Read For International Women’s Day

Monday 8 March 2021 is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is one of the most important days of the year to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness about equality.

The campaign theme for 2021 is Choose to Challenge – we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

We’ve put together a collection of titles to inspire your IWD reading!

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Our world is largely built for and by men, in a system that can ignore half the population. This book will tell you how and why this matters. Award-winning campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. She exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives. Borrow now.

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

An updated edition of the Sunday Times Bestseller Britain’s best-known classicist Mary Beard, is also a committed and vocal feminist. With wry wit, she revisits the gender agenda and shows how history has treated powerful women. Her examples range from the classical world to the modern day, from Medusa and Athena to Theresa May and Hillary Clinton. Beard explores the cultural underpinnings of misogyny, considering the public voice of women, our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship with power, and how powerful women resist being packaged into a male template. Borrow now.

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

Once there was a fisherman who lived on a cold and rocky coast and was never able to convince any woman to come away and live in that forbidding place with him. One evening he pulled up his net and found a woman in it. A woman with black hair and eyes as grey as a stormy sea and a gleaming fish’s tail instead of legs. A beautifully written story about a mermaid who triumphs over P.T. Barnum’s attempts to exploit her. It is set in the oppressive 1800s, but Amelia battles to forge the life she wants and her friendship with other women helps her to do it. Borrow now.

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business – draws on her own experience of working in some of the world’s most successful businesses to show how women can empower themselves, unlock top leadership roles and achieve their full potential. Borrow now.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. Borrow now.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Adichie weaves together themes of love, race, class, identity and the search for home in this sweeping novel with an indelible female protagonist, Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves home for several years to study and live in the U.S. Borrow now.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

These four poems, “Phenomenal Woman,” “Still I Rise,” “Weekend Glory,” and “Our Grandmothers,” are among the most remembered and acclaimed of Angelou’s works. They celebrate women with a majesty that has inspired and touched the hearts of millions. Borrow now.

Rise Up Women! By Diane Atkinson

Marking the centenary of female suffrage, this definitive history charts women’s fight for the vote through the lives of those who took part, in a timely celebration of an extraordinary struggle. Borrow now.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

An all-American tale of virtue and true love, ‘Little Women’ is the 19th century coming-of-age story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March. A true classic, following the lives of these four spirited sisters, readers can explore Alcott’s family drama as they navigate life with a father at war, financial hardships and the lure and intrigue of the handsome young man who lives next door. Borrow now.

She Speaks by Yvette Cooper

Looking at lists of the greatest speeches of all time, you might think that powerful oratory is the preserve of men. But the truth is very different – countless brave and bold women have used their voices to inspire change, transform lives and radically alter history.In this timely and personal selection of exceptional speeches, Yvette Cooper MP tells the rousing story of female oratory. Borrow now.

Malala by Terry Barber

Malala was lucky. Her parents knew the value of an education for both boys and girls, so Malala was sent to school and excelled. Today, Malala is known world-wide as the young Pakistani girl who bravely spoke up in support of female education. In spite of a near-fatal attack by a Taliban supporter who shot her in the head, Malala continues to be a determined voice for young girls striving to get an education. In 2014, at the age of 17, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to achieve the prestigious award. Borrow now.

Women’s History Month

March is also Women’s History Month – Explore the collection of books from our e-library celebrating women’s and the women’s movement.

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World Book Day

4 March 2021 is World Book Day! We’re celebrating by bring you some recommended reads from the children’s authors we’ve booked for online events to support schools in lockdown this Spring term.

Sita Brahmachari

Kite Spirit

During the summer of her GCSEs Kite’s world falls apart. Her best friend, Dawn, commits suicide after a long struggle with feeling under pressure to achieve. Kite’s dad takes her to the Lake District, to give her time and space to grieve. In London Kite is a confident girl, at home in the noisy, bustling city, but in the countryside she feels vulnerable and disorientated. Kite senses Dawn’s spirit around her and is consumed by powerful, confusing emotions – anger, guilt, sadness and frustration, all of which are locked inside. It’s not until she meets local boy, Garth, that Kite begins to open up – talking to a stranger is easier somehow. Kite deeply misses her friend and would do anything to speak to Dawn just once more, to understand why . . . Otherwise how can she ever say goodbye? A potent story about grief, friendship, acceptance and making your heart whole again.

Borrow as an e-book or e-audio book.

Tender Earth

Laila Levenson has always been the baby of the family, but now with her older siblings, Mira and Krish, leaving home just as she starts secondary school, everything feels like it’s changing… can the reappearance of Nana Josie’s Protest Book and the spirit it releases in Laila, her friends and her local community, help her find her own voice and discover what she truly believes in? A powerful chime rings through Laila’s mind, guiding her to walk the footsteps of the past on her way to discover her own future.

