When news arrived in my inbox that Walker Books Australia had secured the rights to distribute Knights Of titles, to say that I was thrilled would be something of an understatement. This is mic drop stuff! Knights Of are 'a multi-award-winning inclusive publisher, focused on bringing underrepresented voices to the forefront of commercial children’s publishing.' It is vital that children in Australia have access to diverse and inclusive titles where they can feel seen, their voices heard and experiences recognised. Amongst the first releases are these brilliant reads by award-winning and ubër talented authors Jason Reynolds and Sharna Jackson.
Track #1: Ghost; Jason Reynolds
World record-loving Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, discovered his talent for running the night his dad pulled a gun on him and his mum. His dad has been in prison ever since and with troubles at school, life for Ghost is heading in only one direction. Then he meets Coach, someone who sees something unfamiliar in Ghost…promise. Ghost has no interest in track and field but could running be the thing that he needs to help get his life back on track in every sense of the word…
The first book in Jason Reynolds’ 'Track' series is a brilliant and uplifting read full of humour, heart and the realities of life. Reynolds combines school, sport and life lessons into a read that will have readers racing through the pages quicker than Ghost can run. With a storyline centred around sprinting it should come as no surprise that Ghost is a fast-paced story but that doesn’t mean that it should be read at pace. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt and realisations along the way as Ghost, with the help of some brilliant father figures in the form of Coach and local store owner Mr Charles, begins to understand what is important in life.
More than just a sports story, Ghost is about the highs and lows of life. Ghost is a boy dealing with the trauma suffered a few years earlier and who is trying to break free from the stereotypical views that threaten to determine his life. Ghost is the kid who gets grief at school for his Mum-made haircut, who wears the non-labelled clothes, only has enough money to buy chips at lunch and who lives in the wrong neighbourhood. He’s not unfamiliar with trouble and poor decisions yet he is incredibly easy to root for. Yes he is flawed, moral dilemmas pose their own challenges and he is frustrated by the hand he has been dealt but we see a kid who is kind, caring, does have a conscience - especially when it comes to his mum - and after discovering running is determined to sprint his way to better things.
With the help of no nonsense, straight-talking and home-truth-telling Coach and his fellow track team mates - particularly fellow ‘newbies’ Sunny, Lu and Patina - Ghost finds himself in a position where he has something positive going on and whilst it might not be possible to run from where you came from there is always the possibility to run towards where you want to be.
Instantly likeable from the very first page, Ghost tells his story with humour, heart and honesty, it feels like you are sat at the track and eating sunflower seeds with him as he shares his life. Sport, passions, hobbies and interests have the power to change lives and can provide the much-needed open door when all the others are closed. Ghost’s story is testament to this and he could easily be the relatable voice and inspiration young people need to work hard at their talents, to persevere in the face of adversity and to never give up when the odds are stacked against.
Ghost can be read by any confident reader of nine and over but it is worth giving careful consideration to which children’s hands it lands in. Reynolds deals with gun violence, domestic abuse, poverty and drug use to varying degrees. Whilst nothing is explicit and it is all age appropriate, it may come as a shock to some children and reading with an adult would be advised.
If like me you loved this read then Ghost’s ‘newbie' teammates star and share their own stories in self-titled books; look out for Sunny, Patina and Lu.
Recommended for 10+.
High Rise Mystery; Sharna Jackson
A new detective duo are in town. Until now, Nik and Norva have only solved minor cases but the hot-shot sisters are going to need all of their nous, knowledge, skills and creativity if they are to track down a killer on their estate.
The high-rise TRI estate is home to neighbourhood know-it alls Nik and Norva and they’ve just discovered their community art teacher in a garbage skip, dead. Swinging into action before the police are on the scene the sharp detective duo are quick to start gathering evidence, identifying suspects and establishing motives. But when the evidence points to an unlikely suspect the case becomes very personal and could change the lives of the girls forever…
High Rise Mystery is a cracking whodunnit that sizzles with suspicions, secrets and sisterhood. Fast-paced and with a slick plot and great characters it is the perfect murder mystery that had me hooked from beginning to end. It has all the classic traits of any book of this ilk - red herrings, clues, motives, alibis, leads, twists, dead ends - but this is a murder mystery for the twenty-first century and it is bang up-to-date. Notebooks are replaced by computers, mobile phones and apps and there’s not a ginger beer in sight although there is plenty of health drink Vitonica.
