It’s National Poetry Month, but you probably already know that. Your English teacher has probably made you study some long dead poet’s use of foreshadowing or alliteration or whatever. You know good ol’ Billy Shakespeare with his doths and thys, maybe you’ve studied John Donne with his old timey spelling or Sylvia Plath’s intense and harrowing poems, or drawn a beard on Carol Ann Duffy in your GCSE anthology and called her ‘Carol Ann Fluffy’ (just us?).

But news: poetry doesn’t have to be all rhyming couplets and iambic pentameters. It can be fun and free flowing. It can be political or metaphorical or just for kicks. And you don’t always have to study it. Sometimes, amazingly, you can just enjoy it.

So here are six of our fave modern poets who are breaking down stereotypes. And not a single dead white guy in sight.

Hollie McNish

Since Hollie won the UK Slam Poetry Competition in 2009, she’s had YouTube videos of her spoken word poems go viral. Like, millions of views in a few days sort of viral. She’s also the first ever poet to record an album at Abbey Road Studios. Hollie tends to write about everyday occurrences that bother or frustrate her, in a beautiful and lyrical way. Basically, she’s amazing. Buy her book, Papers, here.

Happy National Poetry Day. Here's a poem about how brilliant my shoulders are. Left one in particular xxx

A post shared by Hollie Poetry (@holliepoetry) on

Warsan Shire

The name might sound familiar to you, since one of her poems was recently performed by this up and coming indy musician… I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of her? Beyoncé. That’s right. Bey-freaking-oncé. Author of the gorgeous poems sampled throughout Lemonade, Somali-British poet Warsan Shire comes with Queen Bey’s stamp of approval – so you know she’s good. Buy her book, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, here.

#warsanshire #wordstoliveby 📝 #forwomen 🙌🏾 for the #goddess and #sparkle and #firewithin 🙏🏽✨🔥

A post shared by S|A|M|Y🌹R|0|S|E (@samyoflosangeles) on

Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest is one of the most acclaimed poets in the country today, often mixing poetry, music and rap to make political statements. Her performances have taken her on tours to Australia and all over Europe, and she’s been on the bill at festivals like Latitude and Glastonbury. Plus in 2013 she was the youngest ever recipient of the Ted Hughes Award. So there’s that… Buy her book, Let Them Eat Chaos, here.

Lang Leav

Lang Leav writes poems and short stories and they’re all so elegant and beautiful and timeless – essentially the Chanel of poetry. She is HUGE on Tumblr (a great place to find poets) and has published two beautiful books. Buy her book, The Universe of Us, here.

Laura Dockrill

Laura Dockrill may be best known for being BFFs with Adele and Kate Nash, but she’s wildly talented in her own right. Along with writing poems and short stories she is also an illustrator and has illustrated all of her own books too, NBD. Buy her book, Mistakes in the Background, here.

Bridget Minamore

One of our lovely betty writers (read her articles here), Bridget also just happens to be an incredible poet. She writes beautifully about race and class and what it means to be a woman today and her spoken word stuff is SO. FREAKING. GOOD. Buy her book, Titanic, here.   

@LilyPesch

Image: Getty / Katie Edmunds

It’s here! The best holiday of the year. Seriously, Easter is the ideal holiday, there’s none of the pressure of Christmas, none of the outfit stress of Halloween and none of the pressure of New Year’s Eve. It’s the Chris Pratt of holidays, but with delicious snacks.

Here’s everything we’ve been reading, watching and loving this week.

Could we *be* more excited?

Pretty much as soon as the final episode of Friends aired and we watched the six of them (plus a few babies) wander down to Central Perk for the last time, people were clamouring for a reunion. And now they’ve got it. Sort of. According to The Independent, there’s an off-Broadway musical coming to New York later this year called Friends! The Musical, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith who have written similar musicals for 90210 and Full House. The show will feature songs such as ‘The One Where We Make A Million Dollars An Episode,’ ‘The Only Coffee Shop in New York,’ ‘Oh. My God. It’s Janice!’. We’ll be there for you…if we can get free flights and accommodation in New York.

This idea has legs

Yoga teacher, Shea penned a love letter on her Instagram account, @shastavibes. But it’s not to a her partner or her crush, she’s written a love letter to her thighs. Turns out, poking them and wishing they miraculously become smaller is stupid and also, might lead to bruising. Instead, why not join Shea and the body positivity movement that seems to be growing more and more brilliant everyday. Kudos Shea, and kudos to your thighs too.

