Tag Archives: non-fiction

Three Recommendations for Transgender Rep: Non-Fic, YA and MG

Non-Fic Recommendation: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin

Recommended for: parents, teachers, youth workers, teens and tweens of all gender identities (and sexualities) – transgender, cisgender (non-trans), non-binary, agender.

The style of this book is very journalistic, but incredibly hands-off. Put together by photographer-author Susan Kuklin, it is clear that she allowed her teen subjects a lot of freedom in expressing themselves. It is also clear that she is a cis author seeking information from that perspective and for that reason, this book is perhaps slightly more useful for a cis audience. That said, there are clear efforts for the book to be representative in that there are two each male-to-female, female-to-male and non-binary teens presented in the book, so it would be very difficult to leave it with the impression that there is one transgender experience, which is great.

At times, probably because of their young age, some of the books’ subjects are a little dogmatic in their opinions and it might have been nice to balance this with the perspective of older, more settled, transgender narratives, but there is also much value in sharing teens’ voices. If a key purpose of the book is to help transgender teens see others in the same position, then the book certainly achieves that. Another would be to help cis teens understand, and I think that purpose is also well met. There are comprehensive lists of resources for support (US and UK) at the end of the book.

Hearthfire rating: 8/10 Sizzling

Beyond Magenta is out now in the UK from Walker Books, who provided me with a review copy. It was a 2015 Stonewall Honor Book in the US.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

YA Recommendation: If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo


Recommended for: YA contemporary fans of all ages and gender identities. There are separate notes for both trans and cis readers at the end of the novel (which are brilliant and generous but should only be read after the story because of spoilers).

This #ownvoices contemporary YA romance about Amanda with flashes to when she was Andrew is nicely put together and offers a satisfying story with some fantastic characterisation. I thought Amanda’s parents were well drawn, especially her Dad’s struggles with his daughter’s identity. That would be easy to present as black/white, but he is a fully-realised character with plenty of grey and I really enjoyed seeing that. Complex parents are not always something you get in YA.

The ways in which this does fulfil YA tropes are that Amanda is beautiful and desirable and, sometimes, things seem easier for her than they will be for many trans teens who read this. At first, this worried me reading it, but then I realised that it is intended to offer hope and, in fact, the more negative aspects of transition are discussed, they just might be in Amanda’s past or happen to others rather than being centre stage. This is also discussed in the author’s notes.

Overall, the charming story will easily carry readers through, while the author’s notes at the end serve nicely to emphasise the relevant points about trans experience. There are also adverts for UK-specific support services at the end.

Hearthfire rating: 9/10 A scorcher!

If I Was Your Girl is out now in the UK from Usborne. It was selected as a ‘Zoella book club’ title for W H Smith.

MG Recommendation: George, Alex Gino

Recommended for: readers 9+ (including teachers and parents)

This book really blew me away. I’d read other trans rep before this one, but I couldn’t say I’d had the experience shown to me so definitively before. It’s all in the pronouns and voice.

George is presented using female pronouns (she/her) and, when the book starts, she’s at home by herself. When you then see her interacting with others who refer to her as a boy, it’s jarring. And then you get it – that’s how clearly and viscerally Alex Gino presents the reader with George’s experience. They never describe George as ‘wanting to be’ a girl or ‘feeling like she is’ a girl, she just is a girl, but everyone inexplicably treats her as a boy. And there it is. For this cis reader, that was the clearest presentation I’d come across. I don’t consider myself stupid and I would say I had (intellectually) understood the concept before, but no-one had made me feel it before. I was right there with George, though.

For a book geek, another delight of this book is the way Charlotte’s Web is used. George’s class is studying the book and they’re going to do a performance of it and George wants to be Charlotte. Of course, her teacher won’t let her be Charlotte because, to her, George is a boy and boys should be Wilbur or Templeton. In all, it’s a lovely story, warmly told, pitched perfectly for the MG audience (I also appreciated that we don’t get into discussing transition or the big questions of how George will be in the future – there’s plenty of time for that). This is the perfect, reassuring and warm introduction to the idea for MG readers who may or may not have questions about gender at this point in time.

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

George is out now in the UK from Scholastic.

I hope this round-up has been helpful and I really hope to see more books exploring the range of human identity coming out in the future. Some of these books have been out for a while in the States but are fairly new to the UK. I know that in schools we’re starting to see more kids expressing different gender identities and it would be good for teachers and support workers to have resources available to support them and other kids around them.

