Friday, 31 May 2013

Carnegie Shortlist Review - Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner

I'm going to start this review with a confession. Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon has been sat in my TBR (To be Read Pile) since it was published. The reason I hadn't read it was fear. Yes FEAR. Why? Well I knew that Standish the protagonist is dyslexic, and I knew that the author Sally Gardner is also dyslexic. Can’t see the problem? Well, I’m also dyslexic, and like many dyslexic’s I've been told repeatedly through my life that I'm not dyslexic I'm thick, and having this drilled into you make you question whether you are actually dyslexic. So the fear was this; what if I read Maggot Moon and Standish’s dyslexia isn't like mine, that Sally Gardner’s dyslexia isn't like mine? Well that could be proof that I'm not dyslexic, that actually I'm just THICK.

I needn't have worried. To my immense relief, Sally’s portrayal of Standish’s dyslexia was so close to mine, it seemed like she’d been watching me as a child. I actually laughed out loud at the scene with Standish’s school tie, being knotted over a year because he can’t tie it, so he pulls it on and off – I did the exact same thing (and buttoned up my school shirts inside out and out of line). Standish also collects words, and as a person, who at Standish age could hardly read, write or spell (still can’t spell), I could not put this better…

‘…a word to describe that wall would be impenetrable. See. I might not be able to spell but I have a huge vocabulary. I collect words – they are sweets in the mouth of sound.’ 

Sally has captured dyslexia perfectly, the problems, the stigma, and isolation and in very believable and sympathetic manor. But this book isn't about dyslexia; no it’s far deeper and darker. As soon as you begin to read the voice grips you and doesn't let you go, it’s gritty, brave and cunning yet maintains the naivety of youth. At first you think it’s a straight forward dystopian thriller, but the seeping in of disturbingly real historical symbols and phrases like, motherland, zeppelins , and the man in a black leather jacket with eye-socket-fitting sunglasses, makes you realise this isn't an imagined bleak future but an historical novel of an alternative history. This is when the peril cranks up, as by now you know that Standish is not the idea of perfection, with his troubles reading and his miss-matched eyes (one blue and one brown).

In Maggot Moon’s version of history it’s the 1950’s and the Motherland has launched a rocket set for the moon, a way to ensure that the land of Croka-Cola and Cadillac’s stop their advances. Standish and his best friend Hector, discover a conspiracy about the mission that brings them the wrong kind of attention, and when Hector and his family disappear Standish goes to throw a stone, to bring down the giant motherland and save his friend. The atmosphere is immensely real, the 1950’s setting, war, suppression and the fear. The moon landing seems strangely familiar only with a flag that red and black instead of red, white and blue. This is a tale of friendship, love and the fight for survival, which keeps you reading with baited breath that delivers a perfect but bitter-sweet conclusion.

For a chance to win some of the shortlisted books, enter our Carnegie Giveaway! Just e-mail 
with your name and address, and 'Carnegie' in the header.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Carnegie Shortlist Review - The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

The Weight of Water, is a book of verse, but it is also a novel. Despite its title and concept; a novel where the story arc and plot delivered entirely through poems, it is not a heavy read. That is also not to say that it doesn’t deal with weighty meaty issues, because it does in buckets; immigration, separation, broken families, bullying, poverty, but it deals with it all in a way that seems like a breath of fresh air, it has a lightness and freshness that makes it a delightful reading experience.

Sarah Crossan has crafted a book which strips the story down to the bare bones, telling only what is required to deliver the story across without fancy trimmings and flowery words. The frugal word count tells the tale in the voice of polish immigrant Kassienka, who is dragged from home to Coventry in search of her father who walked out on her and her mother. Kassienka or Cassie to the English who can't pronounce her name, life becomes increasingly complicated at school and home, as whilst she is bullied, gets closer to a boy at school, and finds her allusive father, and deals with her fragile mother whose unravelling at the seems.

The story is poignant, emotional, and deal with issues every child and adult can relate to, bulling, broken families, the confusion brought on by newly awoken feelings during the tender pubescent years. The beauty of this book is it’s unique writing, utilizing verse, Crossan has produced a book that could have been a gritty grim, heavy read. Instead just as Kassienka finds sanctuary in the water ‘the Weight of water’ is like floating in Kassienka’s world, secretly listening to her thoughts, sharing her struggles, and letting her endearing naive outlook on life wash over you. Sharing Kassienka world is easy despite it’s challenging topics, and it’s tender gentle ending will leave you smiling. 

Mini - One Question Interview with Sarah Crossan: 

Q - What is your Favourite thing about your book The Weight of Water?