Dear Thighs, "I’m in love with you, every inch, every lump all the way up from my knees to my rump" You may not be slender, or tanned, or smooth, but you’re up for the challenge when I start to move you power through squats, lunges, and stairs, and you don’t seem to mind when some people glare" ..✏️📓 ____________________________________________________ This whole journey to body acceptance and self-love is kind of a roller coaster, but an exciting one that I’m gonna keep riding. Each day I am learning that my self-worth is based less on what others think and more on how I feel. And lately, I feel really good. I was realizing today that my body is becoming less of an object of comparison in my mind, and more of a tool. My body is a method of accomplishing day to day things and that’s it. So far it’s doing a damn good job. In fact, it rarely lets me down. So for that reason alone, I should be completely in love with it. So to my thighs and all my other perfectly strong and functional body parts, thank you for getting shit done. <3 #postpartumfitness #postpartumbody #thickfit #thunderthighs #plussize #thickwomen #thickyogi #melanin #blackyogasuperstars

A post shared by Shea (@shastavibes) on

We Read Too

Kaya Thomas, a university student in the State was tired of not seeing enough people of colour or women in tech in books. So, like a boss, she decided to do something about it. She’s created an app called We Read Too which features over 600 books with main characters who are people of colour or women in tech. The idea, design and coding are all her own, NBD. When you spoke to Teen Vogue about why she thinks this project is so important she explained, “It’s for those of who want young people of color to be exposed to books where they seem themselves reflected in the characters and the authors. But it’s also for people who want to be exposed to different cultures than their own…I think fiction especially helps you get a better understanding of another person’s story, and that helps you build empathy.” Aaaaaand download.

Orange is the New Black Season Five Trailer

The trailer for Season 5 of Orange is the New Black has dropped and urgh, now it’s just left us with more questions. It picks off where season four ended, with Daya pointing a gun at CO Humphrey’s head with the rest of the inmates screaming at her to shoot him. Then, because the people who make trailers are evil geniuses, the screen goes black and you hear a gunshot and everyone screams. So. Much. Intrigue. Season Five will be released on Friday June 9th, and apparently will take place “in real-time over the course of three days”. Urgh, only 56 days to wait.

Baby, put your hands up. Literally.

Look, this isn’t really news. But it’s adorable and it’s Easter and so we’re going to throw it in anyway.

Have a lovely Easter x

YouTuber, influencer and leading sex expert Hannah Witton is the cool older sister we all need. From dealing with periods to losing your virginity, she knows the score and she is definitely not embarrassed to talk about it. In fact, that’s kind of her thing. At just 25, she’s already racked up over 250,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel thanks to her weekly videos all about sex and relationships and, luckily for us, she decided to write a book about it too.

Doing It covers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about sex. Healthy relationships, consent, body image, periods, contraception, STDS and all of the nitty gritty details; it’s all in there. Sex education, or lack of it, is a big deal and Hannah has set out to break down the barriers of awkwardness and embarrassment to get us all talking about it openly.

I’ll be honest; I thought I knew everything there was to know. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. But thanks to Hannah I now feel totally clued up.

As her new biggest fan, I caught up with her to talk writing books, sex, periods and more…

Releasing your first book must be super exciting. What made you take the jump from vlogger to author?

“It is super exciting! I can’t quite believe it’s actually happening now after all the work that’s gone into it. The idea of writing a sex and relationships education book just made so much sense to me. I’ve made loads of videos on different topics and written blog posts, but this was a chance to get it all down in one place.”

As you say in the intro of your book, you’re kind of obsessed with sex education. What makes it so important for you?

“I think the taboo around it makes it really important, because we have to break down those barriers. I’m just fascinated by relationships in general and how we relate to one another, and our own bodies and sex and sexuality very regularly comes up in these situations.”

What’s the biggest sex myth you’d love to bust?

“The myth that if you’re a girl sex will hurt the first time. It just makes young people scared of sex before they’ve even experienced it, and it won’t necessarily hurt.”

From losing your virginity to the big O, you’re seriously open about everything sex-related. Is there anything you’re embarrassed to talk about?

“Nothing I’ve come across so far!”

Listening to a teacher talk about sex is a lot people’s worst nightmare. Do you remember your first sex ed lesson?

“Yes! We had one in year 5 or 6 of primary school where they showed us a video about erections and periods. And then when we were in secondary school the nurse came into our PHSE class and taught us about different kinds of contraception and how to put a condom on a test tube.”

What would you say to anyone with a burning question that they feel awkward about asking?

“Write it down and ask multiple people! No-one knows everything about sex so you may even ask adults that don’t know the answer. Google can be your friend. Organisations like Brook have so much information on their websites so it doesn’t even have to involve speaking to anyone.”

What’s the major thing you wish you’d known about sex when you were growing up?

“I wish I’d known that female masturbation wasn’t gross and it was normal.”

Consent is a big deal and you dedicate a whole chapter to it. What’s your advice to anyone who’s unsure of what it means?

“Consent is basically making sure everyone is down with getting down. It is absolutely necessary to know this before you continue shenanigans.”