Review: Creative Writing Journal and Good Things Are Happening Gratitude Journal

creative-writingCreative Writing: A Journal with Art to Kickstart Your Writing, by Eva Glettner (Chronicle Books, Sept 2016)


Good Things Are Happening: A Journal for Tiny Moments of Joy, by Lauren Hom (Chronice Books, Sept 2016)

Both of these write-in books exhibit excellent design and are fabulously good-looking objects, but this is by no means all they have to offer.

The Creative Writing journal has a full-page image for each spread, with a lined page for writing for each prompt. It is a good sized book, at a little smaller than A4 size, with good quality paper that fineliners haven’t bled through. The designs are unusual and inspirational and the exercises all offer interesting food for thought, with genuine reference to the images.

The book as a whole works really well and is definitely adding to my practice. It is not just a few illustrated exercises, but is a striking use of artwork to inspire.

The gratitude journal  asks you to record three good things for each day you use it. It is undated, so there is no pressure to complete it every day, or guilt about starting at the wrong time. The book is a small hardback, with good quality multi-colour pages that don’t allow bleed-through.

Bold graphic designs appear every so often, either with helpful suggestions as to things with could be one of today’s ‘good things’ or occasionally with extra prompts for further cheering lists (as in the image on the left).

The book as a whole is another pleasure to use and makes a regular gratitude practice simple and even more pleasant.

It is an increasingly well-known fact that both gratitude practice and regular creative writing can have strong mental health benefits so I would definitely recommend these beautifully-produced books, either as a simple addition to a self-care routine, or a thoughtful gift.

Both titles are out now in the UK from Chronicle Books, who kindly provided me with review copies.

Please note that accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only review books that I feel able to recommend.

Review: Decoding Your Twenty-First Century Daughter by Helen Wright

Sound and sensible advice for parents of teen girls 

This book is subtitled “The Anxious Parent’s Guide to Raising a Teenage Girl” and it certainly lives up to it well.

The author is an experienced head teacher, having successfully run independent girls’ schools in the UK and in Australia, as well as a parent and her calm and reassuring style clearly springs from her wealth of relevant experience. Reading as someone who both parents a teenage girl (and a pre-teen) and teaches teens, I found plenty to agree with and some ideas I hadn’t come across before or hadn’t thought of in quite those terms.

The tone of the book is very no-nonsense and straightforward, which may on occasion have the effect of making things appear simpler than they in fact are, but in a calming way. The book can be quite conservative (small c), making assumptions, for example, about the extent of control that a parent would wish to have over a teen’s life, but at the same time it contextualises those beliefs and supports a lot of its ideas with evidence of one kind or another. Its straightforward tone doesn’t feel lecturing or rhetorical and it is definitely something that can be read and sifted through – it is not an ‘all or nothing’ book, where disagreeing with one claim necessitates abandoning the whole thing.

One area that I felt it excelled in was in presenting ideas about the brain development of teens and how this influences behaviour. I particularly appreciated this information because it was completely new to me, and was presented in a way that made clear what this means for parents trying to raise a daughter. I also liked the writer’s insistence that it is natural for our daughters to pull away and want to establish strong friendships, and her advice on making ourselves available to our daughters regardless to ensure a good lifelong relationship. She was also supportive to the reader in recognising how we might feel about this and suggesting how to work with it. A further area that I thought was well-handled was a section on the sexualisation of teens in our society with some sound, up to date advice on helping girls negotiate this minefield and grow up with some self respect.

The book is well structured and clearly organised, presenting a series of different issues that we, as parents of teen daughters in this day and age, could think about or be concerned with. Each issue is presented in terms of how teenage girls are affected and what parents can do (and what we shouldn’t or can’t do and when to seek outside help, for example in cases of drug problems or eating disorders). Each chapter features a bullet point summary at the end, using the headings: What Parents Need to Know and What Parents Need to Do.

Overall, I found this meatier than a lot of self-help or parenting books (probably due to the use of science and data to support ideas), while being sufficiently gentle in tone to feel helpful and non-judgemental. It is clear that Helen Wright knows her stuff when it comes to teen girls, and she has a lot of helpful things to say. I would definitely recommend this title for anyone with a teen (or soon-to-be-teen) daughter.

From the Product Description:

DECODING YOUR 21ST CENTURY DAUGHTER: The Anxious Parent’s Guide to Raising a Teenage Girl is a no-nonsense, snappy, practical handbook for anyone who has to guide a young woman through the most turbulent years of her life. Distilling the wisdom acquired by Dr Helen Wright during nearly two decades as one of the UK’s leading teachers, it is both a source of encouragement and a fount of knowledge.

