8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

‘We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated’ Maya Angelou

for older the many experiences

This deeply affecting picturebook readers is a tribute to of


Americans, both past and present, and a powerful demand for change and growth. Kwame Alexander’s

lyrical text

quotes from the artists, athletes and activists whose naturalistic portraits gaze out at us from almost every page, and the book includes an informative index to help us identify them. But The Undefeated is more than simply a roll call of black heroes. As Alexander says in his afterword, much of what he’s ‘talking about in this poem, so much of American history, has been forgotten, left out of the textbooks, and to truly know who we are as a country we have to embrace all of our woes and wonders.’ So The Undefeated doesn’t

just celebrate

Thelonious Monk and Malcolm X, Serena Williams and Martin Luther King, it commemorates the unknown heroes of the everyday – those who are ‘unspoken but no longer untitled’, who remain undefeated despite the many wrongs inflicted on them. It’s for ‘the ones who survived America by any means necessary’ as well as ‘the ones who didn’t’ – because the unspeakable has happened, and is happening. Just look at the searing eloquence of that blank page; those broken photo frames. This is not a book to shy away from challenges, and part of its value lies in provoking informed debate, but messages of resound


resilience and hope Our


are looking to the future with energy and optimism, but they still need the passion and resilience of those who went before. They still need ‘the swift, sweet ones who hurdled history and opened a world of possible…’ Kwame Alexander is a best-selling

poet, author, playwright, producer and performer who won the Newbery Medal for The Crossover and currently

is Innovator-in-Residence at

The American School in London. Kadir Nelson is an award-winning illustrator who exhibits internationally and was the lead conceptual artist for Oscar- nominated film Amsted. The Undefeated

uncompromising tour-de-force discussion and

is an that

deserves a place in every library and classroom, where its ability to speak to the heart will provoke reflection, enable


creative responses as well as further research. CF-H

10 – 14 Middle/Secondary Ed’s choice Look Both Ways HHHHH

Jason Reynolds, Knights Of, 216pp, 9781999642594, £6.99 pbk

‘A tale told in ten blocks’ – in ten short stories we meet the pupils of the local High School who all live in these blocks down the road. Boys, girls, friends or not, as they walk they talk, dream, worry – or even imagine a school bus falling from the sky. Here young readers will see themselves reflected both facing very real situations or in their thoughts. We meet Jasmine and TJ as they walk and talk, their friendship a bulwark before a fractured home life; Fatima using lists to cope; Satchmo whose fear of dogs overwhelms him and others from their class and the Low Cuts, picking pockets...for what? This is the stuff of the everyday and here presented unadorned. The language is contemporary and colloquial, rich in the poetry and vocabulary of this school world. Though the setting is specific – an urban American High School – nevertheless the characters, their hopes, wishes, problems, anxieties and friendships are individual and universal. Young readers will

Stay A Little Longer HHHHH

Bali Rai, Barrington Stoke, 115pp, 978-1-78112-832-9, £6.99 pbk

Barrington Stoke have long been producing excellent books for young people who find reading challenging. Stay A Little Longer punches way above its 115-page weight, delivering a story which never patronises, has an

authentic teenage voice and

tackles difficult issues head on. Aman’s father’s death has hit her

hard but she and her mother Jeet are close and trying to support each other through their

grief, with the

help of Aman’s best friend Lola and Olivia, her grandmother. When Aman is bullied by two local Asian boys Gurnam, a neighbour, comes to her rescue. He quickly becomes part of the family-generous, warm, kind. However, he has problems of his

own which lead him to the brink of suicide. He is gay, but he is also a Sikh, a Sikh who has left his wife, daughters and grandchildren. Aman, terrified of losing the man she regards as a grandfather, manages to prevent him taking his own life. The story is fast-paced affecting, exploring a range

and of

sensitive and contemporary issues. Rai creates characters exceptionally well-contrasting,

for example,

Aman’s mother’s compassion with the hard-heartedness of all but one of Gurnam’s

family. Community

and family are at the heart of this thoroughly satisfying read. VR

the Evernight, a kind of devilish black hole, which envelopes the world in night and is accompanied by hordes of Painted Men who suck out the lives of their victims. Even at this stage in the retelling, before I add souls in cages and airships, you may sense the influence of other tales. But there’s more than enough that’s new, enough interest in the characters and enough excitement in the twists and turns of the plot to make what is possibly only Ross MacKenzie’s first foray into this world a really gripping read. CB

respond to the personal truths that lie behind the lives of the characters who come spilling out of this school bus that has fallen from the sky – a clear metaphor to bind it all together. Adults may feel for the teachers who make the occasional appearance – nether ogres nor saints, they too are people – doing their best. This is an unusual and refreshing book that should find its way into every school library – and classroom. FH

Evernight HHHH

Ross MacKenzie, Andersen, 352pp, 978 17 834483 1 9, £7.99, pbk

Evernight introduces us to a world of magic and a struggle between good and bad witches. Our heroine, orphan Larabella Fox (known usually as Lara), makes her living searching the sewers for saleable rubbish. Above her, the city is ruled by a king who is the dupe of the leader of the White Witches, Mrs Hester. And Mrs Hester has sent Shadow Jack, her ruthless enforcer, not only to search for a mysterious box lost in the sewers but to release

Deeplight HHHHH

Frances Hardinge, Macmillan, 437pp, 9781509836956, £12.99 hbk

Frances Hardinge has the weirdest, most

fecund and extraordinary imagination of

generally any

contemporary children’s writer. Far from ever running out of inspiration she gives the impression of having to constantly rein in her powers lest they take off in too many divergent directions. This current novel is set in an extended cluster of islands co- existing uneasily with the remnants of sunken gods now at the bottom of the surrounding sea. Once powerful, these over time had turned


monsters who then destroyed each other. But bits still survive, capable of transferring various powers to anyone able to haul them up from the deep. The islands are

now run by

authoritarian governors ruling over a hierarchical society. Those at the bottom live in poverty and are sold as indentured labourers should they ever transgress. Mild-mannered 14-year- old Hank and his bullying friend Jelt are two such transgressors. After a robbery planned by Jelt goes wrong Hank is caught and faces three years in the galleys. He is saved by Dr Vyne, a grim researcher into the gods who puts Hank’s plausibility to good use when it comes to interviewing elderly and infirm priests who still remember

Books for Keeps No.240 January 2020 27

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