Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen [Shortlisted for CILIP Kate Greenaway Award 2019]

Review: The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen [Shortlisted for CILIP Kate Greenaway Award 2019]

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One day a mouse meets a wolf and the mouse is quickly gobbled up. 

At first the mouse thinks it is the end of the world, but inside the wolf’s tummy he meets a duck. Duck used to worry about being eaten, but once it actually happened that was the end of his woes. Life inside the wolf isn’t so bad. Soon the two are firm friends, feasting and dancing together in their new home. 

When the wolf is chased by a hunter, the mouse and the duck know they must do everything they can to save their lives. 

A fable about seeing things from a different perspective and a funny tale about why wolves howl every night. 

This begins like many timeless stories, with one animal swallowed by another, but the familiar story is turned on its head. Mouse and duck make wolf’s tummy their happy home. Everything about this story, from the language to the familiar cast of a hunter and a wolf, feels like a fairytale. It has the same qualities as those bedtime stories we all know and offers us a message to take away into our lives. 

With illustrations created in different shades of dark, we begin the story feeling as if we are walking into the unknown. Only when the two friends meet and a candle sheds some light on their setting do we see some brighter colours – a tablecloth here, some vegetables there. This clever use of colour creates an unforgettable mood. 

Mouse and duck’s rescue mission picture is a joy. Having taken up a small part of every double-page spread, we suddenly see them as if they are the largest characters in the story. Determination is written all over their faces as they go to take on the hunter with a hockey stick, and a pan for a helmet. 

The ending is made memorable by pictures which contrast the joy of mouse and duck, and the wolf’s agonised howls. 

This story has been shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. It is certainly a timeless book and Jon Klassen is no stranger to major awards. His work draws people of all ages and makes me think of John Birnigham (if he ran out of all the brighter colours). 

A tale to read together, and then to retell from memory. A true classic. 

 

Louise Nettleton

 

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The winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal is announced on 18th June 2019. Learn more and keep up with news of the awards on the official website.

 

Thanks to Walker Books and Riot Communications for my gifted copy of The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse. Opinions my own.

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Beyond The Fence by Maria Gulemetova [Shotlisted For The CILIP Kate Greenaway award]

Review: Beyond The Fence by Maria Gulemetova [Shotlisted For The CILIP Kate Greenaway award]

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Piggy lives in a large house with Thomas. Thomas chooses the games. And what Piggy wears. And whether or not Piggy should go outdoors. This is the only world Piggy has ever known, until one day a wild pig appears in the garden and tells Piggy about the world beyond the fence. 

A gentle story about freedom and friendship, and what it looks like when friendship goes wrong. 

Toxic-friendship is a difficult subject to explain to young children, whose worlds are neatly divided into best friends, friends, nice people to play with and bullies. How do you explain that these aren’t character types? That someone who plays fun games and makes you feel special can also be controlling?

Story is a powerful thing and reading this would be a lovely way to introduce questions about why Piggy feels trapped in the big house where he appears to have everything. Is giving people nice things friendship? Why does Piggy feel free when he bounds away from Thomas and makes friends with the wild pig instead? By talking over the story, readers can learn to recognise controlling behaviour. 

Every word used in the story counts and the illustrations speak volumes. Thomas, with his greying pallor, is a less attractive friend than the wild pig. The house, although filled with luxuries, is a box-like space of straight lines. The doors are closed and we only see windows when Piggy is looking out at the wild spaces. Otherwise the rooms close him in. The hills, on the other hand, roll in every direction. They are painted in different brush strokes and different hues. 

Beyond The Fence is shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. To me, it appears to be the quiet contender, up against big names from big publishing houses. Yet this is a story which matures with every reading. What looked like simple pictures the first time I picked it up now seem rich with detail. It isn’t a big and riotous story. It is a solid story told in a way which makes the reader pick up on big themes. I can see it lasting for years and being used to open discussions about friendship.

A winner by every count and story which stays in the mind. 

A story about toxic friendship which gets bigger and better with every nuance the reader picks up. 

 

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The winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal is announced on 18th June 2019. Learn more and keep up with news of the awards on the official website.