Borrow as an e-book.

Artichoke Hearts

As her beloved Nana Josie’s health declines, Mira begins to discover the secrets of those around her, and also starts to keep some of her own. She is drawn to mysterious Jide, a boy who is clearly hiding a troubled past and has grown hardened layers – like those of an artichoke – around his heart. As Mira is experiencing grief for the first time, she is also discovering the wondrous and often mystical world around her. The winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2011, ‘Artichoke Hearts’ explores the delicate balance, and often injustice, of life and death and celebrates friendship, culture and life.

Borrow as an e-book or e-audio book.

Christopher Edge

The Longest Night of Charlie Moon

Nominated for the 2020 CILIP Carnegie Medal The Times Children’s Book of the Week “If you go into the woods, Old Crony will get you.” Secrets, spies or maybe even a monster… What lies in the heart of the wood? Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are determined to discover the truth, but when night falls without warning they find themselves trapped in a nightmare. Lost in the woods, strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurk in the shadows. As time plays tricks, can Charlie solve this mystery and find a way out of the woods? But what if this night never ends…?A timeless novel for anyone who’s ever felt lost.

Borrow as an e-book.

The Infinite Lives of Masie Day

Winner of the 2019 STEAM Children’s Book Prize Nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal Shortlisted for the 2019 Leeds Book Awards. How do you know you really exist? It’s Maisie’s birthday and she can’t wait to open her presents. She’s hoping for the things she needs to build her own nuclear reactor. But she wakes to an empty house and outside the front door is nothing but a terrifying, all-consuming blackness. Trapped in an ever-shifting reality, Maisie knows that she will have to use the laws of the universe and the love of her family to survive. And even that might not be enough… A mind-bending mystery for anyone who’s ever asked questions. F rom the author of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The Jamie Drake Equation. Cover illustration by Matt Saunders.

Borrow as an e-book.

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…Quality commercial fiction, well written with real heart and adventure.

Borrow as an e-book.

Jasbinder Bilan

Asha and the Spirit Bird

‘I was swept along by Asha’s story from the first page.’ –Sarah Driver, author of The Huntress trilogyAsha lives in the foothills of the Himalayas. Money is tight and she misses her papa who works in the city. When he suddenly stops sending his wages, a ruthless moneylender ransacks their home and her mother talks of leaving.From her den in the mango tree, Asha makes a pact with her best friend, Jeevan, to find her father and make things right. But the journey is dangerous: they must cross the world’s highest mountains and face hunger, tiredness—even snow leopards.And yet, Asha has the unshakeable sense that the spirit bird of her grandmother—her nanijee—will be watching over her.

Borrow as an e-book.

Bali Rai

Soccer Squad #1: Starting Eleven

The local youth club are putting an under-elevens squad together – and Dal, Chris, Abs and Jason are determined to be picked. They know they’re the best players in their school – but what if that isn’t good enough and they don’t make the team?

Borrow as an e-book.

Soccer Squad #2: Missing

Dal, Chris, Abs and Jason have made the squad for the local youth club under-lls football team. And after their first match (not as successful as they’d have liked), they are determined to prove that they’ve got what it takes to be winners.

The Rushton Reds have lost their first two matches. Missed chances, missed goals – even missed penalties! Their coaches say they need to play more as a team – and they have an idea for a great team-building day. But will it help the Reds hit the back of the net?

Borrow as an e-book.

Check out more great titles for teens and children with no waiting!

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LGBT History Month 2021

February is LGBT History Month, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community’s rich history. The month focuses on the celebration and recognition of LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, as well as other identities such as queer, questioning or intersex) people, increasing the visibility of LGBT histories, lives and experiences.

We selected some great titles from our e-library to help you celebrate the month.

Adult Titles

“Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?” – Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

One of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’, Baldwin’s ground-breaking second novel, Giovanni’s Room, tells the story of David, a young American in 1950s Paris, waiting for his fiancée to return from vacation in Spain. But when he meets Giovanni, a handsome Italian barman, the two men are drawn into an intense affair. Baldwin caused outrage as a black author writing about white homosexuals, yet for him the issues of race, sexuality and personal freedom were eternally intertwined.

Borrow now as an e-book or e-audiobook.

Good As You From Prejudice to Pride – 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn

In 1984 the pulsing electronics and soft vocals of Smalltown Boy would become an anthem uniting gay men. A month later, an aggressive virus, HIV, would be identified and a climate of panic and fear would spread across the nation, marginalising an already ostracised community. Yet, out of this terror would come tenderness and 30 years later, the long road to gay equality would climax with the passing of same sex marriage.

