Look what came through the post – a proof copy of DANNY CHUNG DOES NOT DO MATHS by Maisie Chan! I can’t wait to read this! Maisie’s voice is full of humour and warmth and I always loved her work when I mentored her. After setting up her own mentoring group, Bubble Tea, Maisie is returning as a mentor for Megaphone, and will be mentoring one BESEA writer in 2021. #DannyChung @PiccadillyPress @MaisieWrites https://www.maisiechan.com/ Pre-order now! Out 10th June 2021.
Golden Egg Academy are supporting Megaphone writers with an offer of one free place on their September 2021, 12-week course to an unsuccessful applicant.
We’re thrilled that GEA, led by Imogen Cooper, have just donated a free place on their September 12 week course to one applicant to Megaphone.
We already know we will get more excellent and deserving applications that we have space to mentor. Our Community strand helps us go on supporting people even if we can’t mentor them this year, and this 12-week course will be an extra offer to one applicant who is not on our 1-1 Mentoring scheme. Many thanks to GEA for supporting children’s writers of colour – and if you want to know more, there is still time to sign up for the Honkference this weekend!
I’m really excited to confirm our first three masterclass leaders – Sharna Jackson (High Rise Mystery, Mic Drop), Patrice Lawrence (Rat, Eight Pieces of Silva, Granny Ting Ting) and Bali Rai (Rani and Sukh, Mohinder’s War, Now or Never) . Find full details on this page: https://megaphonewrite.com/megaphone-masterclass-leaders-2021/ There is no doubt that our masterclass leaders are some of the best, most exciting and experienced writers for children and teenagers working today. I am delighted that they’ve agreed to be involved in Megaphone and to share what they have learned during the writing journey we are all on. More leaders will be announced shortly!
Megaphone is open for applications until 31st January 2021. The website has been updated with details of our mentors and I’ll be adding more information about the editors and authors who are supporting us in the next few days.
Happy new year! I really do hope that 2021 will be happy, or at least happier than 2020 (can’t be hard, can it). It feels as if over the past 12 months, life has simultaneously shrunk – so many activities that we used to enjoy have vanished – and expanded like some sort of nightmarish wave, overwhelming us with concern for our friends and relatives, work worries, child-care, home education, Zoom fatigue… It is fair to say that hasn’t been the year any of us wanted. I am excited however to be able to offer one opportunity at least in 2021 – support for writers of colour who want to create great stories for children. These stories – YOUR stories – will not stop being wanted and needed just because of this virus.
I’m so aware that the full effects of the pandemic on society and on emerging writers won’t be known for many months or even years in the future. There will be an effect though; it seems impossible that there wouldn’t. I would like to know how the pandemic has affected children’s writers of colour – emerging and published- in particular. Yesterday I tweeted a poll asking whether writers have found it harder or easier to write in 2020. So far the majority is ‘harder’ but there’s a significant minority for ‘easier’. So far around 64% have said it was harder, 25 % easier. What was your experience?
The general conclusion both reports draw is that while there has been an improvement in representation of authors (Book Trust Represents) and characters (CLPE) of colour, there is much work still to be done. I’ve read both reports and here are my reflections.
Debut creators of colour are embarking on an exciting but very difficult journey
“There has been a clear increase in the number of debut British creators of colourpublished since 2007. The number more than doubled from 10 debut creators ofcolour in 2007 to 24 in 2019.” – Book Trust Represents
More people of colour being published for the first time in children’s literature is a very good thing, but context and detail is all. Book Trust also reported the important fact that:“It is important to note that a large proportion of these debut creators continued to be self-published/published by a hybrid publisher”
Although there are benefits to being self/ micro published, self-publishers and those published by very small presses, may experience more barriers to reaching wide audiences and high sales. It is therefore concerning if the increase in debut creators of colour is mostly in these areas.
Overall, opportunities for anyone to be published in children’s and YA literature are apparently narrowing:
“…there has been a steady decrease in the number of all titles, uniquetitles and number of creators since 2015. This decline in the number of titles and creators being published continued in 2018 and 2019.” – Book Trust Represents
The natural publishing timeline means that many authors and creators who were first commissioned back in 2017, 2018 are releasing their debut books in 2020 – the year of the pandemic, disruption in schools and libraries, closed bookshops, cancelled school visits and many other factors making it harder than ever for debut authors to be discovered by readers. Moreover, the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities has been especially high. This is a challenging time to be a debut creator of colour.
