Kit de Waal’s wonderful debut novel My Name is Leon is one of our latest acquisitions to the Reading Rooms. Set in 1981, it tells of 9 year-old Leon’s experiences with the UK foster care system as he is split from his infant half-brother due to the colour of his skin. Authentic, poignant and hopeful, but never once sentimental, the book sheds light on the complex emotional journey of being a mixed race child in care. My Name is Leon was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016, and is presented in short chapters, many of which can be read without requiring the context of the whole book. They also lend themselves to being read out aloud, so it’s the perfect book for the Reading Rooms. We’ve already had some powerful responses to the opening chapter, and look forward to reading more of the book in the autumn.
Jane Mitchell‘s short story ‘Here to There’ was published in the Irish Laureate na nÓg’s anthology Once Upon a Place, illustrated by world-renowned artist and 2016-2018 Laureate na nÓg P.J. Lynch. Each story and poem is based around the theme of place, being set in or inspired by a particular location within Ireland. ‘Here to There’ explores the experience of refugee and migrant families arriving in Ireland, with the Reading Rooms groups at Dunlunce Centre, Ballymagroarty exploring what and where we class as a safe space, why we go to a safe space, and who we let into that space.
Little Legends at Easons was all abroad with The Night Pirates by Peter Harris (Author) and Deborah Allwright (illustrator), finding treasure, making songs out of rhyming words and discovering who stole our treasure WANTED posters! The Legends also enjoyed The Story Machine by Tom McLaughlin, creating story strips, imaging them spilling out from the magical typewriter.
Brooklands Care Home, Edenballymore Lodge had a wonderful session with a story and poem by two Irish giants: James Joyce and Brendan Kennelly, read by our amazing volunteer Rosemary. The story “Eveline” was deemed “quite sad” by the residents as Eveline failed to join her love for a new life abroad. The residents then shared lovely stories of how they had met their own husbands and wives. One had even married a sailor herself. We ended with the poem “Begin” and this allowed everyone to share what gets them up and going in the morning and what they looked forward to.
Many of our children’s and young people’s Reading Rooms are now taking a break over the summer, which gives us at the Verbal Arts Centre time to find all kinds of new and fascinating materials. One of our latest acquisitions is Australian writer and illustrator Shaun Tan’s story collection Tales from Outer Suburbia. We bought it based on the feedback we received on one of its quirky, poetic and surreal stories, ‘Broken Toys’, which we came across in an anthology, and have since read to great acclaim in the Reading Rooms, including various intergenerational events. We can’t wait to share some of the other stories come autumn.