BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Today is our stop on the blog tour for The Boy With the Butterfly Mind by Victoria Williamson, which was selected as one of our Autumn 2019 Ones to Watch.
Read on for a review of The Boy With the Butterfly Mind followed by an exclusive guest post in which the author Victoria discusses her time in Zambia with the reading charity The Book Bus.
Book Title: The Boy With the Butterfly Mind (available here)
Author: Victoria Williamson
Publisher: Floris Books
Publication Date: September 2019
Most Suitable For: Upper KS2
Reviewed By: Emma Hughes
A moving and compassionately-told story from the author of the The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle. Also told through a dual narrative, this is a story with weighty themes including blended families, life with ADHD and the search for acceptance. Hugely relevant for today's generation, Victoria Williamson writes with a galloping pace packaged at every turn with extraordinary compassion, delivering an enjoyable and empathy-building reading experience.
In Glasgow, Elin lives with her mum and her mum’s boyfriend, Paul. And while Paul seems to be kind and thoughtful, he isn’t her Dad. Elin wishes for nothing more than to have her family back together again and will do whatever it takes to achieve her ultimate goal in life. She focuses on being the top student in her class and keeping their home clean and neat and tidy. On the face of it, Elin is the perfect daughter – why wouldn’t her dad want to come back? As for his new family, perhaps if she refuses to acknowledge them then they will barely exist.
Meanwhile, in Southampton, Jamie is living with his mum and looking forward to relocating to America with her and her boyfriend. With the assumption that there will be medical staff there who can ‘fix him’, he’s looking forward to the big adventure. Jamie has ADHD. He’s always had ADHD and lately it seems to be causing more problems than ever at home. Suddenly, dreams of America are shattered and Jamie is ordered to move to Glasgow to live with his dad. Elin is less than impressed with this new development and when Jamie arrives it becomes clear to her that she can use the situation to drive a wedge between her mum and Paul – the first step in getting her own parents back together. And when Jamie struggles to settle in at school, and causes mayhem at home, it seems that her plan is going to work.
The narrative offers powerful insights into life with ADHD. The difficulties that Jamie faces are very obvious throughout the story, but he is more than just an 'additional needs' label - Jamie is a warm, funny and caring character underneath. While Elin appears to be the model child on the surface, what is bubbling beneath is a vain of hatred and spitefulness, driven by her own loneliness. Will they ever get along?
This is a fast-paced story, brilliantly written in a dual narrative. I would recommend this story to all children aged 9+, and especially to those that have enjoyed The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle.
Guest Blog Post
by Victoria Williamson, author of The Boy With the Butterfly Mind
Africa is Not a Bin
Waste is a bad thing.
Few people would disagree – we’re now all hyper-aware of the amount of profligacy in our throwaway consumer culture, but how often do we find the time to stop and think about how effective our recycling methods are?
Nearly fifteen years ago, charity shops were wasting £4.5m getting rid of donated junk that couldn’t be sold on, and the problem has only got worse since then, with 235 million items of clothing going to waste in 2017 alone. The problem is just as bad when it comes to book donations. Africa has a chronic shortage of textbooks and story books in schools, however over the years I’ve seen this shortage constantly used as a justification for people from economically developed countries dumping their torn, dirty, or newish-but-completely-inappropriate books on book charities for Africa.
In my twenties, while completing a Millennium Volunteers Award, I spent several years packing books in my local library for Action for South Africa. The aim of the project was to collect books for distribution to South African schools and universities, but before they could be packed into cardboard boxes for the shipping crate, they had to be sorted. And wow, was there a lot of sorting to be done...
As well as a shipping box, I had two other big boxes standing by ready to receive books. One was the ‘donate to other charities’ box. Into this went books about microwave cooking, British TV shows, aromatherapy recipes and walking tours in the Lake District. How anyone could think books of this sort would be any use to teachers and lecturers in South Africa was beyond me. The other, often overflowing box, was simply marked ‘bin’. This box was constantly being emptied and refilled with books with broken spines, torn pages, and sections missing. Many of these had been donated after school library clear-outs, which had me wondering why some teachers and parent helpers thought that books which were too ripped and soiled for their own children should be good enough for someone else’s child just because they lived in a poorer country.
I’ve blogged before about the problems I encountered with inappropriate library books when I worked as a teacher in Cameroon, and how children can struggle to understand stories when the cultural contexts and words used are too far removed from their own lived experiences. But even if books are relevant for the children, and written in ways they can understand, they should still begin in good condition before being put in the ‘donate to Africa’ box.
I spent this summer volunteering in Zambia with The Book Bus, a reading charity that brings books to schools, runs story-based activities with the classes, and reads one-to-one with children in community libraries. The bus is filled with sets of books all bought brand new by the charity from donated money, or brought by international volunteers during the summer. Any questions I might have had about whether second-hand books would be just as good quickly vanished when I saw the amount of wear and tear the books had to endure over a short period! It wasn’t just being passed around from child to child while they read outside in the hot sun, being thumbed through, and being used as clipboards for art activities that the books had to stand up to. They also quickly got covered in dust when the dry season winds blew clouds of the stuff through the open windows as the Book Bus rumbled down narrow, untarmacked roads to the rural schools. The Book Bus team did their best to keep the books in good condition, covering them in dust jackets, straightening out pages after school visits and swiftly repairing any damage, but had the books not started off brand new, the children at the schools would not have got much use out of them.
When discussing the subject of book donation, one volunteer librarian said something that stuck in my head. ‘Africa is not a bin’, she said. ‘If you don’t want a book that’s ripped, dirty and torn in your classroom, school or community library, if you want your children to have access to fresh, clean, enticing books, then that’s what you should want for other people’s children too.’
Find out more about The Book Bus and how you can support the wok that they do in Zambia, Malawi and Ecuador here: https://thebookbus.org.
Many thanks to Victoria for writing the guest post and to Review Panel member Emma for reviewing our copy, provided by the publisher.
Check out the other stops on the blog tour, too!