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:



Review: Carnegie Shortlist 2016 – Fire Colour One

I’m a longtime fan of Valentine – she has a way of describing things that just feels right; a way of expressing things in a recognizable but beautifully lyrical way. Her characters combine perceptive everyday observation set alongside a rich and reflective emotional inner life and I find that sentences and scenes are still percolating through my thoughts long after I’ve finished reading.

Fire Colour One Jenny Valentine

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine (Carnegie Shortlist 2016)

Reading Fire Colour One was certainly no exception – it’s lyrical without being saccharine and it packs a powerful emotional punch without being overly sentimental. Iris, the focus and narrator of the tale is an awesome character – full of rage and tenderness; at times incredibly perceptive and at others consumed with blinding loneliness and despair – she is utterly beguiling. But then the whole ambition of the book is beguiling – it’s the bittersweet tale of parent and child reunited, it’s the hopeful tale of a girl coming to understand her place in the world (where she came from and who she is) and it’s also a wonderful discussion on the power and nature of art in the twenty-first century (I defy you not to Google Yves Klein by the end of the book!) with a healthy dose of social commentary about materialism and consumerism to boot. It’s a lot to hope for from such a slim volume but Valentine totally pulls it off and what’s more throws in a brilliantly satisfying twist at the end.

In the resources section of the Shadowing site there’s a talking point which asks ‘what did the title, Fire Colour One, lead you to expect from the book?’ I’ve thought about this question a lot – I’m not really sure what I expected but despite the titular ‘fire’ I certainly wasn’t expecting pyromania nor was I expecting contemporary performance art. Neither did the title suggest family saga or coming of age story. It’s made me realise that it really is a book which defies conventions. Having had conversations with several of our Shadowers, I’ve realised too that this is precisely what they have loved about it – for most it’s nothing like anything that they’ve ever read before and once again reminds me of the amazing effect the showing scheme has. This really does represent outstanding literature and it’s being read by thousands of children and young adults who perhaps would never have come across Jenny Valentine’s books otherwise. Amazing!

(adapted from original post What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Carnegie Longlist)





A Few thoughts on the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme…

A few thoughts on the arrival of the Carnegie shortlist…

It’s always an exciting moment when the boxes arrive at the Library counter – naturally there’s nothing nicer than unpacking large quantities of beautiful books but with this particular delivery there is always an added frisson of excitement. Students have a nose for new books I’ve discovered, so I find myself quickly surrounded with several hands dipping in and out the box in shared excitement. There’s a consensus that the books look good and several pleased exclamations of ‘ooh, I’ve already read that’. I’m especially delighted because this means that my recommendations at the issue desk have carried some weight – I’ve been leading a concerted campaign in recent weeks to make everyone read One by Sarah Crossan as well as a more sustained general awareness programme on the genius of Marcus Sedgwick, Frances Hardinge and Jenny Valentine (everyone is already aware of my thing for Patrick Ness!).

My shadowing kicks off in earnest with an opportune visit from an English teacher in need of a purposeful lesson for a depleted Year 9 English class and we seize upon the idea of letting them have a look at the shortlist. It ticks lots of boxes for promotion for me (huzzah – a captive audience!), it ties in nicely with the work the class are already doing on writing styles and opening paragraphs and it’s not too onerous for the students. Even the self-proclaimed ‘reluctant readers’ settle down and read for 10 minutes and then we have a discussion about the titles (using a ‘bin, borrow or buy’ framework) to suss out which we think look promising. It’s an opportunity to explain what on earth ‘shadowing’ means as well as outlining the idea and ethos of the award scheme in general (and plugging a few winners and shortlisted titles from previous years along the way). The Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan’s One are looking pretty popular by the end of the session and I leave feeling pretty enthused. Talking about books is good!


The 2016 Carnegie shortlist arrives in school

There is of course the inevitable rush to catalogue and process the books ready to get them out on loan as soon as possible – I’ve already got students turning up at break time asking if they can loan the books. The issue desk is a flurry of barcodes and sticky labels but imagine my delight when I get one or two students from that Year 9 English class turning up asking if they can carry on reading the book they sampled during the class.

It’s these moments that make the Carnegie such a success – it’s having those students (who I would not normally have seen stood at my issue desk) asking for books. It’s the snatched conversations on the corridors with staff and students as they just have to share how they’re getting on with their books. It’s the breathless enthusiasm as a book is returned the very next day with the words ‘I couldn’t put it down’. Some of my most satisfying moments as a Librarian have come from the shadowing schemes – in knowing that these outstanding books have provided the opportunity to put into action that magic formula of putting the right book into the right hands at the right moment.

Don’t get me wrong, the shadowing scheme in our school isn’t all singing all dancing, I’m not talking about vast numbers of students and I’m never going to get every child shadowing, or even every child who’s joined our group reading all eight of the books, but what it is is an opportunity, SUCH an opportunity. It’s a quiet revolution – bucking the trend that ‘teens don’t read’. It’s a dialogue with students about what they read, how they read and how they perceive themselves as readers that simply doesn’t happen every day.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t finish the books – in our school it’s more about opening the door to new authors, new kinds of books as well as presenting opportunities to read and a time in which to discuss them. It’s that chance to think (and often read) outside the box, to indulge our imaginations. It’s about being part of a reading community and, rather importantly, it’s aspirational; it’s about wanting to read good books long after the winner has been announced at the award ceremony.


CKG Nominations Event – Preston

Shortlist of our nominated titles

Shortlist of our nominated titles

We held our Carnegie and Greenaway nominations event at the end of September and were very lucky to be joined on the day by author Alan Gibbons and author/illustrator Steve Antony.

Alan Gibbons started things off talking about his journey to becoming an author and the books he has since written whilst also throwing some light onto the current plight of libraries in the UK. We were lucky to also hear a little bit about his next book The Isis Trap (cover below).


Steve Antony gave a wonderful talk about his route to becoming an illustrator as well as his whole approach to creating books – an approach made all the more fascinating by the fact that he is in fact colour blind. You can read more about this on Steve’s blog. We were also treated to a sneaky reading from his new book Green Lizards versus Red Rectangles (now out and is amazing!).


Steve Antony reading from Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles – with a sneaky Mr Panda in the background!


Of course the whole focus of the day was on choosing the titles that we would put forward as our Carnegie and Kate Greenaway nominations for 2016. Attendees could vote from a shortlist of six books for each award:

Greenaway Nominations

Please Mr Panda, The Imaginary, Beautiful Birds, A Tower of Giraffes, Hoot Owl and The Little Gardener – Shortlist of nominations for the Kate Greenaway Medal


Read me Like A Book, One, Fire Colour One, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Five Children On The Western Front, How To Fly With Broken Wings

Our nominations were as follows: Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler and Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine were nominated for the Carnegie and the Greenaway nominations were Please Mr. Panda by Steve Anthony and A Tower of Giraffes by Anna Wright.

Our thanks to Hachette, Askews & Holts and special thanks to our CKG rep Jill for organising such a great event.


Your Views, Your Vote, Your Voice: YLG Northwest Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Nomination Event

Join us as we select the region’s votes for this years prestigious Carnegie and Kate Greenaway event. This is your opportunity to be involved and to learn more about the longest-running and most acclaimed children’s book awards in the United Kingdom.

Steve Antony

We will be joined by author and illustrator Steve Antony who will give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at his books and work and by Alan Gibbons who will be discussing his highly topical novel, ‘Hate’ based around the story of Sophie Lancaster. There will also be an opportunity peruse and purchase from the supplier showroom at 30% discount. Continue reading