Jason Reynolds: ‘What’s unusual about my story is that I became a writer’

The American author on his gut response to a friend’s death, how to get young people reading, and the value of crochet

Jason Reynolds, a 34-year-old from Washington DC, didn’t grow up expecting to be a writer: indeed, he was 17 before he read a book from start to finish. But it might be his atypical background that allows him to connect so powerfully with teenage readers. He has published a dozen novels – mostly for young adults – in the US, has been a National Book award finalist and is a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list. He was also recently named on the Guardian’s Frederick Douglass 200 list, which honours the 200 living individuals who best embody the work and spirit of the American abolitionist and politician. Now one of Reynolds’s books, Long Way Down, is being released in the UK. Told in verse, ...

Jason Reynolds: ‘What’s unusual about my story is that I became a writer’

The American author on his gut response to a friend’s death, how to get young people reading, and the value of crochet

Jason Reynolds, a 34-year-old from Washington DC, didn’t grow up expecting to be a writer: indeed, he was 17 before he read a book from start to finish. But it might be his atypical background that allows him to connect so powerfully with teenage readers. He has published a dozen novels – mostly for young adults – in the US, has been a National Book award finalist and is a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list. He was also recently named on the Guardian’s Frederick Douglass 200 list, which honours the 200 living individuals who best embody the work and spirit of the American abolitionist and politician. Now one of Reynolds’s books, Long Way Down, is being released in the UK. Told in verse, ...

Teenage books round-up: voyages of discovery and hope

Coming-of-age stories from the historical to the fantastical are among the pick of this month’s YA fiction

Candy Gourlay’s historical novel Bone Talk (David Fickling, £10.99) is a coming-of-age story dealing with themes of imperialism and masculinity that resonate strongly today. It is 1899 and Samkad’s life with his Filipino mountain tribe is about to change when the first white man arrives in their remote village. The culture and landscape are vividly drawn, a mesmerising world of soulful ritual and community, rendering the impact of the American invasion all the more devastating.

From the past to the near future with Nicky Singer’s The Survival Game (Hodder, £7.99), a dystopian thriller set in a world ravaged by climate change and overpopulation. Fourteen-year-old Mhairi is making the difficult journey home from Sudan to Scotland when she meets a young African boy and risks everything to get him to safety. Recent news ...

‘I’ll make a sign and hold it up’: Isobelle Carmody takes her activism to the streets

The Australian fantasy author, a vocal opponent of Australia’s offshore detention, calls taking a stand the ‘best kind of power’

“I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a coward,” says Isobelle Carmody. “A lot of my writing is about courage – learning what courage is, trying to find our own courage, that sort of thing – because I didn’t feel very brave at all when I was young.”

It’s a surprising admission from the acclaimed writer. For three decades now, Carmody has been one of Australia’s most beloved fantasy authors, for children and adults alike. At just 14 she began work on her first book, Obernewtyn, which was published in 1987 and spawned the fantasy series of the same name. Her novel The Gathering was a high school favourite for many Australian teens and won her both the 1993 Children’s Literature Peace prize and the 1994 CBCA ...

Want the kids to read more? 15 modern classics for all ages

From greedy dogs to shimmering dragons and from dance competitions to grisly murder – these books can inspire a lifetime of reading

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillian and Yuval Zommer (Words and Pictures)
A concertina-book that falls open in yards of pages, taking you to the centre of the Earth and back again; good for budding geologists, treasure-hunters, archaeologists and those who aren’t too keen on traditionally book-shaped books.

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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 ...

Chelsea Clinton: ‘I’ve had vitriol flung at me for as long as I can remember’

The former first daughter on privilege, female leadership, dealing with critics, and how Trump ‘degrades what it means to be American’

When the American media describe Chelsea Clinton as royalty, they refer not to her popularity but to her ubiquity. Her very first home was the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas; the family home she left for university 18 years later was the White House. Ordinarily, it’s only young royals who grow up in lavish official residences and the pitiless media spotlight, a permanent presence in our consciousness. It is a uniquely strange and unenviable version of celebrity that stole Clinton’s anonymity before she was old enough to spell it.