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Child’s Play for my copy of Beyond The Fence. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

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Finn misses a grandfather, a man who loved the sea and told stories about the place where the ocean meets the sky. To honour grandfather’s memory, Finn builds a boat on the beach and falls asleep beneath the decks. The boat comes to life and takes Finn on a voyage. Through floating whales and magical ships the boat sails, until Finn is able to say goodbye to his grandfather. 

A touching story about grief and life’s big adventures. 

These are the sort of pictures it is possible to look at for hours. They are so magical, so impossible but yet so real, that feel more like they have been breathed into life than painted. Every cloud floats by and every air balloon seems filled with real oxygen. If you love illustrations by David Wiesner or Shaun Tan you will understand what I mean about being absorbed in the scene. 

Many writers are told from an early age never, ever to end a story with it was all a dream. While I think it is a cliche that early writers fall back on, I believe there is room for experienced creators to take us into dreamscapes and explore how the experiences in our dreams change our lives. The same goes for play or daydreams. Huge part of our lives are spent dreaming and it would be a pity if that was never reflected in stories or art. 

Looking at the illustrations – at cloud castles in the sky and birds roosting among stacks of books – reminds us that there are places where anything is possible. 

As a Kate Greenaway contender, I think the book’s power is in it’s strength to inspire readers to venture into their own magical places. I can see the pictures inspiring play, art and whole new stories. 

The ultimate message is that we can find our loved ones in our minds. If we can conjure up cloud castles and flying whales we will always be able to revisit our memories and explore our love for that person. 

A work of art which takes readers into the powerful landscape of creativity. Magical. 

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Quarto Books for my gifted copy of Ocean Meets Sky. Opinions my own. 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

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Extract:

what’s the point of God giving me life

If I can’t live it as my own? 

 

Why does listening to his commandments

mean I need to shut down my own voice?

 

(The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. P57.) 

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Synopsis:

Xiomara knows what is expected of her. Get confirmed, hide the body that attracts male attention and become a nun. These are her Mum’s wishes. The only problem is Xiomara doesn’t believe in God.

It’s not a thought she can voice. Instead, Xiomara turns to the notebook her brother bought her for her birthday and fills it with poetry. She records her deepest thoughts about religion, and her mother, and the cute boy who she is paired with for lab work in school.

Secrets can only be kept for so long. Will Xiomara renounce everything she believes, or will she free her voice from the pages of her notebook?

A strong coming of age novel written in prose poetry.

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Review:

This is a story about religion, feminism, and freedom of speech. It is also about the defining moments in our youth which shape our views on big issues. It is a story about love, and friendship and finding our own voice.

Xiomara is a memorable character because she refuses to conform to the values she sees around her. She may have been raised by regular church-goers and brought up to think that girls should be ashamed of their bodies, but internally she challenges everything she hears. She’s also a rebel. The girl who comes back with grazed knuckles. I loved her because she shows that girls can gain reputations for fighting and speaking out. There is a greater pressure on girls to stay in line than there is on boys, and while I have never seen a book that suggests fighting is the answer, it is important to show growing people that it is something we might go through and overcome.

There is a huge amount of discussion about how religion views and treats women. While I respect that people have positive experiences too, I also believe it is important to acknowledge how religious attitudes which were prevalent in the past have filtered into society. Have you ever heard people who allege to support gender equality commenting on the length of a woman’s skirt or how much flesh she is ‘showing’? These attitudes may not be scripture for everyone, but they remain commonplace. Xiomara quietly challenges these views, and her questioning allows the reader to open themselves to other views.

I can’t review this book without talking about the rise and rise of prose poetry. Three books on the Carnegie shortlist of eight are coming of age prose poetry novels. The form is accessible, but it also offers a huge depth. There is something more to each section every time you reread. Maybe it appeals to a generation who are used to online performance. It puts the protagonist’s voice and their internal experiences right at the front.

I raced through this because I was so caught up in Xiomara’s experiences that I couldn’t leave the story unresolved. A brilliant story which puts its character at the front and through her speaks for a generation.

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Thanks to Riot Comms and Egmont UK LTD for my gifted copy of The Poet X. Opinions my own.

