Dying Matters week

dying matters logoEvery year in May, Dying Matters host an Awareness Week, which places the importance of talking about dying, death and bereavement firmly on the national agenda. In 2018, the week will run from 14th to the 20th of May and will be asking “What Can You Do… in your community?” To find out more about the week and to find events near you have a look at the Dying Matters website.

Books can be a huge help in many ways when talking about death and bereavement. They can provide practical help such as family law to help with wills and probate, to poetry books to help you choose the right poem for a funeral. We have all these and more in our libraries to help you.

Talking about death can be tricky, especially to children, and books are a good way to help with this. Below is a review from one of our librarians on a book that helped her through a very difficult time in her life.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, reviewed by Sam.

a monster callsI have never been so scared to read a book in all my life than I have this one.
Last year I watched the film adaption of this book and I cried like a baby, then something unexpected happened, my mum was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly I was in the same shoes as Conor the young boy who this story is based around. Unlike Conor I only had a week before my mum sadly passed away. In the book Conor’s mother seems to have been suffering with cancer for a while going through various trials and treatments. I suppose in a way I was lucky that I didn’t have to suffer the horrible feeling Conor does of waiting for his mother to pass and guilt that Conor does which in turn causes him to summon the monster.

I felt that the use of the monster and his stories was a fantastic way to portray how a child rebels against life and it’s unfairness. The monster visits Conor three times and tells him three stories. These are very misleading as both the reader and Conor believe that the good person will always win and that justice will be done. However the monster shows him that unfortunately that isn’t always how the world works. During the monster’s visits Conor seems to have “black outs” where damage is done and it’s like a small child who has done something bad and blames their imaginary friend, “The monster did it”. I thought that this was a good way of showing how even though he is a teenager he is still a child.

During the book the adults in Conor’s life all have different ways in which they try to deal with the situation. His teachers give him special treatment – which leads to him being bullied by a gang of boys in his class. His grandmother is very hard but underneath she is caring and believes that Conor should be told the truth about what is happening. His parents both seem to want to hide some of the harsh facts with regards to his mother’s treatment. While reading this I agreed with the views of his grandmother as a lot of Conor’s frustration with the situation is that both his parents keep telling him everything is going to be fine and don’t worry about it but he knows that that’s not true. This causes him to bury what he knows to be true and pretend that everything is fine. I felt this way myself even though I was 25 at the time of my mum being in hospital with cancer, because I was my mum’s youngest I have always been somewhat put in a bubble whenever difficult things happen. You notice certain looks between people, things get said that you weren’t aware of and even though I am an adult people would rely on my older sister but not myself which was extremely frustrating. I felt that feeling throughout reading this book – the total and utter feeling of helplessness, that nothing you can do will help.

Another of the feelings that I felt throughout this book was isolation and loneliness. Despite his teachers offering to be there for support, his dad who comes back from America and him having to live with his grandmother, Conor spends most of his time alone or with the monster. Even in school surrounded by his classmates, he still feels alone. His main friend Lily has been cut off from him because despite them being close from their mothers’ friendship because she was told what was happening to his mum and told everyone at school. This caused what the kind of situation it always causes, that awkwardness, when people don’t know what to say so they don’t talk to you at all. The only “normal” contact Conor has and I say that in the loosest form possible is when Harry the teacher’s pet and his cronies bully him. Conor puts up with this because they are speaking to him and not treating him like he isn’t there. Eventually Conor uses the monster’s help when Harry decides that the worst thing for Conor would be treat him as if he were invisible.

I felt this book was a great way for people who may know someone who is going through this situation to try and understand what they are going through and how they may be feeling. It also helps identify the stigmas that cancer brings that no one wants to talk about and shows that not talking about it can actually make it worse in the long run. For me the best way if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation or know someone who has is to talk to them and ask them how they are feeling. Do something fun or have a cup of tea, treat them how you normally would and listen if they want to talk. That is what got me through and even a year later I’m still getting over the loss of my mum. It’s not something you ever lose but you also need to think about yourself. I think the book reflects this as Conor realises that those you love never really leave you, they are always with you in your memories. 

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Librarian’s Choice: Books with Pictures

This blog post comes from Kate, a community librarian based in the east of the city.

I thought about organising my recommendations for illustrated books by age group, or category but in the end I decided against it. “Picture Books” are still often regarded as the territory of small children, but I hope this selection proves that is not the case.

Kate Iron ManThe Iron Man by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Laura Carlin

This is a classic modern fairy tale of a boy who befriends a dangerous, but misunderstood, metal guzzling robot who goes on to save the world. In this edition Laura Carlin’s stunning illustrations evoke a real sense of drama. The book includes gatefold pages and peep holes giving a physical dimension to sections of building tension as well as the huge scale of the story and its monsters.
The striking images and simple drama of Hughes’ text are so successful at creating the world of The Iron Man that I find myself getting lost between the pages of this book over and over again. The message of love and peace is universal, applicable across age groups and decades.

