CKG Review: Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth


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


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:



What We’re Reading Wednesday: Carnegie Shadowing & The Lie Tree

We’re departing from convention a little this week: as the award ceremony draws ever nearer it’s fair to say that CKG fever has well and truly set in and rather than the usual What We’re Reading Wednesday book review we’re looking at activities that could be shared as part of a shadowing group.


It’s often difficult both financially and logistically to get enough copies of any one of the shortlisted books circulating at the same time such that all your readers will have read the same book prior to a shadowing group meeting. I’ve always tended, therefore, to try activities and discussion that whets the appetite of those yet to start reading and allows those that have already finished to share their ideas and enthusiasm with other readers. There’s also a greater sense of group cohesiveness and enjoyment when we’re all focused on the same (hopefully enjoyable!) task, so I tend to stick to one book per meeting.

Our activity for The Lie Tree was based around those kind of straw blow paintings you probably did as a kid. I’m not quite sure how I arrived at this plan – possibly a combination of Frances Hardinge’s vivid descriptions of the tree and the fact that the book was shelf-mates in my Library with fellow Costa winner The Loney. The two front covers certainly made for a striking visual image that chimed with my memories of the unpredictability of painting with straws – the fact that the medium might give our trees a life of their own seemed particularly apt.  Continue reading

A Few thoughts on the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme…

A few thoughts on the arrival of the Carnegie shortlist…

It’s always an exciting moment when the boxes arrive at the Library counter – naturally there’s nothing nicer than unpacking large quantities of beautiful books but with this particular delivery there is always an added frisson of excitement. Students have a nose for new books I’ve discovered, so I find myself quickly surrounded with several hands dipping in and out the box in shared excitement. There’s a consensus that the books look good and several pleased exclamations of ‘ooh, I’ve already read that’. I’m especially delighted because this means that my recommendations at the issue desk have carried some weight – I’ve been leading a concerted campaign in recent weeks to make everyone read One by Sarah Crossan as well as a more sustained general awareness programme on the genius of Marcus Sedgwick, Frances Hardinge and Jenny Valentine (everyone is already aware of my thing for Patrick Ness!).

My shadowing kicks off in earnest with an opportune visit from an English teacher in need of a purposeful lesson for a depleted Year 9 English class and we seize upon the idea of letting them have a look at the shortlist. It ticks lots of boxes for promotion for me (huzzah – a captive audience!), it ties in nicely with the work the class are already doing on writing styles and opening paragraphs and it’s not too onerous for the students. Even the self-proclaimed ‘reluctant readers’ settle down and read for 10 minutes and then we have a discussion about the titles (using a ‘bin, borrow or buy’ framework) to suss out which we think look promising. It’s an opportunity to explain what on earth ‘shadowing’ means as well as outlining the idea and ethos of the award scheme in general (and plugging a few winners and shortlisted titles from previous years along the way). The Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan’s One are looking pretty popular by the end of the session and I leave feeling pretty enthused. Talking about books is good!


The 2016 Carnegie shortlist arrives in school

There is of course the inevitable rush to catalogue and process the books ready to get them out on loan as soon as possible – I’ve already got students turning up at break time asking if they can loan the books. The issue desk is a flurry of barcodes and sticky labels but imagine my delight when I get one or two students from that Year 9 English class turning up asking if they can carry on reading the book they sampled during the class.

It’s these moments that make the Carnegie such a success – it’s having those students (who I would not normally have seen stood at my issue desk) asking for books. It’s the snatched conversations on the corridors with staff and students as they just have to share how they’re getting on with their books. It’s the breathless enthusiasm as a book is returned the very next day with the words ‘I couldn’t put it down’. Some of my most satisfying moments as a Librarian have come from the shadowing schemes – in knowing that these outstanding books have provided the opportunity to put into action that magic formula of putting the right book into the right hands at the right moment.

Don’t get me wrong, the shadowing scheme in our school isn’t all singing all dancing, I’m not talking about vast numbers of students and I’m never going to get every child shadowing, or even every child who’s joined our group reading all eight of the books, but what it is is an opportunity, SUCH an opportunity. It’s a quiet revolution – bucking the trend that ‘teens don’t read’. It’s a dialogue with students about what they read, how they read and how they perceive themselves as readers that simply doesn’t happen every day.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t finish the books – in our school it’s more about opening the door to new authors, new kinds of books as well as presenting opportunities to read and a time in which to discuss them. It’s that chance to think (and often read) outside the box, to indulge our imaginations. It’s about being part of a reading community and, rather importantly, it’s aspirational; it’s about wanting to read good books long after the winner has been announced at the award ceremony.


Sharon Wagg reports on her first YLG training event

Keen to engage with students and support aspiring librarians, YLG North West ran a competition to offer a free place to one student to attend our Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal training event on 11th October this year.  In return, the student was required to write a report of the event.  Sharon Wagg was our lovely winner and here is her account of the day:

As I sat on the train travelling to my first Youth Libraries Group (YLG) training event, my mind kept replaying the events of the year that led me to be offered a free student place on the YLG North West’s Carnegie and Greenaway Medal training event: “Inspiring Books for Young Readers.”

Having embraced the world of school libraries over the past few years and then moving to the beautiful Peak District, I have just begun studying for an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield. Whilst slightly daunted by the idea of going back to study, I relished the idea of attending conferences and training events. And so here I am, a rather mature MA student reporting on her first ever YLG training event. CKG photo 1 Continue reading