Key lessons become memorable messages, collected into checklists of what parents need to know and what parents need to do. An easy reference guide tackles area of concern for parents of teenage girls, including friendships; self-image; sexuality; drink and drugs; and external pressures.

“Parents will be lucky to have Helen Wright’s ideas and wisdom on hand at this critical turning point in their teenage daughter’s development. Her approaches to coping with eating disorders and cyber-bullying are practical, sensible and lucid. This is an excellent book, full of ways to improve the everyday quality of life with teenage girls.” Professor Tanya Byron, clinician, author and broadcaster

Published 1 May 2013 by emBooks (ebook only)
I am grateful to the publisher for allowing me a copy via Netgalley for an honest review

Recommended Writers’ Resources 3: The DIY Special

I’ve been considering packaging the revision notes on my website into ebook form so students could download them onto their phones, so I’ve been investigating self e-publishing lately. Here are the most useful resources I’ve found:

The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing

is a website with an array of resources and been-there-done-that advice. In a blog-style format, with contributions from lots of different writers (including the marvellous Talli Roland), it’s easy to lose a lot of time browsing here 🙂

Self-Printed: the Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (2nd edition)

is a fabulous, entertaining read which outlines clearly and specifically exactly what Catherine Ryan Howard did (and does) when self-publishing her writing. Her advice is thorough and comprehensive, if a little bossy at times (but hey, it’s her book, so why shouldn’t she get bossy?). Publishing to Kindle and Smashwords are explained step-by-step, as is using Createspace to produce a paperback. She also covers how to sell and promote (in a non-annoying way…) using only free online tools such as an effective blog and social media presence. I found the answers to lots of nitty-gritty questions here, and would strongly recommend it to anyone thinking about self-publishing.

I particularly enjoyed her frank discussion about the quality of much self-published writing and her attempt to distance herself from the more rabid self-publishing rhetoric (usually focused on ‘gatekeepers’ and the many perceived failures of traditional publishing). I read in it the kindle version, but it is also available as a print on demand paperback.

It’s also well worth checking out Catherine’s site for more advice and opinions about successful self-publishing.

Review of The Story of the Olympics by Richard Brassey

Colourful, fun account of the Games through history

Published a year ago, this is the ideal choice for youngsters who developed an interest in the Games this summer.

The book comes in a 32-page picture book format, and you could imagine that a Story of the Olympics could be quite dense, trying to pack centuries of history into 13 spreads. You’d be quite wrong, however, and the book’s strength lies in its selective approach, offering details while accepting that it doesn’t need to cover everything that could possibly be known about the Olympics. Typically for Richard Brassey, there is a surprising amount of information on offer here using the minimum amount of text possible, together with quirky illustrations. Brassey has a real talent for selecting the facts most likely to appeal to his child readers, and illustrating them with delightfully realistic comic strip images.

There are spreads on particular aspects of the Olympics – Ancient Games, the marathon, women, politics – and snippets about each of the Modern Games, often homing in on particular athletes. The book closes with information about the London Games and 2016’s Games in Rio de Janeiro.

I would recommend this for quite a wide age range. The material is intrinsically interesting (and very well-selected), and presented in a way that would not patronise or exclude older readers. I can see beginner readers enjoying this with an adult and children into secondary school still enjoying it.

From the back cover:

For a thousand years Olympic competitors didn’t wear any clothes …

In 1912 a marathon runner fell asleep by the roadside. He finished the course in 1966…

For nearly a century, women weren’t allowed to run the marathon – in case they exhausted themselves!

The extraordinary story of the Olympic Games, from their beginnings in Ancient Greece right up to the London Olympics of 2012, and the funny, surprising, heroic exploits of winners and losers from all over the world.


Published September 2011 by Orion Children’s
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy
Check out The Story of the Olympics at Amazon UK

Review: Horrid Henry’s A-Z of Everything Horrid

Essential reading for Horrid Henry fans

This is an essential item for any Horrid Henry fan. Entries include people, places and things in Henry’s world, all explained and rigorously cross-referenced. The layout is perfect for this age group: lots of white space, the familiar Tony Ross illustrations and relatively simple text.