One of my tutors on the creative writing MA at Warwick once told me: “It’s not getting published that’s the problem; it’s staying published.” As an unpublished writer, I didn’t understand this. Fifteen years later, I most certainly do. An steady increase in debut creators is great. A steady churn of debut creators – where your first contract is your last – is not. It’s not yet clear which we are seeing. To make long-term change, publishers will need to make long-term investments in and committments to creators of colour so they can not just start, but sustain, a career.
British writers of colour are under-represented: a minority within a minority?
The latest figures from Dr Melanie Ramdarshan-Bold’s research into representation of people of colour as writers of YA literature, showed a steady increase since 2017, with the percentage of YA authors of colour at nearly 20% in 2019. Yet UK YA writers of colour were a mere 5.95%. Similar statistics are evident today in Book Trust’s interim report which covers all age groups: a rise in people of colour creating children’s and YA books, from 5.58% of creators (2017) to 8.68 % (2019), but 1.98% (2017) to 2.86% (2019) when you count only British creators.
Why does this matter? Well firstly because the preponderance of authors from elsewhere than the UK strongly suggests that publishers are choosing to buy in ‘oven-ready’ books from a different country rather than nurture writers here in the UK . That is a quick fix, not systemic change. It does not empower emerging UK writers of colour. In fact, it may take one of those diminishing opportunities to be published away from them. Publishers should consider looking down the street before they look across the pond.
Secondly, young UK readers need books that reflect their lives in all their regional diversity. Of course we want to see children’s books from all over the world, but not if it continues to present a narrative in which those with brown skins are foreigners. One of the great things about Danielle Jawando’s AND THE STARS WERE SHINING BRIGHTLY was its setting in Wythenshawe. Children’s literature needs to celebrate the diversity of people of colour of all backgrounds, classes and in all regions of the UK.
In conclusion, it’s great to see the improvements, but I don’t see evidence of significant systemic change happening yet. The important reports published yesterday are part of a process . I look forward to following the research through years to come so we can get a clear image of where we are, and a map of where we want to be.
Busy teacher? Skip to the bottom of the page for the summary.
Recently, my 8 year old has been asking for funny books. Can you blame him? School’s stopped, then come back again, there’s a weird virus thing that is very boring and means he can’t do the activities he enjoys, hug his grandparents or fly to see his other grandparent abroad. Everything is scary and confusing. What you need in times like this is a really funny book, one that makes you laugh out loud, with a madcap plot, wacky characters (bonus points if an escaped lobster is involved), and a good old-fashioned detective story at the heart of it. Luckily, Anisha is here to save the day.
Anisha’s a normal girl in a big, loving family that’s way over the top. And now they’re even more over the top because her aunty Bindi is getting married and has turned into a real Bridezilla. Among all the visiting relatives, tasty cooking, parties, pre-parties and sub-parties that make up an Indian wedding, Anisha’s main worry is how to get out of wearing the bright, tinselly lengha her parents want her to wear for the big day. That’s until, right in the middle of all the wild whirlwind of wedding preparation, she gets a secret message telling her that someone has kidnapped the groom! It’s straight out of a Bollywood film, but the last thing Anisha wants is more drama, so with the help of Milo Moon, her best friend, she sets out to find the criminal herself. You’ll have to read the book to find out how the lobster fits in!
I enjoyed this book as much as my 8 year-old, not least because I felt Anisha’s pain at having to wear the lengha. In my case it was a lurid purple shalwar khamiz with gold lace trimmings, which hits hard when you are a moody teenager trying to channel Nirvana (though actually I reckon Kurt could have styled it out). It’s amazing and wonderful to see how Asian children’s everyday lives and dramas (as well as the not-so everyday ones, like solving a kidnapping mystery) are finally being reflected in literature. It’s impossible to value this representation and sense of being seen and heard, too highly, or properly explain the difference it makes to a reader, to be able to see themselves in books. When that comes wrapped up in a brightly coloured package of fun, humour and more facts about lobsters than you could possibly have imagined existed, there’s really nothing better.