Paul Flynn charts this astonishing pop cultural and societal U-turn via the cultural milestones that effected change—from Manchester’s self-selection as Britain’s gay capital to the real-time romance of Elton John and David Furnish’s eventual marriage. Including candid interviews from major protagonists, such as Kylie, Russell T Davies, Will Young, Holly Johnson and Lord Chris Smith, as well as the relative unknowns crucial to the gay community, we see how an unlikely group of bedfellows fought for equality both front of stage and in the wings.

Borrow now as an e-book.

Spectacles by Sue Perkins

When I began writing this book, I went home to see if my mum had kept some of my stuff. What I found was that she hadn’t kept some of it. She had kept all of it – every bus ticket, postcard, school report – from the moment I was born to the moment I finally had the confidence to turn round and say ‘Why is our house full of this shit?’ Sadly, a recycling ‘incident’ destroyed the bulk of this archive. This has meant two things: firstly, Dear Reader, you will never get to see countless drawings of wizards, read a poem about corn on the cob, or marvel at the kilos of brown flowers I so lovingly pressed as a child. Secondly, it’s left me with no choice but to actually write this thing myself.

Don’t miss Spectacles, the hilarious, creative and incredibly moving memoir from much loved comedian, writer and presenter Sue Perkins.

Borrow now as an e-book or e-audiobook

My Cat Yugoslavia, by Pajtim Statovci

Yugoslavia, 1980s: a 16-year-old Muslim girl named Emine is married off to a man she hardly knows. But what was meant to be a happy match soon goes terribly wrong. Her country is torn apart by war and she flees with her family. Decades later Emine’s son, Bekim, has grown up a social outcast in Finland; both an immigrant in a country suspicious of foreigners, and a gay man in an unaccepting society. Aside from casual hookups, his only friend is a boa constrictor whom he lets roam his apartment – even though he is terrified of snakes. But one night in a gay bar, Bekim meets a talking cat who moves in with him and his snake. This witty, charming, manipulative creature starts Bekim on a journey back to Kosovo to confront his demons and make sense of the remarkable, cruel history of his family. It is a journey that will eventually lead him to love.

Borrow now as an e-book or an e-audiobook.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship–the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Borrow now as an e-book or an e-audiobook.

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai

The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy. Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.

Borrow as an e-book.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

Extensively researched (Shilts interviewed over 1,000 people), weaving together personal stories with political and social reporting And the Band Played On is a masterpiece of investigative reporting and it led to Shilts being described as “the pre-eminent chronicler of gay life” (‘The New York Times’). And the Band Played On was awarded the Stonewall Book Award, it became an international bestseller (translated into 7 languages) and was made into a major movie in 1993 starring Richard Gere and Ian McKellen. Randy Shilts exposed why AIDS was allowed to spread while the medical and political authorities ignored (and even denied) the threat. And the Band Played On is one of the great works of contemporary journalism, and provides the foundation for the continuing debate about the greatest medical epidemic faced in our time.

Borrow as an e-book.

Love and Resistance Out of the Closet, by Roxane Gay

More than one hundred vivid photographs of the LGBT revolution—and its public and intimate moments in the 1960s and 70s—that lit a fire still burning today. A ragtag group of women protesting behind a police line in the rain. A face in a crowd holding a sign that says, “Hi Mom, Guess What!” at an LGBT rights rally. Two lovers kissing under a tree. These indelible images are among the thousands housed in the New York Public Library’s archive of photographs of 1960s and ’70s LGBTQ history from photojournalists Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davies. Lahusen is a pioneering photojournalist who captured pivotal moments in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Davies, in turn, is one of the most important photojournalists who documented gay, lesbian, and trans liberation, as well as civil rights, feminist, and antiwar movements.

Borrow as an e-book.

Out at the Movies, by Steven Paul Davies

Over the decades, gay cinema has reflected the community’s journey from persecution to emancipation to acceptance. Politicised dramas like Victim in the 60s, The Naked Civil Servant in the 70s, and the AIDS cinema of the 80s have given way in recent years to films which celebrate a vast array of gay life-styles. Gay films have undergone a major shift, from the fringe to the mainstream and 2005’s Academy Awards were dubbed ”the Gay Oscars” with gongs going to Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Transamerica. Producers began clamouring to back gay-themed movies, including I Love You Phillip Morris with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, starring Sean Penn, the feel good British movie Pride and The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch and Carol which is nominated for six Oscars. In this revised, expanded and completely up to date edition, Out at the Movies looks back, decade by decade, at the history of gay cinema, celebrating films which have defined the genre.

Borrow as an e-book.