Yours isn’t the only voice in your book – you also feature a lot of LGBTQ+ contributors. Why was this so important to you?

“I felt like I couldn’t accurately speak on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people and I didn’t want to make assumptions, generalisations or speak over them. I think it’ll make a huge difference to young LGBTQ+ readers hearing the voices of people like them who they can relate to.”

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

“I want them to get a sense of self-confidence out of it around the topics of relationships and sex, so they can go forth in the world and have healthy relationships with other people and themselves.”

Could you tell us the story of your first period?

“I started my period after watching Freaky Friday in the cinema with my mum! I went to the toilet and saw that there was some blood in my knickers. I knew exactly what was happening so I just grabbed a load of tissue paper, shoved it in my pants and when we got home I told my mum.”

If you could tell your 14-year-old self one thing, what would it be?

“What the clitoris is, and where to find it.”

Doing It by Hannah Witton is out now. Grab your copy here.

@SophieBenson_

Revision is over – time to read! I know that when you’ve spent the day reading about quadratic equations, long-dead poets and an era of history where women don’t get a particularly great deal, it might seem like putting down one book only to pick up another is the last thing you want to do… but hear me out here, ok?

Reading reminds your brain that it can do things for fun as well as for work. It stops you from getting trapped in a ‘Just one more scroll…’ cycle on social media that keeps you awake for hours, making you blearier than a beaker full of limewater that’s had carbon dioxide bubbled through it (just helping you with the chemistry revision there, you’re welcome).

To get extra benefit from your bookishness, download an audiobook and go or a walk while listening to it to get some lovely endorphins whizzing round your body. And remember, reading is something you can do without your parents hovering over you going “Shouldn’t you be revising?” every five minutes.

Need some inspiration? Here are our picks:

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

This is the kind of book that will smash your heart into a thousand tiny pieces and you’ll absolutely love it for doing it. After Griffin’s first love, Theo, dies, Griffin feels like his life is falling apart. It’s painful and honest and heartbreaking, and if nothing else will remind you that even though geography revision is horrible, things could always be worse.

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

This is the final book in Aveyard’s Red Queen series – so if you haven’t read any of them yet, you’ve got three amazing books to delve into! It’s set in a world where people are separated by whether they have red blood (the commoners) or silver blood, which means they have amazing powers. Teenager Mare was born with red blood, but her ability to control lightning causes her fellow red-bloods to start an uprising.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This isn’t out until Thursday, but you can use it as a post-revision incentive. When 16-year-old Starr Carter witnesses her best friend Khalil shot by a police officer, she sees a huge difference in the reactions of the poor neighbourhood she lives in and the posh suburban school she goes to. Half of her world is calling Khalil a thug and the other half is protesting in his name, but the only person who really knows what happened that night is Starr – and as both the police and local drug lords are threatening her life, she has no idea what to say to make sure that she and her family are kept safe.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Another one that’s not out yet (get your paws on it on 11 April) is the second novel by Becky Albertalli. This isn’t quite as gut-wrenching as the previous books on this list though, focusing instead on 17-year-old Molly, who watches her twin sister go through girlfriends like hot dinners whilst she gazes on from the sidelines. Will jealous Molly find love with the new cute hipster boy in her life, or be distracted by her Tolkien-superfan co-worker? Sweet and fun, it’s the perfect antidote to revision. But only once you’ve finished those flashcards on the carbon cycle.

@jimsyjampots

I have a phone call with Veronica Roth scheduled for 4pm that I have been looking forward to for weeks. Predictably, at 3:50, I discover that the room that has a phone with a proper speaker is being used for a meeting. Gahhh. I manically download Skype, put some money on my account and plant myself in a corridor, glaring at anyone who dares come in my direction.

When technology finally starts cooperating and I get through to Veronica, I immediately relax. She’s not the incredibly intimidating person I imagined in my head, instead she talks to me as though we’re friends, rather than strangers chatting to each other through a kind of crappy Skype connection. She’s incredibly friendly and quick to laugh, the polar opposite of the female characters she writes about.

Veronica Roth is the author of the New York Times best selling Divergent trilogy. At 28, she’s sold millions of copies of her books, seen her work turned into a successful film franchise starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet, and has now gone ahead and written a new, highly addictive book, Carve the Mark.

Also, totally NBD or anything, but she wrote Divergent during her final year at University and sold the publishing rights before she graduated. So that’s cool.

Did she ever struggle with people underestimating her because she was so young? “Not in book publishing. I’m not the youngest author to publish a book and they mainly just care about the story, so they’re not all that concerned about your age. Your work has to speak for itself. The only time I encountered it was when the book became a movie.”