 

 

awards · Chat · Uncategorized

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

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Looking for a great way to celebrate children’s literature? Get yourself behind the Carnegie awards.

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards are judged by children’s librarians. What makes them unique is that this never changes. The only people who have ever judged them are qualified librarians. Those magical people who work with books on a daily basis and put them into children’s hands. They have the double-expertise of qualifications and regular contact with young readers.

The medal is also uniquely brilliant at identifying books which we will still be reading in 50 years time.

Look at the list of past winners. The Little White Horse, The Borrowers, Tom’s  Midnight Garden. Many of the earliest winners are still beloved reads. Still in circulation and read by the current generation of children. The medal has spotted debut authors who have gone on to be some of the biggest names in children’s storytelling (David Almond’s Skellig, for example, was awarded the medal). 

Every year people in my Twittersphere debate whether children should have a say in the judging process. This conversation can get heated because there are people who are rightly passionate about children having a say in their own literature. 

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It is also important to recognise children’s writing as a craft. An art. Too often children’s literature loses press space and attention and literary critics have made comments which dismiss children’s fiction as something inferior to the adult literary canon. To stand against this and say we recognise the artists at work in children’s literature today, we need awards run by professionals. That’s not to dismiss children’s voices. In fact, the awards feature a very popular shadowing scheme, where school and library groups work their way through the shortlist, and for the first time this year has introduced the Shadowers’ Choice Award to celebrate the shortlisted book most popular with young people.

I support the Carnegie then because it champions children’s literature as an art, it has a great track record of picking future classics and it gives dedicated authors and illustrators the recognition they deserve.

With this year’s list on my bookshelf, I am already exploring a great range of literature and illustration and making notes about the merits and qualities of every book.

I look forward to reviewing the shortlisted titles and sharing my thoughts over the coming weeks. Join in the discussion: let me know your predictions on this year’s medal, your favourite past winner or who you would like to see nominated in the future.

The most wonderful thing about the Carnegie of all is it gets us talking about books.

 

(Images from CILIP Carenegie and Kate Greenaway website.)

Carnegie Medal 2017

Review – Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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Extract:

– Wow, you really did make it work!

‘I am the Sputnik.’ 

Annabel’s friend swiped at her with her plastic lightsaber. Annabel parried. The friend’s lightsaber exploded in a thick black cloud of stinking smoke. Melted plastic dripped down the handle. The friend squealed with delight. Annabel squealed with even more delight. 

– Oh! Hang on, this could be really dangerous.

‘Yes, it ccould!’ Sputnik said with a smile, as thought really dangerous was the best thing a birthday party could ever be. ‘They’ll remember this for a long time.’ 

(Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce. P37.) 

 

Synopsis: 

Prez is spending his summer with the Blythes – a rambunctious family who allow children in Temporary Accommodation to spend summer on their farm. Prez misses his Grandad, who started forgetting things, like whether it might be a good time to show somebody a kitchen knife. Prez is afraid he will remain a ‘temporary’ child. He finds it difficult to use his voice.

One night, Prez opens the door to Sputnik. Prez thinks Sputnik is a boisterous young boy from another planet. Everybody else thinks Sputnik is a dog.

Chaos ensues. Sputnik’s mission is to write a guidebook selling the attractions of earth to beings from outer space. Otherwise Earth might just be destroyed. Nothing personal – there’s just no space for a boring planet.  Chaotic adventure follows chaotic adventure. Hadrian’s wall is rebuilt, the remote control starts working on things other than the telly and a toy light-saber becomes deadly in the hands of a small child.  Every adventure leads Prez closer to the future, and his unknown fate …

 

Review: 

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is the book on the Carnegie list which kids – masses of kids – will love. Cottrell Boyce, like Walliams or Jacquline Wilson, is a brand. Like Walliams and Wilson, Cotttrell Boyce writes well, and writes for his audience. While Sputnik deals with some deep issues, it has a lightness of touch which is absent across the shortlist. Only Reeve comes close.