Binge, by Tyler Oakley

Pop-culture phenomenon, social rights advocate, and the most prominent LGBTQ+ voice on YouTube, Tyler Oakley brings you Binge, his New York Times bestselling collection of witty, personal, and hilarious essays.For someone who made a career out of over-sharing on the Internet, Tyler has a shocking number of personal mishaps and shenanigans to reveal in his first book: experiencing a legitimate rage blackout in a Cheesecake Factory; negotiating a tense stand­off with a White House official; crashing a car in front of his entire high school, in an Arby’s uniform; projectile vomiting while bartering with a grandmother; and so much more. In Binge, Tyler delivers his best untold, hilariously side-splitting moments with the trademark flair that made him a star.

Borrow as an e-audiobook.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Colm Tóibín Wallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that’s a world away from his childhood in Alabama. His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace didn’t go back for the funeral, and he hasn’t told his friends Miller, Yngve, Cole and Emma. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him. But, over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, the destruction of his work and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with both the trauma of the past, and the question of the future. Deftly zooming in and out of focus, Real Life is a deeply affecting story about the emotional cost of reckoning with desire, and overcoming pain.

Borrow now as an e-book or an e-audiobook.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

The unforgettable debut novel by co-author with John Green of Will Grayson, Will Grayson To be together with someone for twenty years seems like an eternity. I can’t seem to manage twenty days… How do you stay together? Paul has been gay his whole life and he’s confident about almost everything. He doesn’t have to hide his feelings like best friend Tony or even cope with loving the wrong guy like his other best friend Joni. But heartbreak can happen to anyone. Falling in love changes everything.

Borrow now as an e-book.

Reads for Children and Young Adults

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Borrow now as an e-book or an e-audiobook.

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley

The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When Garrard was a nineteen-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. At times heartbreaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.

Borrow now as an e-book or e-audiobook.

Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

In an exuberant picture book, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world. While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself?

Borrow now as an e-book.

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by
Danielle Jawando

Nathan is 15, and his brother Al has just committed suicide. Agonisingly, he and friend Megan try to find out why. Written with such empathy that we too experience the fury, guilt and grief of those left behind. Ultimately a celebration of life.

Borrow as an e-book.

I Was Born for This, by Alice Oseman

Jimmy is finding that a life of fame in a teenage boy band is fraught with anxiety. His voice alternates with that of Angel, a lovely, funny Muslim girl obsessed with the band. Their lives collide as everything changes. Great book for exploring deep emotions.

Borrow as an e-book.

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2020 Costa Book Awards

Costa Book Awards, formerly Whitbread Literary Awards (1971–84), Whitbread Book Awards (1985–2005), series of literary awards given annually to writers resident in the United Kingdom and Ireland for books published there in the previous year.

Distinctively, the prize has five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – with one of the five winning books selected as the overall Costa Book of the year and each category is judged separately by a panel of three judges per category.

Overall Winner of the 2020 Costa Book of the Year and Costa Novel Award

The Mermaid of Black Conch, A Love Story by Monique Roffey is the Winner of the 2020 Costa Book of the Year and Costa Novel Award

April 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. David, a fisherman, sings to himself in his pirogue, waiting for a catch – and attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. Aycayia, a centuries old mermaid, is drawn to his singing. But her curiosity is her undoing when she is caught by American tourists… David rescues her and hides her away, where she slowly, painfully turns into a woman. Borrow now.

Winner of the 2020 First Novel Award

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Irrepressible Betty Ramdin, her shy son Solo and their marvellous lodger, Mr Chetan, form an unconventional household. Happy in their differences, they build a home together. Home: the place keeping these three safe from an increasingly dangerous world – until the night when a glass of rum, a heart to heart and a terrible truth explodes the family unit, driving them apart. Borrow now.

Winner of 2020 Poetry Award

The Historians by Eavan Boland

Throughout her nearly sixty-year career, acclaimed poet Eavan Boland came to be known for her exquisite ability to weave myth, history, and the life of an ordinary woman into mesmerizing poetry. She was an essential voice in both feminist and Irish literature, praised for her ‘edgy precision, an uncanny sympathy and warmth, an unsettling sense of history’ ( J.D. McClatchy). Her final volume, The Historians, is the culmination of her signature themes, exploring the ways in which the hidden, sometimes all-but-erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past. Borrow now.

Winner of 2020 Children’s Book Award

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

The second sensational middle-grade standalone that follows an epic voyage from England to France in the aftermath of WW1, from the bestselling author of The Children of Castle Rock. In the aftermath of World War One, everyone is trying to rebuild their lives. If Ben is to avoid being sent back to the orphanage, he needs to find his brother Sam, wounded in action and is now missing. Lotti’s horrible aunt and uncle want to send her away to boarding-school (when she has just so successfully managed to get expelled from her last one!). And Clara, their young teacher, is waiting for news of her missing fiancé . . . Borrow now.

Winner of 2020  Biography Award

Dear Life by Rachel Clarke

 From the Sunday Times bestselling author of Your Life in My Hands comes this vibrant, tender and deeply personal memoir that finds light and love in the darkest of places.