I apologise for the teacher perspective (I can’t help it, sorry), but aside from the fun value – and there is plenty of that – this volume would serve to introduce children to the idea of encyclopedias and similar reference books. It is well indexed, with the page numbers of entries in bold and other mentions in normal type, and the cross references are thorough and frequent. I can also see this being the first Horrid Henry book some young readers can access for themselves (perhaps if they’re familiar with Henry from TV or being read to). It would definitely make a superbly rewarding book for such a reader, with most entries being only one to three sentences.

A great book to dip into, this would be a fab gift for Horrid Henry fans. It certainly delighted my youngest, who spent ages flicking through and reading random entries, as well as following some of the cross references. I’m sure it’s a volume that will stand a lot of revisiting, making it good value (especially in this paperback edition).

From the back cover:

The ESSENTIAL guide to everything in Horrid Henry’s utterly wicked world.

A is for April Fool’s Day, Horrid Henry’s favourite day of the year (except his birthday, of course.)
B is for Bogey Babysitter, Rabid Rebecca, the toughest teen in town.
C is for Comfy Black Chair, the best place to watch TV.

From the Purple Hand to pink frilly knickers; supersoakers to Sour Susan; football fiends to fizzywizz drinks – this book has it all and more. An encyclopedia of absolutely EVERYTHING you ever wanted to know about Horrid Henry.

Published 13 Sept by Orion Children’s
My grateful thanks to the publishers for sending us a review copy
Check it out: Amazon UK

Funky Non-Fiction for Kids

Like the books featured in my post yesterday, these non-fiction titles all make liberal use of quirky humour to engage their child audience (and any adults lucky enough to get a look in as well!). I was extremely fortunate to be one of the winners of this bundle on Non-Fiction Day last year, and this review is sadly long overdue.

The books cover three broad topic areas: Maths, Science and History, and all have been at least dipped into over the past few months by both my daughters (aged 8 and 13). In all cases, an initial dip has lead to a longer reading session than originally intended, and a series of “Did you know that …?” type comments. What more could you ask of kids’ non-fiction? 🙂

The Murderous Maths of Everything by Kjartan Poskitt takes a narrative approach and can be read cover to cover. It uses a framing story of a visit to the Murderous Maths Organisation to give the reader a tour of some fascinating mathematical ideas, concepts and quirks. As a tour type book, it covers different areas including weird arithmetic, interesting geometry and quirks in measurements. It proved interesting to my fairly maths-averse daughters and certainly succeeds in showing how maths can be fun without getting dangerously geeky.

The two Horrible Science books are quite different, and have both been enjoyed in quite different ways. The Horrible Science Annual features experiments as well as explanations of concepts and comic strips of discoveries and facts. As an annual, this is an assortment of various types of science topic rather than having a theme. My youngest particularly enjoyed the ‘Make a Freaky Face’ page, which has kids doctor a photo of themselves to make the eyes and mouth upside down. Looking at this picture upside down is fine, but the right way up is really freakish. Naturally, this would be a fun thing to do with pictures of everyone in the family, and maybe some celebrity pics from magazines or newspapers … [NB I’ve also seen this done on QI with a hideous version of Alan Davies, so it’s not just kids who enjoy this.]

How to Draw Horrible Science has probably been the most revisited of all these titles, and both kids have been pleased with the results they’ve had in following the instructions in this book. I particularly like the care with which this has been produced: the book is wire bound, so it always lies flat open and it’s easy to work from. Lots of different styles of people and animals are included, as well as essential and scientific additions like gaseous emissions, indications of speed, bodily excretions of all types and ways to indicate temperature and movement in drawing.

The first History title is the Horrible Histories Annual which, like the Horrible Science Annual, dips into lots of different historical topics rather than taking a theme. It serves as a perfect introduction to the Horrible Histories series or adds extra content to an existing collection. In typical annual style, it features puzzles and comic strips on suitably gruesome topics such as the Witch Trials, poverty in the Victorian period and ‘Revolting Revolutions’. And, being the 2012 annual, there is also a section dedicated to games and sports with the Olympics and similar events.

How to Change the World with a Ball of String is an easily browsable volume that covers scientific as well as historical information. Its organising idea is the arbitrariness of important discoveries and events, and introduces many key world events by drawing attention to their randomness. Headings such as “Discover a Continent … by going the wrong way” and “Fight a War … by sitting still” will entice children to read about Columbus’s discovery of the Americas and the lack of movement in the Western Front of WWI.

Overall, these volumes are great examples of enticing and intriguing non-fiction for children which capitalises on kids’ natural curiosity. Each of these titles clearly starts from an assumption that children want to find out about things, rather than working from a list of what kids ‘should’ know.