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Happy Holidays!

I hope you manage to find some time to relax and recharge over Christmas and into January. However, before we can end 2020, there a few more books to let you know about, including one that could well make it onto your own holiday reading list. Happy holidays!

This month, some of our most exciting releases are the four books that currently make up the Emmie & Friends series (more books are coming). These graphic novels revolve around a group of students at the same middle school, and cover topics that we all go through at this age: changing friendships; confronting our fears; bullying; and building self-confidence. One of the great things about this series is that each book shows alternative points of view, reflecting the idea that two people can view the same events very differently. The style of writing and illustration is used to reflect each character’s personality and perspective. In Just Jaime, Jaime is very confused to find that her best friend Maya is excluding her from their end of school year traditions (and is just being pretty mean in general). Conversely, Maya is getting frustrated by what she sees as Jaime’s refusal to grow up and leave behind ‘little kid’ clothes and pastimes. Will these friends manage to find their way through the minefield of adolescent friendships?

Alice Oseman will be a name familiar to many of you, and if it’s not, you should get your hands on some of her wonderful books. They deal with topics such as mental health and the spectrum of sexuality in sensitive and non-judgemental ways. Her first book, Solitaire, introduced us to Tori and her brother Charlie. This Winter is from the same world, and spans one Christmas day where family emotions and events come to a head. Tori is feeling isolated and unappreciated; Charlie is frustrated at his parents’ refusal to properly talk about his illness; and youngest sibling, Oliver, just wants his brother and sister to spend time with him. Capturing the voices and perspectives of all three siblings, This Winter is an empathetic portrayal of how mental illness can affect a family.

Over the past few years Craig Reucassel has become a guru for the planet, first hosting War on Waste, and in the last couple of months, Fight for Planet A. This latest series now has a book of the same name to accompany it. In his typically knowledgeable and well-researched, down-to-earth style, Reucassel lays it all out for us – what exactly is climate change, why is it a problem, and, is there actually anything we can do about it? The straight-forward language of Fight for Planet A makes this book as approachable to a 14 year-old as it is to a 74 year-old. One of the things that is most likeable about this book is its unflinching honesty; that stopping climate change will be hard. However, it’s practical hopefulness – a range of strategies that we can all engage in are offered – will make it a book that you and your students will keep coming back to.

Read of the Month – Everything is Under Control

I’m not going to lie, it was the cover and title of Everything is Under Control that first drew me to it! The fact that it is a biography centred around food was what cemented the decision! (I’ve often talked here about my love of crime fiction, but biographies and cookbooks are two other great loves of mine.) This turned out to be the exact right book at the exact right time.

Apparently, Phyllis Grant, the author of Everything is Under Control, is a well-known food writer in the US, although I’d never heard of her before. And, while it might be how she’s become famous, it’s only one of the many, and incredibly varied, roles she’s had. These roles range from ballet dancer to chef, and doula to yoga teacher. Her one constant amongst all of this has been cooking and food.

This memoir covers Grant’s life from childhood to the present day. The significant events of her life, and those of her grandmothers and mother (each of whom has had a significant influence on her), are told in short vignettes: moving to Julliard and setting up a small kitchen in her room; an eye-wateringly expensive, but exquisite, meal in a famous restaurant; introducing her daughter to solid foods; standing on tippy-toes to kiss her new husband at their wedding. All the scenes are so beautifully written it’s easy to immerse yourself in her life and imagine yourself a witness, even though they’re fleetingly told.

One of the things that resonated most with me was the accuracy of presenting a life this way. After all, most of us remember our lives as a series of moments – some significant, many mundane – rather than the continuous narrative that we’re often presented with in memoir. Then there was the food! The descriptions of food planned, cooked and consumed. Satisfyingly, the book ends with a selection of Grant’s recipes, some of which are a little ambitious for me, but many of which seem quite achievable.

While the shortness of the chapters makes this quite a speedy read – and also means the book is easy to dip in and out of (perfect for a holiday read) – the insightfulness presented, along with the seriousness of some of the subject matter, means you are forced to slow down to properly absorb this wonderful book. Just wonderful.

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