Prez’s emotions come through before we are told of his circumstances. He refers to members of the Blythe family in a detached way, (‘the mum’ ‘the dad’.) It is clear he is afraid to get too close, afraid they will be gone before he knows them better.

Cottrell Boyce knows his audience. There is plenty of toilet humour, but underpinning this is a solid understanding of the concerns of childhood. Why are the wonders of the world all ruins? What would happen if you rewound a chicken – would you end up with a chicken or an egg? When we talk about ‘the concerns of childhood’, we so often mean the things adults fear children will be anxious about. Sputnik is attuned to the tone of playground chatter.  

The theme of dementia is not hammered into the audience. Over the course of the novel, a picture is built of the circumstances which lead to Prez being taken into care. When Prez returns to the flat in which he and Grandad lived, we learn about the routines he built up in an attempt to keep both their heads above water.  

 Did I enjoy the story? I’m intrigued to see how it fares. The list seems skewed towards books beloved of adult readers of Kid-Lit. (CILIP have given Beck a content warning, with an advisory age of 16+. Is that children’s fiction?) If the prize considers the intended audience, Sputnik is up there with the best.

 

Carnegie Medal 2017 · Young Adult Reviews

Review – The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

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Carnegie List 3/8

Extract:

(Manny’s narration) I had never heard of pansies. Flowers do not grow where landmines are buried. I studied the picture on the packet and those flowers reminded me of the faces I saw in my dreams. They had big frightened eyes and no mouths. I dropped the paper on the seat and picked up my singlet. I needed to run again. That was the feeling I had inside me when I thought of the faces. But, before I ran, I saw that there was handwriting on the back of the packet. That is what stopped me from running. 

desire

my desire is

to be understood

my soul is filled 

with songbirds

but when I open my mouth to 

set them free 

they sh*t 

on my lips. 

anon. 

(The Stars at Oktober Bend, Glenda Millard. P32.) 

 

Synopsis:

Alice Nightingale is ‘forever 12’. She searches inside herself and out for the truth about what happened the night she went counted the stars at Oktober Bend. Words don’t come easily when she speaks, but when she writes they give flight to her thoughts. Thoughts about the mother who left, and the father who died, and the grandfather in prison.

Manny James has memories inside him he would rather forget. Memories of his little sister, and life in Sierra Leone. He finds a poem and connects it to the red-haired girl who stands under the stars and throws her poems to the world. Manny wants to learn more about Alice, but he must contend with the prejudices of people who think the Nightingales are nothing but trouble.

Together, they search for the truth about themselves beyond their circumstances. 

 

Review:

Don’t be fooled by those short sentences – the use of language in The Stars at Oktober Bend is genius. Alice’s voice is superficially childish. She suffers from ‘theasurus syndrome’ – misuse of long words where a short one would do – and repeatedly uses words and phrases she has read in the family Bible. It soon becomes apparent that Alice has a gift for observation, and for crafting apposite metaphors. Alice also has a gift for poetry, and the book is worth reading for Alice’s poems alone. Read carefully – every poem contains a line or an image which tells you something you haven’t yet learnt in the text.

Alice is searching for the truth about what happened on a night when she was 12. The reader gathers clues with her – from her beautiful language, and from the revelations of other characters. This reminds me of stream of consciousness in Modernist literature, where thoughts occur as they would in real life. She questions whether she will, as the doctors say, be ‘forever twelve’. This is interesting in itself – Alice is caught on the cusp of adolescence, the cusp of abstract thought. When Alice meets Manny, she questions to what extent she will be able to enter a relationship.

While Alice searches for answers, the present day is not forgotten. There is Alice’s emerging relationship with Manny, the behaviour of a couple of local boys and their threats towards Alice’s brother Joey, and Manny himself. There is also the question of Gram’s bad lungs, and how much longer the Nightingales can hide away from the world.

   Alice has acquired brain injury. I am sometimes wary of novels which deal with health conditions. There has been discussion about this within the YA Twitter community. There is nothing worse than a novel which invites people to sob over a person coming to terms with their health condition. This is not equal representation. The tone of The Stars at Oktober Bend is spot-on. Alice is a character, not an information leaflet. In terms of Alice’s brain injury and seizures, the reader is told only what the need to know for the plot. Alice’s development as a character is not about her health condition, but her relationship with herself and the world. This does not mean the brain injury plays no part. It means it is one aspect of Alice’s life. It does not define Alice.

