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:



Report: YLG Northwest Unconference on the Move 2016

Last weekend saw the return of our Unconference on the Move. After the success of the 2015 event in Manchester, we decided to stick with the ‘on the move’ format and visited three stunning locations in Liverpool’s cultural St George’s Quarter: Central Library; the Walker Art Gallery and the majestic St George’s Hall. All of which were shown in their best light on  what was a beautiful last-gasp-of-summer Saturday.

The aim of the Unconference was to give delegates from across the region the chance to meet, network and talk about topics that matter to them. With that in mind, we started the day by asking delegates to nominate topics for discussion before embarking on a tour of Central Library with our guide, Susan.

Susan showed us some of the building’s most distinguishing features, including the large children’s library, the Picton reading room and the soundproof space for teenagers, complete with games console and PCs (no books in there though, although teenage fiction is situated just outside). The impressive archives space also looked well-used, whilst the roof terrace is always beautiful – I’m beginning to think it’s always sunny in Liverpool as I’ve never visited the library on a day that’s not terrace-worthy yet!

the stunning Picton reading room

After the tour, we settled down to our first discussion groups of the day. Splitting into two so delegates could choose what most appealed to them, one group discussed digital engagement and interaction with young people; whilst the other focused on the future of school and public library services for children as librarian posts are deleted and libraries are closed.
The digital group discussed the best ways to connect with teenagers and reasons why they might not be digitally engaging with our services as much as we might like – including organisational restrictions (library staff not being allowed to use social media); the platforms we are using (are these the ones where the teenagers are? And do they even want us there?) and the danger of teens tuning out (social media saturation). Suggestions included staff using examples of other organisations where social media is used to good effect to build a business case or even to look to the young people they work with for this (ask them what they want from us digitally then use that as evidence). It was agreed that whatever method of communication is used, the key is to always be authentic as young people can smell desperation through a screen.

With well-documented cuts and changes to delivery models, the second group discussed ways in which library services for children and young people can be promoted and protected. The key finding of this group was “keep shouting your message, it is always new to somebody.” Key initiatives that are good opportunities for libraries to raise their profile were identified, including the Summer Reading Challenge, Code Clubs and the Shelf Help collection for young people.

the Shakespeare book art dotted around Central Library added a touch of drama to proceedings

Following this we then moved on to St George’s Hall where, after a look around this beautiful building, the discussions continued apace. Books were the order of the day this time, with “Moving readers on…Wimpy Kid and beyond” and “Books for older teens, including LGBT+ and mental health themes” the chosen topics.

After lunch and further networking at the Walker Art Gallery, it was back to Central Library for the final part of the day: deciding upon the Northwest regional nominations for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway awards. Committee members championed a selection of books, highlighting how they meet the awards criteria before delegates voted for their favourites. As a result our regional nominations are:


Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles – Steve Anthony

Counting Lions – Stephen Walton


These Shallow Graves – Jennifer Donnelly

Orbiting Jupiter – Gary D. Schmidt

Thank you to all delegates that attended the Unconference this year – we hope you found it as useful and enjoyable as we did.

The YLG Northwest committee

Read Along With Us – CKG Nominations

We’re inviting all the delegates at our Unconference to vote for the 4 books that the Northwest Committee can put forward as our CKG nominations for 2017. Committee members will be championing a shortlist of 6 books for each award and discussing how we think each of the books we’ve selected measures up to the Medal criteria.


We’d really like your votes to count so we’re inviting you to read along with us. Copies of each of the titles will be available on the day but it would make all the difference if you’d had a chance to look at some of the books beforehand and (fingers crossed) felt happy to contribute to our discussions on the day.

Of course if you’re unable to attend our Unconference we’d still love it if you’d take a look at these books – we think they really are among the best books published in the last year and we’d love to know what you made of them too.

Our shortlisted titles are as follows- Happy Reading!


Where Monsters Lie – Polly Ho-Yen

The House On Hummingbird Island – Sam Angus

These Shallow Graves – Jennifer Donnelly

Time Travelling With A Hamster – Ross Welford

Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

Orbiting Jupiter – Gary D Schmidt


Counting Lions – Stephen Walton

Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles: A Story About War and Peace – Steve Antony

There Is A Tribe Of Kids – Lane Smith

Much Ado About Shakespeare – Donovan Bixley

The Marvels – Brian Selznick

Circle – Jeannie Baker




Carnegie Review: Five Children On The Western Front

Continuing our efforts to review all of the shortlisted books before Monday’s medal winners announcement, Becky tells us about Carnegie shortlisted Five Children On The Western Frontfive-children-on-the-western-front-great-war-books

In Five Children on the Western Front, Kate Saunders has done something remarkably brave and bold by taking up the mantle of the much loved children’s author E. Nesbit. The original Five Children novels were written by Nesbit at the turn of the twentieth century and are considered by many as literary classics. They centre around the wonderfully charismatic, yet somewhat cantankerous Psammead; a sand fairy that has the ability to grant wishes to the five children who discover him in the gravel pit at the bottom of their garden. In Five Children on the Western Front, Saunders has moved the story forward nine years and we meet the children again at the brink of the First World War. Cyril, the eldest of the five children is now a soldier preparing to fight in the trenches and the Psammead reappears on the eve of his departure. The Psammead or ‘Sammy’ as the children fondly refer to him, is unsure why he has returned to the children but informs them that he has been through ‘some sort of violent magical upheaval’ and that his powers are diminished. The rest of the story follows Sammy and the children on a journey of discovery as to why he has lost his magic and the means by which to return it to him.

