Four Children’s books for Black History Month

The month of October means chilly autumn winds, Halloween costumes and pumpkin spice lattes but another important event also takes place on the tenth month of each year. Black History Month celebrates the rich diversity and culture of many Black British people and all throughout the month there will be events all around the capital. Here at Brent libraries we embrace this all over our departments but none more so than our Children’s libraries. Here are five books for children that feature and teach all about Black culture.

 

  1. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffmanamazing-grace

10 year old Grace is a bubbly girl with a lot of ambitions for what she wants to be when she is older, but for now she really wants to be
Peter Pan for the school play. When she is put down by her classmates who say that she cannot play Peter Pan because she is a girl and that she is black, Grace is very upset. Grace finds solace in her grandmother who tells her about all the great things that Black people have done in history. With that new found confidence Grace shines as Peter Pan now she feels she can do anything. This book is great for teaching kids that there is no limit to what you can achieve, no matter who you are.

 

2. Through My Window by Tony Bradmanthrough-my-window

This vibrant book celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and it is worthy of that distinction for a very good reason that it
celebrates the diversity of London. The story is about a little girl called Jo who sees all the people and sights around her estate from the milkman, postman and her neighbour Mrs Ali who shares with Jo and her dad sweets from her country. This book teaches young children about all the varieties of people and sights that are all around us and how sharing is good.

3.  I love my Hair! By Natasha Anastasia Tarpleyi-love-my-hair

Hair comes in many different textures, lengths and colours but when you are a child it can be hard to feel good about your hair, especially when it is not the ‘same’ as ‘others’. This book is all about celebrating Afro-Caribbean hair told in a lovely array of watercolours. It shows techniques of caring for Afro-Caribbean hair in which they can relate to. It also teaches young black children to be proud of their hair and heritage. This book is very useful and is a very nice addition to your child’s bookshelf.

4. Handa’s Hen by Eileen Brownhandas-hen

Handa’s Hen is a counting book about a girl called Handa from a Kenyan tribe. One day she goes out to feed her grandmother’s hen and finds out that she has disappeared. We then follow Handa and her best friend Akeyo to find the hen, learning numbers across the way. They come across sunbirds and lizards in their journey to find the missing hen. This beautiful book teaches kids about counting and how other cultures live and be together.

 

Solmaz

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Boy Nobody, Allen Zadoff

 

Allen Zadoff has written an unbelievable book. Honestly, it’s one of the best novels I have ever read. It dazzles in every aspect and never ceases to surprise.

 

So we start the book in the mind of our protagonist, this is a first person book. We don’t even know the protagonist’s name. The story starts off when “Boy Nobody” is friends with a kid called Jack. Jack invites “Boy Nobody to his house where his father is and that’s when we start to realise who “Boy Nobody” actually is, he’s an assassin. From the very first pages we sense that our protagonist is something special: “Jack’s dad wanders by with a beer in his hand. Chen Wu is his name. His friends call him John. He’s the CEO of a high-tech firm along Route 128. Lots of government contracts.” Our protagonist notices every little detail. Eventually he injects a poison into Mr Wu which kills him, “Boy Nobody” escapes, arousing no suspicion. That’s only the start of the book though.

Shadow Boy

Bit by bit we start to learn more about our protagonist. He gets new assignments every time he finishes one, his superiors are called Mother and Father and he still has memories of how it started. A few chapters in he’s sent on a new assignment, to kill the mayor of New York by befriending his daughter. I won’t describe what happens after that because then I would spoil your read.

 

What is so good about this book is how we discover more and more about our character as the story goes on. The author makes us believe that his mind works like a robot who’s constantly calculating but more importantly has no emotion at all. But as the story goes on we learn that’s not true. Our protagonist starts to feel emotion as doubt creeps in. The author completely submerges us into his brain; we know all his thoughts and dilemmas. What I also enjoyed very much was the attention to detail. I’ll give you an example: “She’s maybe fifteen, long brown hair, too much gloss on her lips. She has a backpack slung across one shoulder. The strap pulls her shirt tight, the swell of her breast pressing against fabric”, this is all in the mind of our protagonist.

