According to a 2017 DfE study, 32.1% of school children in England were of minority ethnic origins, and in inner city London schools, this percentage can only be expected to be higher.
Furthermore, research undertaken by senior lecturer at London’s University College, Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, has shown that between 2006- 2016, only 8% of young adult fiction books published in Britain were by authors of colour.
In this day and age, it is essential that our children and young people read books whose stories reflect their own realities, as well as books that offer windows into different cultures and worlds. And one way to increase the demand, and therefore the supply, of books by BAME authors or books that feature BAME protagonists, (and aren’t just considered to be ‘issue’ books), is to get them into the hands of our young people.
Additionally, reading widely and diversely, exposes the reader to different worlds and cultures, introduces new perspectives and ways of looking at the world, in ways that films, television shows, and blog posts are simply unable to. As journalist Alice Thomson recently wrote ‘the ability and the opportunity to read widely…to stand in the shoes of the different and the dead, to travel to other times and into other cultures… is an important part of being human’.
We have therefore decided to create the Global Reading Project at the Ursuline, recently acquiring in excess of two hundred new books, whose stories are set in countries all over the world, from Iran, Afghanistan and Kenya, to Denmark, Argentina, Jamaica and Japan.
Our student librarians will work with sixth form students (Global Reading Sixth Form Ambassadors) to promote these books, (as well as books already in the LRC) in a variety of ways:
Each month in the LRC, we will focus on a particular sub region, with our librarians and sixth form students promoting the books that are set in the countries of this sub region – through books reviews and recommendations, new display boards, posters, flags, cultural symbols etc.
We will focus on ten different sub regions or categories in total, changing the region or category each month.
As part of our two week countdown to the Global Reading Project Launch, these sub regions/categories will be gradually revealed over the course of the next two weeks, with today’s focus being on African-American reads.
Below is a list of that our students will be able to find in the LRC, following the January 25th launch.
Becoming – Michelle Obama, The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas, The Color Purple – Alice Walker, Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson, Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon, Solo – Kwame Alexander, Ghost Boys – Jewell Parker Rhodes, Piecing Me Together – Renee Watson, If You Come Softly - Jacqueline Woodson, The Skin I’m In – Sharon G. Flake, Hope in a Ballet Shoe – Michaela de Prince, Beloved – Toni Morrison, Jazz – Toni Morrison, Paradise – Toni Morrison, (among others).
100 Hours – Rachel Vincent (Colombia), Victoria (Argentina), City of the Beasts – Isabelle Allende (Amazon Rainforest), The House of the Spirits - Isabelle Allenda (Chile), Esperanza Rising - Pam Muñoz Ryan (Mexico), First Descent – Pam Withers (Colombia), The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces – Isabel Quintero (Latin American community), Return to Sender – Julia Alvarez.
Author spotlight – Paulo Coelho
71-year-old Brazilian-born, Paulo Coelho is surely best known for his novel ‘The Alchemist’, which we recently acquired. It is a book that is packed with life lessons and inspiring quotes- from the power of positive thinking: “…and, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” and “…people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” , “…don't give in to your fears. If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart” ; the importance of resilience: “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”; the role that mindfulness plays in maintaining a positive mind-set: “I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.”, among many more.
Author spotlight – Isabel Allende
“You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend, or not.”- wise words from Peruvian-born Allende, who was born in Lima in 1942, before moving to Chile as a small child. She is perhaps best known for her works: ‘The House of the Spirits’, and the City of the Beasts trilogy – comprised of ‘City of the Beasts’, ‘Kingdom of the Golden Drago’ and ‘Forest of the Pygmies’, of which we have the first and last, as well as copies of ‘The House of the Spirits’.
Number the Stars – Lois Lowry (Denmark), I have lived a thousand years - (Germany), Anne Frank (the Netherlands), Mischling, Second Degree – Ilse Koehn (Germany), The Book Thief - Markus Zuzak (Germany), Girl in Red - Gaye Hicyilmaz (Romania), The Kommandant’s Girl (Poland), Dave Rudden trilogy (Ireland), Across the Barricades (Northern Ireland), The Reader – Bernhard Schlink (Germany), Sovay – Celia Rees (France), Journey to Munich – Jacqueline Winspear (Germany), The Last Train From Kummersdorf - Leslie Wilson (Germany), Toro! Toro! – Michael Morpurgo (Spain), Annexed – Sharon Dogar (The Netherlands), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne (Germany).
