Letter to Brandywine Community Schools 

Swapna HaddowBallet Class in Session, Scrapbook

I’m heartbroken to hear that the Ballet Bunnies series and other incredible books from a Books Saves Lives grant have been blocked from student access in Niles, Michigan. The Ballet Bunnies series is about a girl who is kind and courageous and is everything those who ban books are not.

We Need Diverse Books have urged the school board to reconsider and release the books that were selected by district educators in a letter that was co-signed by me and more than seventy-five authors. You can read more about this on the We Need Diverse Books blog.

The full text of the letter is below: 

Dear Superintendent Walker and Brandywine Community Schools Board Members: 

We Need Diverse Books established the Books Save Lives Grant to enrich school libraries by providing diverse books to their students, like the ones attending Brandywine Middle/High School, Brandywine Elementary School, and Merritt Elementary School. At WNDB, we recognize that there is power in diverse literature to challenge us, enlighten us, and develop critical thinking skills in all of us—especially for young readers who are the future of our nation. 

Further, studies show that reading diverse books can spur literacy rates and build empathy. For example, a Washington & Lee study demonstrated that bias toward the Muslim community decreased after participants read a 3,000-word excerpt of the novel Saffron Dreams by Pakistani-American author Shaila Abdullah, as detailed in the article Changing Race Boundary Perception by Reading Narrative Fiction by psychology researcher Dr. Dan R. Johnson. This is another reason why WNDB strives to diversify school bookshelves nationwide — because we believe that all readers should have access to books that expand the world around them. 

Our team selected Brandywine Middle/High School as an inaugural recipient of the Books Save Lives Grant based on the strength of Abilyn Janke’s application and on her commitment to making the bookshelves at her school more diverse and inclusive. Ms. Janke made a clear case for Brandywine to receive the grant, including: 

  • Showing a deep conviction to help students feel welcome in the library by seeing themselves represented. According to the application, 16% of Niles’ residents identify as Black, Native, Hispanic, Asian, or Multiracial; and 24% of students in Berrien County identify as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 
  • Utilizing diverse books to provide a wider view of the world and to build empathy in all readers, which aligns with the goals of We Need Diverse Books. 
  • Demonstrating a need for this grant due to the current issues within the school district concerning library books. In February 2023, your board voted to halt the new inventory of books and create an“Explicit Material Book Review Committee” to assess titles currently available to students. And yet the district already has a review process in place, overseen by media specialists who must follow professional protocols. 

WNDB shares PEN America’s assessment that school book bans can take varied formsThey may occur when school boards, administrators, or politicians override the book selections made by educators and remove titles from shelves. They may be temporary in nature, and they may include a range of restrictions on what students can and cannot read. There have been restrictions on shelving new books in your libraries since February, and the recent halt in circulation of the Books Save Lives Grant further infringes upon your students’ freedom to read. 

On April 20, 2023, WNDB notified Debbie Carew that Brandywine Middle/High School had been selected as a grant recipient. We also agreed with her follow-up request to apportion $3000 of the $5000 grant to provide new titles for the district’s elementary schools. Then in August, we shipped 193 titles, which were selected by district educators, to Michigan. These books have since been inventoried, but haven’t been made available to students due to your board’s decision to halt circulation. We are greatly concerned about this action as it prevents your students from reading inclusive and diverse texts. Students within your own district have distributed flyers at your board meetings, stating: 

“We want to see the LGBTQIA+ community supported, we want to not see books banned in the library, and most importantly we want to protect our rights as 21st century learners.” 

WNDB stands with your students who are expressing their freedom of speech and fighting against educational censorship.  We call upon the board to provide us with: 

  • Detailing the review process and criteria that are being used to assess the books provided by the Books Save Lives Grant. Include a deadline as to when the book assessments will be completed and when the books will be placed into circulation.
  • Explaining why the Books Save Lives Grant is facing additional scrutiny while other grants received within your district are not under such investigations. For instance, Ms. Janke has received another grant from the Daughters of the American Revolution; and two teachers at Brandywine Elementary were recently awarded a grant from Midwest Energy and Communications. Similarly, teachers throughout your district have received funding via DonorsChoose.org to fund STEAM and music projects. We laud your educators who are applying for and utilizing these grants for your students’ enrichment, which is exactly what the Books Save Lives Grant was established to accomplish. Why then is the board investigating the Books Save Lives Grant and not others? 

Along with the undersigned authors, illustrators, and publishers, We Need Diverse Books is asking the board to remove the obstruction of the Books Save Lives Grant books and circulate the titles amongst the Brandywine student population. We also ask that you cancel the investigation into Ms. Janke’s grant application, which will divert precious funds from your district’s budget. Instead, the board should direct this money into further enriching your students’ bookshelves. 