 

AllenZadoff

Allen Zadoff

 

 

This is a fantastic read, with plenty of surprises, I guarantee if you like action, thrillers and even romance books you’ll thoroughly enjoy this one, it’s a cracker!

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Russian Roulette, Anthony Horowitz

If you happened to have read the Alex Rider series, you’ll absolutely love this one. It’s a spinoff of that bestselling series, following the dangerous Russian assassin Yassen Gregorovich. It’s basically the fictive biography of a killer.

anthony horowitz

Anthony Horowitz

 

The book starts in the 3rd person, following this strange man checking into his hotel room. The author describes his ultra-careful thoughts and his precision. Before long we are told that he sits down to read his diary. That’s when we embark on an epic adventure.

His story starts in a very small village in Russia, home to the people working in the factory. Little Yassen lived with his parents and his grandmother. His best friend was a boy called Leo. But this book is all about twists and surprises, and the first one would change his life forever. A disaster strikes and suddenly everyone starts dying including his parents who inform him that he’s immune to the killing gas. Yassen escapes the village but dangerous men would come for him. From then it’s all about survival, whatever it took.

Now I warn you, before you start reading this, it’s not a kid’s book. There’s plenty of deaths and straight-up horror, but it’s an absolutely brilliant read. There are countless twists and turns and in some parts you just won’t believe what you’re reading. I feel the real goal of the book is to show us how a normal kid, living a normal life can somehow turn into a cold-blooded killer. The reader inevitably struggles to keep up.

YassenGregorovich

Yassen Gregorovich in the movie “Stormbreaker”

 

I love this book because Horowitz is so in control of every sense (taste, feeling…). He always keeps you on your toes and even if you read all the Alex Rider books, he still comes up with plenty of surprises. At the end of the book you will feel as though you have been taken on a journey, physically and mentally. But the scary thing, despite all the bad things Yassen did, you come to love this man, and even understand him.

 

Fred

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#MHAW16 – The Outsider by Albert Camus.

the-outsider

Part 1 – review

This is the story of Meursault a French Algerian living in the early 1940s.  He is an outsider.  On paper you wouldn’t think him an outsider, he has a good job, a girlfriend, friends and a mother.  He is an outsider because of how he feels.  He approaches life with a neutral indifference, whether he is burying his mother, starting a new love affair or committing a crime – his approach is the same, matter of fact indifference.

I hope you aren’t thinking ‘that sounds weird and kind of boring’ because it isn’t (OK I do admit that as it is all written in the first person the first chapter reads quite strangely until you get used to his tone).  There’s something about his approach to life that is uplifting and his say what you see descriptions of the world around him actually create some beautiful moments.  My favourite bits are when he is describing his neighbour’s relationship with his dog, his cold observations of what he sees and hears as his neighbour comes and goes from the apartment building paint a moving portrait of the complexity and frailty of human emotion.  There is also a lovely sequence where he sits on his balcony all day and describes what he sees looking down on the street, you get a real sense of the sleepy bustle of Algiers on a hot Sunday afternoon just from his basic unflowery relating of what he can see in front of him.

Meursault does enjoy life in a way too.  He has moments of raw pleasure swimming in the sea, having sex with his girlfriend, eating a good meal etc.  He just doesn’t imbue them with meaning or emotion, they are what they are, here and now, pleasurable and fleeting.

