The Freedom Papers: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Four people seated in leather chairs on the stage. From left to right, Lloyd Jones, Yaba Badoe, Juno Dawson, and Nick Barley.

Nick Barley – Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival – introduces the topic by sharing a story of how he came to commission authors to write essays on what freedom means to them. The essence of this captured in his state that the purpose of this is “to think about not only a word, freedom… and why literary conversations matter”. From here, the three authors on stage with Barley speak in turn about what freedom means to them.

Yaba Badoe, Lloyd Jones, and Juno Dawson. Image supplied.

Yaba Badoe spoke first. She spoke about a kind of national freedom drawing on the independence of Ghana as her example. But within this, she discussed the challenges that such national freedom brings. She spoke about how there were all these grand ideas as to what a new Ghana was going to look like and how independence in Ghana would lead to the creation of a “heaven on Earth” free from British colonial rule. However, in this instance, reality did no meet the expectations and she warned about the challenges associated with dreams of freedom and the reality of these desires.

Juno Dawson spoke next. Dawson spoke about freedom of speech. However, she was more interested in the consequences that can result from freedom of speech. Simply put by herself:

“Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.”

To her, freedom of speech does not protect people from the fallout or consequences of the “stupid things” that they say, and that people have a right to react. She drew on her own personal experience with transphobic remarks in regards to her transitioning in the public eye. The issue here was with the way people expressed surprise or derision in the way she did not accept such abuse but instead chose to protect herself through various means leading to some people claiming that she, herself, was against free speech. This is of course not the case, simply that people need to be aware that people should expect consequences for the things that they say.

Dawson also talked about how freedoms that have already been acquired should not be taken for granted: 

“Freedoms can be rolled back… often hard won, and can be taken away”. 

Most notably, the ongoing issues with reproductive rights in the United States is an issue where this can be seen.

Last to speak was New Zealand’s own Lloyd Jones. Jones took a much more skeptical approach to freedom. He talked about how it has become a politically loaded term, often used to justify certain actions that would appear to be in contradiction with freedom as a concept – he spoke here of how ‘freedom’ is used within the context of American politics, most notably American foreign policy – and how the “word has been debased” due to this. He painted a rather graphic image of what he thinks when he hears the word freedom:

When you say freedom, I just see a pile of bodies with an American flag waving on top”.

Jones used this to launch into a conversation about “the freedom to do the wrong thing” and how we see this freedom practices all to often. An example he used in the New Zealand context is the continued pollution of the waterways that occurs due the ever expanding industrial agriculture we have in New Zealand. He summed up his ideas through this statement:

The freedom to do the wrong thing is not a freedom worth having”.

Jones provided a timely and skeptical engagement with a concept so often taken for granted as being unequivocally positive.

Following this, there was a brief conversation discussing the way that freedom as a concept is present within the authors’ works.

Barley, Badoe, Dawson, and Jones all had dynamic personalities that bounced off each other in an entertaining manner. Often humorously as the four speakers engaged in conversation with each other. It was an entertaining and informative event with three different and, at times, contradictory ideas pertaining to freedom discussed. All the while, the conversation was very well facilitated by the eloquent Nick Barley.

A pleasure of an event that provided much to think about within literature and more.

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Juno Dawson: Gender Games: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverMuch like Juno Dawson’s fiction, this talk covered a wide range of topics, from her latest novel Clean — a realistic look at heroin addiction and withdrawal through the lens of its socialite heroine, Lexi Volkov — to her shared love of the Spice Girls with interviewer and fellow Young Adult author Karen Healey, to Doctor Who and Juno’s upcoming tie-in novel featuring the new reincarnation of the Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker.

Juno Dawson. Image supplied.
Juno Dawson. Image supplied.

Asked about the genesis of Clean, Juno talked about her own experience with drug education as a teen (similar to the sex education talk in Mean Girls), her stint travelling around teaching teachers how to deliver sex and drugs education, and her research into what leads people into addiction. From speaking to a range of participants in the 12 steps programme she found that what they all had in common was that they could trace the seeds of their addiction back to when they were in their early teens.

When I was a teenager people we knew were starting to experiment with drugs, and we couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t die. You take drugs and nothing happens, you don’t take them and immediately end up on the streets. That’s how you become addicted: it’s a slow process, addiction creeps up on you and you have this constant sense of unrealistic optimism, that you’re in control. You’ll think it’s fine until three or four years down the line when it’s not.