As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable.Rachel’s training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She learned that nothing – even the best palliative care – can sugar-coat the pain of losing someone you love. Coming soon to Brent Libraries.

Explore the complete Costa Prizes 2020 shortlist.

Discover a collection of 2020 prize winners available from our e-library.

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Step into 2021 with empathy: Launching the new Empathy Day reading collections

The global pandemic has done much to highlight the need for kindness, supporting others in need, listening carefully and paying more attention to what we see and hear.  While we can’t always fix things, by developing our own empathy we can make a difference in other people’s lives, no matter how great or small.

The Read for Empathy book collections for 2021 launched on 26 January. There are two collections; primary for 4-11 year olds and secondary for 12-16 year olds. Some illuminate the experience of people from a range of cultures or life circumstances. Others help children explore emotions so they can understand how other people feel. Several reflect stories of our time, such as the refugee experience, or coping with anxiety. All are engaging and thought-provoking.

Empathy Collection 2021 Primary School Titles

I was one of the judges working with a wonderful team of librarians, teachers and educators to help select books that we think will help teach empathy, improve awareness and support children and young people to commit to being better human beings.

I spent the summer and autumn reading through a long list of secondary school books, to help arrive at the final shortlist. At times the books were quite challenging and painful to read.  It gave me a better understanding of the difficult periods in young people lives. It highlighted that contrary to that popular cliché, school days are not the best days of your life for all.  To live is to experience real life, and saviours and Samaritans are not always there to protect us.  So the books help us walk in other’s shoes and by doing that, we are able to empathise.

Empathy Collection 2021 Secondary School Titles

A strong theme that ran through many of the books this year was the destructive force of social media or ‘cyber’ bullying.  Bullying has always been a problem in schools but the rise of bullying online ramps up the horrifying effects on victims.  Society’s obsession with the perfect body through online content also serves to increase the loneliness of those who don’t fit in.  Domestic violence has also been recurring theme in many of the titles this years, and this felt apt given the rise in reports of domestic abuse throughout the lockdowns. But, despite these dark themes, all the titles have been chosen for their ability to empower and support readers to realise empathy for themselves and others and so build resilience and hope.

The primary collection includes some beautifully illustrated picture books to share with young children.  It’s never too early to teach empathy.  In the birth of a new and more hopeful year of 2021, let our new year’s resolution be one of empathy, for both ourselves and in our commitment to teach it and lead by example.

From the 2021 #ReadForEmpathy Secondary collection Sarah recommends:

Chinglish, by Sue Cheung
Teenager Jo Kwan lives in a flat above a Chinese takeaway. She dreams big but life is difficult as she struggles with depression, a violent father and bullying classmates. This beautifully written book is an emotional read, offering authentic insight into the life of a vulnerable girl. Borrow now.

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
Amber fears her dad and worries about her mum. We share the anger and the secret dreams of a girl living in an oppressive and violent household. Amber’s resilience and determination to lead a better life offer ultimate hope in this powerful verse novel. Borrow now.

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by
Danielle Jawando

Nathan is 15, and his brother Al has just committed suicide. Agonisingly, he and friend Megan try to find out why. Written with such empathy that we too experience the fury, guilt and grief of those left behind. Ultimately a celebration of life. Borrow now.

Download the 2021 #ReadForEmpathy Guides here

Sarah Smith is the Libraries Development Manager for Brent Libraries and a judge for the Read for Empathy book collections with the charity Empathy Lab UK.

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: Be The Light In The Darkness

The 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur – as well as present-day situations around the world and closer to home.

This year’s theme is ‘Be the light in the darkness’, which asks everyone to consider different kinds of ‘darkness’ – identity-based persecution, misinformation, denial of justice; and different ways of ‘being the light’ – resistance, acts of solidarity, rescue and illuminating mistruths.

Explore these special collections of books from our e-library marking Holocaust Memorial Day 2021:

Adult’s collection

Young adult’s collection

Children’s collection

Our staff recommend the following titles available from our e-library:

Hana’s Suitcase: A True Story, by Karen Levine

In March 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children’s Holocaust education centre in Tokyo. It belonged to an orphan girl called Hana Brady. Everyone was desperate to discover the story of Hana – Who was she? What had happened to her? This is the true story of what was uncovered of Hana and her family.

The Missing, by Michael Rosen

A personal, powerful and resonant account of the Holocaust by one of this country’s best-loved children’s authors. When Michael was growing up, stories often hung in the air about his great-uncles. They were there before the war, his dad would say, and weren’t after. Over many years, Michael tried to find out exactly what happened: he interviewed family members, scoured the internet, pored over books and travelled to America and France. The story he uncovered was one of terrible persecution – and it has inspired his poetry for years since. Here, poems old and new are balanced against an immensely readable narrative; both an extraordinary account and a powerful tool for talking to children about the Holocaust.

