‘Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.’- Jean Rhys
To a summer reading challenge
I hope you’ve settled into a summer of reading. I wonder about the reading journeys ahead for you and your family. What titles have you selected; genres, writers, punts, or favourites. Have your children opted for favourites? Maybe books by familiar writers, with familiar themes? Are there a few challenges, titles and subjects to stimulate or confuse, amongst their books?
Bookwagon is asked for qualified suggestions to extend the range and variety of children’s reading. Many informed parents and teachers are concerned that children choose books with which they are familiar exclusively. They want their children to read widely and richly in order to experience the full wonder of reading.
I have an acquaintance who has returned to the same holiday destination at the same time of year for nearly 35 years. Her photographs are spectacular and she enjoys herself enormously. However, the curious adventurer in me wonders, ‘Don’t you want to try something different?’
When reading, I am keen to follow up a favourite writer’s work, or find links to certain genres or styles that attract me. Yet discovering someone or something new is so exciting! Reading journeys propel and ignite the joy and interest of reading.
The less familiar
Often, I am asked how I source Bookwagon books. Every day, I search for titles that offer children reading journeys. Books with different characters, of contrasting styles, with disparate voices, including a range of settings, and from rich and varied origins.
Bookwagon reads and loves every book we sell. We describe the book in our own words, offering information and our impression of it for you.
A book will go through many incarnations before it arrives on our wagon. From the writer’s idea, to an agent’s suggestions, an editorial assistant’s reading, to a publishing meeting, editorial, sales, marking and publicity. The process can take 12 months. A scent of success in the creator’s original idea is essential. Books must be seen as marketable. ‘Harry Potter’ was followed by a glut of magic stories, while celebrity writers are selected, and successful series revisited constantly. While writing this, I learned a major publisher is preparing a cookbook of ‘Famous Five’ recipes for the adult Christmas reading market!
How to break the mould
To break through, with a divergent idea or character is an achievement. Faith and marketing from the publisher, knowledge and recommendation from librarians and booksellers, determines this.
Bookwagon is committed to providing an extensive range of books. Our reading experience enables informed recommendations. It is why we implore readers and customers to support independent booksellers when choosing books. We want a fair opportunity for book creators. Bookwagon respects readers as we for children to read widely and richly.
Recently the Centre of Literacy in Primary Education published the outcome of its Reflecting Realities’ research. Amongst other results, it revealed that:-
- 4% of children’s books published in 2017 featured BAME (black or minority ethnic) characters;
- 1% of children’s books published in 2017 featured a BAME (black or minority ethnic) main character.
This is not my reality, and it is unlikely to be your reality, either.
Divergence in books reflects and expands upon our own experience and reminds us of our humanity.
Refugee stories such as Boy 87 are essential. This is our world. Scientist writer, Nicola Davies was so perturbed when she heard of a refugee child turned away from an English school through the lack of a chair, that she created The Day War Came. The Guardian, along with writers and illustrators, have taken up the symbol of the chair to remind us of those seeking inclusiveness, empathy and welcome.
Katie and Kevin Tsang’s titles Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts and Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Sharks had Bookwagon readers laughing uproariously. Yet, there are moments, such as when Sam invites his friends home for a traditional Chinese meal, that are meaningful and moving. Reading journeys into such a personal experience expand our emotional comprehension.
Kim Slater writes boldly, movingly and truthfully. Nottingham is the setting for ‘Smart’ and ‘928 Miles from Home’. These titles are raw and real. Smart is the story of learning disabled Kieran whose mother must learn to ‘rely on herself ‘ (to quote his grandmother). Kieran’s pursuit of justice for a homeless man found dead in the canal, is brave and authentic.
In 928 Miles from Home Kim Slater takes up the story of Calum, who copes through his father’s absences. Calum has picked up with a gang who bully an immigrant boy, whose story becomes central to Calum’s future.
Kofi, with a researching father and GP mother, demonstrates admirable resolve and determination in The Starman and Me His middle England setting is entirely familiar, yet his discovery, taking in history and the future, is bold and magical. Rorti Thrutch, a prehistoric character, seems very possible, somehow.
Writer Emma Shevah researched the Greek- Cypriot community thoroughly in creating the relatable, readable What Lexie Did . The quandary in which Lexie finds herself is possible. It offers us a dilemma on our reading journey with Lexie. What would we do in Lexie’s shoes?
What would we do if we were in the shoes of Mabinti, orphaned at four, and shunned by her Sierra Leonean village because of vitiligo and a capacity to learn? Ballerina Michaela DePrince’s autobiography opened up a world of terror, possibility and respect for me. We recommend Hope in a Ballet Shoe to children seeking a rich experience upon their reading journeys.
Days spent in Key West are remembered fondly by Mr Bookwagon and me. Jennifer L. Holm’s award-winning Full of Beans explains the history of the development of this tourist idyll. Little did I know it was due to hardworking, ‘eye on the prize’ individuals like our hero ‘Beans’, during FDR’s New Deal!
I am compelled to include the outstanding Chinese translation Bronze and Sunflower from any thoughts of titles that are diverse, different and distinguished.
Something pictured, poetic and perfect
Joseph Coelho has won huge, deserved acclaim for his incisive, contemporary, rich poetry and picture books. His latest, If all the world were… illustrated by Alison Colpoys, is glorious. Reading journeys such as this, where we step into the shoes of a child mourning her grandfather through the seasons, are a privilege.
A Chinese grandfather is at the centre of the journey taken in Ocean Meets Sky the latest creation by the dazzling Canadian Fan Brothers. Creating a boat, our central character travels to places his beloved grandfather told him about, where ‘Ocean Meets Sky’. It is a treat for the emotions and senses.
I could not end this blog with a more diverse and wonderful title than the hypnotic Julian is a Mermaid. The lush illustrations, curious story and joyous conclusion lead us on reading journeys of radiance.
Wishes for your reading journeys
We hope you’re making the most of the holiday and the wealth of opportunity on your reading journeys. Please look to Bookwagon should you have any enquiries, or suggestions.