Book Focus – ‘After Auschwitz’ – Eva Schloss
Eva Schloss is the step-sister of Anne Frank, and more significantly, a Holocaust survivor. Her mother, Elfriede Geiringer, went on to marry Otto Frank, who was the sole survivor of the Frank family. Eva gave a talk at the Merton Arts Space, in Wimbledon library, last January– where she recounted with great detail, her life story, from her childhood, the ordeal of Auschwitz and Auschwitz and the years that followed. Following her talk, I acquired a copy of her book, which she kindly signed for our students. In spite of the title, ‘After Auschwitz’ contains much of what she spoke about at the event, including the years before the Nazi occupation of Austria. It is well worth a read, and complements another of her books, which we have in the LRC – ‘Eva’s Story – a survivor’s tale, from the step sister of Anne Frank’.
Book Focus – ‘The Book Thief’ – Marcus Zusak.
Zusak may not be from Europe, but his book ‘The Book Thief’ is set in Molching, a fictional town in Germany, during WW2. The ‘Book Thief’ referred to in the title is that of the protagonist Liesel, a young girl who is fostered by a German family. This rather hefty read has been popular among young adult readers since its release in 2005, and has been often requested by our students.
City of Saints and Thieves - Natalie C Anderson (Kenya), Listening for Lions - Gloria Whelan (Kenya), Auma’s Long Run - Eucabeth Odhiambo (Kenya), The Good Braider – Terry Farrish (Sudan), A Long Walk to Water - Linda Sue Park (South Sudan), Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (Ghana), Children of Blood and Bone - Tomi Adeyemi (Nigeria), Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria and USA), Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria), Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria), Boy 87 – Ele Fountain (Ethiopia).
Author spotlight – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda is a Nigerian novelist, writer of short stories, and nonfiction books and has written the novels Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah, all of which can be found in the LRC. Sixth form students may also be interested in reading her long essay – ‘We Should All Be Feminists’.
Chimamanda has spoken to Michelle Obama, in front of a packed audience, at the Royal Festival Hall, which no doubt would have been a thrilling and unforgettable evening for all in attendance. (Michelle recently published her best-selling memoir, titled ‘Becoming’, of which we have recently added three copies to the library catalogue.)
Book focus - Boy 87 – Ele Fountain
‘Boy 87’ examines the plight and courage of refugees from a child’s perspective. Inspired by real-life events, the book follows the story of 14-year- old Shif, who is forced to flee his country when he refuses to join the army, and embarks on a perilous journey to Europe. We have a number of books that focus on the refugee experience, from ‘The Girl From Aleppo’ – Nujeen Mustafa, Zana Fraillon’s ‘The Bon Sparrow’ and Terry Farish’s ‘The Good Braider’, to Linda Sue Park’s ‘A Long Walk to Water’ and ‘In the Sea, there are crocodiles – the story of Enaiatollah Akbari’ – Fabio Geda.
Out of Shadows - Jason Wallace (Zimbabwe), This Book Betrays My Brother - Kagiso Lesego Molope (S. Africa), Leopold Blue - Rosie Rowell (S. Africa), The Butterfly Lion - Michael Morpurgo (South Africa), A Girl Named Disaster - Nancy Farmer (Mozambique), The Other Me – Suzanne van Rooyen (S. Africa), The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (the Congo), Torn Pages – Sally Grindley (Southern Africa), The Year the Gypsies Came – Linzi Glass (South Africa), Abela – Berlie Doherty (unknown African village), A Good Day for Climbing Trees – Jaco Jacobs (Cape Town).
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan), A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan), Mahtab’s Story – Libby Gleeson (Afghanistan).