From drugs to girl power: What made the Spice Girls such a revelation for so many young people? “They were five ordinary girls who got out.” Rather than the refined, polished pop stars of today, the Spice Girls looked like the local girl gang scrounging for cigarettes outside the fish and chip shop. Aspirational but in a relatable way. Identifying as a presenting male fan of the Spice Girls wasn’t easy, however, and it was then that Juno began to opt out of the mainstream and gave up on the notion of being a boy.

What about the phenomenon of male authors being praised for writing about teen girls while female authors get sidelined? Juno had two responses, one being support for more platforms and publishing deals for authors from minority groups – “we need those voices, those are the people who’ll do it the best, who’ll have that authenticity” — but also as a writer the job is literally to imagine what it’s like to be other people. “Otherwise we’ll all be writing memoirs until the end of time.” A lot of the praise for male authors writing female protagonists also stems from the idea that those experiences are difficult for someone else to imagine, as opposed to the default of straight boyhood which anyone could identify with. “It’s frustrating when male authors are disproportionately praised… That said, a lot of the big names in YA are people like Judy Blume. I feel very privileged to write under the legacy of women like her.”

Speaking of identifying with the other, what’s it like writing about the alien, two-hearted traveller in a magic police box?

I always imagined myself (and still imagine myself) as the companion. The companions are the audience discovering the universe, the Doctor is actually the sidekick. The Doctor should always be a slightly unknown quantity. Fans [reading my book] will quickly recognise that Jodie Whittaker is still the Doctor, there’s no difference — it’s the same character as the thirteen men who have played this alien. If you can’t handle her being the Doctor then you’re going to struggle with the notion of fantasy as a genre.

Is it a Young Adult author’s responsibility to provide hope in their books?

Sometimes we react to triggers, but is it fear of tackling something, fear you might need to change something in your life? Or is it putting you in danger? Is reading this book going to damage you? You need to decide for yourself whether you’re just scared (in which case the book might help) or you’re in trouble and aren’t in a place to read it.

That said, Karen posited that addressing difficult topics in fiction can make it easier to discuss, Juno agreeing:

It provides just two of three degrees of separation so you can deal with real things in a safe space.

Comfortable in Your Skin: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Five eminent queer writers and artists gathered on Friday evening to speak on the topic of feeling comfortable in their skin, with personal responses to a personal topic.

Georgina Beyer (former politician, agitator for trans rights)

Georgina Beyer. Image supplied.
Georgina Beyer. Image supplied.

I felt wrong in my skin from the get go. It manifested itself at four years of age with my play behaviour tending towards the more feminine – which was seen as cute and funny for a while, until I grew older and I was disciplined out of it because it had become embarrassing (for them). It didn’t make the behaviour go away, I just became more secretive. It’s very damaging to make someone suppress that, very cruel… Later, I met friends who could sense that there was more to me than just George.

Unfortunately being liberated as Georgina didn’t go down well with her bosses at the time, who felt being seen in women’s clothing undermined the character they were portraying on a popular TV soap opera. The feeling of being comfortable in her own skin was too good to pass up for the sake of a TV show so that fell by the wayside with no regrets.

When asked who would play her in the movie of her life, Georgina caused amusement with her reply: “Well, it has to be a transsexual actor. Hopefully of Māori descent, as I am. JLo?”

Sonya Renee Taylor (poet, writer, activist)

Sonya Renee Taylor. Image supplied.
Sonya Renee Taylor. Image supplied.

What is radical self love? Radical self love is who you already are. You came here that way. No one sees a self-loathing three year old saying “I hate my thighs!” because toddlers think they’re awesome. Radical self love is the inherent uncompromising idea that you are worthy just as you are, with no external factor that can lessen your inherent worthiness. Self confidence is nice, but the reality is it’s fleeting. Radical self love proposes that regardless of how I feel I am still enough, even when I feel like shit.

Her thoughts on self deprecation: “A lot of comedians use this. It still relies on a hierarchy of bodies, even if you decide you’re okay at the bottom it still leaves the hierarchy in place. Self deprecation is: Let me hit me first. It’s a response to an oppressive world, if I slap me first then you won’t slap me. Let’s make this a world where no one has to be slapped!”

