‘They just wanted us to read about a white boy and his dog’: why teenager Marley Dias fought back


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She was 10 when she first decided to distribute children’s books with black girl leads – a campaign that has taken her to the White House. Now she’s written a book of her own

When I arrive at the photography studio to meet the education activist Marley Dias, I am surprised to find the shoot is long over. The 14-year-old is sitting patiently, her luggage packed, coat neatly slung over her lap, waiting. The photographer explains the early finish is because they got all the pictures they needed with Dias near-immediately; that she is the perfect subject to work with.

This was perhaps the first inkling of what would become abundantly clear during our interview: Marley Dias is a pro. Despite her tender years, the campaigner for diverse children’s books – which took her from her New Jersey home town to the White House – carries herself with a mature ...

Teenage books round-up – review


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Far-right tensions power Malorie Blackman’s latest, and Much Ado is retold as a heady teen romance

In Crossfire (Penguin) Malorie Blackman returns to the world of her award-winning Noughts & Crosses series, set in a Britain where the dark-skinned Crosses are the ruling class. Complex family dynamics and the corrupting influence of power drive a thrilling, twisting plot told through a series of flashbacks. This may be the fifth novel in the sequence, but razor-sharp commentary on current events – from the far right to race and media bias – makes it as relevant as ever. The ending will enthral and infuriate fans in equal measure.

Equally topical is The Boxer (Hodder) by The Good Immigrant author Nikesh Shukla, a story of fear, hope and identity in Bristol. After being the victim of a racist attack on his way home from school, Sunny joins a boxing club, which brings him ...

Book clinic: What can I give a child to help them with losing a parent?


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Writer and critic Kate Kellaway suggests nonfiction and novels to support young people dealing with grief

Q: Are there any children’s books dealing with grief and, specifically, losing a parent? My niece and nephew, aged 11 and seven, are likely to lose their mum due to illness and I am wondering what may be of help.
Anonymous, 38

A: Kate Kellaway, Observer writer and critic, writes:
The first thing to say is that there is a gap where the perfect book should be. I’ve been to bookshops to inquire (a book was thrust into my hands in which a mother is in a car crash but survives). I’ve searched online and, with premature triumph, ordered Still Here With Me: Teenagers and Children on Losing a Parent, edited by a Swedish writer, Suzanne Sjöqvist. But the book’s first-person accounts seem more depressing than consoling (double-check – you’ll know what is ...

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


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A scruffy puppy’s friendship, a young adventurer’s guide to the wild, poltergeist spooks and scroll down for the best new books for teens

Spring is bursting with good books for five- to eight-year-olds, and newly independent readers will lap up the cat-and-dog tale of Jasper and Scruff (Little Tiger) by author-illustrator Nicola Colton. Fastidious feline Jasper aspires to membership of the elite Sophisticats, but when Scruff, a bedraggled, chronically enthusiastic puppy, ruins his chances, he discovers that companionship matters more. Adorable illustrations, snappy dialogue and outrageous puns make it the cat’s pyjamas for bedtime reading, too.

For slightly older kids, especially those navigating friendship challenges, Rebecca Patterson’s A Moon Girl Stole My Friend (Andersen) is superb. In a gently down-at-heel future, complete with robot teaching assistants, cyber pets and flying cars, Lyla’s best friend, Bianca, falls under the spell of mean girl Petra Lumen. Newly arrived from the Moon, Petra ...

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


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A boy who turns into a pigeon, love in a lighthouse and the pain that inspired Mary Shelley

This month ushers in a feast of funny, fearsome, folklore-laced fantasy for readers of eight to 12. The Midnight Hour (Chicken House), from storytelling partners Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, features bold Emily, who’s lost both parents somewhere in the Midnight Hour, a dark Victorian London suspended for ever in time and inhabited by the mysterious Night Folk. As she encounters an embodied Library, a policeman with superpowers and an appalling predator, Emily grapples with what it may cost to find and save her family. Anarchic humour, rich imagination and poetic writing, interspersed with elegant line drawings, add up to pure delight – with a stowaway hedgehog as a bonus.

More wildness, witchcraft and forthright, sparky girls appear in Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic (Simon & Schuster). The Widdershins sisters, Betty, ...

Francesca Simon: how I turned The Monstrous Child into ‘Wagner for teens’


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The Horrid Henry author’s YA novel about a smart-talking Norse goddess has become an opera – what will young audiences make of it?

A few years ago, I was sitting on the New York subway when a voice popped into my head. A sarcastic, teenage, yeah whatever, eye-rolling voice. She said, “You’d think after my brother the snake was born they’d have stopped at one.” I knew who was speaking. It was Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead, half-human, half-corpse, daughter of a god and a giantess, who Odin hurls into the Underworld and forces to rule the dead.

The whole plot of my novel The Monstrous Child came to me in that moment. I’ve always loved mythology, and Hel’s story seemed a great way to write about dysfunctional families and the turbulence and passion of adolescence. It was the first time I’d written a novel in the ...

Teenage books round-up – review


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An aspiring rapper’s struggle and a tale of witchcraft and misogyny are among this month’s YA standouts

The Hate U Give made a YA superstar of Angie Thomas, but just how do you follow a bestselling debut that has already been made into a movie? In On the Come Up (Walker) 16-year-old Brianna longs to become a famous rapper but finds herself stymied by poverty, a troubled reputation at school and, after her song goes viral, media prejudice about who she really is. There is no second-book syndrome here. Unflinching, honest and brimming with humanity, Thomas writes with confidence and conviction about kids seldom seen in literature. In a book that is all about finding your voice and the power of words, Bri’s frustrated, angry lyrics are pure magic.

Another author following a feted debut is Muhammad Khan, whose excellent I Am Thunder introduced him as an exhilarating new ...

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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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 ...

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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The best children’s books of 2018 for all ages


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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 ...

Young adults’ books of the month – favourite haunts revisited


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Frankenstein and Narnia are given fresh twists, alongside an inspirational teen love story and an upbeat feminist collection

As Halloween approaches, a classic horror novel inspires a menacing ghost story in Marcus Sedgwick’s The Monsters We Deserve (Zephyr, £12.99). In a remote mountain house in the French Alps, reality begins to blur as an author ponders upon the legacy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the creative act of writing itself. Haunted by dark visions and the spectre of failure, his isolation and obsession grow, invoking a terrible sense of claustrophobia and mounting dread. An ambitious and original take on the gothic.

Two contemporary novels stand out this autumn. In books such as We Are All Made of Molecules, Susin Nielsen has showcased her talent for authentic, unforgettable teenage voices. No Fixed Address (Andersen, £12.99) follows 13-year-old Felix who is homeless, living in a van with his mother. ...

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


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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’


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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’


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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 ...