A really funny detective series for readers in KS2. This is a great choice to get children hooked on a series to help them establish a reading habit. It’s a good mental health choice in the current climate too, as it is very light-hearted– the kidnapping plot is on a Scooby-doo level of danger. Includes facts about animals (especially lobsters) and Indian culture (especially weddings). There’s a quiz and other fun stuff at the back of the book. The second book: ANISHA, ACCIDENTAL DETECTIVE: SCHOOL’S CANCELLED is out now. If you want even more shenanigans at Asian weddings (perhaps a themed library display?) for 8 – 11s, I suggest AGENT ZAIBA INVESTIGATES by Annabelle Sami.
I’m so excited – Megaphone graduate Maisie Chan has had her two book deal with Picadilly Press announced today. DANNY CHUNG DOES NOT DO MATHS is available to pre-order now from your bookseller of choice and we’ll catch up with her on her her news in the coming days. Maisie’s writing for any age has always been packed with humour, heart and authenticity, and I know that this is going to be a huge treat for anyone who loves funny MG books with meaningful stories. https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/childrens/danny-chung-does-not-do-maths,maisie-chan-9781800780019
Busy teacher? Skip to the bottom of the page for the summary.
What do you know about the history of Africa? If you’ve had a typical British education with no family links to the continent, probably not much. Growing up in Libya I saw the evidence of diverse cultures and complex, long-lasting civilisations all around me. It seemed too obvious to mention that there were and had always been connections and networks, stretching from Europe to North Africa and over the Sahara to rest of the continent. But when I went back to school in Britain that perspective simply melted away. Africa was only mentioned, in history lessons, as a place that Europeans went to, to ‘explore’, ‘discover’ and so on, as if the continent had come into being at the point Europeans reached it, and purely for their convenience. The idea of Africa existing entire in itself; having its own civilisations that rose and fell, traded and warred with each other, made art and weapons without help or hindrance from European states, was never mentioned – if anything, there was a vague suggestion that Africa was wilderness.
Of course, there were plenty of African civilisations throughout history. One of the most magnificent was the Benin Kingdom of Dinah Orji’s title. The author explains in one of her useful historical notes at the back of the book, that ‘Benin’ isn’t a name that her characters would have recognised – but it is the most recognisable to readers in Britain who may have heard of the Benin bronzes. This is also the term used on the National Curriculum which suggests study of Benin from 900 – 1300 AD as a topic for Key Stage 2.
The main character is Ada, a girl who has grown up on the fringes of the powerful Edo people’s land. Ada has always known she was adopted, but not the true secret of her birth. When she discovers that secret, it puts her in great danger at the hands of the Edo sky king, considered a living god with enormous power and authority. But with her quick wits and the help of friends, she manages to survive a dangerous journey along the river and into the forest, through the lands of hostile chiefs, and find her true home. The book’s storytelling voice means it feels written as Ada herself would have told it to her friends, looking back. The danger, at the hands of men as well as animals, makes the story feel authentic as well as exciting. This is not a wilderness being pierced by an explorer, the sole human figure in the landscape. Nor is it the sort of book where native animals are lingered over by the author with more interest and affection, than they spend on native humans. Ada and her friends travel through a real, living society with politics, power struggles, traitors and heroes.
In the story of royal children forced into exile, I hear echoes of legends and folk tales that go back a long way. One name that came to mind was Perseus, who in Greek myth was the son of Zeus (a sky god). His mother, Danae, was thrown out as Ada’s is, and Perseus eventually returns a hero, just as Ada does. The Mediterranean is an African sea as much as a European one, and Mediterranean myths – if you pull at the vine of them – often turn out to have roots and shoots in Africa. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the fact that Andromeda (a woman rescued by Perseus from a sea monster) was described by Greeks as an Aethopian – or African – princess. https://www.theroot.com/was-andromeda-black-1790874592 . I would be fascinated to know more about these connections and if they have any relationship to the story. Mostly though, I’m just thrilled to be seeing more fiction for all ages exploring African history. CHILDREN OF THE BENIN KINGDOM will be a great addition to any child’s bookshelf.
Where to get it:
I bought this book from Ayesha at Mirror Me Write, a start-up selling diverse children’s books, and it came with some gorgeous stickers!
A well-researched, exciting and accessible historical adventure set in 12th century Benin, suitable for KS2 and lower KS3. There’s a strong heroine. As well as reading it for pleasure, it can be used to support primary history teaching: (National curriculum KS2: Benin (West Africa) c. AD 900-1300). There’s also an opportunity to discuss parallels with Greek myths. Useful historical notes at the back. More resources: Images and text about the Benin Bronzes online: (https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/objects-news/benin-bronzes )