When we meet there is, therefore, a disconcerting sense of deja vu. Everything begins exactly as one might expect. On the previous day there had been the pre-interview call from one of her handlers, who was ostensibly warm and ...

Michael Chabon: ‘Parent properly and you’re doing yourself out of a job’

The Pulitzer prize-winner on combining writing with raising kids, his freakozoid tendencies and the authors he returns to

Michael Chabon is one of America’s best-loved writers, the author of nine novels, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (which won the Pulitzer prize), Wonder Boys, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Moonglow. In 2009, he published Manhood for Amateurs, a series of reflections on his early years as a father. Now, with Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, 54-year-old Chabon has collected his essays about parenting four teenagers.

A few years ago, Chabon’s wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, wrote a controversial essay for the New York Times in which she claimed to love her husband more than her children (and to be the only one of her married friends still having regular sex). Chabon’s meditations on fatherhood are less likely to offend – they’re generous, very Californian ...

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 ...

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 ...

Teenage books round-up: feminism and fairy tales

A vivid history of the suffragettes and a new version of The Little Mermaid are among this month’s standouts

Feminism and women’s history are richly woven into children’s and young adult books this year, taking their lead from the success of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and the centenary of the first British women to win the vote. Illustrator David Roberts is both writer and artist of Suffragette: The Battle for Equality (Two Hoots £18.99). In a lavish colour hardback replete with his distinctive, perceptive art, he offers fascinating insights into the complex history of the movement, looking beyond the stereotypes to include working-class women and diverse stories from around the world.

Despite Disney’s best efforts, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid has always occupied a dark place in the fairytale canon. In her contemporary reimagining, The Surface Breaks (Scholastic £12.99), Louise O’Neill harnesses that darkness and transforms the ...

Juno Dawson: ‘Teenagers have seen things that would make milk curdle’

The YA novelist on researching addiction, dealing with transphobes and why she loves writing for teens

Award-winning “Queen of Teen” Juno Dawson was born James Dawson and raised in West Yorkshire. She worked as a teacher and journalist before becoming a full-time author. In 2015, she announced her intention to undergo gender transition and live as a woman. Her 14th book is the young adult novel Clean, the story of a teenage girl’s battle with heroin addiction and stint in rehab.

Drugs, sex and swearing feature highly in Clean, so what makes it a young adult novel?
The publishing world tends to focus more on the “young”, less on the “adult”. But I spend lots of time with teenagers and they’re truly the broadband generation. They’ve been online all their lives and seen things that would make milk curdle: beheadings, graphic violence, hardcore porn. Shielding them is never ...

The many tongues of Lost in Books, the only bookstore in Fairfield

Most of Fairfield, in Sydney’s west, speaks a language other than English – and now it has a bookstore to match

Walking into Lost in Books is a little like walking into a daydream. Models of hot air balloons float near a ceiling covered in billowing white fabric. Bookshelves line one wall, murals adorn another. The gently sloping floor is carpeted in bright colours. A pile of cushions and soft toys is heaped in a corner beside some armchairs and a piano sits opposite. It’s a stark contrast to the hot concrete and brick of the Fairfield street on which it sits.

The multilingual children’s bookstore is the only one of its kind in the western Sydney suburb – the only bookstore, that is. The area hasn’t had a bookshop at all since Angus and Robertson turned its back on bricks-and-mortar outlets, and Kmart aside, the closest storefronts dedicated to ...