The Secret Sky - Atia Abawi (Afghanistan), The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga (India), A Passage to India - E. M. Forster- (India), The Hungry Tide - Amitav Ghosh (India), The Inheritance of Loss - (India), Running on the Roof of the World – Jess Butterworth (India and Tibet), Secrets of the Henna Girl – Sufiya Ahmed –(Pakistan), The Terrorist at My Table – Imtiaz Dharker, In the Sea there are Crocodiles – Fabio Geda (Pakistan), A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (India), Homeless Bird – Gloria Whelan (India), The Village by the Sea – Anita Desai (India), Three Indian Princesses – Jamila Gavin (India), Tall Story – Candy Gourlay (Philippines), Shine – Candy Gourlay (Philippines), Inside Out and Back Again – Thanhha Lai (Vietnam), King of the Cloud Forests – Michael Morpurgo (Tibet).
Book Focus – Spilled Water – Sally Grindley
Spilled Water follows the life of young Lu Si-Yan, whose idyllic and rural childhood is suddenly brought to an end, when her father – the family breadwinner is killed in an accident and her mother faces no option but to sell Lu Si-Yan in order to raise funds. So, at the age of only eleven, Lu Si-Yan is sold into slavery, and ends up working far from home. Here, she suffers at the hands of the exploitative Chen family, and while at one point, it looks as though Lu Si-Yan’s life is going to improve, when the Chen grandmother provides Si-Yan with money to escape, Lu Si-Yan once again falls victim to unscrupulous employers, when she is taken on as a factory worker.
Spilled Water’s simple language makes it a book that is accessible to the majority of our students, but by no means does this mean that it avoids serious topics, such as domestic servitude, child labour, male privilege, classicism, ageism, sexism and unfair labour practices. After all, the book’s title Spilled Water is a reference to its protagonist – Lu Si-Yan, and the way in which she is seen by society – her Uncle Ba calls her ‘Spilled Water’ because he considers her to be a waste because she is female and not male.
A number of Sally Grindley’s other books can be found in the LRC – Torn Pages, and My Name is Rose, and if you enjoyed Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella, Falling Leaves and Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society, (all of which can be found in the LRC), you will likely enjoy this book.
Book Focus – Shine – Candy Gourlay
Shine is one of Filipino author Candy Gourlay’s best-loved books, doing so well that it was selected for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award long list. Told from two different perspectives: through the eyes of the protagonist, Rosa, who is thirteen years old, as well as her late mother’s twin sister, this is a book that started out as a vampire novel in the author’s mind, but which later morphed into the ghost story Shine.
Rosa has a disease called ‘The Calm’, a disease that renders her mute and which is distinguished by the markings on the sufferer’s neck. While not a particularly life-threatening disease, on the superstitious island of Mirasol, where citizens are great believers of myths, sufferers like Rosa are people to be feared, thanks to one particular myth that has instilled fear in the minds of the islanders. Consequently, she has never been to school, instead following a homeschool programme and covering herself up when in public. She lives a lonely existence, talking briefly to people online, until one day when she strikes up a conversation with a particularly interesting individual, who goes by the name of Ansel95. Fromthat point onwards, the story gets really interesting, weaving back and forth between Rosa’s present-day narrative and the past letters of her late aunt, and in turn, building up the suspense and tension that keeps the reader turning the page. Gourlay touches on topics of mental illness, superstition, mutism and identity, in this ghost story suitable for younger readers
Moon at Nine – Deborah Ellis (Iran), Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi (Iran), The Girl from Aleppo (Nujeen Mustafa), Where the Streets Had A Name – Randa Abdul Fattah (Jordan and Israel), Oranges in No Man’s Land – Elizabeth Laird (Beirut, Lebanon), Kiss the Dust – Elizabeth Laird (Iraq and Iran), A Girl Like That – Tanaz Bhathena (Saudi Arabia), Dear Blue Sky – Mary Sullivan (Iraq).
Book focus - Persepolis 1 – The story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi
From Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi, comes a graphic autobiography, originally published in French, and whose title takes its name from thePersian empire of Persepolis.
Through the character of Marji, Persepolis documents author Marjane Satrapi’s formative years in Iran, focusing on the impact that the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the Iraq War had on her and her country. Before the revolution, Marji lived a very different life, but the overthrowing of the Shah brought about a new wave of religious extremism, with new restrictions also being placed on the Iranian people - from the obligatory wearing of the hijab to mandatory R.E. lessons.