Run, Boy, Run, by by Uri Orlev

“’Srulik, there’s no time. I want you to remember what I’m going to tell you. You have to stay alive. You have to! Get someone to teach you how to act like a Christian, how to cross yourself and pray. . . . The most important thing, Srulik,’ . . . . But even if you forget everything—even if you forget me and Mama—never forget that you’re a Jew.'”

And so, at only eight years old, Srulik Frydman says goodbye to his father for the last time and becomes Jurek Staniak, an orphan on the run in the Polish countryside at the height of the Holocaust.

The Night Crossing, by Karen Ackerman

It’s hard to leave your home and friends, but the Nazis have invaded Clara’s native Austria, and her Jewish family is no longer safe. Clara and her family take only what they can carry and travel by night to the Swiss border, where they hope to escape to freedom. Soldiers are everywhere, and it is Clara’s heroism that carries the family across the border, their lives and few precious possessions intact.

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo

When Lesley is sent to Venice to interview world-renowned violinist Paulo Levi on his fiftieth birthday, she cannot believe her luck. She is told that she can ask him anything at all – except the Mozart question. But it is Paulo himself who decides that it is time for the truth to be told. And so follows the story of his parents as Jewish prisoners of war, forced to play Mozart violin concerti for the enemy; how they watched fellow Jews being led off to their deaths and knew that they were playing for their lives. As the story unfolds, the journalist begins to understand the full horror of war, and how one group of musicians survived using the only weapon they had – music.

A Faraway Island, by Annika Thor (Faraway Island Series, Book 1)

It’s the summer of 1939. Two Jewish sisters from Vienna -12-year-old Stephie Steiner and 8-year-old Nellie – are sent to Sweden to escape the Nazis. They expect to stay there six months, until their parents can flee to Amsterdam; then all four will go to America. But as the world war intensifies, the girls remain, each with her own host family, on a rugged island off the western coast of Sweden. Nellie quickly settles in, but not so for Stephie, who finds it hard to adapt. Her main worry, though, is her parents – and whether she will ever see them again.

The Lily Pond by Annika Thor (Faraway Island Series, Book 2)

A year after Stephie Steiner and her younger sister, Nellie, left Nazi-occupied Vienna, Stephie has finally adapted to life on the rugged Swedish island where she now lives. As she navigates a sea of new emotions, she also grapples with what it means to be beholden to others, with her constant worry about what her parents are enduring back in Vienna, and with the menacing spread of Nazi ideology, even in Sweden. In these troubled times, her true friends, Stephie discovers, are the ones she least expected.

Auschwitz Voices From the Death Camp, by James Deem

“Yet, my little Diary, I don’t want to die, I still want to live . . . ” Éva Heyman, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl, wrote these words in her last diary entry in the spring of 1944. Soon after, she was deported and murdered at Auschwitz. During the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered more than one million people at the camp. The largest of all the Nazi camps, Auschwitz was both a death camp and a forced labour camp. Author James M. Deem examines this place of unspeakable horror from the perspective of those who experienced it, from the construction of the camp to its final days.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Nine year old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He’s oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has moved from Berlin to a desolate area where he has no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel.

Shmuel lives in a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence, where everyone wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. Despite the wire fence separating them, the two boys become best friends.

As they grow closer, Bruno starts to learn the terrible truth that lies beyond the fence.

No Buts, Becky!, by José Patterson

A period novel set in the East End of London in 1908. It describes the tenement life of a Yiddish-speaking Russian Jewish family who, like many others, escaped to England from the widespread killing of innocent Jews, known as pogroms. The heroine, eleven-year-old Becky, and her young brother Yossie, live with their widowed father, Jacob Feldman, and their elderly grandmother Bubbe. No Buts, Becky! is an amusing and heartwarming work of historical children’s fiction that will appeal to children aged 9-11. José explores a subject not often documented – the way of life and cultural traditions of hard-working poor Russian Jewish refugees who escaped to London 150 years ago – in a delightful way. Becky Feldman is a feisty, rebellious young heroine who many children will be able to relate to.

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The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The golden age of detective fiction is usually considered to be the years between 1920  – 1939,  when a group of mostly British authors were active, defining a new genre of  perfect crimes, country houses, railway journeys, lavish wealth and the bungling of dim-witted police as well as the greater powers of observation and superior mind of the detective.   