In terms of plot, and there is a plot even though I feel this isn’t a plot driven novel,  Mersault’s mother dies in an old people’s home and he travels there to her funeral.  When he returns home he goes back to daily life and also forms a new romance and makes a new friendship.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, he commits a serious crime.  This is a very interesting point in the novel, just when you are starting to think ‘Well what’s wrong with not having conventional emotions?’, Mersault commits this extreme act – so is he mentally ill?  There are enigmatic clues that he might have suffered a trauma, he makes reference to feeling differently “before”, but doesn’t say before what, he also mentions having to abandon his studies but doesn’t say why.  Why did he do it?  The rest of the novel deals with the aftermath of the crime…I won’t tell you if questions are answered – read it to find out!

5/5

(N.B. this novel is very short, only about 100 pages, so do give it a go even if you think it’s not for you.  Even if you don’t like it it won’t be a hard slog)

Part 2 – The Outsider and mental health.

I read the outsider as it was recommended on a blog about mental health problems as a good book to read.  It appealed to me as self-help books just don’t, I always worry they will tell me what to do or try to ‘cure’ me and make me ‘normal’.  If reading to deal with mental health issues I much prefer something like this that explores issues without necessarily offering solutions.

I personally found the outsider extremely uplifting as someone dealing with mental health issues, it also made me think a few uncomfortable thoughts which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!  Meursault doesn’t think there is anything wrong with his approach to life, and I can relate to that.  Sometimes it is OK not to fit in and we don’t all have to act and feel the same.  The one size fits all approach you sometimes get to treating mental health can be frustrating when seeking help.  For example a therapist once told me that he could tell I had serious issues because I had laughed at “inappropriate things” at a previous session, I asked him what he meant and he repeated the phrase I’d laughed at – I laughed again!  I then stopped myself, did my sense of humour make me insane?  I found the quip I had made relating to death and suicide funny, darkly humorous, I still do today when I’m not in a period of crisis and am sitting calmly at my desk feeling perfectly cheerful.  Meursault goes through something similar, a priest wants him to repent for his sins and admit to believing in God and justice but he doesn’t so he won’t.  The priest becomes increasingly frustrated and Meursault starts to get bored.  It is a really good parallel with some of my experiences of therapy, the main reason I have given it up in the past has been boredom with the process, boredom with talking and boredom with listening to them tell me why I am as I am and how I should be different.

So is the conclusion live and let live, let’s all just be who we are?  Unfortunately not!  Meursault isn’t OK.  He does something both cruel, pointless and illogical.  It works out badly for everyone including himself.  Even he doesn’t seem to understand his reasons for his actions, and worryingly doesn’t even really question them.  So this book doesn’t provide the answer, but it provides lots of interesting questions and I found asking them of myself a positive exercise.

 

Zoe

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Books and Mental Health: The Shock of the Fall

“Mental illness turns people inwards […] It keeps up forever trapped by the pain of our own minds, in the same way that the pain of a broken leg or a cut thumb will grab your attention, holding it so tightly that your good leg or your good thumb seem to cease to exist.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

I really feel that this book tried as much as possible, within the confines of the written word, to take us into the mind of someone struggling to deal with the introspective nature of a mental illness. The reality that no one else can see these struggles can make a person feel they are going mad before the symptoms have begun manifesting themselves physically outside of their heads.

“I can only describe reality as I know it. I’m doing my best, and promise to keep trying.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

The Shock of the Fall is refreshing for not having a schizophrenic protagonist who spends the entire novel talking to himself and clutching his head in a dark corner of a room. I think Filer’s done a great job of giving more substance to something which can too often be viewed under one umbrella – not all mental health sufferers look the same, and not everyone deals with these issues the same way. In this book, Matt, despite his illness and outbursts, shows in his witty and often sarcastic observations of his life, that he is not defined by his mental health.

