CKG review: Beck by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff

What makes an outstanding book for children? Rich in language, holding a compelling plot and utterly convincing characters, Beck is at the upper end of the ability and interest level for this year’s Carnegie shortlisted titles. This has led to some criticism as has its uncompromising glimpse into an age of racial prejudice and power hierarchies. In spite of these facts, Beck, offers its readers an intensely poignant and thought-provoking experience that they will return to time and again. 

Beck is a rites of passage novel set in Liverpool, Canada and the United States. Ignatius Beck is born out of wedlock, the lovechild from a dalliance between his mother and an African soldier. Orphaned and growing up in an age of prejudice, Beck’s early childhood is a struggle. His plight becomes harder still when he is taken in by the Catholic Brothers. Suffering physical and sexual abuse, Beck is sold into a life of servitude. Disgusted by the maltreatment he experiences, he escapes and becomes embroiled in bootlegging forging a friendship and close alliance with Irma and Bone, but things turn sour when gang rivalries manifest themselves resulting in Beck needing to take to the road again.

 Through an almost mystical encounter, Beck meets with Grace McAllister and forms an uneasy relationship, one scarred by the cruelty and rejection he has suffered formerly. In spite of this a difficult form of spiritual, emotional and sexual awakening occurs for Beck, although bonds remain hard for him to form and maintain. A story of resilience in extreme adversity, it is hard not to champion Beck through the harsh landscape and life that he journeys through.

 The story behind its creation is itself fascinating and quite beguiling – written by Mal Peet, a past winner of the Carnegie Medal with his novel Tamar, the book was incomplete upon his death in 2015. Friend and peer author, Meg Rosoff, also a past Carnegie winner with her novel Just in Case, completed the novel. An extraordinary story of identity, prejudice and attachment this is a book that makes profound and humane comment that readers will ponder upon long after the final pages are completed.


Beck is published by Walker Books

Report: Families – An Open Door to Literacy; YLG Conference 2016

On Friday 7th & Saturday 8th October, a catalogue of children’s librarians, of which I was lucky enough to be one, descended upon Cardiff for the annual Youth Libraries Group conference. The conference brings together librarians, publishers, authors and guest speakers for two packed days of networking, talks and workshops and is definitely a highlight of my professional calendar.

One of the best things about conference this year was the breakout sessions. From using sport to entice young people into the library to engaging families with reading through nature (anyone up for the Twig Towers challenge!?) the workshops were full of simple, practical tips and ideas that were no / low-cost, achievable and relatively straightforward to implement.

Twig Towers – perfect for a Stick Man themed session

Tracey Cooper from Scottish Booktrust led an excellent Bookbug session (forget garlic bread, stretchy Lycra is the future!) and showed that simplicity is key when it comes to planning sessions for under fives and their families – it’s not about how many nursery rhymes you know but about the reassurance, security and enjoyment of a shared experience. In fact, repetition of a few well known rhymes often works better than a wider repertoire as carers feel more confident and relaxed and less worried about getting things wrong and so are more likely to engage and interact with their child.

The session with Becky Wells on engaging children with autism was also really useful. Becky showed us a video which showed how overwhelming an everyday experience such as visiting a shopping centre can be for a child with autism. We were then given the chance to talk in groups about some of the things which could be triggers in our libraries and what simple steps we could take to help children with autism and their families and make visiting the library a positive and reassuring experience for them. 

Having been to conference for the first time last year, this time I was much more prepared. By that I mean this time I took a suitcase. A big one! For one of the best things about conference is being surrounded by so many brilliant, beautiful books and being able to take lots of them back home with you. 
One of my favourite bits of the whole weekend is when the publishers each take their turn on the stage to highlight their forthcoming titles and the opportunity to get hold of advance copies of those books is a little piece of librarian heaven. I get so excited, not only at the thought of reading them myself, but also at the thought of the enjoyment and wonder they will bring to the children and young people that borrow them.

Books glorious books!

Other highlights of the programme included Nicky Parker and Laurence Anholt’s discussion on racism and the ways this can be explored and challenged through fiction; learning all about West Sussex’s Communication Library and services for children with disabilities and their families; and the privilege of watching Barroux paint live on stage. Not to mention the presentation of the CKG medals and CILIP Amnesty Honour and the sumptuous gala dinner that followed.

