CKG Review: Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth

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We’ve been industriously reading and digesting the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlists over the last couple of weeks but with only a month to go before we discover 2017’s winning titles we think it’s high time that we shared our thoughts with you…

To start us off we’re looking at Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth by previous Carnegie Medal winner Frank Cottrell Boyce.

What the Judges Say:

‘This writer is particularly skilled at using fantasy to say something about the world we live in and how we relate to each other and it is the relationships which really matter. Touching and credible’ – Judging panel

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What We Say:

Frank Cottrell Boyce takes the story of Laika, the dog sent into space by the Russians in 1957, and asks what if she didn’t die, what if she was rescued by someone up there and told them about the wonders of Earth? Enter Sputnik, a small, rather unpredictable alien who lands on the doorstep of Prez, a young boy in care. Prez has grown up with his grandfather but the onset of dementia has meant that the two have become separated. Though he finds himself unable to speak to humans, Prez will talk to Sputnik, who having only Laika as a reference, has taken the form of a dog.

Prez’s uncertainty of his place in the world makes him hugely endearing, and Sputnik, a kind of beneficent Lord of Misrule (happy to put a lightsabre into the hands of a five year old or deploy a reverse dynamite grenade to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall), is a fantastic character able to fill the page with joy and adventure. Together the two embark on a mission to save the earth from destruction by cataloguing the reasons it is still worth seeing (according to Sputnik’s alien logic). The resulting list is both profound and ridiculous.

Sure to be a hit with young enquiring minds, this is a tale which is heart-breaking and hilarious in equal measure; it takes the poetic and the mundane and blends them into Cottrell Boyce’s own particular brand of magical realism. Readers will find themselves more than happy to suspend their disbelief – adventures are but a gravity eddy away!

From the Horse’s mouth:

Watch Frank talking about the book on the CKG website where you can also hear him read an extract: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=14

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Review: Much Ado About Shakespeare – Shakespeare Day 23rd April

Much Ado About Shakespeare – The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book by Donovan Bixley

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April 23rd is Shakespeare Day so it seemed fitting that our ‘What We’re Reading Wednesday’ for this week should be Shakespearey. This is in fact a book that I wanted to nominate for this year’s Greenaway Award but the fact that it is a New Zealand import made it disappointingly ineligible. It is, however, a corker of a book that deserves some shouting about!

The subtitle says it all: ‘The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book’. Bixley says his aim is to offer a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s world: a play on words and pictures that attempts to draw back the curtain and shed light on the bright and exuberant world of Shakespeare’s life and times.

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Double page spreads combine words from the plays and map them on to historical fact/context. The fact that the known details of Shakespeare’s life are pretty sparse allows Bixley some fun with his interpretations (Macbeth’s ‘double, double toil and trouble’ accompanies the birth of Shakespeare’s twins). It is a work of speculation but a joyous one at that that allows us a gateway to this world.

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Review: The New Adventures of Mr Toad: A Race for Toad Hall -Tom Moorhouse (author) and Holly Swain (illustrator)

100 years on from The Wind in the Willows, Toad Hall lies in ruins. Teejay (Toad Junior), Mo and Ratty are exploring the place when they make a discovery in the Ice House – it’s a very frozen Mr Toad! Nobody can quite believe he’s alive – especially not the dodgy weasels who want to claim Toad Hall for their own.

This is one of the first chapter books I have read with my eldest daughter (just-turned 5) and she absolutely loved it. As did I! When she asked for “just one more chapter” I was powerless to resist and three bedtimes later we’d finished the whole book! 
Mr Toad is as gloriously eccentric as you would expect him to be and the new young characters are smart, brave and adventurous. Holly Swain’s illustrations are vibrant and vivacious, with a colour palette of mostly greys, greens and blacks with occasional splashes of red. And the car racing action is brilliant fun!

Looking forward to the next instalment in the series.

Emma 

A Race for Toad Hall is published by Oxford University Press

Review: Welcome To Nowhere – Elizabeth Laird

In the winter of 2015, Elizabeth Laird travelled to Jordan to volunteer in two refugee camps where she was moved by the plight and the stories of the people she met –Welcome to Nowhere is the result of her experiences there.

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Illustrations by Lucy Eldridge

The book tells the story of twelve year old Omar and his family as they flee their home in the once beautiful city of Bosra. There are no heroes, no crusades, no grand plans being related here; despite his brother Musa’s clandestine political activities, Omar dryly observes that ‘being political was no part of my life plan’. Rather, this is a tale of a family cast upon the tides of civil war and simply reacting to it as best they can. It is a tale of everyday challenges, exasperations and privations as well as the instinctive acts of bravery, kindness and resilience that go hand in hand with them.welcome-to-nowhere

And my goodness what resilience is needed. I follow the news, I consider myself fairly well informed about what’s going on in the world, but reading Welcome To Nowhere has opened my eyes in a way that no news story could. This book has made me change the way I think. Elizabeth Laird’s writing is like opening a door into this world – she wraps the reader in the minutiae of daily life, and shows us the terrifying gradual slide into the most exceptional of circumstances.

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Illustrations by Lucy Eldridge

It is a tale told with integrity and incisiveness that, more than anything else I have read on the topic, succeeds in engendering empathy. A moving and extraordinary tale of bravery, resilience and families with an ending that feels like a stroke of genius. It feels especially important given the tone of global politics at the moment. Everyone should read this book.img_9020

Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

The blurb:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? 


The Review:

Okay, I’m going to be totally honest here. Whilst I’m clearly not averse to using the occasion (and accompanying Twitter hashtag) to shamelessly try and get some views for this post, I am not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day in general. I really don’t like the idea of making grand romantic gestures on one particular day just because Clinton Cards says I should – if my husband gets a card at all it will be Card Factory all the way and the last grand romantic gesture I made was letting him watch a whole episode of Ancient Aliens without snorting sarcastically once…

But although I don’t like Valentine’s Day, I do think I’m a romantic at heart. And although I don’t agree that one particular day should hold so much romantic pressure, I do believe that any one day can hold a huge amount of romantic promise. I also believe that someone can come along one day and change everything you think you know about love. 

“Save me from the nice and sincere boys who feel things too deeply”

And that is why I loved The Sun Is Also A Star. One of the criticisms I’ve heard levelled at this book is that it’s all a bit too insta-love, but I loved the optimism and possibility and was completely swept along by Natasha and Daniel; helped on the way by the constant switch in POV and the deliciously glorious short chapters (hooray for short chapters!). 

Natasha and Daniel are intelligent, thoughtful and engaging main characters and I loved the way their narrative was interspersed with snippets from the other peripheral characters that they come into contact with as their own love story unfolds. It’s testament to Nicola Yoon’s writing that she made me care so much about a character (Irene) that only appears on a handful of pages in the book. And although the events of the novel take place over a period of only around twelve hours, it feels like Natasha and Daniel really get to know each other on a deeper level – they find out about each other’s backgrounds, likes and dislikes and what will frustrate as well as endear them to each other, and their love story feels progressive and genuine. There’s humour in there too and, as someone who often wonders ‘what if…’ I particularly liked the exploration of coincidence and the ripple effect that seemingly random, minor incidents can have upon people’s lives.

So there you have it. My name’s Emma and I’m a hopeless romantic. And The Sun Is Also A Star is my ideal Valentine’s date (sorry husband!)

Em