My 2018 Bookshelf
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one."
- George R. R. Martin, 'A Dance with Dragons'
A friend and colleague of mine managed to complete the '52 Books in a Year' challenge while balancing all the madness that comes with teaching, as well as blogging on the side, running for pleasure and also maintaining marriage that didn't end up in divorce. I was actually quite impressed! Inspired by this, but also not willing to take on the seemingly ever-elusive figure of 52, I've decided that one of my resolutions this year would be to read a little more. I'm not putting a figure on it because I don't really like setting myself up for disappointment, but I do want to use this as a space to track and monitor my progress (obviously OFSTED approved). Since I'm into the verse scene and decent recommendations are hard to find in one place, I thought this could double up as a reading list too.
30) 'The Boy at the Back of the Class' by Onjali Rauf
This! This was just so laugh out loud sweet. I won't give too much away because there was a wholly unexpected little surprise that I absolutely do not want to spoil. It really made me question my own construction of character and that which has conditioned my way of thinking. Aside from that, this is a sweet tale about a little Syrian refugee's appearance in a primary school and the adventures of his friends who, in their naivety, will stop at nothing to help him. I actually read this as the bullying of Jamal in Huddersfield went viral. Simply put, books like this one are important.
29) 'The Ice Dragon' by George R.R. Martin
I needed a little break from the MS so this one's another little insight into the world of Westeros. It's a really light and sweet (well as sweet as Martin gets anyway) story of a little girl and her antics with the Ice Dragon. Adara is an outsider, even in her own family, and her tale explores what happens when war comes her way and there's little she can do about it. With dragons and men battling together, Adara must come to terms with choosing between her way of life and losing those she loves most. It actually reminded me of Lewis' 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe'.
28) 'Dream Big Little Leader' by Vashti Harrison
This one was a lovely little surprise from my most recent Penguin book haul. Perfect for every aspiring little leader, Harrison's picture book introduces readers to inspirational black women in history in a really simple manner. From the world of space to showbiz television, the illustrations really are so beautiful and it's the perfect way to start a dialogue on how black women have shaped the world we live in today. Harrison's got a few similar titles on the go and I'll be giving those a quick glance too.
27) 'Rebound' by Kwame Alexander
At 26 years of age, I still got teary over this. This one's a prequel to Alexander's award-winning novel 'The Crossover' and, to be honest, I loved this one a whole lot more. Dealing with themes of loss and family, we meet Charlie 'Chuck' Bell, a young boy in mourning after the death of his father. When his mum doesn't know what else there is to do after he gets in trouble for petty theft, she sends him to his grandparents for the summer where he's reminded of love, hard work and, most of all, his dad. There he learns, at last, how to raise his own wings.
26) 'And The Ocean Was Our Sky' by Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness' new illustrated novel is a subversion of the classic 'Moby Dick'. As someone who hasn't actually read the latter, I couldn't really comment or appreciate this take on it. I did enjoy it though and I do wish I had taken the time to understand the context beforehand. It's told from the perspective of a whale by the name of Bathsheba- 'Call me Bathsheba', who tells her story as a morality tale of legends. There are a lot of metaphors in this and I do think it's an acquired taste so approach it with caution. My take-away? Don't go looking for the devil lest you become one.
25) 'The Poet X' by Elizabeth Acevedo
This one's a coming of age story about Xiomara, a 15 year old who isn't initially understood by her own family. She's a Dominican girl who's aware of the impact her body has on the male gaze. Xio feels completely out of place despite being a 'miracle' baby. She's trying to find God, her loved ones and her place in the world. In the end, she gets all of that when finally finds her own voice. It's another verse novel, but this time the protagonist's an aspiring poet herself. Fun fact: the author actually is a spoken word poet too!
