CKG Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

As we near the end of our series of Carngeie and Greenaway reviews, Ann warns us of the perils of reading Greenaway shortlisted Thornhill just before bed!

What the publisher says: 

As she unpacks in her new bedroom, Ella is irresistibly drawn to the big old house that she can see out of her window. Surrounded by overgrown gardens, barbed wire fences and ‘keep out’ signs, it looks derelict.

But that night, a light goes on in one of the windows. And the next day she sees a girl in the grounds.

Ella is hooked. The house has a story to tell. She is sure of it.

Thornhill Pam SmyWhat we say:

I read this last night just before I went to bed, big mistake !

Using a hybrid format of diary entries and illustrated sequences, Thornhill tells the story of two lonely girls across dual timelines. Full of ‘bullies, ghosts and creepy dolls’ (as one newspaper put it) – this contemporary Gothic tale leaves you with much to think about.

The  illustrated sequences have an eerie quality: As Mary’s story is revealed in heartbreaking diary entries, Ella’s exploration of the modern day Thornhill is told in silent monochromatic freeze frame. The effect can be deeply disturbing.

Empty black pages separate the written and illustrated sequences and divide the past from the present. They create a nice pause in between the two narratives, preventing the reader from rushing too quickly through the developing mystery – as with all good creepy tales pacing is everything!

Smy’s bold illustrative style combines observational drawing with a strong design aesthetic. Her imposing facades and lingering images of overgrown gardens (particularly the images used on the front cover and the endpapers) sit comfortably alongside incredibly detailed interiors and expressive character studies.

The overall feeling is cinematic and ominous. The atmospheric and emotional illustrations ooze tension and reward the reader with a suitably ambiguous climax and chilling denouement.

I’ve never read a book like it – totally absorbing!


Watch Pam Smy speaking about Thornhill on the CKG shadowing site:

You can view the full Carnegie and Kate Greenaway 2018 shortlists here:


CKG Review: King of the Sky illustrated by Laura Carlin

Next in our Greenaway reviews is King of the Sky by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin. Look out for our thoughts on Thornhill later today….

What the publishers say:

Starting a new life in a new country, a young boy feels lost and alone – until he meets an old man who keeps racing pigeons. Together they pin their hopes on a race across Europe and the special bird they believe can win it: King of the Sky. Nicola Davies’ beautiful story – an immigrant’s tale with a powerful resonance in our troubled times – is illustrated by an artist who makes the world anew with every picture.

King of The Sky Laura Carlin

What we say:

If you’d have told me that I’d be raving about a book on racing pigeons before I started shadowing the CKG medals I’d have never have believed you – what on earth would I want with a book about pigeons and Welsh mining towns?! Well – lots as it turns out. This thoughtful and moving book combines Nicola Davies’ superb words with Carlin’s nuanced illustrations to great effect.

I first came across Laura Carlin’s work in her illustrated version of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man and was utterly bowled over by how she could take something so familiar and look at it from a completely new perspective. The illustration where she shows the Iron Man’s eyes glowing like red headlamps may have elicited a genuine gasp of admiration – it’s like the reader is the Iron Man and we’re looking out through his eyes, amazing!

Carlin brings all that ability to look at things from a different perspective to bear in King of the Sky – utilising shifts in tone and scale as well as sketchy pencil lines and bold colour washes, she communicates a visual narrative of great emotional depth.

For the boy lost in reveries of “sunlight, fountains and vanilla smell of ice cream”, Carlin’s muted colours, industrial landscape and Lowry-esque figures could not appear more forbidding and strange. And yet the soft smudgy illustrations offer small details of optimism: the boy’s yellow sweater and the red scarf of next-door neighbour Mr Evans both positively glow within these grey, watery landscapes.