Saunders stays true to the original language of Nesbit’s books with phrases such as ‘Old Bean’ and ‘Toodleoo’ littering the pages. At first, I was worried this would render the book too saccharine or antiquated for the modern reader. However, a couple of chapters in I realised that’s it was necessary to evoke both the historical setting and the youthful innocence of the children. The Psammead is without doubt the star of the book and his unashamedly haughty attitude provides a wonderful comic element to the action. This serves to lighten the harrowing backdrop of the First World War, which hangs heavily over the lives of the children. In his journey to recover his magic the Psammead takes the children to visit Cyril in the Front. Though Saunders does not explicitly delve into the horrors of trench warfare, certain phrases such as ‘the soldiers…tramped on towards the sound of gunfire’ coupled with the readers imagination are enough to permeate the story with a sense of foreboding.

I think Kate Saunders has done a remarkable job in bringing these beloved characters back to life and her novel is a fitting tribute to the original author. It has a dark period in History at its heart but Saunders handles this with poignancy and care. I was truly moved by the end of this book and feel it is a very worthy contender for the Carnegie medal.


Greenaway Shortlist: Alphabets, Bears & Holes

So the announcement is looming, it’s less than a week ‘til we know the winners of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals; we’re hoping to have posted reviews of all of the shortlisted titles by then so we’re kicking off with a bumper three in one Greenaway edition.


Something About A Bear – Jackie Morris

First of all, let me just say this book is BEAUTIFUL. If asked to describe it in one word, that’s what pops to mind first, or possibly lyrical, or maybe rich… but you get the idea. This book has lots of visual appeal but as we all know that’s not enough to impress the judges, so looking in a bit more detail…IMG_1010

The judging criteria mentions something about the medium and artistic style being appropriate to the subject matter and this is where the watercolour illustrations really excel – they lend a fluidity of movement both to the bears themselves and their habitats (I love the rushing waterfall of the Brown Bear spread). There’s character there too in abundance (see the spectacled bear cubs) but I think what I most enjoyed, and perhaps is where the book’s strength lies, is the way that the illustration puts you in the habitat with the bears.

The illustrations are full page with the colour bleeding right to the edges of the spreads. The use of colour is masterful – it’s used to convey temperature so that we experience these habitats – they are not mere pictorial upholstery. Perspective too plays a part; we’re up in the trees with the spectacled bears or down  in the churning water amongst the salmon. It gave me the sense of having travelled, of having journeyed as part of the reading experience. And what’s more it left me wanting to know more: Jackie’s words and pictures gave real characters to these bears and their surroundings and that in turn made me want to know more – just imagine what the song of a spectacled bear would sound like…

Read more about the genesis of the book on Jackie’s blog.

Sam and Dave Dig A Hole – Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

When I think about this book it conjures in my head a sense of crumbly soil and the intense desire to find one of those spectacular jewels! Testament again to a book which is experienced rather than just words on a page.IMG_1011

Ostensibly very simple, the textured and muted illustrations set the scene for this comedy of errors beautifully. Though a character can look exactly the same from page to page a slight change in expression and most particularly the eyes (the dog might be one of my all-time picture book characters for this reason) can change the whole story. There’s a pantomime ‘it’s behind you’ quality about the book –the cross sectional illustrations give a special knowledge about the unfolding action that the hapless Sam and Dave are completely unaware of. Very much in the vein of the classic Rosie’s Walk, the illustrations in fact reveal something quite different than the text might suggest. In decoding the pictures we become actively involved in the storytelling process.

One of my favourite things about this book though is that it has given us this: 6 Theories on The Ending of Sam and Dave Dig A Hole. How wonderful and how powerful that a book can cause such flights of fancy and speculation.

Once Upon An Alphabet – Oliver Jeffers

Conceptually brilliant, Jeffers takes the idea of an alphabet book and explodes it into a 112 page narrative. It’s as wry and witty as you’d expect from a Oliver Jeffers book with all the tender and humorous little touches that have characterized his work so far. Colour is used to great effect, setting the mood or tone for the words (of course Danger Delilah was going to wear a purple super hero cape). The use of white space focuses attention adding extra poignancy or emphasis, it also means that despite the plethora of materials used in the illustrations (there’s watercolour, pastels, crayons, pencils, collage and I particularly loved the turned back and crumpled pages of the letter Q) the effect is never overwhelming or fussy.IMG_1004

Each letter is illustrated in a way that adds extra layers of narrative to the words. There’s extra details and conversation added in handwriting as well as plenty of signposts to send you doubling backwards (or forwards) checking where a character last appeared. The book actively encourages movement between the pages beyond the traditional page turn: so that if you want to know the solution to the enigma of the letter E then you need to turn straight to the letter N.

Though we’re ostensibly following the alphabet, Jeffers shows us that stories can be fluid and that their life continues beyond the page. It’s certainly a book that will keep on offering new details or nuances each time you pick it up.