June 2024 Literature Review

Posted on: 01/06/2024

Written byPippa McGeoch

Senior Consultant

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A recent dinner-time conversation with a couple of tweens associated with Literacy Tree led to a brilliantly in-depth discussion around the origins of Pride. The catalyst? One child’s peer, during Personal Development time, which, at this particular secondary school happens daily, posed the question, Why isn’t there a Pride month for everyone? She was incensed that her classmate had even dared ask what he asked and so began a deep dive into the origins of Pride: from the Stonewall riots of 1969 to the work that Harvey Milk – the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in California – did for gay rights, including being part of the inception of the rainbow flag. We explored how to educate and gently encourage allyship through sharing what we know from literature. We talked about other commemorative events held each year and that we wouldn't dream of asking those to be about us were we not part of that particular community. Other concrete examples to take to the next day’s Personal Development time identified, bedtime was delayed that night but we all left the dinner table feeling good: the children knowing that space was being held for their views and lived experiences but also the adults feeling that, for at least a moment, they might be parenting fairly well! Having these discussions though, particularly so the children we interact with and especially in schools is important. And, as educators, we need to be prepared for BIG questions, so what better than having a range of brilliant literature that helps us frame and broker ideas? And, although this is our traditional June Pride month edit, this new, authentically voiced, literature that we’re about to introduce and the existing, powerfully representative books that have already made it into schools, should be freely accessed by children year-round: because Pride is a protest and not just a party we hold in June.




Picture Book for young children

Marley’s Pride by Joëlle Retener, Illustrated by DeAnn Wiley

(Barefoot Books, 2nd April 2024)

We’ve been sitting on this gem of a book since we received an advance copy back in March as we wanted to include it in this month’s review – both for the fact that it’s about Pride but also because of the intersectionality represented. Marley (they/them) is a non-binary, black neurodivergent child. Their grandparent Zaza (also they/them) ‘looooves Pride month — the parades, the rainbow-themed brunches, the drag story times. They just can’t get enough.’ But things feel very different for Marley: they really struggle with the crowds, the noise… every other year there are sudden ‘illnesses’ and other reasons not to attend but this year Marley is torn between the discomfort and anxiety that will likely be experienced attending and supporting Zaza: ‘This year, Zaza is getting an award for all of their work helping transgender folks like us. They will even get to ride on a float! And I want to be there for all of it.’

So many children will relate to the feeling of wanting to attend an event but fearing the sensory overload and what’s so lovely is the fact that Marley is depicted as a character who has been given coping strategies. They know just what to do: some deep breathing; some positive self-affirmation and the packing of the ‘essentials’ comprising noise-cancelling headphones, a fidget spinner and a cuddly rabbit. And Marley still isn’t alone at the parade: they have reassurance that they can leave at any time. Can they reach a place of emotional and sensory comfort and safety in the acceptance that outpours from the community?

We shared a little sneak-peak of this book with one of our LGBTQIA+ panel members when on a school visit recently and watery of eye, he said: ‘I didn’t feel we’d ever get to this point.’ … the point where intersectionality has been so well-represented. We could not agree more and think this book is perfect for children in KS1 and LKS2 too.



Picture Book for older children


Pansy Boy by Paul Harfleet

(Barbican Press, 4th June 2024)

Written in verse, we defy anyone to read this with experiencing the full gamut of human emotions while doing so. You may already be familiar with this moving book, first published in hardcover in 2017 and dedicated to Harfleet’s ‘seven-year-old self’ but, as the book publishes in paperback this month, reviewing was too good an opportunity to miss.

A young boy is absorbed by nature: As birds flew by, he learned to love. Kestral, lapwing and collared dove. By whilst he’s in a state of reverie during the holidays, the start of school is round the corner … ‘Fairy, pansy or just queer Were the words he came to fear’. Can he ‘generate a simple plan to tackle the hate’?

This book is stunningly illustrated with harsh, grey line drawings of human beings (some of whom are behaving far from humanely!) paired with vibrant pops of joyous colour in the depiction of flora and fauna. And the story – Paul Harfleet’s story – is based upon not just his awful experiences at the hands of homophobic bullies but also the love for nature he developed when solace was sought in the beauty of the natural world. The Pansy Project saw him plant pansies in locations around the world where homophobia has occurred and so, Harfleet says this book is an origin story as much as it is an acknowledgement of the struggles of so many children growing up gay. An essential inclusion for class and school libraries and particularly powerful for children from Year 4 up.