Not only does Alice have difficulties with her health, she faces prejudice from the outside world. Millard portrayed this beautifully, from the man who tries to underpay her for her work to the ballet teacher who insists Alice’s seizures ‘disrupt’ the lessons.  

I loved how Alice and Manny had similar development, despite having opposite problems. Alice wants to remember; Manny want to forget. Generally, the book looks at how the world responds to people who ‘with issues’ – be it poverty, bereavement, abuse or anything else you can dream of. The resounding message was we are people regardless of what has happened to us, and this, I think, makes the book both important and memorable.

 

Old Barn Books

Page Count: 266

 

Have you read a book in written in poetry or unconventional prose? Did it affect your reading of the story?

 

Carnegie Medal 2017 · Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

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CILIP Carnegie 2017 – 2/9

Extract:

When I was smaller, I asked my grandfather how Wolf Hollow got its name.

‘They used to dig deep pits there, for catching wolves,’ he said. 

He was one of eight of us who lived together in the farmhouse that had been in our family for a hundred years, three generations tucked together under one roof after the Depression had tightened the whole country’s belt and made out farm the best of all places to live. Now, with a second world war raging, lots of people grew victory gardens to help feed themselves, but our whole farm was a giant victory garden that my grandfather had spent his whole life tending. 

He was a serious man who always told me the truth, which I didn’t want but sometimes asked for anyway. When I asked him how Wolf Hollow got its name, for instance, he told me, even though I was only eight at the time. 

 

Synopsis:

Wolf Hollow – named for the pit where wolves were trapped and shot for fear they would pick off the chickens. The place where Annabelle’s family farm the land, where Toby has roamed the hills since the last war. Toby, who carries three guns on his back but only shoots with his camera.

In the autumn of 1943, Betty Glengarry arrives and Annabelle learns how to lie. Betty is a bully, and Annabelle does not know who to tell. What she does know is Toby is watching the situation from the hills.

Then something serious happens, and fingers point at Toby. Like Scout Finch before her, Annabelle is determined to see justice …

 

Review:

I read this over 24 hours, cover to cover. The character, pace and descriptive writing kept me hooked. In terms of plot, it is like To Kill a Mockingbird, but the metaphor of the wolf pit brings the main character to a different conclusion.

Annabelle is a captivating character. Perceptive about the effect her actions might have on other people, there are also times when she fails to understand why somebody might be different from herself. The novel is narrated by a much older Annabelle. I like how this enables her to reflect on her younger self. She realises, for example, that as a child she did not have a word to describe the difference between her young self and Betty Glengarry. I would like to see a bit more to Betty – I don’t believe all characters need to be ‘rounded’, but we only saw young Annabelle’s perception of Betty as a bully, with some brief discussion of how her Grandparents have blinkers about their grandchild. I would love young Annabelle to learn *something* which makes her think about Betty from a different angle.

The judgement of Betty Glengarry as something dangerous – something which belongs in the wolf pit – seems at odds with the overriding message against prejudice, when we know so little about her background. This may be part of the book’s complexity. Annabelle is faced with contradictory revelations about life: for example, she learns to tell the truth, but finds that lies are sometimes necessary.

Annabelle’s extended family have different views on the situation, which allows her to see the problem from different perspectives. Aunt Lilly also becomes a figurehead for the prejudice exhibited by a large number of characters. This works nicely – it allows us to see how somebody’s view might be formed, what might influence it, and the ways it might change.

The writing is beautiful. Five very shiny stars for pace and suspense – the sentences flow into each other, with regular snippets of information to grab your attention and keep your mind firmly on the story. The descriptive writing is both beautiful and telling – from the girl who is not as beautiful as her name sounds, to the snake which retains the tread of the person who squashed it. Read the description carefully – it tells you where the story is heading.

Corgi (Penguin Random House)

Page Count: 291

Nb. My proof copy came to me second-hand. Many thanks to the person who put it into my hands.