YATakeover – celebrating 80 Years of the CKG Medals

Today is day two of this amazing celebration over on Twitter – if you missed out yesterday fear not – catch up using the hashtag #YATakeover and throw yourself into the fun today.

Just check out the list of authors and illustrators involved! What better way is there to spend the eve of the Carnegie and Greenaway Medal announcements?!



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: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=18


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



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.