I returned from conference not only with a suitcase full of books but with a head buzzing with ideas and sense of affirmation about the importance of libraries and librarians and their ability to change the world, one book and reader at a time.


Report: YLG Northwest Unconference on the Move 2016

Last weekend saw the return of our Unconference on the Move. After the success of the 2015 event in Manchester, we decided to stick with the ‘on the move’ format and visited three stunning locations in Liverpool’s cultural St George’s Quarter: Central Library; the Walker Art Gallery and the majestic St George’s Hall. All of which were shown in their best light on  what was a beautiful last-gasp-of-summer Saturday.

The aim of the Unconference was to give delegates from across the region the chance to meet, network and talk about topics that matter to them. With that in mind, we started the day by asking delegates to nominate topics for discussion before embarking on a tour of Central Library with our guide, Susan.

Susan showed us some of the building’s most distinguishing features, including the large children’s library, the Picton reading room and the soundproof space for teenagers, complete with games console and PCs (no books in there though, although teenage fiction is situated just outside). The impressive archives space also looked well-used, whilst the roof terrace is always beautiful – I’m beginning to think it’s always sunny in Liverpool as I’ve never visited the library on a day that’s not terrace-worthy yet!

the stunning Picton reading room

After the tour, we settled down to our first discussion groups of the day. Splitting into two so delegates could choose what most appealed to them, one group discussed digital engagement and interaction with young people; whilst the other focused on the future of school and public library services for children as librarian posts are deleted and libraries are closed.
The digital group discussed the best ways to connect with teenagers and reasons why they might not be digitally engaging with our services as much as we might like – including organisational restrictions (library staff not being allowed to use social media); the platforms we are using (are these the ones where the teenagers are? And do they even want us there?) and the danger of teens tuning out (social media saturation). Suggestions included staff using examples of other organisations where social media is used to good effect to build a business case or even to look to the young people they work with for this (ask them what they want from us digitally then use that as evidence). It was agreed that whatever method of communication is used, the key is to always be authentic as young people can smell desperation through a screen.

With well-documented cuts and changes to delivery models, the second group discussed ways in which library services for children and young people can be promoted and protected. The key finding of this group was “keep shouting your message, it is always new to somebody.” Key initiatives that are good opportunities for libraries to raise their profile were identified, including the Summer Reading Challenge, Code Clubs and the Shelf Help collection for young people.

the Shakespeare book art dotted around Central Library added a touch of drama to proceedings

Following this we then moved on to St George’s Hall where, after a look around this beautiful building, the discussions continued apace. Books were the order of the day this time, with “Moving readers on…Wimpy Kid and beyond” and “Books for older teens, including LGBT+ and mental health themes” the chosen topics.

After lunch and further networking at the Walker Art Gallery, it was back to Central Library for the final part of the day: deciding upon the Northwest regional nominations for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway awards. Committee members championed a selection of books, highlighting how they meet the awards criteria before delegates voted for their favourites. As a result our regional nominations are:


Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles – Steve Anthony

Counting Lions – Stephen Walton


These Shallow Graves – Jennifer Donnelly

Orbiting Jupiter – Gary D. Schmidt

Thank you to all delegates that attended the Unconference this year – we hope you found it as useful and enjoyable as we did.

The YLG Northwest committee

Sharon Wagg reports on her first YLG training event

Keen to engage with students and support aspiring librarians, YLG North West ran a competition to offer a free place to one student to attend our Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal training event on 11th October this year.  In return, the student was required to write a report of the event.  Sharon Wagg was our lovely winner and here is her account of the day:

As I sat on the train travelling to my first Youth Libraries Group (YLG) training event, my mind kept replaying the events of the year that led me to be offered a free student place on the YLG North West’s Carnegie and Greenaway Medal training event: “Inspiring Books for Young Readers.”

Having embraced the world of school libraries over the past few years and then moving to the beautiful Peak District, I have just begun studying for an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield. Whilst slightly daunted by the idea of going back to study, I relished the idea of attending conferences and training events. And so here I am, a rather mature MA student reporting on her first ever YLG training event. CKG photo 1 Continue reading