Agatha Christie

agatha christie

A group of friends meet regularly for dinner and one night the conversation turns to mysteries. They agree that over the next few weeks they will each take turns at telling of a mystery they were involved in, but before they reveal the solution they will let the group see if they can solve it. They are a diverse group, well positioned to understand the depths to which human nature can descend – a policeman, a lawyer, a clergyman, an artist and a novelist. The sixth is less likely to have much insight, or so her friends assume, being an old maid who has spent her entire life in the quiet backwater of an idyllic English village. Her name is Miss Jane Marple…

Immensely enjoyable short story collection of murder and intrigue where Miss Marple nails the end of each tale with the correct answer to the problem. There’s thirteen stories, hence thirteen problems. Discover it now.

 4.50 from Paddington

When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she can see straight into another train that is running parallel to her own. As a blind flies up on the carriage opposite her, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man. Unable to do anything to prevent it, she reports it to the conductor. He suspects she’s just been napping and has dreamt the whole thing, but he’s a conscientious man so he reports the matter at the next station. However, no body is found on the train, and there the matter would probably have rested, but for the fact that Mrs McGillicuddy was on her way to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple. Miss Marple knows Mrs McGillicuddy is a sensible woman with no imagination, so believes that she saw exactly what she claims. Feeling too old and unfit to snoop around herself, Miss Marple asks Lucy Eyelesbarrow to hunt for the body and so Lucy takes a job at Rutherford Hall…

An engaging read that had me turning the pages in anticipation. The characters and stories are pleasant to read, you really get to know them and their quirks. You’re taken on a journey by a wonderful storyteller. Highly recommended – borrow now.

Read More Golden Age Detectives

Explore authors from The Golden Age of Detective stories with this collection available from our e-library. Discover the works of G.K. Chesterton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Anthony Berkeley Cox and Dorothy L. Sayers amongst others.

Sign up to the e-library and there are a number of apps you can download to give you quick and easy access to collections on your device. Download ‘Libby’ for e-audio and e-books, ‘Borrowbox’ for e-audio, ‘RB Digital’ for magazines, read newspapers with ‘Press Reader’. Plus renew, reserve and search the catalogue and manage your account with ‘My Library App’. Discover them today!

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Banned Books Week 2020

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read, launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. 

This year Banned Books Week is from 27 September – 3 October, with the theme of this year’s event: “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”

In celebration of Banned Books Week we take a look some banned, or almost banned, books available to borrow from Brent Libraries.

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (published 1934) was banned in the US, the UK, Finland and Canada for obscenity and was considered “notorious for its candid sexuality”. Finally, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the book non-obscene. It is now regarded as an important work of 20th-century literature. Discover it for yourself.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (written 1940, published in a censored form, 1966) was banned by Stalin, while the Russian Orthodox Church worried that its text might undermine people’s faith. Its plot lampoons state authoritarianism and censorship in a country that has a tradition of both. Discover a novel in which the devil takes centre stage.

Maya Angelou’s I know Why The Caged Bird Sings (published 1961) is among several classic books currently banned from Alaska classrooms – banned because of “sexually explicit material, such as the sexual abuse the author suffered as a child, and its ‘anti-white messaging'”. Detailing abandonment by her mother and the racism and trauma Angelou experienced as a child, she also describes how years later in San Francisco, she learns that love for herself, the kindness of others and the ideas of great authors could finally allow her to be free. Discover this moving work.

George Orwell’s Amimal Farm (published 1945), is an allegorical short story about a group of animals who overthrow their human farmer in order to live freely, only to end up under the dictatorship of Napoleon the pig. Banned by Stalin, Amimal Farm reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era. Borrow it now.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published 1932) was banned at publication in Ireland for its language and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. It was also banned in India in 1967, with Huxley accused of being a “pornographer”. Brave New World has also been banned in US classrooms. Discover this dystopian and prophetic novel.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (published 1995) was number 8 on the Top 100 Banned Books list for 2000-2009. In 2007, the US Catholic League campaigned against The Golden Compass (titled The Amber Spyglass in the UK), declaring that it promoted atheism and attacked Christianity. Pullman partially confirmed this, saying “In one way, I hope the wretched organisation will vanish entirely.” But he’s also made it clear that it’s not God or religion he objects to, rather the way that the structures and ideas are used for ill. Discover Pullman’s epic work.

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (published 1958) is a stark, coolly ironic novel that reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people has nonetheless received criticism for its portrayal of colonialism and its consequences, and has reportedly been banned in Malaysia and Nigeria. In 2012 it made the list of works that were challenged for their themes in Texas schools. Borrow it now.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos> It was banned in 1997 in Virginia when a parent complained about sexual explicitness, but despite this was retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School’s academically advanced reading list. Hurston’s classic has, since its 1978 reissue, become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature. Borrow it now.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson (published 2005) tells the true story of three Chinstrap penguins—Roy, Silo, and their adopted daughter, Tango hatched from an egg put into their care. Despite the happy ending, Tango was banned in some towns in the US and in Singapore and Hong Kong for promoting homosexuality and complaints about the book were also made in the UK. Read now.