Indeed, Carlin’s illustrations are not just about contrast but about hope for the future: the yellow used for the sun drenched St Peters Square is reprised in the soft glow emitted from the rows of ‘little houses’ in the boy’s new town. Similarly, as the friendship between the two grows we see subtle shifts in the landscape: no longer merely populated with ‘clanking towers’ and ‘smoking chimneys’, we see the farmer in his wagon, glimpse the snatches of blue sky as the pigeons are set free and notice the busy back yards of the houses next door. Despite first impressions, this is a place teeming with life and its own kind of beauty. It’s not such a bad place to be.

Aided by bold use of double page spreads with little or no text we have a great sense of this place – the reader is given time to breathe and soak in their surroundings. It’s a technique which also gives the book a beautiful sense of pace – ably communicating the boys initial isolation as well as the enormity of the journey King of the Sky makes and what this means to those left at home awaiting his return.

Though so much of Carlin’s work is expansive, with large landscapes and street scenes, it is underpinned by deft use of body language ensuring that the developing friendship between Mr Evans and the boy is at the centre of the story telling. Minute changes – hands buried in pockets, an outstretched arm, a gap closed, a linked arm, a giddy rush down the stairs and a final whoop of joy – all chart the impact of feeling unwelcome and the transformative power of finding a connection that makes you feel like you can belong.

I cannot think of a better or more subtle picture book to interrogate ideas of home and belonging.


Watch Laura Carlin speaking about King Of The Sky on the CKG shadowing site: 

You can view the full Carnegie and Kate Greenaway 2018 shortlists here:

CKG Review: Release by Patrick Ness

The clock is ticking – it’s a mere five days until we find out the winner of this years’ Carnegie and Greenaway Medals and here at YLG North West we’re still busily beavering away to review all of the shortlisted titles before the announcement on the 18th June.

Today we bring you Lizzie’s thoughts on Patrick Ness’s Release from the Carnegie shortlist…

What the publisher says…

The most personal and tender novel yet from Patrick Ness, the twice Carnegie Medal-winning author of A Monster Calls. It’s Saturday, it’s summer and, although he doesn’t know it yet, everything in Adam Thorn’s life is going to fall apart. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll find freedom from the release. Time is running out though, because way across town, a ghost has risen from the lake… This uplifting coming-of-age novel will remind you what it’s like to fall in love.

Release Patrick NessWhat we say…

Taking its literary inspiration from Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway with a healthy dose of Judy Blume’s Forever thrown into the mix, this is the story of Adam Thorn. Trapped in rural small town America, son of preacher parents and weighed down by their expectations, the novel’s title looms large over the narrative.

Interwoven with Adam’s story is the otherworldly tale of a murdered girl and a mythical Queen who move through our reality seeking answers, revenge and their own particular brand of ‘release’. I really loved this element of the narrative – though the connection between Adam and the Queen is glancing, the two narratives accelerate in harmony, propelling one another towards the day’s final denouement.

It’s genius plotting and pacing and ultimately allows for a more nuanced reading of Adam’s situation: In Adam’s world the belief that a particular revelation might bring your world crashing down around you has additional edge given that we see it being played out alongside a story of truly mythical proportions. Read in tandem the two narratives allow us a glimpse of the extraordinary undercurrents which underpin the everyday – a way of appreciating the world stopping or world just beginning possibilities of a single day.

So, I’ve nailed my colours to the mast: I loved this otherworldly element to the writing! However…. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing this with readers both as part of shadowing groups and at the issue desk and I’m aware that not everyone might feel the same….in fact it’s turned out to be a bit of a marmite situation: you either love it or you hate it. As I began writing this piece, I asked some of our shadowers again what they made of the secondary story line and was met a chorus of ‘meh’ noises and murmurs of ‘I didn’t get it’. They didn’t object to it per se but for the most part failed to see the relevance to Adam’s story (with which they were all completely engrossed).

In amongst the ‘mehs’, however, one girl did say ‘it’s very Patrick Ness’ – and it’s true, it is! Actually, that comment somehow encapsulates so much – love it or hate it, the fact that my shadowers stuck with and ultimately loved what is a pretty ambitious and literary novel is testament to the quality of writing and the sensitivity with which Ness handles his subjects. Patrick Ness novels make you sit up and pay attention – devastating, optimistic and above all truthful you always know just how good the writing is. In fact, in a recent poll (part of a local book award which had also shortlisted Release), our shadowers voted it the one readers were ‘most likely to read again’. That really told me something – even if they ‘don’t get it’ it still spoke to them; it still held meaning that they wanted to go back and decipher.