How did she get to where she is now? The Body is Not an Apology started out of a conversation with a friend where they opened up about feeling they couldn’t demand safety as a sexual partner due to their cerebral palsy, whereupon Sonya replied: “Your body is not an apology. It’s not something to offer up to say sorry for your disability. What would the world look like if we both stopped apologising for our bodies?”

The Body Is Not An Apology

How to stop being apologetic about your body? “Think about your daily intake of media. It’s trash! Intentionally or unintentionally we are taking in tremendous amounts of body shame messages from morning to bed: Are your teeth white enough? Is your hair turning grey? What’s that cellulite? Practice some intentionality and notice what you’re taking in, then be intentional about removing it.”

Part of the work of radical self love is recognising whose agenda is your self hate? Who profits from you hating yourself and the bodies of others? We are operating in a system that makes a lot of money keeping us invested in being lesser or greater than other bodies. There is no peace if peace is hinged on the erosion of someone else’s spirit. When we divest from that system it becomes less powerful, and then we get the power back. And then we change the world.

Pati Solomona Tyrell (interdisciplinary visual artist)

Pati Solomona Tyrell. Photo: Hōhua Ropate Kurene
Pati Solomona Tyrell. Photo: Hōhua Ropate Kurene

When asked about the creation of FAFSWAG he spoke about how he was lucky to have a great foundation and support in his family, but they could never truly understand the experience of being queer and what that meant. It was important to find a group of friends and have somewhere outside of the church to share those experiences as queer Pacifica are not afforded space in society — nights at FAFWAG are a safe, free space just for them, where they can reclaim mana and power.

On faith:

I’m the only non-Christian person in my family now. Colonisation destroyed a lot of spirituality practices in the Pacific, so I’m trying to find spirituality through nature and a connection to land in my artwork.

Was he comfortable in his skin growing up? Uh, no.

I grew up in a conservative family, took 18 years to come out. Having to hold something back from them wrecked me, I found it hard to keep that big part of my identity away from my family. I needed to let go of my fear and be comfortable in myself. I was fortunate that they said everything I wanted to hear… Imagine what a world without family would be. I think [support from families] is slowly becoming more the norm, the more I meet other queer Pacifica kids and hear their stories, it seems to be a slowly growing positive experience.

Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau (artist)

Photograph: *Manu, Aitu FAFSWAG series, 2016. Pati Solomona Tyrell*
Photograph: *Manu, Aitu FAFSWAG series, 2016. Pati Solomona Tyrell*

Manuha’apai had a more negative experience, shifting between different islands growing up and having to align himself within those spaces every time. Going to a Catholic boys’ school in South Auckland made things worse, with violence and confrontation a constant from his peers. At home things weren’t much better — coming out at age 15 wasn’t met with a positive reception. He spoke about the impact of colonisation on Polynesian culture and especially the insecurity Polynesian men can have about their masculinity, policing anyone for displaying femininity. The introduction of the church has a lot to answer for. “We bear the burden of that in our communities, we carry their shame as well as our own.”

It’s made me very resilient. My search for comfortability came with a burning fiery anger: You’re going to be comfortable now, here, or you’re gonna die trying.

When asked if he felt his generation had it worse or better than those previous, Manu shrugged off the question.

I think it’s plurality… We’ll all still be drowning in the ocean no matter how deep we are. It’s pointless comparing because we all have colonisation in common. It’s a waste of energy.

…Which dovetails nicely with Sonya’s point about being supportive of each other rather than putting ourselves and others in a hierarchy.

125 Years – Are We There Yet?: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Are we there yet? 125 years on from the historic law change that granted New Zealand women the right to vote, an impressive line-up of women gathered in a WORD Christchurch panel at The Piano to discuss this question. Georgina Beyer, Dame Anne Salmond, Sacha McMeeking, Lizzie Marvelly, and Paula Penfold were chaired by the indomitable Kim Hill.

Things kicked off  in an unexpectedly musical fashion with sparkles and a ukulele as Gemma Gracewood and Megan Salole of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra led in with a waiata, the workers’ anthem “Bread and roses”, even managing to get the crowd chiming in with a refrain at the end, Gracewood quipping that “it’s in Kim Hill’s contract to be introduced like this at every event she does”, which is most certainly a lie but it’s nice to pretend it’s not.

