It’s a wrap! Our second year of Big City Reads at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature has come to a close. With six weeks of giving out free books in the city’s cafes, shops and cultural spaces, alongside schools and other community centres across Nottingham. We have been keen to ensure the project really is city-wide, particularly that our books were sent out to schools and youth groups in hard-to-reach areas, giving all young people a chance to experience the mood-boosting power of words.

‘Mood-Boosting Books’ has been our theme for this year, and it has a two-fold aspect. First, we wanted to prioritise books which explore issues of mental health in a sincere, individual and accessible way. Our four books all talk about something different, with Darren Simpson’s ‘Furthermoor looking at grief and the potential downfalls of not facing up to emotional trauma. Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam’s ‘Punching the Air‘ exposes both the individual trauma of a life cut short by the injustice of the American judicial system and the universal experience faced by communities oppressed by systemic racism. It’s complex! But not inaccessible, with each book having an entry point for all readers – be they fans of graphic novels or ‘razor-sharp’ romcoms. These are nonetheless positive challenges; assuming a young adult audience can’t engage with challenging discussions of mental health simply shuts down conversations – look no further than a certain Netflix drama series that came out in 2017.

The second strand of Mood Boosting Books was promoting reading and creative writing as a means of practising mental wellbeing. There are statistics and studies that show that people who are more engaged with literacy have better mental wellbeing than that of their peers, and this is reflected in the books themselves. A fantasy novel might provide a moment of escape and calm when the real world feels overwhelming and tough, just like the land of ‘Furthermoor’ itself is a literal escape for Bren in the novel. In ‘Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry‘ and ‘Punching the Air’, creativity in art and writing are shown to be valuable tools in processing difficult emotions. The creative community and online support networks formed around the ‘Sad Ghost Club‘ graphic novels and Instagram page likewise show that creativity and storytelling can be a great way to express anxieties and discover that you are not alone in them.

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature Youth Advisory Board member, Zach, reading ‘Furthermoor’ by Darren Simpson in the garden of Bromley House Library. Photo credit: David Wilson Clarke.

Our four Mood Boosting Books were selected by Nottingham’s very own young people from our Youth Advisory Board and Young City of Literature Ambassadors. They highlight the key issues, thoughts and messages the city’s young people want to advocate. We also asked our friends over at our sister cities of literature to send in their own recommendations of Mood Boosting Books:

Lit From The Inside cohort at National Centre for Writing, Norwich UNESCO City of

Literature recommends….

● Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman

● Alfie Weather by Shirley Hughes

● 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

● Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

● The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature recommends…

● Tulip and Doug by Emma Wood, Scholastic New Zealand Ltd, 2020

● Torn Apart: The Partition of India,1947 by Swapna Haddow, Scholastic, 2021

● Kākāpō Keeper by Gay Buckingham, One Tree House Ltd, 2021

● Tree Beings, by Raymond Huber, Exisle Publishing Pty Ltd, 2020

What next? We’re continuing to advocate for Youth Voice with our Young Voices Amplified project. On the 12th of August, we will be holding an International Youth Day Symposium. The symposium will be both a celebration of creativity and the opportunity to develop manifestos for change with youth boards and youth-led organisations from across Nottingham, with the manifestos being shared with organisations and stakeholders to help shape the city’s future. You can head over to our event page for more information and to book your FREE ticket.

The Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature team and volunteers. Photo credit: David Wilson Clarke.