“Inside my head is a jigsaw made of trillions and trillions and trillions of atoms. It might take a while.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

This week is mental health awareness week, and relationships is the focus of the campaign this year – which I think is very important. Having been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) a few years ago, I have had to re-learn how to interact with people, to rewire and divert my thought processes so that I am not always assuming the worst and feeling terrible because of it. BPD is so wide and so vast, but to me, it means that on top of navigating a minefield of symptoms, I am always looking out for signs of rejection as a defence mechanism – whether in micro-expressions or brief changes in body language. This makes relationships difficult because BPD sufferers feel emotions intensely, and the slightest perceived negativity can send them into episodes of depression and self-doubt that can last days, and interacting with others during this period can be incredibly stressful. 

“[…] one thing I’ve learnt about people, is that they can always surprise you.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

One of the hardest things for a mental health sufferer to accept is that this illness is theirs whether they want it or not, and that can be a very isolating experience. This is why this week is so important in highlighting just how much a human presence can mean to someone like Matt, who felt often deflated and without a clue how to help himself, or accept help. Just like relationships take time to nurture, understanding the dynamics of mental health will take a long time. But all of us can make a small start by making a cup of tea for a struggling loved one, or even by picking up a book and being open about what we find in it.

 

by Lauris

 

Brent Libraries have great stock of mental health related books, whether factual or fictional. It’s never too late to start talking about mental health, and books always make great conversation starters.
Some helpful contacts, should you feel you need them:

Mind
15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ
T: 020 8519 2122, Info line: 0300 123 3393
e: contact@mind.org.uk
http://www.mind.org.uk/
Samaritans
24 hour helpline: 116 123 (freephone)
jo@samaritans.org
samaritans.org
Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, Chris
PO Box 90 90
Stirling
FK8 2SA

Sane Line
Offering specialist mental health emotional support 6-11pm everyday.
You can also email through their website.
Tel: 0845 767 8000
Web: www.sane.org.uk

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What are you missing?

So far this year I’ve been reading lots of books, fiction and non-fiction, about missing people. That is, about people who go missing, and the people who miss them. Mostly the cause is abduction. I have a fairly good idea about why I chose these, though I can verify that it hasn’t been a purely conscious choice, I just, as is usual for me, went by books that caught my mind. Since this is Mental Health Awareness Week, the topic is very pertinent. As others who also have mental health that can be fragile will likely verify, at the peak of most severe illness, one’s very self feels to go missing. The theme of MHAW this year is Relationships, so a poignant and raw topic all round. When your self/mind/psyche/being feels to be AWOL, how on earth do you maintain the relationships you have, never mind cultivate new ones – having a relationship with your own self at those times can be even too much to bear. But it has to be done to survive, and such is the work of psychotherapy – and reading carefully chosen [whether by the conscious or subconscious mind!] books can indeed be part of this.

“What is this thing that happens? When disaster strikes and women come, with their cakes and their bandages, with their cups of tea and their soothing fingers. It’s the complicity of the birthing chamber, the laying out of the dead. They pick the bits of tragedy up off the floor and try to knit them together in some shape, the way I’d felt I could knit Carmel back to life. Not the way they were before, something lumpy and misshapen – but so there’s a whole again.”

The girl in the red coat by Kate Hamer

the-girl-in-the-red-coat-kate-hamerA few days ago I finished reading The girl in the red coat. It’s a seemingly understated book about loss. A mother loses her daughter, the daughter loses herself, the mother has lost her husband, the couple who abduct the daughter lose their way. Does the mother find her daughter? Does the daughter find herself? It is a novel about hidden powers, and the energy of love, betrayal and connection. It is rather a profound novel, and the quote above spoke to me deeply. It is highly resonant of a fairy tale, and if you’ve ever read Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes you are likely to be moved by this book.

TAsylumWhat happens when ideas of safety, freedom, longing, sanity and damage collide? The Asylum, a strong thriller by Johan Theorin attempts to address these conflicts in a labyrinth of twists and turns. The protagonist, Jan, is missing someone from his troubled childhood. He is a staff member of a nursery attached to a secure psychiatric hospital, where children of the patients receive care. This, in a different way, is also about relationships and grief.DeepShelter

Right now I’m coming to the end of Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris. It’s set in London, which for me is always a win for bringing things close to home – psychologically speaking that is. It reminds me, in a way, of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Here we enter the literal underworld, a parallel world of fear and power beneath our very feet, our very heart. When we search for love and human connection, power can stand in its way, and ideas of freedom and responsibility seep in, too. There’s a deeper theme of loss in there as well, and but I will leave that to you to discover.

