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My Life in Books – World Book Day 2020

Diverse and inclusive books

Happy #WorldBookDay.  Introducing our new hashtag…#MyLifeinTenBooks

Today gives us a perfect opportunity to celebrate reading and books and all the wonder and joy that can be found when you can get lost in a good story. For more children to find this joy, we need to get rid of some of the big obstacles that are getting in their way.

Some children are developing a love of reading despite the books that are on offer to them. We need to make sure that children have access to books that show diversity in race, family set up, relationships and backgrounds, books that challenge gender and disability stereotypes. We want children to see themselves, see their families and see their lives in the books they read, teaching them again and again that everybody matters and everybody is ‘normal’⁠.

Children need diverse books and bookshelves.

To celebrate World Book Day I wanted to talk about the ten books that have had a big impact on me, a bit like my book based Desert Island Discs… I’ve always been lucky enough to have access to books and I’ve always been encouraged to read, so I love looking back all the amazing things that have happened and how books have always just been there, adding to my pleasure, adding to the experience.

I would love to read yours because I just love looking at other people’s bookshelves. I don’t care what’s on them, I just like to hear the stories behind the stories. Please share on social media or DM me and I’ll put it up on my blog.

So #MyLifeinTenBooks – watch it here and read more below.

Read it yourself Heidi

I was 4 and LOVED this book because I could, much like the title implies, read it myself.  We moved from Newcastle to Northumberland that year and somewhere in the move it was lost, never to be seen again. I bought this one for nostalgia and it still conjures up exactly the same magical feelings

‘Are you there God, it’s me Margaret?’ by Judy Blume

Moving to a village of 1500 people didn’t leave me with much to do and very few places to escape, except for the local library where I remember the joy of skipping out with armfuls of Sweet Valley High Books. I also loved those cheesy teen American love stories that told me lies about what High School was going to be like. None of these could come close to the stories of the great Judy Blume though. That lady guided so many of us through the confusion and awkwardness and downright weirdness of those tween and teen years with honesty and generosity and for that she is my all time hero.

The Kindness of Strangers by Kate Adie

Kate Adie was from close to where I grew up. She was an incredible presence, calmly reporting from warzones all over the world. She made me want to be a war reporter and was a lot of the reason why I ended up studying Journalism.

Open by Andre Agassi

I played loads of tennis when I was younger so I spent my early teen years loving Andre Agassi. I even loved his mullet and terrible highlights. This book is so good. I loved finding out what was going on in his life and what was going on behind the theatre of his tennis and his remarkable comeback… Spoiler alert, it involved crystal meth and a hairpiece. Now you want to read it…

This is your Life by John O’Farrell

My first job after uni was on the very first UK series of Big Brother which started me working in TV for a while. Around this time everyone was obsessed with celebrity, everyone wanted to be famous and we were just starting to churn out reality stars. This is a book about a guy who fakes it and ends up being propelled to stardom. I remember it being hilariously insightful, resonating with the fame obsessed culture we were living in.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

When you have a pretty intense conservative Christian upbringing there’s nothing better than doing some light reading around the topic…this unit of a book gave me all the philosophy and theology I needed as I travelled in the pre kindle days. I love the pages of soul searching and the battles of morality sketched out in heartbreaking beautiful detail. It is massive but really worth the long hours.

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch

In 2009 I moved to Congo, where I worked as on aid worker on clean water projects and with survivors of sexual violence. I visited neighbouring Rwanda fairly frequently and had of course seen the images and heard the headlines from the genocide in 1994. In devastating detail, this book gave me necessary human context as I worked with survivors who had dedicated their lives to building and maintaining peace in the most extraordinary of circumstances. It’s heartbreaking but essential reading.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

After Congo I spent some time in Haiti and Pakistan working on media awareness for recent humanitarian emergencies. I worked a lot with photographer, Richard Hanson, travelling and documenting survivor stories. We met incredible people, ate chicken from a plastic tube which isn’t something I ever want to repeat and played a lot of Scrabble. Richard died of Leukaemia a few years ago. This book was his recommendation. He loved it for such beautiful reasons but it took me about a year to read. The academic setting of the love story and the way it plays out in that context makes for the most unusually beautiful story. Richard was a brilliant man who I very much wish was still around.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

If anyone’s going to change your mind about things Roxane Gay is the one to do it. And this book certainly helped me to understand my feminism. She talks unflinchingly of sexual violence, she challenges our acceptance and participation in the patriarchy while being so honest about her life and experiences and what has brought her here. I was single Mumming in South London at the time and this book and her unflinching look at gender politics was part of the inspiration for Little Box of Books.

Amerikanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I found Chimamamada’s work through her Ted talk about the danger of a single story. If you haven’t seen it, you have to, it’s incredible. Amerikanah is one of my favourite books of all time. It has helped me to understand race relations in a completely revolutionary way. She has helped me to recognise how removed and unaware I’ve been because of my whiteness and inspired change.

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