That is surely a sign of truly outstanding writing.


Watch Patrick Ness speaking about Release on the CKG shadowing site:

You can view the full Carnegie and Kate Greenaway 2018 shortlists here:

CKG review: After the Fire by Will Hill

There’s now less than a week to go until the winners of the 2018 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards are finally revealed – as well as the winners of the Amnesty CILIP honour.

Continuing our series of reviews of this year’s shortlisted titles, here’s Amanda’s thoughts about After The Fire by Will Hill, from the Carnegie shortlist.

What the publisher says…

The things I’ve seen are burned into me, like scars that refuse to fade.

Father John controls everything inside The Fence. And Father John likes rules. Especially about never talking to Outsiders. Because Father John knows the truth. He knows what is right, and what is wrong. He knows what is coming.

Moonbeam is starting to doubt, though. She’s starting to see the lies behind Father John’s words. She wants him to be found out.

What if the only way out of the darkness is to light a fire?

What we say…

In my view this is very much an upper YA book, bordering on adult – not only is the length of the book fairly weighty – 476 pages, the subject matter of religious cults I feel needs a little life experience to completely understand. The subject is dealt with well and you soon get to have real empathy for Moonbeam and realise what her life was like growing up in a community very different from the traditional family.

The story is told as Before and After Chapters. As the title suggests the After chapters are After the Fire where we learn the main character Moonbeam is in hospital recovering from being involved in the fire but is being questioned by the FBI who are trying to help her make sense of her time ‘Before’ which are chapters told in flashback where we learn of what Moonbeams’ life was like behind the fence and the rules by which she had to live her life.   

The Before chapters can at times be difficult to read as you want to ask – why would people behave like this, listening to just one person and obeying very extreme rules. Reading the author’s notes at the end of the book may help the younger reader understand the context  of the book and the reasons behind it.

I will be recommending this book to my mature readers who I believe will appreciate this marvellous novel and question the story which I hope will lead to interesting discussions.


See Will Hill talk about After the Fire here:

View the full shortlists here:

CKG Review: Town is by the Sea – Sydney Smith

As we continue with our quest to review all the CKG shortlisted titles before the winners announcement next week, here Lorna gives her take on Sydney Smith’s illustrations in Town is by the Sea, for which he has been shortlisted for the Greenaway medal.

What the publisher says…

Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Footpath Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig. This beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of mining history to life.


town is by the sea

What we say…

I’ve have had mixed feelings about this book, it is both beautiful and haunting, and not a book for a very young audience.

We follow a normal day for a young boy that lives in a mining town by the sea. No matter what the boy does the sea and the mine take centre stage throughout his narrative, this is echoed in the illustration by the heavy use of black shading that runs through the pages.

As the boy describes his day, he parallels what he is doing with his father working in the mines under the sea. The illustration is fantastic in conveying an overwhelming sense of suffocation and claustrophobia in the mines, this is starkly contrasted to the wide open spaces and the sea in the boy’s world. The illustrations of his father’s day tell a story in themselves. I rushed to get to the end to see if he would be ok as we watch the mine slowly cave in. The ending shocked me as I was expecting the worse, but far from it the father returns, as normal, and no enlightenment is given to whatever ordeal he has been through…as this is just a normal day for him.

This book is certainly successful in conveying the perilous work that miners faced every single day and the inevitability of the narrator one day, having to face these same dangers. Yet our narrator is not bitter, or excited, it is just a matter of fact.

This book was more of a challenge than I envisaged, but fantastically written and illustrated. A proud tribute to miners and mining towns.


See Sydney Smith talk about Town is by the Sea here:

Check out the full CKG shortlists here: