Malorie Blackman ~ Children’s Laureate

imagesYou might have noticed that it’s rather quiet here at the moment.  This is because the anti-histamines that I take on a daily basis regardless of the time of year have now been joined by the second dose of a different variety which I have to take once the hay-fever season begins.  Said season has been late in arriving this year, but last Wednesday I had to admit defeat and as a result I am now dropping off at the most inopportune moments.  I haven’t as yet slept through an entire twenty-four hours, which did happen on one memorable occasion, but nevertheless, I am finding it hard to get any sustained reading done and most of my waking time is being spent working my way through Cranford for next Wednesday’s Reading Group.  More about that at a later date.  However, I simply couldn’t let pass without comment the very welcome news that the new Children’s Laureate is to be Malorie Blackman.

Malorie Blackman is one of those authors whose work I automatically read as soon as it is published regardless of what it might be about or what the critics might have said.  She is a courageous writer who is never afraid to tackle a difficult subject just because her audience is generally under the age of fifteen.  You are most likely to know her through the Noughts and Crosses sequence in which she explores the tensions in a State where the colour of a person’s skin is recognised in law as a mark of rightful discrimination.  I don’t think that even now I have got over the shock that I received around fifty pages in when one simple sentence made me completely rethink not only what was happening in the book, but also what my own position was in respect of colour prejudice.  Saying any more would give the game away but if you haven’t read Noughts and Crosses then I can only say “do” and if you’re nor forced to reconsider your attitude towards prejudices of all sorts I shall be surprised.

In terms of the power of the writing, I actually think that the second major novel in the sequence, Knife Edge, is a better book.  For part of this novel we are asked to inhabit the mind of one of the major villains of the piece and if you had told me at the outset that I was going to have to spend time living inside Jude’s head I might have considered seriously whether or not I had the strength to read the work.  As it was I came away if not exactly sympathising with him, at least feeling that I understood what motivated him and indeed how strong any individual would have had to be to turn from the path of revenge that he takes.  It is relatively easy to make an audience empathise with the Romeo and Juliet figures of the first novel, but to bring about that same response for a man who will take a life sooner than thinking is a different matter altogether.

My favourite amongst Blackman’s works, however, is an earlier book, Pig-Heart Boy.  Blackman has spoken often of the disappointment she felt as a child that none of the books that she read featured children like her.  Cinderella was always white.  In many respects Pig-Heart Boy is as controversial as anything she has ever written, certainly at the time when it was published, but that controversy stems from what the book is about  and has nothing to do with the fact that the main characters are black.  This is a book about animal organ transplants, about whether or not, in the absence of a donor organ from another human, we should be prepared to use a heart from a pig.  The fact that Cameron, the youngster who needs a new heart, is black is as totally irrelevant as it would be if he were white.  I have read this book with classes of eleven year olds and it has prompted heated debate about both animal rights and the right to demonstrate in support of deeply held views. None of them have ever mentioned the colour of Cameron’s skin.  If you want a book to get any reluctant reader involved in both the action and the outcome of the fictional world, this one fits the bill.

So, if you’ve wondered who this new Children’s Laureate is, or if you’ve not even given it a second thought because children’s books are not your ‘thing’, please do take time to read some of her work.  I promise you you won’t be disappointed.  In fact it’s likely that you will be moved more deeply than you could have ever imagined possible.


12 thoughts on “Malorie Blackman ~ Children’s Laureate

  1. booksandbuttons June 8, 2013 / 2:58 pm

    Ah, I liked Cranford very much. As for staying awake through allergy
    season, I find that a companion lollipop keeps one alert . . .


    • Alex June 8, 2013 / 6:07 pm

      Do you try and match the flavour of your lollipop to the book? That could make it really interesting.


  2. Jenny June 8, 2013 / 8:47 pm

    I didn’t know she’d written anything apart from the Noughts & Crosses books — shame on me for not looking her up! I really loved a lot of what she did in that book, but somehow I’ve never reread them. They’re a bit harder to find in the States, unfortunately. :/ Hopefully her appointment as Children’s Laureate (did not even know that was a thing) will bring more attention to her on this side of the pond as well.


    • Alex June 8, 2013 / 9:02 pm

      I’m sorry to say that when ‘Noughts and Crosses’ was first published no American publisher would take it, Jenny. If you’ve read it then you may understand why. ( I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t.) In fact, her books now number more than sixty, so there’s plenty out there for you to choose from. As for the Children’s Laureate, she is, I think, the eighth author given the honour. Each one serves for two years and takes a particular aim as a theme for their term of office. I think Blackman intends to focus on making books available to all children whatever their background.


  3. litlove June 9, 2013 / 2:22 pm

    This is one author who’s been on my (ever lengthening) must-read-one-day list, even though I’m not a great one for reading children’s/YA now my son is too old for it. But I have heard wonderful things about her and am certainly intrigued. I’m so sorry about the anti-histamines – both husband and son are on them at the moment and the radio cheerily said it was a ‘perfect storm’ of pollen out there, due to the late spring. Delegate everything you can to the Bears….


    • Alex June 9, 2013 / 2:45 pm

      I think if you’re coming to Blackman fresh, Litlove, then ‘Noughts and Crosses’ is probably the best place to start. As for delegating to The Bears, they think the whole thing has been set up just for them. You can only begin to imagine what they get up to while I’m dozing away:)


  4. helen June 9, 2013 / 7:23 pm

    Sympathy here for the hay fever horrors, I don’t suffer as badly as you but the anti-histimines I take make me sleepy and only just take the edge off the allergy. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? I hope that things get back to normal soon, although I suppose you’re staring down a couple of months at least…

    Have never read any Malorie Blackman but shame on me for that, her books have always seemed interesting.


    • Alex June 9, 2013 / 7:35 pm

      I’ll be alright once the tree pollen is over. By this time of the year it’s normally almost finished but given the weather we’ve had there is no telling what is going to happen.

      Do read some of Blackman’s work. You’d get some magnificent classroom discussion from almost anything she’s written.


  5. Nicola June 9, 2013 / 9:43 pm

    I heard Blackman on the radio this week supporting teachers and promoting reading and I think Michael Gove was mentioned, too. I’ve never read Noughts and Crosses but my daughters read it at school liked it.


    • Alex June 9, 2013 / 9:47 pm

      I can’t imagine that she would have a great deal in common with Michael Gove but maybe she is better at being diplomatic than I have ever been 😉. Do borrow your daughter’s copy of the book if it’s still available.


  6. Stefanie June 10, 2013 / 4:51 pm

    She sounds like a great choice for Children’s Laureate. And what a cool thing to even have a Children’s Laureate. I don’t think we have one of those in the US.


    • Alex June 11, 2013 / 9:09 pm

      Each one takes a different aim for their two year tenure, Stefaine, such as campaigning to make sure that every child has a library ticket. It’s done a tremendous amount to promote children’s literature in the UK.


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