Rebellious reading and other audacious acts

If you were trying to support and encourage a young environmentalist, feminist or …anarchist (!) what books would you suggest for them?

I might give the newly re-issued Barbapapa’s Ark, or the simple but very effective What are you playing at?

Or if you were simply looking for a great read for your kids about making the world more peaceful and fairer where would you turn?

I might suggest The Arrival or The Island.

And if I were looking for more thought provoking books (as indeed I always am), I’d turn to the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award. Now in its second year, this is an award for radical fiction for children aged 0-12. Last year’s winner was the marvellous and moving Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland (my review can be found here), and this year’s winner will be announced in just a couple of week’s time.

The books shortlisted for this year's award
The books shortlisted for this year’s award

The books, authors and illustrators in the running of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2014 are:

  • The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
  • After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross
  • The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean
  • Moon Bear by Gill Lewis
  • Real Lives: Harriet Tubman by Deborah Chancellor
  • Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  • Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

  • I recently put a pretty tricky question to those authors who made it onto the shortlist:

    If it were possible with a wave of a wand what would you change about the way the world works, to make it either more inclusive, less discriminatory, or a place which was more just and equitable?

    Here’s how they replied…

    Nicola Davies
    Tricky. I have one practical thing and one that you really would need a magic wand for. The practical one is to make sure that every girl on the planet gets and education; women with confidence, education and power are the single biggest force for change.

    And the magic wand one is to give all bankers, politicians, drug lords…all those in positrons of power over others to see the consequences of each of their actions on the wider world, as clearly as a movie and to feel them, as physical pain. I think that might be really helpful.

    Deborah Chancellor
    This one’s easy. I’d make sure half the people in every single profession were women. With my magic wand, fifty percent of all politicians, judges, business chiefs, religious leaders, generals (etc) would be female. Without a doubt, the world would be a fairer, more inclusive and generally more harmonious place. Perhaps one day we’ll make this utopia happen, but we’re still a long way off.

    Andrea Beaty
    I would create shoes that would transport people into the lives of others to show how their actions and attitudes affect other people. Many of the world’s problems would quickly straighten out if people who take advantage of others or inflict suffering upon others would have to walk a mile in the shoes of the people they disrespect, harm, or disregard. Perhaps Rosie Revere could invent the walk-a-mile shoes. She is very clever! Until we have walk-a-mile shoes, though, we have literature. It lets us each see the world through other people’s eyes. To walk a mile in their shoes. It gives us empathy. And that is more powerful than any magic wand.

    An interior spread from Rosie Revere Engineer
    An interior spread from Rosie Revere Engineer. Click for larger image.

    Gillian Cross
    If I could take one action to make the world fairer and more equal I would make education available and affordable for all children across the world, especially girls.

    Gill Lewis
    I would wave wand to enable us to be able to change our skin with people and animals…to walk a mile in their shoes…or hooves!

    In Harper Lee’s story, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus gives Scout a piece of moral advice;
    “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

    Most prejudice or discrimination is born of ignorance, indifference and fear of the unknown. To truly understand another’s situation is to live their life, to see the world from their point of view. I would extend this to animals too, for us to live an animal’s life; to live as elephant, an eagle or a honeybee and to be able to see the adverse effects we humans have on the natural world and to understand the consequences of our actions.

    Unfortunately we don’t have magic wands, but we have the next best thing…books!

    Books transport us into other worlds and give us some insight and understanding of others’ lives.

    Until I find that magic wand, I’ll keep reading and writing books!


    Unfortunately John Boyne was not able to take part. Geraldine McCaughrean chose to answer a slightly different question: What is the most rebellious thing she’s ever done? And her answer? Here you are:

    My brother once told my mother: “You should’ve made me be naughtier.”

    She replied, quite reasonably, “But you didn’t want to be.”

    Nor did I. Probably the most radical thing I did (when young) was take flying lessons. I pictured myself a pilot: sheepskin jacket, white silk scarf. “You’re dreaming,” said Mum.

    But I saved up. Weekly I took two-hour bus rides across London and I learned to fly. “Promise you’ll never take risks,” said Mum. I promised.
    But then the nice Australian teacher got out of the plane and said, “Time to go solo.”

    I knew I’d die. I knew I didn’t know enough. But how do you say to a hefty Australian pilot, “I promised Mum…” without looking an idiot? So I took the plane up, singing loudly into the headphones in sheer terror. I have no idea how I survived. Two hours home on the bus. I was wearing my solo wings pinned to my imitation-sheepskin jacket… knowing I was an imitation pilot I would have been very interested to hear what they might have chosen to do with a wave of a wand.

    How would you have answered that question?

    And as for me? What would I magic up to make the world somehow better? I found myself nodding wildly at all the responses above, but if I were to offer something different here’s what I might conjure up: If looking just at the bookworld, I’d get rid of gendered marketing and watch with great interest to see how it shakes up (or otherwise) book sales. On a bigger scale, I’d ban private car ownership, and invest massively in public transport. It would do wonders for not only environmental health, but also personal well being I believe. And if I could move mountains, I’d change how economies work so they weren’t predicated on ever increasing consumption.

    What would you do with a wave of your wand to make the world a better place?

    If you are after further interesting reading matter to foster your own little rebels, you might enjoy looking through this list of books for children and young people as compiled on the Marxist Internet Archive. “Some of these books were written to be expressly radical, and others need a stretch to find political implications.” Thanks go to Betsy Bird for alerting me to this bibliography.

    Little Rebels Children’s Book Award
    is given by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and administered by Letterbox Library and the winner will be announced at the London Radical Bookfair on May 10th 2014.

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