CKG Review: Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth

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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

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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: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=14

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Review: Welcome To Nowhere – Elizabeth Laird

In the winter of 2015, Elizabeth Laird travelled to Jordan to volunteer in two refugee camps where she was moved by the plight and the stories of the people she met –Welcome to Nowhere is the result of her experiences there.

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Illustrations by Lucy Eldridge

The book tells the story of twelve year old Omar and his family as they flee their home in the once beautiful city of Bosra. There are no heroes, no crusades, no grand plans being related here; despite his brother Musa’s clandestine political activities, Omar dryly observes that ‘being political was no part of my life plan’. Rather, this is a tale of a family cast upon the tides of civil war and simply reacting to it as best they can. It is a tale of everyday challenges, exasperations and privations as well as the instinctive acts of bravery, kindness and resilience that go hand in hand with them.welcome-to-nowhere

And my goodness what resilience is needed. I follow the news, I consider myself fairly well informed about what’s going on in the world, but reading Welcome To Nowhere has opened my eyes in a way that no news story could. This book has made me change the way I think. Elizabeth Laird’s writing is like opening a door into this world – she wraps the reader in the minutiae of daily life, and shows us the terrifying gradual slide into the most exceptional of circumstances.

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Illustrations by Lucy Eldridge

It is a tale told with integrity and incisiveness that, more than anything else I have read on the topic, succeeds in engendering empathy. A moving and extraordinary tale of bravery, resilience and families with an ending that feels like a stroke of genius. It feels especially important given the tone of global politics at the moment. Everyone should read this book.img_9020

Review: The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

Best known for his books for younger children, The Hypnotist is Laurence Anholt’s debut novel for YA readers – not that you could guess. This is an assured and indeed ambitious piece of writing.hypnotist-final-cover-design-e1457618358586

 

Thirteen-year-old Pip is plucked out of an orphanage by the wonderfully characterised Zachary, a farmer, to help with his tender-hearted but bedbound wife Lilybelle. Pip’s expectations might be looking up but for the fact that this is the Deep South of the 1960s and Pip is black and the inhabitants of Dead River Farm are white.

 

Well-meaning but nevertheless entrenched in the endemic segregation of the time, Zachary and Lilybelle are harmless enough but their son, the unstable and menacing Erwin, is a different matter entirely. A constant note of discord in the household, Erwin (irreparably damaged by his experiences in Vietnam) looms large over the lives of all. Add to this melting pot Hannah, a mute Native American girl also employed on the farm and a newly arrived university professor skilled in hypnotism, and a powerful story of prejudice and danger emerges. The striking cover design will give the eagle eyed among you a clear indication which way this story is heading but I shan’t give too much away…

 

Clever narration is shared between Pip and the first person narrative of the eponymous hypnotist Jack Morrow, allowing the reader to see racial tensions from both the point of view of the oppressed and via the shock and horror of an outsider. Both voices are interwoven by the lyrical and enigmatic voice of Hannah, adding a dreamy otherworldly quality to the book. It all combines into a compelling and powerful look at a turbulent period of American history that will have readers weeping in frustration at the potential for injustice in the world. The inclusion of an afterword from Anholt and an endorsement from Amnesty International also makes this read a particularly timely warning from history.

What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Bolds

Mr and Mrs Bold are just like you and me: they live in a nice house (in Teddington), they have jobs and they love to have a bit of a giggle. One slight difference: they’re hyenas. Yes, that’s right – they’re covered in fur, have tails tucked into their trousers, and they really, really like to laugh. – from Andersen Press’s website

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The Bolds by Julian Clary and David Roberts

Received as a Christmas present and whizzed through in just one sitting, The Bolds written by Julian Clary and illustrated by David Roberts, was an absolutely glorious read.

Little did I know it at the start of the book but this was actually a pretty apposite read for this time of year too – Mr Bold makes his living writing the jokes that go into Christmas crackers!

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Mr Bold and his Christmas Cracker jokes in action

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