With a brilliant contemporary setting and a fantastic cast of BAME characters, High Rise Mystery is a welcome alternative to the more traditional white middle-class whodunnits. Children’s literature is crying out for increased representation of black and minority ethnic groups and Knights Of are at the forefront of leading this movement.
I love Sharna Jackson’s writing style, it is fresh, energetic and feels relevant and relatable to the youth of today. Her language and descriptions really place you into heart of the community - you get a proper sense of the vibe, the residents, the sounds, the smells (good and bad) and the pain of having to climb twenty-plus flights of stairs in the sweltering heat when the lift is out of order (again). For many readers who are not with familiar life on the block, this will be an eye-opening experience.
Nik and Norva are an awesome detective duo; funny, clever and love a murder mystery so who better to solve the case and prove that their dad is not the criminal that many in The TRI are quick to point the finger at. They compliment each other perfectly; Nik works on logic and evidence, Norva is much more about the feelings in her gut and waters. Hercule Poirot would be impressed by these two.
Short chapters, snappy dialogue, to do lists and case notes will have you racing through the pages and trying to uncover the killer alongside the girls. Just make sure you have the time to read it all in one go as you won’t want to put it down.
Recommended for 9+.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks; Jason Reynolds
Being allowed to walk home from school without an adult is a rite of passage for all children, it is that first glimmer of freedom. Delivering a book that is engaging, heart-felt and incredibly readable, Jason Reynolds takes this premise and explores what life is like for the kids at Latimer Middle School once the home-time bell rings.
At Latimer Middle School, the bell rings for the end of another day and the hustle and bustle to get out begins. A cacophony of noise fills the corridors, lockers are opened and closed, buses wait out front, benches are gathered around, a teacher watches on and kids pour out of the front doors and onto the streets to make their journeys home.
Amongst the throng of kids the Low Cuts excitedly plan their next hustle, skate-boarding Pia stops for no-one or nothing and pocket-sized Kenzi hitches a piggy-back off the giant that is Simeon. On the crossing corner, Canton anxiously waits for his mother, Gregory Pitts builds up the courage to tell a girl how he feels and Cynthia ‘Say-so’ Sower prepares her next comedy performance. Nervous Satchmo plans to avoid a dog, BFF’s TJ and Yasmine laugh and joke, Bryson Wills sits at home and Fatima recites her walk-home checklist. Ten journeys home, ten different stories to tell…
With a huge dose of reality and strong themes of friendship, love and humour, this is a fantastic book that readers will quickly be drawn to. Reynolds focuses on a group of kids from the same neighbourhood and tells of their journeys home from school, and whilst they all may live on the same block, no walk home is quite like another. Out of the ever watchful eyes of teachers and parents, the walk home from school is a brief moment of freedom, a time for messing around, sharing problems and generally dealing with the challenges that life has thrown at them. Whether it be trying to raise money for a mum with cancer or plucking up the courage to speak to a girl, the kids are just trying to figure life out and live their best lives.
Moving, funny and poignant, the ten stories invite readers to take a very literal walk in someone else’s shoes. While each story is a standalone, there is some overlap as events or characters from one story sometimes appear in another. Each story is brilliant in its own right and it is a joy to meet the characters that are courageous, brave and feel oh so real. As Reynolds looks closely into the lives of his characters, he captures the parts of their lives that children often try to keep hidden as he reveals their personalities, heartaches, anxieties, highs and lows, good times and bad times, hopes, dreams and fears.
Bursting with emotion, authenticity and empathy, the stories deal with the real issues of friendship, bullying, sexuality, sick relatives, anxieties, domestic abuse, puberty, navigating middle school and lots of other trials and tribulations that are all part of growing up and developing from child to young adult. Reynolds is very skilled in handling all of these issues with a light-handed touch and includes plenty of humorous moments - an unfortunate use of vapo-rub when trying to impress a girl is a personal favourite. On more than one occasion, Reynolds leads the reader down a particular path only to drop a bombshell revelation at the end that completely alters the reader’s perception of the characters. ‘The Low Cuts Strike Again’ and ‘Five Things Easier to do than Simeon and Kenzi’s Secret Handshake’ both hit like a hammer to the heart.
Witty and clever, poignant and powerful, heart-breaking and humorous. Look Both Ways is a very unique and original book from an incredibly talented and one-of-a-kind author. Gripping, engrossing and essential reading, this is a walk around the block that is well worth taking.
Recommended for 10+.
With huge thanks to Walker and Knights Of for the copies I received in exchange for honest reviews.