In panel discussions it can sometimes be a challenge to make sure that each person gets space to share their thoughts though for this event each panellist got their own turn at the podium. Unsurprisingly all of them answered in the negative but were good enough to elaborate on why, and to speculate on how we could, indeed, get there.

125 Years: Are we there yet? WORD Christchurch Festival 2018
Dame Anne Salmond, Georgina Beyer, Paula Penfold, Sacha McMeeking, Lizzie Marvelly, and Kim Hill. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018. Thursday 30 August 2018. File reference: 2018-08-30-IMG_0132

Dame Anne Salmond bemoaned the “experiment” that’s seen public services turned into businesses and the damage it’s done to our communities. “What price work,” she asked “if you have to trade away some of your desires and dreams? What price a thriving economy if we’ve got children dying of Third World diseases?”. Change, she felt,  must be a shared task.

She also queried why, as someone who has an academic background in New Zealand history, and the Treaty she is always being asked by journalists about comments made by Don Brash, someone who has never deigned to study these topics. “Why am I still hearing the same voices?” she wondered.

Georgina Beyer remembered and paid tribute to Sonia Davies, the “lovely little piece of firework” who talked her into joining and running for the Labour Party. Davies’ autobiography (later turned into a movie) took it’s name from the waiata that opened the session.

Beyer outlined the slow, but building momentum leading on from 1893, pointing out that it took many years before a woman was elected into parliament (Lytteltonian MP, Elizabeth McCombs in 1933) but that change has been more rapid in the last few decades. Though parliament is still much more balanced in its distribution of power than the boardroom is.

She acknowledged that in some corners of feminism there was a pushing back against transgender activism, that some felt perhaps that all the work and achievements up to this point were being “ridden on the coattails by this ‘transgender lot’.” But she felt that this division wasn’t helpful and that we need to move forward together.

Although initially reticent to offend – egged on by a throaty “Oh, go ON!” by Kim Hill – Beyer confessed that she felt religious dogma had a lot to answer for, citing Brian Tamaki’s “Man up” campaign as just another way of saying “women, go back to the kitchen”, expressing outrage at Gloriavale as “detrimental” to both men and women, and that “conversion therapy is a breach of human rights”.

Journalist Paula Penfold, who is involved with Stuff’s #MeTooNZ campaign, used her time at the podium to present a “listicle” of good news/bad news facts including such sobering statements as “New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate partner violence in the world”, an estimated 80% of which is unreported. That the gender gap is closing… but her mother probably won’t live to see it. But she was hopeful, watching her teenage children engage with these issues, that the “young people are seeing a way forward with this”. Which was something of a life-raft in a sea of not great news, which I’m sure was her intention.

Sacha McMeeking, though thwarted initially by screeching feedback, had the audience in the palm of her hand as she gently and wittily guided us through the complicated topic of how you effect social change, noting that we often try to do this from a very top level way, via laws, or on an individual level but that we need to focus on the part in the middle where we collectively create new social habits. She used the metaphor of desire paths, those well-trodden dirt path “shortcuts” that show where people have chosen to diverge from a paved walkway, the implication being that it’s a repeated wearing down by many feet on many trips that can leave a trail for others to follow.

“Society,” she said “is inherently conservative. The status quo is given every possibility to replicate”. It’s about consciously looking, then, for ways to subvert this. Looking for places to blaze (or just wear down, slowly over time) a different trail. And what was this audience, if not a core of people who might help do that? This was about as uplifting as the evening got, and as such, received the largest round of applause.

Musician and columnist Lizzie Marvelly was at her most compelling when describing the culture shock she felt when, after being raised in a family that valued gender equality and attending the female-centric Rotorua Girls High, she changed schools and became one of a minority of female pupils at Kings College in Auckland. Being rated out of ten for attractiveness by boys via the unexpected medium of vegemite-smeared pieces of toast, or having chants of “get back in the kitchen” called out to girls on the sportsfield. And of course, the sad realisation that she was not allowed to be head prefect because that was a title reserved for boys only.

When questioned by Hill on whether exerting the right to make choices is, in and of itself feminist, Marvelly had this to say:

The fact that we have choices is a feminist victory but that doesn’t mean that every choice you make is a feminist one.