24) 'The Tale of the Two Rabbits' by Sophie Minchell
I'm including this because I read it so many times. It's actually a wedding gift from one of my nearest and dearest and it's about our friendship over the years. She wrote it in verse too and it is so beautifully written and so aptly illustrated. It's made on an app called StoryBird. You get to write your own story and get a theme going for the images. This is Chapter One and I'll looking forward to getting a start on Chapter Two. I think it'll be nice to have a little collection of these for our own kids growing up so we can tell them stories that we may have forgotten otherwise.
23) 'The Mystery Knight' by George R. R. Martin, Ben Avery and Mike Miller
The last in its series, 'The Mystery Knight' sees Dunk and Egg enter a tourney that could, unbeknownst to them, cost them their lives. When the pair find themselves at a wedding celebration, they unwittingly walk into a political trap laid bare by its hosts. With the safety of Winterfell leagues away and talk of treason mounting, Dunk and Egg must find a way to leave safely before old masks slip off and new enemies rise under the banner of the Blackfyre rebellion against House Targaryen.
22) 'The Sworn Sword' by George R. R. Martin, Ben Avery and Mike Miller
The second in its trilogy sees Dunk the Lunk and his squire, Egg, under the charge of Ser Eustace, an elderly knight who had his land stripped from him in the aftermath of one of the most notable battles for the throne in recent history. As ever, trouble follows the duo in the form of a local conflict between Ser Eustace and his neighbours and as the past begins to unravel, Dunk and Egg find themselves questioning who they're really fighting for. Soon deep wounds resurface and the Targaryen name strikes a chord once more.
21) 'The Hedge Knight' by George R. R. Martin, Ben Avery and Mike Miller
This is the first of a three part series in the wider realm of Westeros long before the current timeline of Game of Thrones began to play out. It's a beautifully illustrated graphic novel following the story of a hedge knight named Duncan and his squire, Egg. There are some real gems in this that give you a better insight into the seven kingdoms and the politics behind it. For now, Duncan and Egg enter a seemingly innocent tourney, which ends up being a bigger brawl than they had originally anticipated when blood is shed.
20) 'Howard Thurman's Great Hope' by Kai Jackson Issa and Arthur L. Dawson
Continuing the theme of Black History Month, this picture book was picked up in the library on the way to my usual spot. It's a quick one for adults and a longer one for children, telling the story of Howard Thurman's thirst to succeed in a world that initially seems to work against him. It's a tale of hope, hard work and the ripple effects of random acts of kindness when you genuinely desire nothing in return. It's a reminder of why representation matters and the importance of learning history with the intent of never being responsible for repeating its injustices.
19) 'Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race' by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Taking a break from fiction, this is a striking read. I recommend it to anyone wanting to gain a good insight into race relations. I think sometimes our understanding of race is influenced heavily by the events unfolding in America right now, but that's a disservice to British history and how its own actions have added to fuel to the fire. Britain isn't exactly clean in its record of colonialism and Eddo-Lodge's piece is a much needed wake-up to a nation that seems to be going down the a potentially dangerous and more right-wing path in a post-Brexit and Tory era. Get it read.
18) 'Sea Prayer' by Khaled Hosseini
Dedicated to Aylan Kurdi and all those lost at sea, this one's a beautifully illustrated open letter from a father to his son after war breaks out in Syria. Both he and his family flee towards the waters of Europe, believing those grey waters are safer than land. 'Sea Prayer' is a hauntingly elegant read that reflects the uncertainty and fear refugees face when home can no longer be called so. We got through it in 15 minutes, but kept on thinking about it long after we shelved it away. It's worth noting that Bloomsbury donate £1 for every book sold to the UN Refugee Agency.
17) 'Boy 87' by Ele Fountain
After a hiatus I seem to be somewhat back on the reading hype- if only for a short time while my manuscript's away. 'Boy 87' follows the story of Shif, a refugee in a fictional country based on real-life Eritrea. Shif and his friend Bini, with the help of their single mothers, plan to flee for Europe as they come closer to the age of compulsory enlistment in the nation's armed forces. However, their plans of escape go awry when government officials come searching for those looking for a way out. The tale's a stark reminder of the realities faced by many refugees across the globe.