Kate SallySally Heathcote, Suffragette– by Mary M. Talbot artist- Kate Charlesworth

Telling the story of Sally Heathcote, a character of a maid working for Emmeline Pankhurst in turn of the century Manchester, the graphic novel offers another way into the world of the suffragettes. As a reader, you journey through time with Sally, watching the movement progress and the main character become more informed, better educated and increasingly politically involved. Using the personal viewpoint of Sally gives already shocking elements of the story, such as the force feeding of political prisoners, even more intensity and brings home both the horror of the event and the strength of the women who went through it.

The format of the graphic novel drew me in to the narrative, immersing me in the emotional and political turmoil experienced by activists whilst also feeding me information about the struggle through the inclusion of headline events and important dates. The artist uses gentle tones throughout, but with shocks of colour, including Sally’s red hair that show the passion and strength of the women. The purple, green and white of the suffragette movement are also prominent and the pictures deliver a lasting visual impression of the determination of the women involved. Whether as an introduction to the subject, or as an emotive read for those already familiar with the facts, I think this powerful book is well worth a read.

Kate BearSomething About a Bear written and illustrated by Jackie Morris

On a recent trip to our suppliers to purchase children’s non-fiction books, I couldn’t tear myself away from the gaze of the beautiful brown bear gazing out from the cover of this book. Every double page spread is filled with an immense and detailed painting of bears and poetic descriptions of the species and how they live. Despite undeniably offering an education on bears, this book is far from being a typical information book. I challenge you to walk past this book on a shelf without picking it up and burying yourself in its pages.

Kate ChildA Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Anyone who knows much about my reading habits will not be surprised to see a book by Oliver Jeffers on this list. They may be surprised to see only one and I must admit it was a hard choice. If you are not familiar with his work, get out there and explore it!

The plot follows a little girl leading a boy on an adventure of the imagination through the varied worlds of literature but A Child of Books if much more than a story- it’s a mantra for reading, a reminder about the importance and magic of the imagination. Would it go too far to say that this should be compulsory reading for all children, parents, educators, librarians, those who love books and those who don’t…?
Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers collaborated on the illustrations combining Jeffers’ stylish line drawings and Winston’s typography to create a world truly made of books which the characters explore. Winston has used extracts from children’s classics from appropriate genres to match each setting. The illustrations in this book not only strengthen the story but add a historical, literary dimension encouraging readers to explore literature beyond the picture book world.

Kate MonsterA Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness illustrated by Jim Kay

This is the heart-breaking story of a real life nightmare as teenaged Connor struggles with the impending loss of his mother to cancer. Visited nightly by a monster, telling dark and twisted tales, Connor comes face to face with his situation and learns a difficult and upsetting truth.

There are many editions of this beautiful story available, and it has also been made into an amazing film, but this illustrated version, with its dark, tangled illustrations is particularly haunting. Kay’s pictures evoke the deep sense of oncoming doom felt by Connor. If you can bear the heart-break of the inevitable ending, choose to read this illustrated version of the book.

Kate HatThis is Not my Hat written and illustrated by Jon Klassen

My favourite of a trilogy of picture books by Jon Klassen featuring hats, conflict and controversy, This is Not my Hat tells the story of a small but plucky fish who has stolen the hat of a much larger fish. Klassen’s bold pictures give a sense of dramatic irony as the text relates the little fish’s thoughts and the illustrations show us what’s really going on! I highly recommend all three titles, the other two being I Want my Hat Back and We Found a hat. Fabulous to share with children (those who can’t or won’t read will certainly want to “read” the pictures) or to take pleasure in on your own (I bought a copy for my Dad for father’s day and he loves it).

Kate ShackletonShackleton’s Journey written and illustrated by William Grill

Telling the epic survival story of Ernest Shackleton and the crew of The Endeavour, there is something about the size of this book along with the glorious double page spreads, which give the reader a sense of the scale of the adventure.
Some of my favourite pages include those which feature an illustration of each member of the crew along with their names and roles on board and the page which pictorially lists all of the equipment and supplies taken on the expedition. As the journey progresses, you are treated to dramatic seascapes in tones of blue, black and white. The text may seem minimal in comparison to the pictures, but it tells the true story in a narrative style that entertains and informs. This is a luxurious non-fiction book that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Kate LovelaceThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: the (mostly) true story of the first computer written and illustrated by Sydney Padua

This graphic novel takes place in a fictional history where Charles Babbage completed the building of his Analytical Engine and teams up with Ada Lovelace for a series of adventures. The pair bump into various historical figures including George Eliot and Queen Victoria in comical but historically relevant scenarios.
Bold, steampunk inspired illustrations successfully engage the reader into wanting to know more about the topic and the copious footnotes, endnotes and appendixes comply, straightening out the facts from the fiction.
This is one for computing enthusiasts, comic lovers and the uninitiated alike!

Librarian’s Choice – Teen Reads

This blog comes from Sapphia, a librarian based in the North East of the city.