The damage that can ensue from someone going missing, whether physically or psychically – or both, transcends time and rationality. It threads into not only our relationship with those around us, but with the very self. It is a common theme in literature, as in life. Authors tackle it with depth and sensitivity. We see the scars on the psyche in glittering sore technicolour. Yet, it seems terribly hard for many people to actually talk about these kinds of themes with their nearest and dearest. That profound distress, that is often seen clinically as a ‘Mental Health Condition’, attracts such stigma in society, still. Many cases of such illness, however, and I count myself in this, are a result of the trauma of loss on all kinds of levels. The mind can break down under such despair and loneliness.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, therefore, perhaps take some time to ponder those times when you have experienced a sense of loss of self and/or loss of another, and open your heart to that and to the world.

Katie

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Reading Well for young people

The Reading Agency have compiled a list of books to help young people deal with and  gain understand of mental health issues.  This is an extension of the successful Books on Prescription scheme.

There’s some really interesting choices and it’s not all about self-help, there’s fiction and graphic novels too.

What do you think?  Can reading help with health?  Would you add anything to this list…or take any of the titles off it?!

Here is the list the Reading Agency suggest:

  1. Stuff That Sucks: Accepting What You Can’t Change and Committing to What You Can by Ben Sedley (Robinson, Little Brown)
  2. Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson (Hot Key Books)
  3. The Self-Esteem Team’s Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!! by The Self-Esteem Team (John Blake Publishing)
  4. Blame My Brain: The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed by Nicola Morgan (Walker Books)
  5. Quiet the Mind by Matthew Johnstone (Robinson, Little, Brown)
  6. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Walker Books)
  7. Kite Spirit by Sita Brahmachari (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  8. House of Windows by Alexia Casale (Faber)
  9. Every Day by David Levithan (Electric Monkey, Egmont)
  10. My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael Tompkins and Katherine Martinez (Magination Press, American Psychological Association)
  11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Simon & Schuster)
  12. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (Sceptre, Hodder)
  13. Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User’s Guide to Adolescence by Luke Jackson (Jessica Kingsley)
  14. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Vintage)
  15. Teen Life Confidential: Bullies, Cyberbullies and Frenemies by Michele Elliott (Wayland, Hachette Children’s)
  16. Vicious: True Stories by Teens about Bullying Hope Vanderberg (Free Spirit Publishing)
  17. Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Building Positive Self-Esteem for Young People by Kate Collins-Donnelly (Jessica Kingsley)
  18. Teen Life Confidential: Self-Esteem and Being You by Anita Naik (Wayland, Hachette Children’s)
  19. Face by Benjamin Zephaniah (Bloomsbury)
  20. Am I Depressed and What Can I Do About it? by Shirley Reynolds and Monika Parkinson (Robinson, Little, Brown)
  21. I Had a Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone (Robinson, Little, Brown)
  22. Can I Tell You About Depression? by Christopher Dowrick and Susan Martin (Jessica Kingsley)
  23. Can I Tell You About Eating Disorders? by Bryan Lask and Lucy Watson (Jessica Kingsley)
  24. Banish Your Body Image Thief by Kate Collins-Donnelly (Jessica Kingsley)
  25. Touch and Go Joe by Joe Wells (Jessica Kingsley)
  26. Breaking Free from OCD: A CBT Guide for Young People and their Families by Jo Derisley, Isobel Heyman, Sarah Robinson, Cynthia Turner (Jessica Kingsley)
  27. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (Walker Books)
  28. The Truth About Self-Harm by Celia Richardson (Mental Health Foundation)
  29. Fighting Invisible Tigers: A Stress Management Guide for Teens by Earl Hipp (Free Spirit Publishing)
  30. Teenage Guide to Stress by Nicola Morgan (Walker Books)