For her, unless the choice you’re making in is in support of gender equality then it’s not a feminist one. I’ve never heard this stated so simply, and it makes complete sense to me, though I imagine, as with most things, the devil is in the details/interpretation.

During question time, the questions were, well, largely musings masquerading as questions. Interesting issues were raised, certainly, but it was hard for most of the panellists to grasp onto an answer when questions were somewhat fuzzy. The exception being Georgina Beyer’s recollection of the pack-rape she suffered as a young woman in Sydney – it was devastating in content, sure, but also in her matter of factness about it. And it exposed the flaw in the questioner’s definition of women as “people with vaginas”, introduced as it was with the wryly delivered, “prior to my having a vagina…”

It was a very sobering and downbeat story to end the evening on, but it was also a session that went significantly over time. And I suspect many of the people in the audience did as I did and talked over the issues with their companion on the journey home.

Are we there yet? No, but not for want of trying.

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Staff picks for the Winter Reading Challenge (for ages 13 to 18)

How are you going with the Winter Reading Challenge? We have highlighted some of the fab books picked by teens, now here are some staff picks to help you tick off some challenges:

The first book in a series

Truly Devious Maureen Johnson
Unsolved mysteries, kidnapping, murder, and super smart teenagers at an isolated boarding school in Vermont. Alina

The Raven Boys Maggie Stiefvater
The story of Blue, the only non-psychic in her family of fantastic women, and the Raven Boys – four boys from a private school on a quest for a dead Welsh King. Full of humour, teen angst, almost-kisses and magic. (Also available as an audiobook.) Alina

Chaos Walking trilogy Patrick Ness
Todd Hewitt is the last man on the planet. All the females are gone, you can read everyone’s thoughts, and nothing is quite as it seems. A brilliant series, fantastic as an audiobook, and coming out as a movie in 2019. Kate

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A book that was made into a movie

The Hate U Give Angie Thomas
When Starr witnesses the death of her childhood friend at the hands of a police officer, she struggles to decide what to do — speak up against injustice, or keep her family safe? (Read it before the movie comes out in October!) Alina

Everything Everything Nicola Yoon
What do you do when you literally can’t leave the house, and the thing you want most in the world is just outside the front door? Kate

Every Day David Levithan (picked by Saskia, Cashmere High Library)

The Book Thief Markus Zuzak (picked by Saskia, Cashmere High Library)

The Maze Runner James Dashner

The Fifth Wave Rick Yancey

Ready Player One Ernest Cline

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A book with non-human characters

Year of the Griffin Diana Wynne Jones
When Elda, the griffin daughter of the great Wizard Derk, arrives for schooling at the Wizards’ University, she encounters new friends, pirates, assassins, worry, sabotage, bloodshed, and magic misused. Alina

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A graphic novel/comic book

Nimona Noelle Stevenson
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Alina

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Ryan North
She’s part squirrel, part girl – she’s Squirrel Girl! Lots of fun, lots of laughs. Kate

One punch man

Spill Zone Scott Westerfeld

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A love story

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You Lily Anderson
A loose retelling of Much Ado About Nothing featuring fandom, extra-smart teens and a lot of snark. Alina

Autoboyography Christina Lauren
It can be hard enough being a gay teenager when you live somewhere liberal and progressive. It’s even harder in the middle of Mormon Utah. Kate

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell (picked by Kim)

Emergency Contact Mary H.K. Choi (picked by Alina)

Pieces of You Eileen Merriman (picked by Rachel from Scorpio Books) [NEW ZEALAND]

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Listen to a podcast or audiobook

Nation Terry Pratchett
Finding himself alone on a desert island when everything and everyone he knows and loved has been washed away in a huge storm, Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s also completely alone – or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. Narrated by Tony Robinson (don’t worry, he doesn’t sound like Baldrick from Blackadder in this). Alina

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Benjamin Alire Saenz
Fifteen-year-old Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante and they become friends, Ari starts to ask questions about himself, his parents, and his family that he has never asked before. Superbly narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Alina

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A book about identity

Lies We Tell Ourselves Robin Talley
In 1959 Virginia, Sarah, a black student who is one of the first to attend a newly integrated school, forces Linda, a white integration opponent’s daughter, to confront harsh truths when they work together on a school project. Alina

