Our Story Starts in Africa by Patrice Lawrence; and Scientists are Saving the World by Saskia Gwinn and Ana Albero (Magic Cat, 2022)
"I want to ensure that every child has the opportunity to see themselves in books and as bookmakers through the plethora of new and exciting voices we have coming out of the UK - to diversify bookshelves so that every child can imagine themselves as writers, illustrators and poets."
It's been quite some week.
On Monday, Joseph Coelho was crowned Waterstones Children's Laureate 2022-24. Without any doubt at all, this has been one of the most exciting and invigorating appointments to the Laureateship. Coelho's visionary manifesto sets out three fundamentals of the reading life: poetry, libraries and reflecting the lives of our diverse society today - actually, I would go further to say that these are fundamentals of Life, and not just the reading kind.
I was inspired and uplifted! Then, only a few days later, I watched the unfolding breakdown of the U.K. government with resignations and reshuffles hitting many of the departments responsible for a healthy society.
But it is Coelho's spirit of hope for children and our future that has consoled me. As a teacher, I take my position in children's lives very seriously indeed. Those who know me well will also know that I read to my classes all the time because it is through books and texts of all kinds, that real change for the better is possible. It's a no-brainer that I'm joining with Coelho and stepping up to support his challenge.So it was with great delight that this week also included opening a parcel from...
It contained two new books: Our Story Starts in Africa and Scientists are Saving The World. Both books sing the very same song as Coelho. Though their subjects are different the two speak with extraordinary eloquence to every child. They are especially well-suited to younger children and I will emphasise here that quality non-fiction books for the Year 2 - 4 age-bracket (into which both texts fall beautifully) are hard to come by. Not only are the illustrations gorgeous and diversely reflective, the texts inform with the lightest of touch and engage interest. Every child needs to question - they want to! - and I can't think of any child who wouldn't be readily prompted to ask all sorts of things about what these lovely, lovely books are saying to them.
Patrice Lawrence is well-known for the excellence of her YA writing (Orangeboy, Rat...) but with Our Story Starts In Africa her foray here into picturebook territory is a very welcome one which promises much. Tante Janet tells young Paloma the story of how her family came to the Caribbean, in order to help her understand how she fits into her family, even though she feels left out. Via spreads of brilliant colour and glowing joy superbly illustrated by Jeanetta Gonzales, the unfolding tale touches on warrior queens, storytelling and is not shy to present the abhorrence of the slave trade to a young audience. Lawrence and Gonzales manage this last feat with a breathtaking sensitivity and honesty that I have not seen achieved before in a picture book for younger readers.
In Scientists are Saving the World, Saskia Gwinn and Ana Albero have gifted us with a book that addresses the future directly by inspiring children everywhere with the world of science. Equally brave as Lawrence's book in its language and selected subject areas, the reader turns each page to discover Arthropodologists, Acoustic Biologists, Robotic Engineers, Meteorologists amongst many other science professionals. Proud of its quirky and passionate tone, the book immediately sets itself apart from the run-of-the-mill, infomative-but-worthy texts aimed at children today by treating their intended audience with palpable respect. The comic-book-influenced illustration is immediate, the text challenging in the very best way; the final main spread presents the best message of all: 'Scientists are like YOU!' In a final flourish, there's a fantastic spread of a range of different scientists and which - like the rest of the book - is presented with diversity very strongly to the fore.
I can't praise these two books more highly and I would urge everyone reading this to check out Magic Cat's website (www.magiccatpublishing.co.uk), not only to get your orders in, but to explore the other wonderful books they have there. 'Every child' keeps getting mentioned, echoing Coelho's call to arms.
But let's not allow the echo to fade; let's make it a SHOUT!
Scientists are Saving the World was published earlier this week on 7th July. Our Story Starts in Africa is out on August 18th 2022. Please support independent bookshops where you can!
With many thanks to Nicky Potter for help with this blog and to Magic Cat for their inspired publishing.