I was at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference earlier this year, talking about representation in children’s books, how each child deserves to see themselves in stories, and it was such a wonderful event. When I agreed to do it, and looked at the line up, I squealed when I realised Patrice Lawrence would be there. I loved Orangeboy, and Indigo Donut, and I’d loved this story, in this collection.
The panel was brilliant, Lawrence was joined by M.G. Leonard, and it was chaired by Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, talking about this book which was published to celebrate women and girls, to coincide with the anniversary of women’s suffrage. I’d loved this story when I’d read it, so it was a proper treat to hear her talking about it.
It’s about Olive Christian Malvery, who came to London at the turn of the twentieth century, from India and was shocked by the working and living conditions of women and children in the city. She investigated, reported, and campaigned on the lives of some of the capital’s most vulnerable and marginalised people. I wish we’d learned about her at school (there’s a lot to say, somewhere else why we didn’t). The story is about lots of things: sense of self, how a person loves and cares, feels, and exists and is able to champion others when they themselves have very little. About bravery. And family. And unfairness.
It’s beautifully written, and the opening image has stayed with me.
Angel’s hair was full of spiders. That’s the first thing I remember about that day. I’d thought they were ants, but I should have known. I’d dug out enough ants’ nests in the dry earth down by the canal. These were what Nanna called penny spiders, tiny things, running down Angel’s forehead and cheeks in a quick, grey stream, dodging my hands as I tried to sweep them off her. But I didn’t want to squash them.