I am Thunder Muhammad Khan
Muzna is a regular British teenager, so how does she end up involved with Islamic radicals? Kate

A quiet kind of thunder Sarah Barnard
Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager with anxiety is even harder. And being a teenager with anxiety who doesn’t speak is even harder again… especially when love’s involved. Kate

Girl mans up M-E. Girard
Pen doesn’t want to be a boy – she just wants to look like one, and that confuses people. This is her look at frenemies, love, and teen pregnancy. An awesome read – I wish it had been written when I was a teenager! Kate

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index Julie Israel (picked by Rachel from Scorpio Books)

Girl Missing Sophie McKenzie (picked by Saskia, Cashmere High Library)

You’re welcome, universe Whitney Gardner

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda Becky Albertalli

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A dystopian novel

Chaos Walking trilogy Patrick Ness
Todd Hewitt is just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man. But his town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run. (First in a series and also available as an audiobook.) Alina

Little Brother Cory Doctorow
A standalone cyber-thriller packed full of teen hackers, revolution, terrorism, a police state, and an awesome romance. Alina

The Giver Lois Lowry (picked by Julianne)

Replica Lauren Oliver

Flawed Cecelia Ahern

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Inspirational biographies

Hope in a Ballet Shoe Michaela DePrince
Adopted in the United States, a young girl from Sierra Leone dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. A great read, even if you’re not a dancer. Kate

In the sea there are crocodiles: The story of Enaiatollah Akbar Fabio Geda
Based on the true story of 10-year-old Enaiatollah’s escape from Afghanistan, and his journey across the mountains and seas to safety in Italy. Kate

In order to live Yeonmi Park (picked by Saskia, Cashmere High Library)

Being Jazz Jazz Jennings

Never fall down Patricia McCormick (a work of fiction based on the true story of a Cambodian child soldier).

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More recommendations

Personal recommended reads from librarians – from classics to new publications!

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Rachel from Scorpio Books recommended these books for teens:

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Saskia from Cashmere High’s library recommendeds the following good reads:

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More reading ideas

Enter the Winter Read Challenge and win prizes!

Out on the Shelves: Connecting rainbow young people with the stories that represent them

I love reading books about characters like me. And I know I’m not the only one like that. Books, stories, movies – we all want to see ourselves in these. Because we’re all different, we’re all awesome, and we all have interesting tales to share.

When you’re reading about people, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction stories, books will fall into two categories: windows, or mirrors. And although one reader might see themself reflected in a particular story, their friend might not. That book is a mirror for the reader, and a window for their friend.

Books act like windows when they let us into different worlds. We do not see ourself in the character, because we are not like them. We read about a way of life that’s different from our own, and find out about other people’s beliefs, worries, hopes, and daily life. These stories help us learn more about this way of life, and might make things seem a bit less scary, if there are beliefs and customs we don’t know much about. ‘Window books’ help us develop empathy towards others.

“Mirror books’ let you see yourself represented in literature. You read about someone that lives the same way as you, that has the same interests, background, goals, and difficulties. It is like looking in a mirror. You see yourself reflected in the book, and feel pretty good that someone’s taken the time to write a book about a character like you … especially if that book has a positive outcome, and shows you that can have a fun life and overcome those those things that are a bit tricky for you! When you see someone like you in a book, you feel like you can do what that character can do.

But what happens when you don’t see yourself represented in the books you read?

If you are a member of a minority group (for example, you’re somewhere along the  LGBTQ* spectrum, or a person of colour, or you have a disability), you’re less likely to read books about people like you. It’s basic maths – people generally write what they know, and because there aren’t as many minority authors, there aren’t as many minority books.  Sure, there are lots of great stories and books out there, but sometimes you just want to read about someone like you. For lack of a better word, you want to be ‘normal’, rather than always being ‘other’.

Which brings us to ‘Out on the Shelves’ – an online reading resource connecting rainbow young people with the stories that represent them. This is the brainchild of the fantastic folks at InsideOUT, a group who work to make the country a safer and more welcoming place for young people of all different gender identities and sexualities.

Their goal with Out on the Shelves is to create a place where rainbow youth can find books by rainbow authors, and/or showing rainbow characters. The resource is just getting started, and so they are hoping to get people to review and suggest other titles in the future, but there are already a couple of really cool booklists to look at, and downloadable resources with even more specific characteristics (eg children’s books with rainbow characters, books with non-binary characters, and books with asexual characters).  I am really looking forward to seeing this resource grow into the future, and seeing what other great books there are that people recommend.