Reading remains a vital gateway for students to learn about our greater world. Your educators have spent years developing the pedagogy and expertise needed to select books that help school children develop critical thinking skills and a love of reading. Trust and support these trained teachers and librarians who are tireless advocates of your students. 

Signed: 

Ellen Oh, WNDB CEO & Founding Member
Dhonielle Clayton, WNDB COO
Caroline Richmond, WNDB Executive Director

Authors & Illustrators
Elizabeth Acevedo
Jane Bahk
Leigh Bardugo
V.T. Bidania
Ashley Herring Blake
Angeline Boulley
Geneva Bowers
Marina Budhos
Tami Charles
Traci Chee
Charlene Chua
Dhonielle Clayton
Art Coulson
Jerry Craft
Julie C. Dao
Christine Day
Jennifer de Leon
Angela Dominguez
Natasha Donovan
Margarita Engle
Debbi Michiko Florence
Gregor Forster
Nicole Geiger
Alex Gino
Laurel Goodluck
Nikki Grimes
Vashti Harrison
Felicia Hoshino
Justina Ireland
Tiffany D. Jackson
Terry Catasús Jennings
Supriya Kelkar
Erin Entrada Kelly
Rukhsana Khan
Brendan Kiely
Grace Lin
Carole Lindstrom
Darcie Little Badger
Rafael Lopez
Kelly Starling Lyons
Tahereh Mafi
Kekla Magoon
Crystal Maldonaldo
Racquel Marie
Juana Martinez-Neal
Niña Mata
Anna-Marie McLemore
Juana Medina
Oge Mora
Marieke Njikamp
Daniel José Older
Tochi Onyebuchi
Mark Oshiro
Natalie C. Parker
Sanjay Patel
Caroline Kusin Pritchard
Swapna Reddy
Randy Ribay
Andrea L. Rogers
Eden Royce
Aisha Saeed
A. J. Sass
Sebastià Serra
Charlotte Watson Sherman
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Sabaa Tahir
Binny Talib
Susan Tan
Shveta Thakrar
Aiden Thomas
Jasmine Warga
Renée Watson
Dana Wulfekotte
Hyewon Yum
Kat Zhang

Publishers
Rosemary Brosnan, VP and Publisher, Quill Tree Books/Heartdrum, Imprints of HarperCollins Children’s Books
Arthur Levine, President and Editor-in-Chief, Levine Querido
Jason Low, Publisher and Co-Owner, Lee & Low Books

Thank you to all the students, teachers, librarians and allies who continue to fight book bans all over the world. Kids deserve a diverse range of books and every child deserves to see themselves in the pages of a book.

Find out what you can do to fight book bans here.

Dave Pigeon (Kittens!) is out today!

Swapna HaddowRoosting With Dave

It’s Dave Pigeon (Kittens!) Day! Dave and best friend Skipper are back with their fifth book in the series, (or fifth and a half if you managed to nab a copy of Dave Pigeon (Bookshop Mayhem!) this World Book Day for your Dave Pigeon collection), and I’m so happy to be back in the world of sheds and biscuits and Mean Cat with these two pigeon pals.

So keep an eye on bookshelves of libraries, bookshops, homes and schools everywhere today and let me know if you spot Dave Pigeon (Kittens!) out in the wild because I would love to know where he’s roosting.

Happy reading, you pigeontastic readers!

Library Day at Otago Girls High School

Swapna HaddowHalfway Round the World with the Haddows, Scrapbook

I was invited to be part of Otago Girls High School’s Library Day this year. The event has been running for an incredible 86 years so I was really chuffed to be part of the celebrations. This year the theme was ‘Childhood Nostalgia’ and everyone got dressed up for the occasion. There was a Miss Piggy, a couple of Grus, several Cats in Hats and a whole fleet of Mario Brothers. I went as Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I spoke to the pupils and staff about the books I read as a child and who I am as a writer now. They asked about coming up with ideas and my career highlights and honestly, for the first time in a while, I actually thought about my career over the last eight and half years and I can’t quite believe all the incredible things I’ve had an opportunity to do.

So thank you readers, booksellers, bloggers, teachers and librarians for being so supportive of me and my books – I hope I keep getting the chance to write stories for you all.

Ask me anything at Columba College

Swapna HaddowHalfway Round the World with the Haddows, Scrapbook

Today, I joined Years 5 to 8 at Columba College as part of their Book Week. I told them all about the books I read as a child and what reading meant to me and ultimately how my experiences with books impacted my writing journey.

The pupils asked me heaps of questions about writing, publishing and how to stay motivated when you reach the middle of your story.

I then got to me with the lunchtime writing club and was blown away by the talented writers and illustrators I met. I predict big things for these young creators!