16) 'Finding Jennifer Jones' by Anne Cassidy
It's been a while since I've finished a novel. I've started a couple and put them promptly down. That being said, this one was read in less than 24 hours. 'Finding Jennifer Jones' is the long awaited sequel to the Carnegie shortlisted 'Looking for JJ' and follows the life of the child-killer after her first change of identity had been compromised. There's something gripping about the original that made me want to immerse myself in this. It's strange because I wholeheartedly root for the protagonist. Her character's compelling and I'm glad I got round to finishing her arc.
15) 'The Other Side of the Truth' by Beverley Naidoo
Hopefully, this will be the last one I'll be reading over the next couple of months because I really do have to give my manuscript much more focus now the research side of things are coming to an end. Naidoo's novel centres around two children of Nigerian activists who have been forced into being smuggled after the death of their mother by government gunmen. Both Sade and Femi find themselves alone on the streets of London with no one but each other to turn to while they try their best to search for their father and uncle who've disappeared without a trace.
14) 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll
I actually loved this when I was at uni, but teaching it was dire. I guess this one's another cheat. Maybe I ruined it for myself by doing that? God knows. Everyone's familiar with the story of Alice, the little girl who fell down the rabbit hole and discovered the madness that is wonderland. My consolation is that the kids loved this. They seem to like the Queen of Hearts' constant need to threaten everybody with decapitation, condemn the fact that Alice drinks and eats things she's no knowledge of and found it hilarious that the damn tarts were on the table all along.
13) 'Out of Heart' by Irfan Master
Another train read- 'Out of Heart' is a sleepy one. It's told in third person, which was pretty striking. It's been a long time since I've read something from that perspective before. I actually forgot what it felt like. Anyway Adam's granddad has passed away, leaving behind the most precious gift of all- his heart. While trying to come to terms with his loss, Adam's family are introduced to William, recipient of aforementioned heart. I actually read Master's 'A Beautiful Lie, which is one of my favourite books. I think I had my expectations too high for this one because of it.
12) 'Welcome to Nowhere' by Elizabeth Laird
I read this on the train after hoarding it on my bookshelf for about nine months. We follow Omar and his family from the outset of the Syrian revolution. Three school boys graffiti on the school wall with an anti-government message and set the wheels in motion for the conflict to come. The story's about Omar and his family dealing with both the war outside and the one that wages on within their own walls. It was a poignant reminder of the plight of refugees in the Middle East and the stark reality of me still having a manuscript to more than just polish right now.
11) 'Heroes' by Robert Cormier
I cheated a little here because we read this as a class. The kids always fall in love with this one. The story follows Francis Cassavant, a young war veteran who's back in his hometown in search for someone who haunted his past. We reminisce his earlier years with him as he tries to come to terms with the trauma that drove him to escaping to the battlefield in the first place. Cormier relays the narrative really beautifully and there's a moment in there that renders its readers speechless. My lot even stayed after the bell just to reach the end- even the boys who pretended not to care.
10) 'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
I loved this one. It's basically something every kids growing up in the 90s will totally understand. It's 'My Wife and Kids' mashed up with 'Fresh Prince', meeting Potter and the music scene all mixed into one. More importantly, it's a lesson in black history and the complexities of ethnic minorities. It explores issues like identity, police brutality, white privilege and the list goes on. I was crying and laughing and everything in between. If you want to know what it's about, buy it because I won't be able to do the story justice.
9) 'Sold' by Patricia McCormick
Lakshmi is a 13 year old village girl living in the mountains in Nepal. That is until one day her step-father sells her for the city life, one away from the home she knows. She's naive enough to believe she'll be working as a maid, but soon she's introduced to a world of endless debt, blackmail and how to please men in a brothel she can't escape from. It was actually really heartbreaking to see how young and vulnerable girls like Lakshmi are. Told in vignettes, this one's a beautifully written, poignant reminder of the stark realities that still need addressed across the globe.