Roth sold the rights to Summit Entertainment in 2011, when she was a year out of university. “People would talk down to me… and I couldn’t tell why; is it because I’m young, is it because I’m a woman or because of my demeanour? …At the end of the day, you just keep doing the best work you can and not paying too much attention to people who don’t respect that,” she says.

I ask her about how it felt getting her story made into a film and she laughs, “I didn’t believe it was actually going to happen… it wasn’t until they cast Kate Winslet that I was like ‘Oh! This is really happening!’ I totally lost my mind.” I mean, to be fair, it’s Kate Winslet, who wouldn’t lose their mind? “The idea that so many people have taken something you’ve imagined and they’ve made it their work for however many days or weeks? There’s something really amazing and flattering about that.” she continues. “There were all these grown men building this fake train car? It’s amazing!”

To me, the thing about Roth that makes her talent so unique is that she’s not just creating stories about regular, everyday things, she’s creating entire societies. In her new book, Carve the Mark, she took it one step further and created a whole frickin’ galaxy.

Carve The Mark is set in a galaxy that has a current running through it which gives everyone a unique ‘currentgift’. The two main characters, Akos and Cyra, come from two different countries; Akos’ home is one of peace, while Cyra’s is full of violence. When Akos is taken from his family home on Cyra’s brother’s orders, the two of them form a special bond, discovering they can either survive together or destroy one another.

Cyra is a powerhouse of a character. Her currentgift forces her to live in constant pain, but also means she causes agony to those who touch her. She has spent most of her life in isolation until her brother decides to use her as a weapon against his enemies.

“What’s important is for readers to see characters that feel real and interesting and complicated too,” Roth explains. “One of the most important things to me is to make sure the characters are flawed. There’s a lot of pressure on young women to be perfect and so when you read about a character who makes mistakes and has to deal with the repercussions of them and feels normal and feels human, I think that’s important for young women.”

It takes everything in me to not just openly start applauding at this point. Even down the Skype line, I’m nodding my head so much that I think I crick my neck a bit. But the thing I really want to talk to Roth about, the thought I just couldn’t get out of my head while reading Carve The Mark, is how does one person have such a vivid imagination? “I try to cultivate curiosity as much as possible,” she says. “My mum has this quality, where anyone she talks to, she is interested in knowing more about them and I would love to become more like that.”

Well, now I also want to be more like Veronica Roth’s mum. She sounds awesome.

Roth thinks exercising your imagination is incredibly important for young people: “I think you have to have a vision of what your own life can become, what your world can become. There’s this huge imaginative element to that and you have to be able to see possibilities.”

When she was a 21-year-old writing a book in her winter holidays, she ever imagine her life would lead her here? “I don’t think escapism has to be bad,” she tells me, “I think we talk about it like an ‘Oh, you’re just trying to get away from reality, you should be engaging with reality!’ and that’s true, but you can learn a lot from genre fiction, even if it is helping you to escape a little bit.”

At this point, we get completely side-tracked and start talking about how Harry Potter helped define so much of our moral compasses. We’ve been on the phone for almost half an hour, and I know that my time’s almost up so I ask her the question we ask all the people we interview: if you could give your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

“I think I needed to hear two things. One, is that you should be kind to the people around you. I was kinda mean as a young person and I definitely grew out of that as I got older. But I wasn’t always kind, especially to my female friends. I kinda fell into that trap of being really competitive with other women and not appreciating how great it can be to have a genuine connection with my female friends. Appreciate the ladies in your life. But then, I sometimes needed to hear that it’s okay to let people go if they’re making you feel bad about yourself. You don’t have to be friends with them anymore. Basically, be kind, but you don’t have to let other people make you feel bad.”

Well, s**t. This woman is my new hero.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth is out now. Buy your copy here.

Books are great for a variety of reasons. They look pretty on shelves, they’re useful for pressing flowers, they smell amazing. But one of my favourite things about reading book is uncovering great female protagonists (lead characters). The type who overcome the odds, the type who exceed expectations or the type who refuse to apologise for who they are.

Unfortunately, there aren’t as many books as there should be where the protagonist is a woman – and even fewer with girls. One study found that in 6000 children’s books, only 37% of them had female main characters. Since it was Day of the Girl on Tuesday and we are all about celebrating the sisterhood, we thought we’d have a look through our bookshelves and find our favourite literary girls.

1. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

If Destiny’s Child’s Survivor was written with someone in mind,  it would have been Katniss Everdeen(yeah yeah, we know it was written before the Hunger Games, but you get what we mean). We all know she’s tough, but perhaps the most wonderful thing about Katniss is how deeply she cares for her sister, Prim, for Rue and Peeta and Gale. And let’s be honest, isn’t it best to have a bit of both?

“Pity does not get you aid. Admiration at your refusal to give in does.”

