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Young readers: ten books to make you think about the world

February 3, 2019 Books, Talks & Debates Comments Off on Young readers: ten books to make you think about the world

How do young people make sense of the world and its complexities? Fiona Shaw, author and senior lecturer at Northumbria University, shares a range of thought-provoking and engaging novels for enquiring minds.

“I wrote my first children’s/Young Adult novel, Outwalkers, because of a dream fragment – a boy with his dog trying to reach Scotland. I had the dream during the run-up to the Scottish referendum. Like many English people, I was thinking about the consequences, if Scotland voted yes to independence. So I did what writers do, and let my imagination run, trying to imagine an England very like the one we know, but in which certain things have changed: a wall between England and Scotland, more surveillance, borders closed, greater hostility to foreigners. And at the centre of the story a boy and dog in a gang of kids all trying to reach Scotland.”

Shaw continues: “Outwalkers provokes discussion when I’ve been into schools to talk about it. It’s an adventure story so young people want to know what happens to Jake and his dog Jet. But they are also full of thoughts and ideas about some of the most difficult questions the UK faces today: about borders, migration and surveillance. And the story offers a launchpad for discussion of these questions, too. I’ve been reading all kinds of children’s and YA fiction while writing Outwalkers. Below are ten other books that are both terrific stories and novels to make you think about the world we live in today.”

  1. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Orion)

Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, the nice jackets never stay long, and at night he dreams that the sea finds its way to his tent, bringing unusual treasures. And one day it brings him Jimmie. Carrying a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made from bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures. (Age: 11+)

  1. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew (Red Ink)

The Big Lie, Julie MayhewWhat if Germany had won the Second World War and the UK was now part of a Third German Reich? The Big Lie is a coming-of-age story with a difference. Sixteen-year-old Jessika Keller is a good girl: she obeys her father, does her best to impress Herr Fisher at the Bund Deutscher Mädel meetings and is set to be a world champion ice skater. Her neighbour Clementine is not so submissive. Outspoken and radical, Clem is delectably dangerous and rebellious. And the regime has noticed. Jess cannot keep both her perfect life and her dearest friend. But which can she live without? (Age 12+)

(This is also one of Northern Soul’s Literary Editor’s Top YA Picks.)

  1. Boy 87 by Ele Fountain (Pushkin Press)

Boy 87 is a gripping, uplifting tale of one boy’s struggle for survival. Fourteen-year-old Shif is an ordinary boy who likes chess, maths and racing his best friend home from school. But one day, soldiers with guns come to his door and he knows that he is no longer safe. Shif is forced to leave his mother and little sister and embark on a dangerous journey through imprisonment and escape, new lands and strange voices, and a perilous crossing by land and sea. (Age: 12 +)

  1. The Jungle by Pooja Puri (Ink Road)

The Jungle by Pooja PuriSixteen-year-old Mico has left his family, his home, his future. Setting out in search of a better life, he instead finds himself navigating one of the world’s most inhospitable environments: the Jungle. For Mico, just one of many ‘unaccompanied children’, the Calais refugee camp has a wildness, a brutality all of its own. Alone, desperate, and running out of options, the idea of jumping onto a speeding train to the UK begins to feel worryingly appealing. But when Leila arrives at the camp one day, everything starts to change. Outspoken, gutsy, and fearless, she shows Mico that hope, and friendship can grow in the most unusual places. (Age: 12+)

  1. After the Fire by Will Hill (Usborne)

Father John controls everything inside The Fence. And Father John likes rules. Especially about never talking to Outsiders. Because Father John knows the truth. He knows what is right, and what is wrong. He knows what is coming. Moonbeam is starting to doubt, though. She’s starting to see the lies behind Father John’s words. She wants him to be found out. What if the only way out of the darkness is to light a fire? (Age: 12+)

  1. I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan (Macmillan)

I Am Thunder by Muhammad KhanFifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem is used to being invisible. So, no one is more surprised than her when Arif Malik, the hottest boy in school, takes a sudden interest. But Arif is hiding a terrible secret and, as they begin to follow a dark path, Muzna faces an impossible choice: keep quiet and betray her beliefs or speak out and betray her heart. I Am Thunder questions how far you’ll go to stand up for what you believe. (Age: 13+)

  1. The Territory trilogy by Sarah Govett (Firefly Press)

Govett imagines a flooded world with dwindling resources and not enough dry land for everyone. Choices must be made, about who stays on the dry territory, and who is banished beyond the fence to the dreaded Wetlands. But when 15-year-old Noa finds herself beyond the fence, she discovers that not everything the adults have been telling her is true. (Age: 13+)

  1. Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias (Scholastic)

Night of the Party by Tracey MathiasAfter withdrawing from the EU, Britain is governed by a far-right nationalist party. Its flagship policy is the British Born edict, which allows only those born in Britain to live here. Everyone else is an “illegal”, subject to immediate arrest and deportation. Mathias has set her thriller in a British dystopia that is more scarily plausible than ever. The young protagonist Zara is an illegal living in this scary new Britain – and falling in love with Ash might be the most dangerous thing she could do. (Age: 13+)

  1. Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)

Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row. But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think. From one-time winner and two-time Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this poignant, stirring, huge-hearted novel asks big questions. (Age: 13+)

  1. The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre (David Fickling Books)

Last, but by no means least, McIntyre’s beautifully illustrated and light-hearted tale explores just how important it is to leave judgements and prejudices far behind. When new neighbours move into the tower block, the other residents quickly begin to make assumptions and gossip soon spreads. But then the truth about their newest member is finally revealed. It’s a stunning picture book with an important message. (Age 2+)

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