Little Rebels shortlist
Created: 22nd July, 2022

There are many ways to be in the world and as a species much of our time is spent determining our being. How has the life we have lived and the lives that came before ours shaped our way of being and how does this influence the way we continue to be and who we might be-come? Because to come to a place of peace in which we are able to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling existence, free from fear, prejudice or discrimination requires us all to navigate many routes to being.


As I understand it, (and I may have this wrong but) babies in their first year of being, don’t smile, they mirror the expression of the person they are facing. This mirroring lays the ground work for forming connections and relationships, as well as, influencing our relationships with ourselves. And on some level, this electric bolt of connection is something we continue to seek as it fuels how we feel about ourselves and the world around us and fundamentally shapes the essence of our being.


When a writer puts pen to paper, they bravely share a part of themselves and in doing so help us to know them and better understand ourselves. The choices conscious or not on the part of the writer combined with a reader’s interpretations lead to a sophisticated interaction that can be mutually affirming and broaden outlooks.

The Little Rebel Awards which this year celebrates its 10-year anniversary is a very special book award that celebrates radical fiction written for children. The criteria define radicalism in terms of whether a story is:

- informed by anti-discriminatory, environmental, socialist, anarchist or feminist concerns;

- or promotes social equality, or challenges stereotypes and/or the status quo or builds children’s awareness of issues in society;

- or promotes social justice and a more peaceful and fairer world.


Having had the real pleasure and privilege of reading this year’s Little Rebel Awards short list, it was evident that the powerfully striking radical component at the core of each and every title was an exploration of how radical the quest of connection and the act of being can be for marginalised individuals and communities. Each writer in their own way explored the strength it takes to dare to exist, in spite of prejudice and ignorance underpinned by ableism, fascism, homophobia, racism, sexism or xenophobia. Every title illustrated the labour and resilience necessary to survive insurmountable odds. All of the books grappled with how we work to thrive despite socio-cultural, structural and systemic mechanisms designed to suppress and ostracise whole communities of society and in doing so highlighted that this is no mean feat.


Dapo Adeola’s Hey You! is more than just a picturebook; it is a beacon that shines a bright light on a rich range of talent, who through their beautiful, dynamic, creative and thoughtfully crafted contributions offer a touching love letter to Black readers and a gift to all readers young and old. Every life-affirming illustration is infused with love, tenderness and joy. From inception to publication it is an act of rebellion in the ways in which it seeks to counteract the longstanding under and misrepresentation of the Black diaspora. The heart and vision of Hey You! are testament to Dapo’s commitment to the craft and fundamental understanding of the importance and value of being seen and truly seeing yourself in the pages of a book.


The intergenerational perspectives that the cast of characters featured in the graphic novel, No Country by Joe Brady and Patrice Aggs, offer is the core strength of this title. It allows us to feel the overwhelming powerlessness, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, as well as, experience how these distinctively play out in different ways depending on your age and role within a family or community of people. It balances the horror and hope of the context and exemplifies how both serve as necessary adrenaline in such circumstances. It felt both a pointed, important and radical creative choice to cast the main cast as a white middle class family, as

this challenges the usual racialisation of refugees and brings home the crucial realisation that everyone and anyone can be vulnerable to persecution.


Joanna Nadin’s No Man's Land, features an interesting and varied cast of characters that help readers to navigate the terrifying and uncertain terrain of a world at war. This is a book with real heart that explores the crucial role of women in resistance movements, grapples with the existential crises that the rupture of conflict can cause, explores the murkiness of determining the differences between both right and wrong and good and bad in such contexts and fundamentally drives home the very real notion that the face of fascism comes in many guises and is not always obvious. A timely narrative that is a radical call to stay alert and stay grounded in humanitarian principles that serve the interests of all.


There is a tenderness and warmth in Sarah Hagger-Holt’s Proud of Me, that beams from every page from beginning to end. Through the nuanced characterisation of this multi-dimensional cast we are generously invited in to share in the joys, live the everyday humdrum and bear witness to the distinctive and varied challenges of this family unit. Same-sex families living their lives in the middle grade sphere is rare and it’s even rarer for it to be this well executed. The radical core of this touching book is rooted in the way it humanises a traditionally marginalised family dynamic and platforms a family make-up that has had to resist being delegitimised at every turn. It does these things by sensitively and gracefully shining a light on their everyday lives and in doing so celebrating their right to be.


Elle McNicoll’s Show Us Who You Are, is a powerful and moving celebration of the beauty and value of uniqueness. It is a bold and compelling challenge to those who might see neurodivergence as something that requires fixing. It is a testament to the importance of being true to your authentic being whilst honestly conveying the complexity of the challenges that come from navigating a prejudice world. It radically dares the reader to show the world who they are by embracing and living their truth whilst respecting everyone who honours their own.


Sunflower Sisters created by Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes, is an adeptly crafted narrative that manages to be both a direct yet positively framed story which addresses the toxic and pervasive nature of colourism. The narrative arc effectively counteracts the problematic messages that are often drip fed to young girls in particular through its empowering reclamation and redefinition of beauty standards that are free from oppressive colourist and racist ideals and instead asserts beauty standards without boundaries or exception. A challenging theme that is sensitively explored and inspires readers to broaden their beauty ideals and embrace the skin they’re in.


The humour and heart of James Catchpole and Karen George’s What Happened to You, beautifully captures the playful innocence, curiosity and joy of childhood whilst offering a master class in why people who have disability are not actually a ‘teachable moment,’ with a swashbuckling adventure loving young protagonist who radically demands that people take him as he is, no questions asked.


The strand of the radicalism that pulses through each and every title in this outstanding short list shouldn’t in principle be necessary, because the act of being shouldn’t have to be hard let alone radical. However, what each and every author/ illustrator created was fictional worlds featuring casts of characters daring to be. And as long as there are forces that are odds with enabling people to live in a world free from prejudice, ostracisation and demonization then the act of being will for many continue to be a radically driven reality, meaning books like these and awards like this are crucial in the fight for a better future.