So if you, or someone you know, is looking to read a book about a rainbow character, check this resource out, then pop along to your local library and see which of the titles they’ve got on offer.

In the meantime, why not check out some of these other rainbow titles held at Christchurch City Libraries. And don’t forget, we love getting suggestions for new titles, so if there’s a great rainbow title you’d like us to add to our collection, let us know.

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  • The Pants Project by Cat Clarke: a  young transgender boy fights for his right to wear the right school uniform.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: the book that inspired the movie ‘Love, Simon’, this is the story about the highs and lows of being gay at high school.
  • If I was your Girl by Meredith Russo: a book about a transgirl settling in to a new school, written by a transgender author, and with a trans model on the cover.
  • If you Could be Mine by Sara Farizan: Two girls in love in Iran, where homosexuality is forbidden.
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera: how would you spend your last day, if you knew it was your last?
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Browne: Joanna’s been an out lesbian for ages, but when her family moves to a church-going town, she also has to move back into the closet.
  • They, She, He, Me: Free to be! by Maya Christina Gonzalez: a book for little people and their big people, about why pronouns matter.

Booklists

Literary Prizes

InsideOut

 

Pink Shirt Day 2018

If you have ever been bullied, you will know what it is like. You might wonder why they are doing it and when they will stop. You might feel sad or depressed. You might feel anxious, worried and alone. You are not alone, and you can get help.

It is tragic that bullying has become the huge problem that it now is. When I was at school, the school bully could torment kids to and from school. Play time and lunch time was another opportunity for bullying. Lesson time was usually safe, because the bully was older and in another class. Bullies rarely bullied you in your own home. Now, with social media and cell phones, bullies can torment their victims any time. It has to end.

There is never a good reason for bullying. I know people are more likely to be bullied if they seem different from their peers in some way. They might be clever or popular, different race, have different religious views. They might have disabilities. They might be a different weight or height. It could be a difference in sexuality or gender identity. We need to celebrate diversity and embrace our differences. We are not all the same and isn’t that good?

Pink Shirt Day started in 2007. Two Canadian students took action against homophobic bullying, getting the whole school involved, when a fellow student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. In New Zealand, Pink Shirt Day will be on Friday, 18th May. Show your support for diversity in you school or workplace. Stand up and speak up.

Will you wear a pink shirt on Friday 18th May? Will you join me in saying “No” to bullying behaviour?

For tips on how to prevent bullying, check our catalogue for books about school bullying, cyber bullying and workplace bullying. Or check out some selected titles about bullying below.

Pink Shirt Day 2018

List created by Valerie_L

Cover of Bullies, bigmouths and so-called friendsCover of How can I deal with bullying?Cover of Bullies, cyberbullies and frenemiesCover of How to handle bullying and gangsCover of How can I deal with bullying?Cover of Bullying beyond the schoolyardCover of Dealing with bullyingCover of Bullying: How to Help your Child Cope With Bullying

View Full List

Harry Giles: Doer of Things (WORD Christchurch event, Tues 13 March 7.30pm at Space Academy)

I must admit to some trepidation about reporting on a Poetry Reading. How does one describe a Poetry Reading to those that weren’t there? Even one by a flamboyant Scottish poet who has travelled halfway across the world.

Harry Josephine Giles originally came from the Orkney Islands but they did not elaborate from which island other than to tell us that their island had 700 people and six churches of various denominations. Obviously, a small island northeast of Scotland was never going to contain nor satisfy a restless, creative spirit like Harry’s so they headed for the big city and now reside in Edinburgh.

I vacillated on whether I should take notes, but I thought that would be a buzz kill when I was trying to listen and enjoy the poetry in the moment.

Harry started off reading some poems in English and then went on to read some in Scots. If you want to see what Scots poetry looks like, check out Whit tae write nou?

I profess ignorance and I have no excuse since I am descended from Scots, but I was unaware that three languages were spoken in Scotland as Harry enlightened us. I knew they spoke English (the language of their colonisers) and Scots Gaelic (related to the other Celtic dialects of Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany), but I hadn’t considered Scots as a separate language. I’d thought of it as a variation of English. But Harry put us straight, explaining that Scots has those Norse origins that English shares.