2. Liesel Meminger, The Book Thief

Sometimes just thinking about this book can be enough to bring on tears. It’s set in WW2 and narrated by Death (stay with me). It’s a wonderful, quirky book about nine-year-old Liesel, who steals books but at the same time knows more about loss than anyone should ever have to.

“…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”

3. Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Despite being published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is still shockingly relevant today. Scout is the daughter of a lawyer who is defending a black man accused of raping a white girl in the deep south of the USA. Scout is a fearless young girl who refuses traditional ‘feminine’ behaviours and is generally an all around kicker of ass.

“I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately.”

4. Frankie Landau-Banks, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks 

This is a lesser-known (and in my opinion, better) book from e. lockhart, the author of We Were Liars. It centres around a girl called Frankie, who is enraged when she learns she can’t join her boyfriend’s all male secret-society at their boarding school. So, in the manner of a totally awesome lady, she created a society of her own.

“‘You have some balls.’

Frankie hated that expression, ever since Zada had pointed out to her that it equates courage with the male equipment…”

5. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Feisty orphan Anne is sent to live with a grumpy middle-aged brother and sister on a farm after a slight communication error (it was the early 1900s, so Whatsapp wasn’t available). They had actually requested a boy, but Anne quickly shows them that anything a boy can do, a girl can do better. Including totally win their hearts.

“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”

6. Jo March, Little Women

Little Women follows the adventures of the four March sisters as they grow up as girls in 19th century America. Tree-climber and playwright Jo is the most headstrong of the four, if she were around today I think her report card would be decorated with unsubtle pleas for her to “keep her temper under control.” The March siblings are all pretty kickass in their own ways, but Jo takes the cake.

“I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle – something heroic, or wonderful – that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day.”

7. Matilda Wormwood, Matilda

If you can read this book without spending at least 20 minutes staring at inanimate objects hoping to move them with your mind, I salute you. Matilda has pretty crappy parents but when her teacher Miss Honey notices how clever she is, she discovers her magical powers. And we’re talking actual magical powers, guys, not just ‘believing in yourself’. Though of course that’s great too.

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

8. Natasha Kingsley, The Sun is Also a Star

This book is about a girl who loves science and a boy who loves poetry. It’s a book about love, sure. But it’s also a book about Natasha, an illegal immigrant, who is about to be deported along with her whole family. Natasha is willing to fight really damn hard for her future – and when she meets Daniel, she’s willing to fight that little bit harder.

“He closes the file and pushes a box of tissues toward me me in anticipation of my tears. But I am not a cryer. I didn’t cry when my father first told us about the deportation orders, or when any of the appeals were rejected.”

9. Lily Owens, The Secret Life of Bees

Set in 1960s America, Lily and maid / stand-in mum Rosaleen run away from Lily’s dad and end up living with the Boatwright sisters who make honey (hence the title). This book is more adult than YA, which makes Lily’s role as the female protagonist even cooler. Lily is an amazing chick who isn’t afraid to go out and find the life she wants.

“Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.”

10. Bee Fox, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

When her mother Bernadette grants Bee’s wish to go on a family trip to Antarctica (casual), she gets enveloped in the plans. One day Bernadette disappears and it’s up to Bee to find her. As she sifts through her mum’s emails and old documents, she comes across some incredible revelations about her mum’s past.

“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”

So go and and get reading – there is so much kick-assery to discover.

Author Alwyn Hamilton came in to the betty bedroom to talk to us about her first novel, Rebel of the Sands. We talk about her main character, Amani, and how a 16-year-old sharp shooter becomes a rebel and survives in a dessert with no one but herself and a strange boy for company.

The sequel, Traitor to the Throne, is about to come out, so this is a great way to catch up on the first book before reading the new one.

I once bought a cross stitch kit that included silk threads in 27 different shades of beige. No, really.

In the end my desire to create a scene of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet on a bridge wasn’t as great as my inability to distinguish between tan, sand, fawn and all the rest, so I dumped the kit on a friend (she gave up on it too) – but hey, not all attempts at starting a new hobby go so badly.

Plus it’s a good thing to try new activities in our free time. Studies have shown that having interests (even beige ones) helps to make us happier. They are also a way to make new friends and escape from the pressures of school, homework and exams for a bit. What’s not to like about that?

So in the spirit of January, here are eight new extra-curricular activities to try in 2017, based on things you already love. Oh, and none of them require you to leave the sofa. Much.

If you already love colouring books…

Dot-to-dot is the new kid on the mindfulness block! But just as the recent trend for colouring is nothing like what you did when you were four, the new dot-to-dot books are hardcore, with literally hundreds of tiny points to join together. This requires some serious concentration but also distracts from stress and anxiety. You can draw (ok, dot) everything from famous people’s heads to adorable puppies – check out Thomas Pavitte’s books for the coolest selection.