Thank you so much to the staff and pupils at Columba College for letting me be part of your awesome Book Week.

Writing Young Fiction with SCBWI NZ

Swapna HaddowHalfway Round the World with the Haddows, Scrapbook

Thank you so much to Team SCBWI NZ for inviting me to talk about creating young fiction.

I loved hearing everyone’s under-pressure pitches and hope you are all off to work on your young fiction series right away.

I thought I would just highlight my key points about young fiction here:

•Remember to invest in your characters and create characters who can last an entire series

•Don’t talk down to your reader

•Action and dialogue keep the story moving

Have fun writing!

Bad Panda is a winner!

Swapna HaddowThe Bad Panda Club

Bad Panda has just won the Telling Tales category of the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards 2023! I’m over the moon about this and so thankful to all the schools and pupils who voted for Lin and her pals.

Here are the awesome pupils of Cannon Park Primary presenting Bad Panda at the ceremony:

Thank you Coventry SLS for shortlisting the book and getting Bad Panda into the paws of heaps of young readers.

Happy World Book Day Week!

Swapna HaddowPawsome News, Roosting With Dave

It’s World Book Day this week! I’m so proud to see Dave Pigeon (Bookshop Mayhem!) out in the world alongside the other amazing World Book Day books, helping kids discover reading for pleasure. And this year is even more special because children were involved in the book selection for the very first time.

Reading for pleasure can be life changing, which is why World Book Day UK has created a list top tips to help encourage regular reading. More info and resources available on their website.

Reading for pleasure is also the biggest indicator of a child’s future success. 500,000 UK children don’t have a book of their own. This increases to 1 in 10 for children receiving Free School Meals, which makes what they do at World Book Day so crucial.

This week, I’ve been lucky enough to go on a virtual tour with my books to see as many young readers as possible.

Sheena and I started off our week with The Great World Book Day Draw-Along with the National Literacy Trust. Thank you so much to everyone who joined in. At last count there were 100000 pupils and teachers who had drawn their very own Dave Pigeons. You can still watch on demand here until 24th March 2023. And do share your drawings and I will add them to my birdrilliant gallery.

I then met with Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Alexandra Primary School and we created heaps of new story ideas for Dave Pigeon.

We heard about poisonous gases in water bottles, evil dictator penguins, space adventures and pen and pencil case wars. I had a blast hearing so many fantastic story plans.

EYFS, Year 1 and Year 2 helped me draw lots of grizzly bears as we discussed living with a grizzly bear like Dad from My Dad is a Grizzly Bear. They all did a fantastic job and I saw lots of brilliant young illustrators in the making.

Cliftonville Primary also joined in the Grizzly Bear fun, drawing a sleuth of grizzlies who looked ready for a World Book Day party.

I rounded off my week with a pigeontastic event with Settle Stories. Speaking to lots of classes, we created a bounty of new adventures for Dave Pigeon, involving Lego ladders, obsidian and diamonds, missing books and time-travelling pigeons. Thank you so much to everyone who joined in – I hope you carry on writing your Dave Pigeon adventures because I would love to read them.

Thank you also to First News who put together this brilliant feature on World Book Day.

Happy World Book Day everyone! I hope you spent the day escaping into a book. And a HUGE thank you to everyone who has picked up a copy of Dave Pigeon (Bookshop Mayhem!) – it has been a dream come true to see Dave Pigeon roosting in the Top 3 of the bestseller book charts.

2023 is the Year of Dave Pigeon

Swapna HaddowRoosting With Dave

Welcome back, Readers! 2023 is going to be an exciting one because this year is all about the return of best pals Dave Pigeon and Skipper.

In February, Dave and Skipper debut in Spain, Latin America and the USA with Spanish and Catalan editions, published by Flamboyant.

February also marks the start of World Book Day celebrations and this year Dave and Skipper have their very own World Book Day book.

Look out for vouchers in your schools, newspapers and magazines to exchange for your very own copy of the book from the end of February and throughout March. The book has been recommended by Twinkl for the ‘Reading for kids: Bringing your books to life‘ blog.

And that’s not all! Dave and Skipper have their very next book, Dave Pigeon (Kittens!) coming out in July. In this brand new adventure, the pigeons are minding their own business in their garden shed when they see Mean Cat behaving very strangely – she’s multiplying…

That’s right, Readers – Mean Cat is having babies! The arrival of some very cute kittens is disastrous news for pigeons everywhere! But when the kittens come under threat, it’s up to Dave and Skipper to find their inner cat and save them.

Keep your eyes peeled for all the Dave Pigeon books coming this year and send me heaps of pictures if you spot a Dave Pigeon book roosting on a bookshelf in your local bookshop, library or school.