A field guide to spotting a good shag | Brief letters

Shags versus mullets | Black dresses at the Baftas | Childhood books | Missing the moon? | Pensioners making a difference

Your “Mullets we have loved” (In pictures, 17 February) was highly flawed. Half of these “mullets” were actually shags (Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Joan Jett).
Camilla Jackson
Bedworth, Warwickshire

• Your front page stated: “All three wore black dresses after a call for the awards to focus on industry rather than clothes” (Taking a stand at the Baftas, 19 February). However, on page 11, there were three columns commenting on what the actors were wearing. I am confused.
Mike Harrison
Bath

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Teenage book reviews – thrills, spills and girl power

A boarding school for self-absorbed artists, a handbook on changing the world, and bright young women standing up to the bullies

Lydia Ruffles’s gripping novel The Taste of Blue Light (Hodder £12.99) is a hothouse boarding school for performance and fine artists where self-absorption is an art in itself. Luxe, back at school after a breakdown, has synaesthesia and is losing face and friends through her anxiety-fuelled social lapses.

It’s easy to make fun of the students, who pledge allegiance to the muses and Simon Cowell, but an institution where achievement starts with confronting the true self is arguably the best place for Luxe to be. As the gaps in her memory are filled, her progress to recovery becomes even more admirable.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green review – dark and complex

Teenager Aza embarks on a mystery and a love story but both are soon derailed by her own anxieties in John Green’s first novel in six years

The Fault in Our Stars and its subsequent film adaptation catapulted John Green into literary stardom. In his first new novel for almost six years we’re back in familiar territory, the “gloomy” canvas of middle America populated by astonishingly articulate teenagers with a penchant for existential debate and cultural references – Star Wars, The Tempest and fan fiction in this case. Against this backdrop 16-year-old Aza and her “best and most fearless friend”, Daisy, investigate the disappearance of a fugitive billionaire in the hope of pocketing a reward. The detective angle is quickly sidelined, though, when Aza falls for his teenage son, Davis, and a tentative relationship develops. But Aza is prey to a “tightening spiral” of anxiety and OCD, which affects ...

Move over, Hermione Granger – now girls have real-life heroines to read about | Lauren Chassebi

Children are revelling in books that showcase female role models from Virginia Woolf to Venus Williams. Such non-fiction has never been more needed

Children’s stories have often followed the same pattern: a girl is in trouble and enlists the help of a boy to get her out of this or that sticky situation. Then they live happily ever after. You only need to look at the classic fairytales to see this is the case. Of course, some fictional heroines have broken away from this mould. Anne of Green Gables, in the series by L M Montgomery, is inquisitive and bright, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda is famously brave and wise beyond her years. But, in picture books for younger readers, heroines such as these have always been few and far between.

As a child, the characters I looked up to were Disney Channel stars such as Lizzie McGuire, who I ...

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

From a retelling of Rapunzel to a tentative romance, there is something for all ages from toddlers to teensAuthor-illustrator Bethan Woollvin returns to enthral picture-book fans with a retelling of Rapunzel (Two Hoots) in her characteristic, starkly beguiling graphic black and white. The contrasting waves of Rapunzel’s hair, in over-saturated buttery yellow, light up a heroine every bit as defiant, quick-witted and tough as Woollvin’s award-winning Little Red. Another strong-willed girl features in Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek’s I Am Actually a Penguin (Templar), in which the narrator dons a seabird persona along with her beloved new costume and refuses to behave in any way unbefitting a penguin. It’s warm, hilarious, with acutely observed behaviour and a delightful twist. Continue reading...

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

From a retelling of Rapunzel to a tentative romance, there is something for all ages from toddlers to teensAuthor-illustrator Bethan Woollvin returns to enthral picture-book fans with a retelling of Rapunzel (Two Hoots) in her characteristic, starkly beguiling graphic black and white. The contrasting waves of Rapunzel’s hair, in over-saturated buttery yellow, light up a heroine every bit as defiant, quick-witted and tough as Woollvin’s award-winning Little Red. Another strong-willed girl features in Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek’s I Am Actually a Penguin (Templar), in which the narrator dons a seabird persona along with her beloved new costume and refuses to behave in any way unbefitting a penguin. It’s warm, hilarious, with acutely observed behaviour and a delightful twist. Continue reading...