In Persepolis, of which we have three copies, polyglot Marjane, who speaks French, Persian, Swedish, German, Italian and English, touches on many important issues such as class privilege, religious extremism, the effect of war and revolution, women’s rights, political repression and teenage rebellion. It is a truly remarkable read, and slightly reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s Maus (another graphic novel that can be found in the LRC). For older readers.
Book Focus – The Girl from Aleppo – Nujeen Mustafa
“In 2015 more than 1.2 million people came to Europe. I was one of them. Much as I like facts, we are not numbers. We are human beings, and we all have stories. This is mine.”
Nujeen Mustafa will certainly make an impression on anyone who reads her memoir, ‘The Girl from Aleppo’. Told through the eyes of Nujeen, who has cerebral palsy and is consequently wheelchair bound, the memoir documents Nujeen’s escape from her city in Syria, and the traumatic and arduous, sixteen-month-long journey that took her from Aleppo, Syria, to Turkey, to Greece, then on to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria and finally, Germany.
Despite having never received any formal schooling, Nujeen’s general knowledge is impressive, no doubt owing to her insatiable curiosity, thirst for knowledge and access to a multitude of American documentaries. As she states in the book ‘ … once I could read, my world was books, TV and sitting on the balcony’. This love of facts is clearly exemplified throughout the book, and coupled with her resilience, brave spirit and infectious optimism, transforms it from what could have been a dispiriting and distressing read into an uplifting, inspiring and powerful one, and one that puts a face on the Syrian refugee crisis.
If you have read and enjoyed I am Malala, you will certainly enjoy this book. Journalist Christina Lamb, worked with both Malala Yousafzai and Nujeen Mustafa to craft their books: I am Malala and The Girl from Aleppo, respectively, with both books focusing on experiences of two remarkably courageous and resilient young women.
The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros (Puerto Rico community in America), Hurricane - Terry Trueman (Honduras), Dancing in the Rain – Lynn Joseph (Dominican Republic) set in Trinidad, The Cat King of Havana - Tom Crosshill (Havana), Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys (Dominica), The Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson (Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana), Pride – Ibi Zoboi (Brooklyn but written by a Haitian author), The Sun is also a Star – Nicola Yoon (Jamaican writer), The Red Umbrella – Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Cuba), Cuba 15 – Nancy Osa (Cuba), Clare of the Sea Light – Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa – Micol Ostow (Caribbean), Dreams Beyond the Shore – Tamika Gibson (Trinidad and Tobago), Dew Angels – Melanie Schwapp (Jamaica – fictional village).
Author spotlight – Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon, author of the outstandingly successful ‘Everything, Everything’ (which was adapted for the screen) and ‘The Sun is also a Star’ was born in Jamaica and now resides in Los Angeles.
She has been heavily involved in the ‘We Need Diverse Books Campaign’, which began as a social media campaign, - launched by authors Ellen Oh, Aisha Saeed and Chelsea Pitcher, and after capturing the attention of many, became a grassroots organization that ‘advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honours the lives of all young people’.
Essentially, it grew out of the frustration that book lovers, authors and publishing professionals felt about the lack of young adult (ya) books written by BAME authors, the paucity of BAME publishing professionals.
Pictured above: Nicola Yoon, Yoon’s husband and their bi-racial daughter. Nicola’s daughter was the inspiration behind her book ‘Everything, Everything’ and is featured in the picture, which went viral when it was retweeted by the famed author of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – John Green.
Book focus –Cuba 15 – Nancy Osa
Takes a look at the life of teenager Violet, who has just turned fifteen– which in many countries in Latin America, is a significant event - marking a girl’s entry into womanhood. Cuban females celebrating this occasion are called quinceañeras and the event is called the ‘fiesta de quince años’. But Violet doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere- she may be half Cuban, but she is also half Polish, and, as she lives in the US, she feels American. ‘Cuba 15’ is a great read about identity, the cultural-conflict, and which provides readers with an insight into Cuban culture