8) 'The Sound of Letting Go' by Stasia Ward Kehoe
Told in verse, this follows the story of Daisy, who's finding it difficult to come to terms with her brother's autism and what it means to their family. She's a talented musician, who's struggling to balance what she wants and what direction her life's heading in. It's a quiet one with some sweet moments. A part of me was almost waiting for it to end though. Daisy is a very introverted character and her regular references to HBO can sometimes get a little too much. It was still a nice read with some interesting insights into her complicated family dynamics.
7) 'Locomotion' by Jacqueline Woodson
This one was just so beautiful and so simple. Another verse novel, but this time following the footsteps of an orphaned boy growing up in care and separated from his little sister. There's no real action, but therein lies the beauty. It's just about him finding inner peace, finding God and finding home when he thought he'd lost it all. It's almost like a diary meets stream of consciousness all in some poetic form or another and it deals with loss, love and touches quietly on race. There's a sequel, which I'm looking forward to reading once I have pennies in the bank.
6) 'Karma' by Cathy Ostlere
I adored this one. It's made it onto my top ten all-time favourites. Told in verse, the story follows two teenagers, Maya and Sandeep. After committing suicide, both Maya and her father go back to India to scatter her mother's ashes. What they don't expect is to arrive on the day the prime minister is assassinated by her security guards. It really is a poignant and beautiful tale of love, war, heritage and identity in a country that's scarred by the conflict of its people. Honestly, no review will ever do this novel justice. It's just one that'll stay with you long after you've left those pages.
5) 'I Am Thunder' by Muhammad Khan
This one follows the story of Muzna, a young Pakistani teenager dealing with the influence of radicalisation and trying to reconcile her South Asian, Muslim and her British identity. It does expose the ugly side of conservative culture and tries to differentiate between the blurred lines and ever-shifting boundaries in the make-up of somebody's identity. I can see why this is appealing for the teens it represents. For the first time this year, I've actually gotten through a prose novel pretty quickly.
4) 'The Weight of Water' by Sarah Crossan
So I bought this one for my niece after the aforementioned event and thought I'd give it a quick read before I recycled it. This one's another verse novel based on Kasienka (or Cassie as her teacher christens her in an attempt to allow her to blend in with her peers). She comes to England with her mother in search for the father who abandoned them both. There are some sweet little moments in this one- my favourite in the form of a little hijabi character who plays her part in giving Kasienka some notion of home.
3) 'We Come Apart' by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
I actually read this because both authors were coming up to my old uni. to discuss this one. It was a sweet little read.
Meet Nicu and Jess, two troubled kids messed up by their own family circumstances. They're star-crossed lovers caught up in a post-Brexit world. At the heart of it, the story's just about two broken people finding themselves whole in each other and being too young to do much about it.
2) 'Moonrise' by Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan's 'Moonrise', another verse novel, made it onto the Costa Children's shortlist last year. It's a quiet little read that's powerful in its own way and calls out the flaws in the American justice system. The story revolves around brothers Ed and Joe Moon- the latter visiting the former who's on death row. I don't know why I was expecting something political when I read the blurb on the back, but in the end, it just turned out to be a simple story of letting someone you love go. There were some really beautiful moments in there and a it was a quick little read too.
1) '5 to 1' by Holly Bodger
Set in dystopian India decades after the devastating consequences of female infanticide, boys outnumber their female counterparts 5:1. To make marriage 'fair' and seemingly in favour of what women want, men must now compete for their bride. It's Sudasa's turn to give everything she's ever known up for a husband whose fate lies behind a mask he hides behind. Told in verse, through the eyes of the bride-to-be and Contestant Five, Bodger shows us the cracks in the system of a society determined to protect and preserve. This was such an interesting concept and it definitely raised awareness for its cause, but I don't know.-I just felt like something was missing, like there was just something more to give. Either way, I'm glad I read it. I researched the inspiration behind it and, honestly, words cannot describe how shocking the stats. and stories were.