CKG Review – What you need to know about the Greenaway Shortlist (Part I)

Just in time for today’s medal ceremony – brush up with our handy visual guides to the eight outstanding titles nominated for this year’s Greenaway Medal. Can you decide who’s going to win the coveted prize?

Harry Potter - Greenaway 17A Great Big Cuddle - Greenaway 17Tidy - Greenaway 17Wild Animals Of The North - Greenaway 17

A Child of Books

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston's 'A Child of Books'

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s ‘A Child of Books’.

 

Numerous picture books have tried to capture the fizz and sparkle with which words and pictures create and bring to life whole worlds, increasing the understanding and providing context for the life experiences that readers have.  Paradoxically these often feel a little flat, perhaps because the set of process that are set into motion are so personal and complex that it is difficult to do them adequate justice…

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Our journeys through the landscape of literature can be so powerful and personal that it is difficult to capture in words or illustrations.

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books is a tour de force and one that deserves a place on the bookshelves of every bibliophile throughout the land.  Taking as its central premise the idea of a child created from books – from the stories, invention, ideas and imagination that surround her – it provides a treatise on the way that books provide immersion, guidance and endless illumination throughout our lives.

A tour de force.

A tour de force, hyper-textual reference and typographic effects build a rich landscape that brilliantly showcases the way literature helps to shape our world and yet through its spare nature and muted palettes it skilfully avoids sentiment.

One of the major achievements of the book is the way that its story not only figuratively carries readers through this process, but also the means through which its method of illustration – it’s clever hyper-textual references and typographic effects, extracts from Heidi, Treasure Island, Robinson Cruesoe and many, many form the building blocks of oceans, mountains and clouds – literally form the embodiment of that.  Where Jeffers and Winston’s art succeeds so well is in its understated quality, the spare nature of both the text of its narration and illustration.  There are no weighted sentiments here, but instead, a range of poignant staccato statements and indelible images that readers are able to readily identify with and that make a lasting imprint and impression.

A sea of words

There is an understated quality with staccato statements and indelible images, there is a brilliant sense of control in the use of colour and movement.

 

With the loving attention to detail and lavish production values, A Child of Books feels the perfect title to recommend on International Literacy Day and an ideal way to help share positive associations with books, stories and reading and one that might just form a portal to a good many other powerful and poignant stories and reads.

This is our world we’re made from stories…

Lavish production details and loving attention to detail

Lavish production details and loving attention to detail permeate the whole craft and design of the book as shown by the gilt foiled lettering and embossed images.


Jake Hope is a Reading Development and Children’s Book Consultant.  He has worked as the Reading and Learning Development Manager for Lancashire Libraries, one of the largest authorities in the United Kingdom.  Jake is an active member of the Youth Libraries Group both on the North West and National Committees.  He is an avid reader and commentator on reading and books for children and young people.
Twitter: @jake_hope

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.

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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.

What We’re Reading Wednesday: Salt To The Sea

Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

A bit of a sneaky one this week because I’m not actually currently reading this, however, it’s one that is very much fresh in my mind and one that I’ve been recommending to all and sundry at the issue desk – so much so that I’ve just bought two extra copies today to keep up with demand!

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From the publisher:

It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories.

This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Grey, brilliantly imagines their story.

It’s emotional, thought provoking and pacey. The brilliant Zoe Toft @playbythebook summed it up over on twitter as “an eye opener and a heart opener” and I couldn’t agree more.  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. Continue reading