I hit a bit of a wall. I have been super busy. But I also stopped reading. I don’t like it. I am a librarian. I looked at all the beautiful books, but couldn’t quite bring myself to read any of them. So I set myself a challenge, to read teen books. I worked on the theory that they would be easier to crack on with. I forget I’m not a teenager anymore! Seriously though, generally they are great, and even though you don’t have to worry about having friends at school anymore or whether you’re home before your parents can scream at you, we still go through similar scenarios and we still suffer the anxiety and self doubt that we did as young adults. Phew it feels nice to have got through it, but it’s also good to know you did, and remember now, you are capable of even more.
And one plus point, teenage books are definitely quicker to read.

sapp-suicide-notesSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls – Lynn Weingarten

I loved this book! It’s full of plot twists and your constantly wondering what’s going to happen next! June and Delia used to be friends. Delia is wild and out of control, June is timid and fascinated that someone like Delia would want to be friends with her. They drifted apart. Then June finds out Delia has killed herself. She has left a suicide note. June is overcome with guilt for not answering Delia’s last call. But why did she call? When Delia’s death becomes suspicious, June decides to investigate. This novel is great at highlighting the all consuming turbulence of friendship and how toxic it can be. Its hard to tell you anymore without hinting to the plot twists but the end is immense and truly gripping, I couldn’t stop reading! Give it a go. It’s a quick read but adult in content so it captivates you throughout and you can relate to the characters.

sapp-our-chemical-heartsOur Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

For lovers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Henry Page is sensitive. Maybe too sensitive at first I won’t lie to you, you think yep this is a teen book, I won’t be able to read this. But I kept going and I got drawn in, Grace is a captivating character. Grace is the new girl at school and she’s weird. She dresses in boys clothes and has no interest in anyone. Grace and Henry are both nominated to be the editor of their school paper and this means that they have to be around each other. Henry realises that it’s not about what a girl looks like it’s who they are that makes you like them…..but Grace has got some serious issues. And you just don’t trust her. Full of teenage angst, first love and movie references, including Harry Potter and Snatch. See how the characters explore and experience grief and how it can completely take over your life. (Only if you’re a teen, we’re adults now….yer we wish.) But there are also many forms of grief.

sapp-instructionsInstructions for a Second Hand Heart – Tamsyn Murray

One of the the teen titles chosen for this years Leeds Book Awards, I chose this book for the interesting title and book cover. I like a good cover. I didn’t read the back, I just read the book. I really liked it, I had a free day and I read it in the day. Niamh constantly fights her twin brother, always living in his shadow she’s about to be experience a future completely different, one where it feels like everything has fallen apart. Jonny has been in hospital for what feels like his whole life, every day he’s kept alive by a machine and wonders if this will be the day he will die? His best friend is Em, Em has cancer. To get them through the endless days in the hospital they create an ‘unbucket’ list for all of the things they will do together when they get out. But this is a book about facing the future, no matter how scary and painful it can be, and realising that the best way to heal your heart is to share it with others, no matter how much it hurts.

sapp-the-gracesThe Graces – Laure Eve

I wasn’t as keen on this book. Recommended by Mr. B of Mr.B’s Book Emporium I thought i would give it a go. River doesn’t know if Magic really exists, but when she moves school and meets the ‘Graces’ she suddenly finds herself desperate to be a part of the group that everyone loves. A modern day Matilda, with less of the mischief and endearment and instead, teen angst and a dash of witch craft. This is one for the ‘Twilight’ series fans. I think this was why I wasn’t too keen on it, it’s full of romance and I think I was hoping for more ‘The Craft’. Thinking about it, maybe it’s good the book didn’t go there for teen readers? This being said it’s likely that if you are a teen or know one, they might love it, can we all remember how big Twilight was? FYI I’m team ‘Werewolf’.
There will be more books to follow. It could start all over again!

sapp-monster-callsA Monster Calls – Patrick Ness – Conception by Soibhan Dowd

I really loved this book! Recommended by the Zoella Book Club and with all the hype with the new film adaption I felt like this had to be on a teen reading list. It was nothing like I expected. A wild ancient Monster visits Connor, he has been expecting one from his nightmares, but this monster is quite different. As well as the monster Connor is having to deal with his mothers illness, his dad starting a new family in America, his grandma getting in the way and the school bullies he has to face every day. The Monster doesn’t care about any of these things, he is here to tell Conner 3 stories and from him in return, he wants the most dangerous thing of all, the truth. I read this book in a day. I recommend everyone to read it and remember how it felt to be a child.

sapp-girl-upGirl UP! – Laura Bates

Ok – so this isn’t a fiction book. Its a book I think is really important. I needed this book as a teenager! It would have saved me from myself, doubt and envy. Ok, not completely, but it definitely would have helped. A non- fiction book with comic illustrations this is a book for teen girls and maybe even boys, talking about everything from body issues, identity and sexuality. And do you remember all those quizzes we are all obsessed with as a teen, wanting to be allocated in the ‘best’ category or body shape? Like really how did we even let this happen? Social media suckers us in and it does influence us. As much as we wish it didn’t or try to deny it. They have us wanting to conform to something we are not.
Laura Bates has a movement. If we educate teens and our kids even earlier, they can make informed decisions, knowing the consequences. But mostly, making the choice for themselves and not giving into peer pressure or social ideals, even it’s about responding to that nude Snapchat. I vote using the snapchat stickers Laura provides, just saying.
There’s also lots of great sign posting with useful contacts and info. Again, where was this when I was a teen?