Harry kindly read their Scots versions of poems then followed with the English translation, so to speak.

Although tired after their whirlwind tour of Aotearoa (nine gigs in seven days in New Plymouth and Wellington), Harry gave an energetic performance. It was easy to see that Harry works in the performance and theatre arenas because they enlivened their poetry with modulations of their voice and gestures. Harry has a beguiling shyness that peeps out from time to time.

Harry read a small series of poems in which they had engendered their fears and anxieties through the persona of a female military drone. You can hear some of the sequence on Soundcloud.

Harry was introduced by Ray Shipley who is a Christchurch-based poet, comedian, youth worker and founder of the Faultline Poetry Collective. Ray made an able MC and general crowd-exciter, but Harry had the audience engaged from their first poem and many of us were sad to bid Harry farewell after only an hour and a half.

More Harry Giles

Happy Pride! Christchurch Pride Week – 15 to 24 March

It’s nearly Pride Week! Lasting a little bit longer than an actual week, starting Thursday 15 March, Pride Week is a celebration of sexuality- and gender-diverse folks in Ōtautahi, and it’ll feature allsorts, from parties to seminars, art shows to dog walking. The rainbow flag will fly at the Christchurch City Council Civic Offices from 15 to 25 March.

However, pride celebrations have pretty sombre beginnings. The first pride marches in the USA were protests against the mistreatment and discrimination of LGBT+ people by the police, public services, and the law. As rainbow communities have largely seen great leaps forward in these areas over the past 40-50 years, these pride events focus more and more on celebrating diverse identities – but it’s important to take a moment to remember that there is still a struggle; that people are still being discriminated against because of their sexuality or their gender identity, both close to home, and globally.

Find out more about Christchurch Pride:

Pride Picks

Here’s my top 3 pride events you should check out happening in Ōtautahi in the coming weeks:

QCanterbury Quiz Night

I have a slight bias towards this event because I’m the MC! But who doesn’t like a quiz??
Friday 23 March 7pm to 10pm, The Foundry, 90 Ilam Road

Art Show

Christchurch Pride has started with an Art Show for a few years now, and it’s always a good night, with lots of mingling and snacks! Plus there’s an opportunity to buy some new artwork and support local LGBT+ artists at the same time. Thursday 15 March 5pm to 8pm, Windsor Gallery, 386 St Asaph Street

Bingo Fundraiser

I’ve been along to this event in previous years, and it is ridiculous fun. With all proceeds going towards a local youth support group, and the chance to win some fabulous prizes, it’s well worth it…who knew bingo could be so much fun?! Tuesday 20 March 7pm to 10pm.  Sixty6 On Peterborough, Christchurch Casino

More Pride

If this is a topic you’d like to learn more about, the library has some great reading/viewing material! Here’s some of the things I’ve enjoyed recently:

CoverQueer: A Graphic History  Meg John Baker and Julie Scheele – A non-fiction graphic novel style book delving into the history and key milestones of LGBT+ rights, as well as an introduction to queer theory. Engaging and witty and fun to read!

CoverPride – a film with all your favourite British actors about an unlikely partnership between gay and lesbian activists and striking miners in Wales.

Milk – a beautiful and heartbreaking film about Harvey Milk, an openly gay politician and activist in San Francisco in the 70s.
CoverThe library has a book about Harvey – and an opera.

CoverTomboy Survival Guide – Ivan Coyote – Brilliant, funny, serious, adventurous stories about growing up in rural Canada and navigating gender and sexuality.

Read our blog posts about Ivan, and Look up Ivan on YouTube too! They’re an incredible live storyteller.

Of course, there’s a never ending list of books and films to read and watch that explore what it means to be sexuality- and gender-diverse from a range of different cultural perspectives – Why not introduce yourself to something new this Pride Week?

Regardless of your orientation or identity, pride is a time to celebrate diversity and promote inclusion – a good reminder to have a look at your workplaces and community spaces and check they are inclusive and welcoming environments; or educate yourself on some new language or ideas within the rainbow community; find out what is going on for rainbow communities in other parts of the world; and, most importantly, check in with LGBT+ people in your life and remind them that they are loved.

Happy Pride!

Ray