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: The Smell Of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

What The Judges Say:

Not a word is wasted. The four protagonists are subtly and so convincingly developed it’s difficult to imagine they are not real people… There is a total balance between a sense of urgency and great reflection’ – Judging panel

Smell Of Other People's Houses

What We Say:

We often talk about reading being able to take you to other places, to transport you to other worlds and perhaps to allow you to walk in another person’s shoes for a while– my goodness does this book do that! Set in the Alaska of the 1970s, Bonnie- Sue Hitchcock tells a delicately interwoven story of four teenagers and shows how their lives are transformed when their paths intersect.

However, this is not your average coming of age story. Though the story is shared between the four first person narratives of the teens, it is actually the location that really dominates. Looming large over the narrative, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock shows us an Alaska that is both strange and beautiful but simultaneously harsh and unforgiving. It is undeniably ‘home’ for these characters – they’re woven into the very web of it. The way they navigate the land – their personal journeys through it – does much in the way of character development, ultimately revealing their self sufficiency, grit, humility and generosity.

I’ve seen it described as a ‘quietly beautiful’ book – and I think that’s a pretty accurate summation having now read it. It has a slightly somber quality that enables the sense of ‘great reflection’ that the judges talk about. It’s certainly a book that I’ve thought about many times and certain scenes in particular have stayed in my head long after I’ve put the book down – Orcas, cranberries and red ribbons have taken on almost totemic qualities for me.

In short, sophisticated plotting, a superb sense of place and a pleasantly uplifting ending make this a great Carnegie contender.

From The Horse’s Mouth:

You can watch Bonnie-Sue talking about her book and reading an extract 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

National Bookstart Week reflections: Let’s Explore Outdoors

So National Bookstart Week is over for another year. As someone who works a lot with Under Fives and has a five-year-old and four-year-old at home, I have to say that it is always one of the highlights in my yearly calendar,

It’s a brilliant opportunity to invite nursery groups and families into the library and the free resources that Booktrust send are always excellent quality – as somebody who is not the best at coming up with craft activities, having a simple yet lovely craft provided is always particularly appreciated, and it’s always great to be able to give away the free books and rhyme sheets.

This year’s theme, Let’s Explore Outdoors, was probably my favourite to date as it combined two of my absolute favourite things – reading and being outside. I was also particularly lucky in that, right in the middle of a rain sandwich, last Wednesday morning was dry and bright in Bolton (if perhaps a little breezy), and the outdoor event we’d planned at Smithills Hall could actually go ahead outdoors. It was wonderful to share Everybunny Dance and other stories, sing songs and play instruments on the beautiful lawns at the hall and we were even joined by some bunnies and guinea pigs from the local farm, which made the occasion extra special.

In total I led four Bookstart Week sessions last week and thoroughly enjoyed every one. There were lots of other events across our service and feedback from library colleagues, nurseries and families about National Bookstart Week is always really positive.

Then yesterday, despite it being what Winnie-the-Pooh would call a rather blustery day, my daughters spent almost all of it playing outside with their friends. Partway through the afternoon they came rushing into the house, breathlessly declaring that they needed a book. They grabbed one each and ran back outside where they proceeded to sit with three of their friends on the drive, each engrossed in their own book. It was a really lovely sight to see and got me thinking about some of the picture books we’ve shared together over the years, especially those with an outdoorsy theme. These are some of our favourites:

what small rabbit heard

What Small Rabbit Heard by Sheryl Webster & Tim Warnes

Small Rabbit doesn’t want to go for a walk but Big Rabbit isn’t taking no for an answer. They get wrapped up and head outdoors – but the wind is blowing hard and Big Rabbit’s instructions get lost on the breeze, with some very funny results. Who knew windy walks could be so much fun?

stick man


Stick Man by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

We are huge Julia Donaldson fans in our house (who isn’t?) and Stick Man is a particular favourite, with his quest to get back to the family tree. Perfect for children who love finding sticks, and grown-ups who never knew you could feel so much love for one!



Shark in the Park Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

“Timothy Pope, Timothy Pope, is looking through his telescope…and THIS is what he sees!”

My go-to book for story sessions with younger children, this also works brilliantly for children with English as a second language. It’s a visual delight and so interactive, with an exciting element of surprise. It also lends itself really well to a whole range of craft activities – make a telescope and go shark-spotting in your own park or make one of these brilliant shark headbands:

we're going on a bear hunt


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury

An absolute classic and a favourite to recite on family walks through the woods. We’re NOT scared!


Everybunny Dance Everybunny Dance by Ellie Sandall

This year’s featured National Bookstart Week title, Everybunny Dance is a charming tale of bunnies who love to play and a fox who just wants a friend. Great for reading outside with instruments, dancing around and hiding behind bushes from the fox. You can listen to Lauren Laverne read Everybunny Dance here:

There are loads more brilliant outdoors themed books – please leave a comment to tell us your favourites.

Well done to Booktrust and all the library staff that always work so hard to make National Bookstart Week such a great success. Roll on 2018!





CKG Review – The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

What the judges say:

“Told in their distinctive and memorable narrative voices this is a wonderfully evocative tale of two damaged young people who find redemption and hope in their love for each other…The lyrical, outstanding writing throughout develops strong characterization and a vivid sense of place, as their tragic stories gradually unfold; building to a dramatic climax that brings each strand of the novel together in an intensely satisfying way.”

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FINAL COVER (23 November 2015)

What we say:

This book is absolutely beautiful. I first read it a few months ago and it is one that has really stuck with me and definitely meets the CKG judging criteria of providing pleasure, “not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.”

It’s a dual narrative story of fifteen year-old Alice Nightingale, who has difficulty speaking  [she has acquired brain injury as a result of being horrifically attacked when she was twelve] but leaves beautiful poems in public places; and Manny James, a 16 year old former child soldier from Sierra Leone, who is now staying with foster parents near Alice and is trying to adjust to his new life in Australia.



The first thing that struck me when reading this book was that when Alice is narrating the story, there are no capital letters. Also, many of the sentences she writes are short, interrupted by full stops in places you might not necessarily expect them. This is really effective in making you hear Alice’s voice rather than just read what she is thinking. The disruption of conventional grammar and syntax directly reflects the disruption of Alice’s ‘faulty electrics’ on her speech.

What quickly becomes apparent though is that, despite her difficulties with expressing her thoughts through talking, Alice is very creative and intelligent. In her poems her words flow free and unhindered:

say words come

slow and slurred

sound stupid

but heartwords

fly from my pen

Manny finds one of Alice’s poems at the train station and in time the two of them meet and fall in love. But this book is so much more than a simple love story.

Both Alice and Manny are beautifully drawn characters. Both of them are outsiders and, as more of each of their respective histories is revealed, you find yourself really rooting for them as they try to forge a new future together:

once upon a time a boy with no yesterdays asked a girl with no tomorrows for something no one else wanted

As well as Alice and Manny’s relationship with each other, a number of other relationships are explored in the book; including changes between Alice and her brother Joey, who has been Alice’s strongest ally and protector in the years since the attack, as they both begin to let other people into their lives. Alice’s relationship with Gram, her ailing grandmother, is another highlight.


At some points soulful and searching, at others lyrical and whimsical, Glenda Millard’s writing creates characters that are utterly believable and a story that is incredibly moving and ultimately full of hope about the ways in which love – in all its forms – can make the world a better place.


To read an extract from the stars at oktober bend click on the link below:

Extract for YLG NW

You can listen to Glenda Millard talk about The Stars at Oktober Bend on the CKG shadowing site:

Extract and images courtesy of Old Barn Books and Liz Scott PR