toxic masculinity. But we never seem to talk about positive masculinity.

This absence of strong men leaves us mistaking bullies and tyrants, bruhs with backwards baseball caps, and politicians who say whatever they think as leaders to be emulated. We have to give young men role models who are good and courageous and willing to take risks in the name of adventure. The best place to start is in books, film and TV.

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BAME books: let children see themselves in stories | Letters

From protagonists in wheelchairs to mixed-race newborns, it’s time for books and greetings cards to reflect real life

Alison Flood’s article on the lack of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) main characters in children’s books raises an important issue, but it was a shame that the books listed were about BAME children outside the UK (Only 1% of UK children’s books have BAME main characters, study finds, 17 July). We have some excellent UK-based authors who write stories reflecting the lives of BAME children in the UK – it is hard to imagine how the brilliant British former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman could have been omitted. Could the Guardian remedy this with a feature listing some of the great books already in print featuring strong BAME characters? It would be a useful resource for all parents who would like children to see the world from more than ...

Only 1% of children’s books have BAME main characters – UK study

Research finds that of 9,115 titles published last year, only 4% featured BAME characters

Only 1% of British children’s books feature a main character who is black or minority ethnic, a investigation into representations of people of colour has found, with the director calling the findings “stark and shocking”.

In a research project that is the first of its kind, and funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) asked UK publishers to submit books featuring BAME characters in 2017. Of the 9,115 children’s books published last year, researchers found that only 391 – 4% - featured BAME characters. Just 1% had a BAME main character, and a quarter of the books submitted only featured diversity in their background casts.

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Authors steer boys from toxic masculinity with gentler heroes

Inspirational male role models feature in books designed to influence young minds

Children’s writer Ben Brooks is on a mission to redefine masculinity for young boys. “I want to help boys become better, happier men and open up a debate about what we think of as masculinity. I want to question the idea that it’s weak to be emotionally open, to demonstrate that it’s fine for men to be vulnerable and kind, and to recognise the courage it takes to be different.”

Young adult fiction author Brendan Kiely is on a similar quest. “A definition of masculinity that emerges from a culture which silences, shames and gaslights women is dangerous – it harms women and robs boys of the potential to be better human beings. Seeing Trump in all his ugliness has acted like a wake-up call to male authors. We need to teach boys that they do not ...

Stig of the Dump author Clive King dies aged 94

Alongside some 20 other books, his 1963 story of a stone-age hunter living in modern-day Kent sold more than 2m copies and has never been out of print

The writer Clive King, creator of the much-loved children’s classic Stig of the Dump, has died aged 94.

A career that began in 1958 – with Hamid of Aleppo, a book for younger children about a hamster – stretched over five decades, with King writing for the children’s theatre as well as publishing more than 20 books. But it was the stone-age hunter living in a chalk pit on the Downs who captured the imagination of generations, with Stig appearing in television adaptations in both 1981 and 2002.

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Shaun Tan’s Cicada: a meditation on belonging and bullying – in pictures

In his latest picture book, acclaimed Australian illustrator, writer and film-maker Shaun Tan explores the ponderous themes of migrant workers and workplace bullying through the voice of a hardworking insect who has toiled away, unappreciated and without promotion, alongside humans in a grey office block for 17 years.

The author of award-winning books including The Rabbits, The Red Tree and The Arrival, as well as Oscar-winning short film The Lost Thing, reveals behind the scenes of the horrifying and humorous story, showing us the sketches and moveable sculptures that ultimately allowed Cicada to fly.

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American librarians defend renaming Laura Ingalls Wilder award

Professional body the ALA says the Little House on the Prairie author’s ‘complex legacy’ of racist attitudes was not consistent with its values

The American Library Association (ALA) has stressed that its decision to drop Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from its children’s literature award due to racist sentiments in her books is not “an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access” to the Little House on the Prairie author’s books.

The organisation announced on Sunday that the board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) had voted 12 to zero in favour of changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s literature legacy award. The prize was first awarded in 1954 to Wilder herself, and has been won by some of America’s best-loved children’s authors, from EB White to Beverly Cleary.

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American librarians defend renaming Laura Ingalls Wilder award

Professional body the ALA says the Little House on the Prairie author’s ‘complex legacy’ of racist attitudes was not consistent with its values

The American Library Association (ALA) has stressed that its decision to drop Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from its children’s literature award due to racist sentiments in her books is not “an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access” to the Little House on the Prairie author’s books.

The organisation announced on Sunday that the board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) had voted 12 to zero in favour of changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s literature legacy award. The prize was first awarded in 1954 to Wilder herself, and has been won by some of America’s best-loved children’s authors, from EB White to Beverly Cleary.

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

A mermaid parade, a naughty gran, the coming of war and a reworked Eugene Onegin

The stand-out title this month is a picture book, Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Walker). When Julian sees three women dressed as mermaids, he wants to be one too; but how will his Nana react? In this bravura feat of understated storytelling, the richness of Julian’s day-to-day reality and free-floating imagination is caught in images layered with colour, movement, muscle and life, celebrating black and Latin experience. Julian invents a tail and flowing hair, and Nana’s acceptance, as she accompanies him on a wild parade of mermaids, will leave the reader filled with joy.

Nadia Shireen’s Billy and the Beast (Penguin) also celebrates the experience of those often left out of picture books, with its brave brown heroine and the outrageous array of props she stores in her huge cloud of hair. Lively, ...

Dave Eggers: ‘I always picture Trump hiding under a table’

The Circle author talks about Facebook, why immigrants are not the enemy and his first novel for children

I am attracted to purpose,” Dave Eggers says. People need it, he believes, and so do nations. Much of his fiction has reflected on the loss of an American sense of purpose, the decay of the dream; much of his non-fiction has told the stories of immigrants to the US who have shown the drive and generosity missing from the country as a whole. In person, as in his work, Eggers combines an openness to describing darkness and tragedy with a faith in the essential goodness of “everyday people”. He tells me that “whenever there’s a moment when people are inspired to make the world better, I get interested. I’m super corny that way.”

The most recent of Eggers’s many books is The Lifters, a magic realist tale written for ...

Female role models to inspire change in society | Letters

We need more books for both boys and girls that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders, writes Jean Pollard. And why can no one remember the work of Eleanor Marx? asks John Airs

I very much enjoyed the supplement of best new children’s books (16 June) but how disappointing to see the continuing massive overrepresentation of male protagonists in these stories. While some recommended books did have a female lead, and there were a couple of books about real heroic women (one described as being sure to inspire girls – why not boys?), there were far, far more where the lead character was a boy and where girls remain accessories in boy’s stories. We need more books for both boys and girls to read that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders in a whole host of activities hitherto seen as “boys’ stuff” if we are ...

Carnegie medal winner slams children’s book publishers for ‘accessible’ prose

Geraldine McCaughrean, accepting award for Where the World Ends, warned that restricting the language children read risks creating a future underclass who are ‘easy to manipulate’

Carnegie medal winner Geraldine McCaughrean has castigated the books industry for dumbing down language in children’s literature, warning that a new focus on “accessible” prose for younger readers will lead to “an underclass of citizens with a small but functional vocabulary: easy to manipulate and lacking in the means to reason their way out of subjugation”.

McCaughrean was named winner on Wednesday of this year’s CILIP Carnegie medal for her historical adventure novel Where the World Ends, 30 years after she first took the prize, the UK’s most esteemed children’s literature award. She used her winner’s speech to attack publishers’ fixation on accessible language, which she called “a euphemism for something desperate”.

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Quentin Blake to auction ‘joyful’ mother and baby watercolours

Pictures from illustrator’s personal collection will be auctioned for charity in July

Revealing another side to the much-loved illustrator of classic children’s novels such as The BFG and The Twits, Sir Quentin Blake’s series of watercolours of naked mothers with their babies feature in an assortment of pictures from the acclaimed illustrator’s personal collection which are due to be auctioned for charity next month.

The images, drawn for the delivery room at the university hospital in Angers, France, show the women swimming underwater with their babies, among seaweed, or breastfeeding. They form part of a collection of 178 illustrations from Blake which Christie’s will auction between 3 and 12 July to raise money for The House of Illustration, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Survival International.

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A queer, diverse Nancy Drew: is this how to keep children’s classics alive?

The girl detective and Little Women are both being updated to include LGBTQ and multiethnic characters to cater for a new generation of readers – but this doesn’t always work

When the news broke that Nancy Drew, that plucky, “Titian-haired” girl detective with her handsome boyfriend and supportive girl gang, was getting an intersectional makeover, you’d forgive a queer Drewphile for bracing against an expected backlash.

After all, having seen the heavily criticised “sensitive revisions” of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books – swapping “tinker” with “traveller” and “awful swotter” becoming “bookworm” – pulled from sale because everyone wanted the originals, you might imagine appetite for modernised literary classics had dwindled. But later this month, the New Nancy Drew Mystery Stories will be published, updating the original cast of upper-middle-class, white heterosexuals to include an openly gay George – come on, we were all thinking it – who has a black ...