(All these books are available to borrow from Brent Libraries)

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Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This is a wonderfully well written book but has a slightly unsatisfactory narrative flow.

goldfinch

The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker who is involved in a horrific terrorist attack at the age of 13 in his home city of New York.  The aftermath of the catastrophe leave him struggling through his teenage years and into adulthood living in far from ideal circumstances.  This tale basically follows his journey (for 864 whole pages – it’s a chunky tome!)

The novel is at its best I believe when recounting the daily struggles of Theo’s difficult teenage years.  If the novel had ended at this stage, about three quarters of the way through, I would have given in 5 out of 5 and been left with a pleasing yearning for more.  But Tartt seems determined to ‘finish’ the story, nothing wrong with that in itself, but the way she ups the action and skips forward in time towards the end of the novel felt rather clunky and inelegant.  The first part of the novel is also rather slow at times, the middle section in excellent, so overall the pace of the novel felt a little off.

Carel_Fabritius_-_The_Goldfinch_-_WGA7721

The title comes from a real work of art which features throughout Theo’s story.

Having finished with my criticisms I will go on to say that the writing style is wonderful, truly mesmerising at times.  It really takes you to another person’s world and immerses you there.

On the back of the book there’s a quote from the Independent “A gripping page-turner”, I don’t agree with this, it didn’t grip me it more gently and subtlety tugged me in after a modest start then held me firmly for a while before it’s grasp began to weaken and I steadily slipped from its hold.  But a very good enjoyable read.

4/5

Zoe

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Book Review: Maze Runner by James Dashner

The_Maze_Runner_cover

The author is James Dashner it part of a trilogy. The book is narrated by Thomas and starts of with teens being trapped in a maze for two years and have their memories wiped and all they remember is their names.  Then Thomas arrives and on the same day so does Teresa the first girl to ever arrive in the maze. She some how triggers the ending. If you choose to read the book you will know what that means.

I’m currently reading the Scorch Trial the second book in the trilogy. The books don’t take very long to read but are full of action. I definitely recommend this book especially if you enjoyed reading the Hunger Games. They’re pretty much the same genre.

I will give this book a 3/5.

Umaimma

The_Scorch_Trials_cover

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Book Review: Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend by Jenny Colgan

 

This novel follows the adventures of Sophie, a spoilt but relatively likeable rich girl.  Thanks to her wealthy father she has everything she could ever wish for materially and spends her time shopping and partying and socialising with equally privileged friends.  Then her world is turned upside down by a series of dramatic events and she is suddenly forced to stand on her own two feet and support herself – this is the tale of how she copes with this new reality.Diamonds

This is a jolly very readable story that I would recommend for escapism.  I think it deals relatively well with the subject of modern life on a low income, it can be a tricky subject that is not always dealt sensitively with in Chick Lit (see my comments on Sophie Kinsella).  I was a little concerned on beginning the novel that the heroine would learn some trite lesson that it’s better to be poor (which really irritates me as it’s blatantly not true!) or that Sophie would find success with ease and find standing on her own two feet easy due to hard work and spirit – but the novel doesn’t take either of these approaches and manages to remain light without being insulting to anyone struggling to get by!

I suppose by way of criticism I would say that the novel lacks any emotional depth.  Even when dealing with serious subjects like bereavement and poverty the novel remains frothy and there are no tear jerking moments when you really feel for the characters.  But this is OK, as it’s in keeping with the style, just don’t pick this up if you are looking for an emotional roller-coaster that will have you laughing then crying then pulling out your hair – this is light hearted fun to be read on a day when you don’t want to engage you heart or brain too deeply.

2.5/5

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