I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (published 2015) explores Jennings’ struggle with having “a girl brain but a boy body,” and her family’s confusion over and acceptance of her gender identity. 

When a Californian student brought a copy in to read to class to explain her own experiences as a trans person several parents complained and subsequently removed their children from the school, calling for a policy that allowed them to keep their children from sharing a classroom with a transgender student.

The school stood behind their book policy, affirming the inclusion of LGBTQ literature in classrooms, and the school decided not to add the requested “opt out” policy, which would have been tantamount to illegal discrimination. Unfortunately, however, the school chose to add a ‘red flag’ policy that would forewarn parents about potentially ‘controversial’ material, which could invite future complaints and disrupt the educational process, effectively labelling certain materials as controversial.

Once Banned – Novels That Have Shaped Our World

Animal Farm, Brave New World, Things Fall Apart, Their Eyes Were Watching God and His Dark Materials are all on the list of the list of BBC 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

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South Asian Heritage Month

South Asian Heritage Month runs from 18 July – 17 August.

These dates respect the traditions of the South Asian solar calendar and include several significant dates:

  • 18 July: the Independence of India Act 1947 gained royal assent
  • 26 July: Maldives Independence Day
  • 8 August: Bhutan Independence Day
  • 14 August: Pakistani Independence Day
  • 15 August: Indian Independence Day
  • 17 August: Partition Commemoration Day or the date that the Radcliffe Line was published in 1947, setting out where the border between India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) would be

South Asia is formed of 8 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. South Asian Heritage Month aims to transform how people connect with South Asian cultures and identity by celebrating arts, culture and heritage and by commemoration of and education on the history and anniversaries of these nations.

Find out more here.

Why not explore these titles inspired by South Asian Heritage Month:

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. Borrow now.

The Anarchy, The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

In his most ambitious and riveting book to date, William Dalrymple tells the story of the East India Company as it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power. Borrow now.

Divided, Why We’re Living In An Age of Walls by Tim Marshall

Covering China; the USA; Israel and Palestine; the Middle East; the Indian Subcontinent; Africa; Europe and the UK, in this gripping read bestselling author Tim Marshall delves into our past and our present to reveal the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come. Borrow now.

Return of a King, The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2013, Return of a King is the definitive analysis of the First Afghan War, told through the lives of unforgettable characters on all sides and using for the first time contemporary Afghan accounts of the conflict. Borrow now.

Pakistan, A Personal History by Imran Khan

Born only five years after Pakistan was created in 1947, Imran Khan has lived his country’s history. Drawing on the experiences of his own family and his wide travels within his homeland Khan provides a unique insider’s view of a country unfamiliar to a western audience. Borrow now.

Prisoners of Geography, Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

All leaders are constrained by geography. If you’ve ever wondered why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the USA was destined to become a global superpower, or why China’s power base continues to expand ever outwards, the answers are all here. Borrow now.

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Nelson Mandela International Day – 18 July

Nelson Mandela in 2000

 It is easy to break down and destroy.
The heroes are those who make peace and build. 

 – Nelson Mandela

The Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a nonviolence anti-apartheid activist who became South Africa’s first black president after winning the country’s first democratic election. Discover more about the life of Nelson Mandela with these titles from our e-library.

Commemorated on July 18—Nelson Mandela’s birthday—Nelson Mandela International Day celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world and the ability to make an impact.

Let the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela inspire you to learn more about social justice. Discover this new collection of titles exploring social justice, anti-racism and equality available from our e-library.

Recommended titles

Invictus by John Carlin

When Nelson Mandela appeared wearing a Springboks jersey and led the all-white Afrikaner-dominated team in singing South Africa’s new national anthem, he conquered the hearts of white South Africa. Invictus shows how a sport, once the preserve of South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking minority, came to unify the new rainbow nation, and tells of how something as simple as a game can help people to rise above themselves and see beyond their differences. Borrow now.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population, creating a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives. Borrow now.

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms. Borrow now.

Double Victory: African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach

Double Victory tells the stories of African American women who did extraordinary things to help their country during World War II. In these pages young readers meet a range of remarkable women: war workers, political activists, military women, volunteers, and entertainers. Some, such as Mary McLeod Bethune and Lena Horne, were celebrated in their lifetimes and are well known today. But many others fought discrimination at home and abroad in order to contribute to the war effort yet were overlooked during those years and forgotten by later generations. Borrow now.

White Rage The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as “black rage,” historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in The Washington Post suggesting that this was, instead, “white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,” she argued, “everyone had ignored the kindling.” From the Civil War to our combustible present, acclaimed historian Carol Anderson reframes our continuing conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America. Borrow now.

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