The Lost Sunlion by Lee Newbery

(Puffin, 16th May 2024)

The third in this series of novels (the first for which - The Last Firefox - we've created a Literary Leaf comprehension resource) reunites the reader with favourite characters Charlie, Lippy (fabulous shortening of Philippa), Roo and fiery little fox-cub, Cadno. In Charlie's world, despite his worries in the first novel about being unable to be a good big brother to the child that his Dad and Pa are hoping to adopt, all is well. Cadno's zoomies are a cause of hilarity... to Charlie, at least but Pa isn't particularly pleased that his prize-winning knitted tea-cosy has become a toy for Cadno. Of course, the little fox being of the fire variety, said tea-cosy has gone up in flames... meanwhile, Dad is upstairs constructing a giant hamster wheel for Cadno to let off steam on. The family have been stuck indoors for weeks due to the incessant rain. Bryncastell, the Welsh village where the story is set, has experienced flooding to the extent that school is shut and the river has burst its banks. The hamster wheel looks set to be the perfect solution: cheered on delightedly by little sister, Edie, Cadno tests the contraption. But wait! There are sparks – not fire but sparks of electricity coming off the cub. Is it that he’s generating energy or could there be a bigger problem? Cadno is electric, no longer fiery… he's switched powers!

The adventure squad unites once again on a quest to Fargone. But there’s such a risk of the dam’s banks bursting and submerging Bryncastell that they have a job on their hands to persuade their parents to allow them to leave the house.

There is such joy in the family members' love and support and acceptance amongst the three friends, even with Roo having a confidence of crisis. Lovely representation of LGBTQIA+ relationships and also a really positive depiction of adoption. Perfect for children in Key Stage 2.



Poetry for all ages


Queer and Fearless by Rob Sanders and Harry Woodgate

Penguin Workshop (16th April 2024)

This is an utterly joyous, hope-filled anthology penned by two favourite author/illustrators of ours. Hugely accessible, each poem (17 in total) distils the moment(s) of heroism alongside a potted-biography of the person featured. Some of the stories may be familiar to the reader, especially if books such as PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag and/or Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution (both written by Rob Sanders) have been read but there are other, perhaps less well-known activists who’ve also made a genuine difference to their community and – arguably – to the world in creating a place of greater acceptance and safety for members of the queer community to live their truth. 

Each poem is titled with a simple statement about the featured hero and what it was they did. In Bayard Planned a March, we learn of Bayard Rustin, born in 1912 to a family with Quaker and Methodist Roots and the discrimination he faced within his community – not for being black but for being gay. Nonetheless, Bayard planned and held a march with the blessing of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, ‘At the march, strong voices grew. In the crowd, who really knew? That the man who planned the day Proudly was both Black and gay.’

And, in Pauline worked for Equality, we hear the raw yet inspirational story of Pauline Park. There is a timely reference to the discourse around children who are gender-questioning, children experiencing gender dysphoria and trans children and the need for education, support and open discussion rather than shutting down conversations due to the current ‘how could a five-year-old possibly know who they are…?’ rhetoric: ‘When does someone know who they are? Why does a five-year-old understand, when no-one else does? How do you tell people you are a girl? Who grows up hoping to live their truth?’ Adopted from Korea by European-American parents, Pauline went on to become the first openly trans ‘Grand Marshal’ at New York City Pride March in 2004, has had films made about her life and is also an accomplished musician. 

All of the poems (all different in form, we should add!) tell stories of bravery and determination to continue to stand; to protest for equal rights for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Essential reading for teachers and children both for children to be able to see themselves within literature but also to encourage allyship. And because intersectionality is so cleverly observed, this makes this is a book that so many of our children and young people will identify with.



I Have the Right by Reza Dalvand
(Scribble UK, 8th June 2023)

We were lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this vibrant introduction for children to the United Nations Rights of the Child charter. Endorsed by 140 countries, the universal rights that should be observed promise to defend the rights of children and to keep them safe, respected, and valued. Dalvand's illustrations are eye-catching, evocative and inclusive and depict some of the struggles and inequalities experienced by too many children: precisely what the convention seeks to safeguard against. There are links made in the afterword to the need for acceptance and stability for children to thrive rather than simply survive. So why, you may ask, in this, our Pride month edit, have we included this? Well, children need to know that they should grow up feeling safe. They need to know that any disability they may have or their gender or religion should not be discriminated against. Children need to be taught from a young age to understand boundaries and we need to help them protect themselves, having autonomy and agency over the questions they ask and the curiosity they bring to the world. Perhaps the most important right is, I have the right to seek information and freely express my ideas. And this is where pride and protest comes in: schools need to ensure that every child gets the information that they need in order to live a fulfilling, emotionally and physically safe life. Children should both be seen and heard, we think. A lovely book to have in class and school libraries for all ages.





Posted in: Literature Review

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