As well as putting pen to paper, folding it is suddenly big news too. The ancient Japanese art of origami is so hot right now, and if you’re looking for a challenge as well as bedroom decs that don’t cost a million pounds on Etsy, this could be for you. Creating animals and birds from paper requires a lot of patience, even if you have a kit explaining what to do, but the results are seriously delightful. For inspiration (and to give your folding fingers a rest), read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

origami

Another hobby with Insta-appeal is calligraphy. The art of beautiful lettering is centuries old, but that doesn’t stop YouTube and Pinterest being great places to learn the basics – with some practice you’ll be able to use calligraphy to create beautiful art based on your favourite poems and quotes. Get started now and you could have Christmas 2017 sorted by summer. How smug?

If you already love binge watching…

One of my goals for the year is to become a minor expert in EastEnders. What? I figured it would be fun to develop my obsession with the soap into an actual hobby, so I’ve started connecting with other fans through Twitter and reading books about the show’s history. If you also love geeking out over new subjects, you could try taking your TV fandom to the next level. Join forums, learn about how it’s made, write fan fiction about your favourite characters. Clear a shelf for some hand-painted Game of Thrones figurines. However you want to let your geek flag fly.

Or, switch media – instead of binge watching, try binge reading. If there’s an author you really like, work your way through all of their back catalogue. Not sure where to begin? There are loads of recommendations out there: check out the Zoella Book Club or Goodreads. Don’t forget this is a cheap hobby! Your school or local library will house enough books for even the most dedicated binge reader, so get a sturdy bag and let your inner Belle run wild.

belle

If you already love crafts…

Whether you’re used to using pins and needles or scissors and glue, if you like crafting then how about turning your hand to upcycling? Nothing to do with bikes or hills, promise. Upcycling is kind of like recycling, only the goal is to make the new item as good or if not even better than it was before. It’s an awesome way to personalise your clothes or your space, and fill grey Sunday afternoons in a way that won’t induce a parental nag-fest. Unless you get paint on the carpet.

Check out charity shops for small chests of drawers or an old mirror to paint. Rummage in your wardrobe for items that you’ve grown out of. Search for inspiration online (Pinterest is great for this, obviously). Mega upcycler Lili from Chicago told me that she is proud of herself for being able to reuse items – like the purses she’s recently made out of old shirts. She says, “It’s really nice to know that you are able to make something beautiful out of something that you don’t use anymore. You can easily make something really cool.”

It was you, it was always you… (find the DIY on ohhappyday.com 🌮🌮🌮🌮🌮🌮

A photo posted by Oh Happy Day (@ohhappyday) on

If you already enjoy blogging…

There are so many hobbies to have a bash at if you like writing. Try going small scale and keep a one sentence diary – not as easy as it sounds. These can go on for YEARS, so you’re able to look back at memories that you might otherwise forget about (although in the case of your year seven crushes that might not be a good thing).

At the other end of the scale, experiment with making a fanzine. This is basically a small magazine that reflects your loves and passions. It could be about music, films, fashion, poetry, cheese toasties… anything. Join forces with friends to make it a sociable thing: work on one together, or all make your own and trade them. There’s a whole ‘zine scene out there of people swapping homemade mags, and you never know where it might lead. Sharmadean Reid started out with a fanzine that eventually led to her creating WAH Nails.

stranger-things-fanzine

@mermaidblobs

See, told you hobbies were cool.

@rae_ritchie_

January has a tough time of things. It can’t be fun following the month quite literally known as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.

Sure, Jan gets all the excited people on New Year’s Eve, staying up late just to greet it. But then it all goes downhill pretty rapidly from there. The mince pies have been taken off the shelves in supermarkets. The Christmas trees are half dead in our driveways. And there certainly aren’t any more presents to look forward to (no matter how many times you check under the sofa “just in case”). You’ve watched everything you’re even vaguely interested in on Netflix. All in all, it’s a downer (poor January), which is where comfort books come in.

books

Comfort book are books that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Books that maybe your parents once read aloud to you. Books you used to read way past bedtime with a torch under the covers. Books that never use the word “doth”. And because our mantra this month is ‘new year, same you’, we think it’s the perfect time to revisit some old friends.

To inspire you, here are our fave comfort books that we’ll be reading this January.

1. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

giphy

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

In many ways, Winnie the Pooh is the literary equivalent of watching videos of unlikely animal friends on YouTube. How often do you see a bear, a teacup pig, a tiger and a kangaroo even on the same continent, let alone hanging out as buds? And that tale of heartwarming cross-species friendship and adventure is just the thing to get you through January. Not to mention a few jars of honey.

2. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

A series of unfortunate events

“The three siblings were not born yesterday. Neither were you, unless of course I am wrong, in which case, welcome to the world, little baby, and congratulations on learning to read so early in life.”

