CKG Review: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

What the Judges Say:

“The language used in this novel exquisitely conveys the atmosphere of the 1940s American rural setting…Every character is believable, well developed and fully rounded, combined with well observed small domestic details. This is a truthful exploration of small-time attitudes and injustice without being overly sentimental, and exploring questions of morality within the confines of the story.”

What We Say:

“The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.”

From the moment I read that gripping first line, I was absolutely hooked on Wolf Hollow. There aren’t many books that I read in one day but I swallowed this one whole. 

Compelling is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this book. It’s not a cheerful story and it takes you to some pretty dark places but, from that first line onwards, you’re completely drawn in and have no choice but to go there.

The book tells the story of twelve year-old Annabelle, whose unremarkable life in sleepy, rural Wolf Hollow is rudely interrupted by the arrival of a new girl at school, Betty Glengarry. Betty’s reputation precedes her (she has been sent to live with her grandparents in the country because she is “incorrigible”) and she very soon reveals herself to be a cruel and manipulative bully.

Before long Betty is bullying Annabelle and making threats against her brothers. But Annabelle has an ally in Toby, a First World War veteran who lives on the edges of Wolf Hollow’s small community:

He didn’t ask for food or money. He didn’t ask for anything at all. But instead of drifting through on his way to somewhere else like the others, he circled endlessly, and I confess that I had been nervous about him in the beginning.

When Toby challenges Betty, she soon sets out to get revenge in startling and very disturbing fashion. And Annabelle is forced to tackle questions such as, when is doing wrong actually right? And what if lying is sometimes actually in the best interests of the truth? 

This book has been compared to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s easy to understand why such comparisons have been made – a rural American setting; a small community; a lying antagonist; the “mockingbird” character, wrongfully accused of something terrible and left facing the wrath of the townsfolk; and a girl approaching adolescence being confronted by some very grown-up dilemmas. 

Wolf Hollow is a really well-crafted novel, a challenging read that explores some pretty big concepts and really makes you think about human capability, motivation and morality.


Wolf Hollow is published by Corgi Books

Find out more: listen to Lauren Wolk talk about Wolf Hollow here:

CKG Review: Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

What the Judges Say:

‘A haunting and beautiful novel that breathes life into one of World War II’s most terrifying and little-known tragedies’ – Judging panel


What We Say:

Ruta Sepetys has form with the Carnegie: Between Shades of Gray, her debut novel telling the little known history of Lithuanians during the Second World War, was shortlisted for the award back in 2012. Salt To the Sea tells a similarly little known yet deadly narrative.

I read it in one breathy gulp of a sitting – totally swept away but genuinely aghast that I knew so little about the historical events depicted in it. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is one of the worst maritime disasters in history with a greater loss of life than that of the Titanic and the Lusitania disasters put together and yet various historical and geopolitical factors have ensured that the tragedy remains largely unknown. The book is a testament to the power of story and its ability to give the dispossessed a voice and identity.

Indeed, the success of this ‘hidden history’ doesn’t simply rest with an already poignant historical fact or the accuracy with which it is related (no pilfered tears here) – it is through the powerful voices of her characters and the ‘human story’ that they tell that the novel really sings.

The narrative is shared between the four main characters, masterfully switching between voices as their stories intertwine. The chapters are rapid fire, ramping up the tension but also offering an exploration of the chilling realities of war from multiple perspectives. There’s an added resonance to one voice in particular – readers of Sepetys’ earlier novel will recognise that Joana is in fact the cousin of Lina, the protagonist in Between Shades of Gray. It’s a nice touch that speaks eloquently to the guilt and grief experienced by families torn apart by conflict.

It’s emotional, thought provoking and pacey.

What our Shadowers Say:

Salt To The Sea is a beautifully written book. The characters are well rounded and the plot is brilliantly crafted – Emily (15)

From The Horse’s Mouth:

 “Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past”. – Author’s Note from Salt To The Sea.

You can find out more about Salt to The Sea in the shadowing site’s video here:

Ruta Shadowing Site

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.