Picture books for children reviews – lessons in kindness

A gentle introduction to the refugee crisis – plus tales of big hair and a baby bandit

While the title may nod to a certain fairytale there’s not even a whiff of ballgowns or romance in Nadia Shireen’s joyous monster-slaying adventure Billy and the Beast (Jonathan Cape, £6.99). Refreshingly, the heroine here is a brown girl with a yellow cagoule, skinny jeans and a fabulous frizzy beehive in which she stashes essentials from emergency doughnuts to useful devices. British author Shireen has created her best character yet in the feisty and fun Billy, who rescues her woodland pals from the claws of a goofy green beast.

Elsewhere, some of this season’s most charming picture books feature people who seem to need saving from themselves. In Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival (Bloomsbury, £6.99, 12 July), a young girl’s anxiety is artfully expressed as a scrawled yellow blob with a black monobrow. The blob swells ...

Winnie-the-Pooh map could fetch £150,000 at auction

1926 sketch of Hundred Acre Wood to be sold alongside four other EH Shepard works

The original map of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood – “probably the most famous map in English literature” – is expected to sell for up to £150,000 at auction.

EH Shepard’s original 1926 sketch, unseen for nearly half a century, introduced readers to the world of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends in the original book.

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The Swish of the Curtain: an anarchic children’s classic rises again

Pamela Brown’s madcap 1941 tale of stagestruck children inspired the likes of Dame Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins to start acting. Now it’s stepping back into the limelight

“I wanted to act before I read this book,” Dame Maggie Smith once said of Pamela Brown’s classic children’s novel The Swish of the Curtain, “and afterwards there was no stopping me.”

For me, the end result was somewhat less lofty, but the antics of the children of the Blue Door Theatre Company in Brown’s novel did lead to evenings spent rehearsing with our local amateur dramatics society (pantomimes in the winter; Toad of Toad Hall and Our Day Out in the summer). The 1941 novel – a sort of Ballet Shoes for the theatre - tells of seven children in the sleepy English town of Fenchester. After running out of money and activities one long holiday, they stumble on an ...

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

Dogs and jungle animals for young ones, politics and mysteries for older readers

Big names for small readers abound as summer creeps over the horizon, including Shirley Hughes’s new book for five- to eight-year-olds, Ruby in the Ruins (Walker), which vividly evokes a child’s view of the aftermath of war. After Ruby and Mum weather the blitz together, Dad comes home at last; but, to Ruby, he seems a huge, sunburned stranger, taking up too much space … But rather than being remote and shell-shocked, Dad is warmly sympathetic to Ruby’s escapades in this story full of resilient, hopeful love.

Visually stunning, with spare text allowing pictures to do the heavy lifting, Grahame Baker-Smith’s The Rhythm of the Rain (Templar) is a quiet, intoxicating account of water’s transmutations. Where does the water in Issac’s favourite mountain pool go? Following its progress down waterfalls, into rivers, lakes and sea, and back ...

Sexist Little Miss books? Bedtime reading is always a gender minefield

The row over stereotyping in the world of Little Miss Bossy and Little Miss Shy ignores the prejudice found in many children’s classics

Emily Thornberry doesn’t like “this thing about being little” and Piers Morgan wonders why “people bother with these things”, but this week’s kerfuffle over an undergraduate study on gender and stereotyping in children’s books shows that the Mr Men have their shocking side.

To be more precise, it’s the Little Miss series that has been causing all the trouble. These books are an offshoot of the Mr Men world launched in 1981, 10 years after Mr Tickle first extended his “extraordinarily long arms”.

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The Lifters by Dave Eggers review – a strong first children’s book

The plot may not be very original, but Dave Eggers can’t write a boring sentence - kids will love this tale of dark underground forces

Twelve-year-old Granite Flowerpetal, hero of Dave Eggers’s first book for children, is having a rough time. His mechanic father is struggling to make enough money to support the family, which also includes Granite’s mother, who uses a wheelchair, and little sister Maisie. Dad’s solution is to move hundreds of miles to the town of Carousel, where things start going wrong as soon as they arrive.

Granite is worried about being the new kid at school, and hopes to make that easier with a slight name change, from the hard-edged moniker given to him by his father to balance the family surname to “Gran”. But nobody is interested in his name, or anything about him, and before long he discovers that something strange is going on ...