Even if you didn’t actually read this series when you were a child, you’ll probably still find them incredibly comforting as a… not-child. The books are quirky and fun and follow the adventures of three orphan children who, spoiler in the title, are constantly running into trouble. We dare you to get through them without literally lol-ing at least once a page.

3. Harry Potter(s) by JK Rowling

harry-potter

“Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Oh, Harry. How can you not find comfort in a world where headmasters are as cool as Dumbledore and you can get from one side of the country to the other without setting foot on a train? But maybe the real joy of re-reading Harry Potter is that it will last you all the way through until March.

4. The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson 

The Lottie Project

“There are some teachers – just a few – who have YOU’D BETTER NOT MESS WITH ME! tattooed right across their foreheads.”

Let’s be real, this entire list could just be Jacqueline Wilson books. We are pretty confident that out of the 100+ (mmhm, and you thought your PLL fanfic was long) books she’s written over her career, there’ll be one that speaks to your particular comfort-reading needs. The Lottie Project is one of our faves, telling the tale of an uber popular high school girl who finds a photo of Victorian girl who looks exactly like her and decides to investigate her doppelgänger’s life. Sofa, blanket, bucket of tea: perfect Sunday.

5. Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

princess-diaries

“Lilly says I have an overactive imagination and a pathological need to invent drama in my life.”

If your childhood was peppered with princess pillows and tiaras that you wore once and promptly lost, these books will probably be your ideal comfort read. The series follows Mia, a totally down-to-earth girl who lives with her quirky mother in New York. But when she’s 15, her dad lets slip that she’s actually the Princess of Genovia, a tiny country in Europe (fictional, before you use it in a Geography test). Ballgowns, tiaras and important life lessons ensue.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

tumnus

“I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.”

While it sucks that it’s so cold but not snowing outside (regardless of how many times your check your weather app), a visit to Narnia might just make up for it. The first book in the classic series by CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plunges you into a world of magic and mythical creatures, where animals can talk to humans and the White Witch has ruled for 100 years of deep winter (think GOT, but you know, cuddlier and generally less distressing). Instead of doing a wardrobe clearout in January, just crawl inside an imaginary one.

Hopefully that’s inspired you to raid your stash of comfort books and get reading. Who needs mince pies when you’ve got books?

(We’re kidding. Double check your pantry, just in case one of those pastry bad boys is still floating around in there).

Image: Getty

School holidays are great. You don’t have to set alarms. You can wear anything you like. You can eat lunch whenever your hunger strikes you. But sometimes, every so often, they can get, um, a bit… er, dull.

I know! I know, it’s not what you’re meant to say. You’re meant to be grateful and thankful and brimming with holiday induced joy. But, well, sometimes you can end up sitting on the floor of your bedroom, completely out of episodes of Stranger Things to re-watch and with no idea what to do next.

Well, fear not! We have come up with some ideas for how to keep the boredom at bay.

1. Make face masks

Mrs Doubtfire

I’m not entirely sure what it is that I find so soothing about face masks, but pretty much as soon as I apply that first slather, I feel myself relax. You can do it on your own, pop some cucumber on your eyes and listen to soothing music or you can get together with a bunch of friends and experiment with different types. I particularly love this banana face mask. Plus, if any of it ends up in your mouth, it’s totally delicious.

2. Got some leftover bananas?

If you have any bananas left over after making your face mask, it’s NBD because you can make banana popsicles!

3. Learn the Parent Trap Handshake 

One rainy afternoon, my best friend Georgia and I decided we would learn the handshake from Parent Trap. Because I have very little coordination, it took a ridiculous amount of time, but it was totally worth it when we showed our routine off to all our friends at school the next week.

parent-trap

4. Or if you’re more musically inclined…

You could learn “Cups” from Pitch Perfect, which will have the same effect. (Amy can do it and I am immensely jealous).

5. Did someone say ‘sale’?

The high street is on its mid-season sale, so there are bargains to be had. One of our favourites is this dungaree dress from River Island that’s almost 50% off! [Insert Dad joke about that being because its missing 50% of the fabric here]

dungaree-dress

Black dungaree dress, River Island, was £38 now £20

6. Learn to face paint

Look, I’m not entirely sure when this life skill will come in useful but I promise you that if you learn how to paint your face so you look like Scar from the Lion King, a situation will arise. Halloween? Why not. A circus themed party? Sure. Next mufti day? I’m game if you are.

7. Get your pom-pom on

Pom-poms are great because they are so versatile. They look good in pretty much every scenario: on a headband, as bunting, as a key ring, in a nice bowl like apples… Plus, they’re super soothing to make – watch our handy video tutorial, have a Netflix marathon and pom the day away.

8. Marie Kondo your room

I wish I knew the words to describe the look I got in the betty offices when I said I didn’t know who Marie Kondo was. According to her Wikipedia, she’s a Japanese organising consultant and author. Lauren tells me that after she read Marie’s first book, ‘The Life-Changing Art of Tidying,’ she actually re-organised her wardrobe and it did, in fact, change her life. As someone who spends about five minutes every morning trying to locate the top I have in mind, I have to admit, I’m tempted.

9. Head to your local library

Holidays are always a great time to get on top of your reading list. If you’re feeling a little uninspired, why not check out Zoella’s new book club reads or some of our betty book reviews?

10. Or… get crafty with books

If you’re not that into reading or have got a lot of old books lying about, you could try some of these DIY projects that re-purpose old books into beautiful new accessories.

diy-inspiration-smashbook

11. Stage a tribute to Bey

What better way is there to spend your hols than learning all the words to Bey’s, ‘Hold Up’? Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, why not try and get the whole Lemonade album down? Put on your yellow-est dress and get crackin’

Boredom, BE GONE. Bey-dom awaits!

It feels like every couple of months there’s a new bit of research announced proving that reading makes you smarter, or richer, or less likely to have voted for Trump. And while they’re seized and tweeted by earnest readers, teachers and librarians, it’s hard to argue with the core fact that reading really does seem to make you happier.

While reading a good book is not going to magically fix all your problems, the evidence suggests it might help you be able to cope with them. A key part of the power of books boils down to the way books make you more empathetic and therefore your relationships stronger – and a study really did find that Harry Potter readers are more inclined to dislike Trump. So.

The science of it is all to do with “mirror neurons”; when we read about something, our brain reacts as though we’re experiencing it ourselves. It shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise that reading about a wealth of different people and places makes us think more broadly about what it must be like to experience the world differently but the science is now backing up what readers have known for a long time. It also shows how important it is to read broadly and diversely. As Samuel Johnson said, although a little bit melodramatically:

The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.

At the School of Life in London you can enrol in a ‘bibliotherapy’ session, and GPs are now prescribing books for panic attacks, depression and anxiety alongside medication and more traditional therapy. There are studies showing reading reduces your chances of developing dementia, that it slows memory decline, helps you sleep better, reduces the symptoms of depression. You can find stats to prove a link between reading and almost every mental health issue. For some suggestions of where to start, Reading Well has book lists arranged by subject including self-harm, body image and anxiety.

In 2009 researchers from the University of Sussex showed that even six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by two thirds, because it forces concentration on one thing and eases tension in your muscles and heart. Mindfulness may be a new phase, but reading is the original meditation and has been around a long time. An actual sentence in a report by The Reading Agency is:

Prolific and regular readers are the happiest groups… more regular readers are least anxious.

And that’s science, guys.

Aside from science, I’ve seen the real life impact of the power of reading. I used to work as a librarian in a big secondary school in Coventry with 11-18 year olds and I saw first-hand the impact that books could have on teen readers (and teachers); whether it’s for advice, catharsis or escape. Although famously a solo activity, I’ve also seen the way reading builds communities and breaks down barriers between students from wildly different backgrounds. And that’s not even getting onto the online communities and fandoms that the internet has gifted us.

The latest campaigner for the health benefits of reading is DJ and writer Gemma Cairney, who gave this year’s Reading Agency Lecture on mental health and the books that have had an impact on her, three of which she’s shared with us below, as well as why they mean so much to her.

She says, “Mental health comes in a lot of different flavours but it’s written about so clinically, and it doesn’t have to be – more people than we realise are experiencing one of those flavours and we just need to open up lines of communication around our mental wellbeing and start being more honest A good book is all about imagination, sparkle, something accessible and not too self-indulgent. When I started to think about the things that have inspired my life and writing, I found these were the books that gave me the licence to be me from a young age”.

Here are Gemma’s top picks for those who want to get reading…

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

faraway-tree

“I’ve got a rampant imagination and this captured that from an early start because it’s a totally bananas book. I’m a kooky person and you’re often lambasted for that, but his book taught me that it’s okay to be wacky and different, and I liked that a lot”.

Buy a copy here.

 

foreverForever by Judy Blume

“Everyone got their hands on Forever because It was the first time we could actually delve into a serious issue. At that age you start to become inquisitive about sex and when that happens it’s quite hard to regulate your idea of it. I feel lucky that I could get information from a book which is nuanced and rounded and about love, because sex should be about love.”

Buy your copy here.

Lorali by Laura Dockrill

lorali“I love this book because it’s so brilliantly weird. The use of slang, the poetic nature, the need for imagination and fantasy, it gives you confidence that there is something out there for everyone, you just need to explore and find the right book for you.”

Buy your copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

@acaseforbooks

Image: Hailey Hamilton