A - My favourite thing about The Weight of Water is the verse format. It was a risk writing it in that way, but I feel that it paid off because Kasienka's voice is totally true to how I imagined her. My favourite chapter in the novel is 'Kenilworth Castle' because I really do love the place—it's so romantic! 

If you want to win a copy of The Weight of Water along with several other shortlisted books, just email us at with your name and address, and Carnegie in the title bar.

Good luck!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Carnegie Review - Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

I first read Code Name Verity a year ago. I re-read it when it was short-listed, and I'm no less stunned by it now than I was then.

Code Name Verity is the story of 'Queenie', a young Resistance Agent taken captive in Nazi-occupied France. On the surface, it's a war story, a story of Queenie's struggle and bravery and daring. Queenie has taken a huge gamble: she has agreed to tell everything she knows about the British war effort in exchange for time, because knowledge is the only thing she has left to bargain with, and time is the only thing the Gestapo are willing to give. Constantly watched and tormented, she is in a situation that offers very little hope.

Except that Queenie is strong, and gutsy, and in a world where she has nothing but the scraps of paper she's writing on, she has the one thing that matters to her most: a best friend.

Because as much as this is a story about war, and bravery and daring, it's really a story about friendship. As Queenie writes her story, she tells of the moment she first met Maddie, and how they became the closest of friends, summing their friendship up with the line:

'It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.'

I can't say much more without giving things away, but I will say this: buy some Kleenex before you read this book!

We asked Elizabeth Wein what her favourite thing about Code Name Verity is, and this is what she said:

What is my favourite aspect of my short-listed book - FRIENDSHIP. Absolutely, the fact that I sat down to write a book about war and torture and spies and pilots and it turned out to be none of the above - it is first, and foremost, a book about friendship. I didn't see it coming. It made the book a wonderful thing to write, a pleasure to write, and I think it's what makes the book appealing - and maybe surprising - to other people too.

If you want to win a copy of Code Name Verity along with several other shortlisted books, just email us at with your name and address, and Carnegie in the title bar. Good luck!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Carnegie Review - Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle

This book is all about the big stuff - life, death, and the growing up that goes on in between. It's about how mothers feel about daughters, and how about how they go on to feel about them, even when they grow up and have daughters of their own. 

Mary still kisses her parents goodnight, but knows one day she won't want to. She worries she will become just like her two brothers (now known as Dommo and Killer), who just grunt and laugh at nothing, but also look increasingly isolated and lonely.

But all the family activity is centred on hospital visits and the fact that Mary's grandmother is dying. That's difficult enough for the family to deal with, but they also have to cope with the fact that the ghost of Mary's great-grandmother has chosen this moment to appear on the scene - with questions about fridges and marvelling at tea bags - and wanting to visit the hospital.

It's a short book, but packs a lot in, including the four different voices of the four generations of women, showing how each successive generation flows on from the previous one.

Roddy Doyle handles the action without it becoming either heartbreaking or sentimental, but in fact is both a funny and beautiful read.

A perfectly formed read that gives a subtle message that death is just a normal part of the cycle of life.

And children quite like reading about the big stuff.

For a chance to win some of the shortlisted books, enter our Carnegie Giveaway! Just e-mail  with your name and address, and 'Carnegie' in the header.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Carnegie Shortlist Review – A Boy and a Bear in a Boat – Dave Shelton

Here at Space on the bookshelf we are very excited about the mounting buzz surrounding The Clip Carnegie shortlist. With less than five weeks until the announcement of the winner on the 19th June, we are reviewing each of the shortlisted books, and in many cases featuring a mini-interview with the author. As if that wasn't enough we have a great Carnegie giveaway too! 

So we kick off our Carnegie journey aptly with A Boy and a Bear in a Boat...

Dave Shelton’s book, does exactly what it says on the cover, it’s a story about ’A Boy and a Bear in a Boat’. But, how much excitement can a boy and a bear have on a tiny rowing boat you may ask? The answer is boat loads (sorry I couldn't resist!)

The story begins when the boy charters the boat and its captain the bear to take him across to the other side. As the hours aboard the tiny boat, The Harriet, turn into days and weeks, the monotony is replaced with adventure with sea monsters, storms, and even a ghost ship.

A Boy and A Bear in a Boat, is uplifting tale, that delivers action and adventure in a gentle pace with quirky humour that is enhanced by author/ illustrators Dave Shelton’s delightful illustrations. The story is essentially about friendship. The journey that the characters take as their bond is made is touching and every bit as engaging as their perils’ of their incredible journey through the vast ocean. The Bear’s undying optimism and rituals of tea drinking and eating eccentric sandwiches is magical, and is juxtaposed beautifully with the boy’s scepticism and humour.

I found ‘A Boy and a Bear in a Boat’ to be a refreshing read. A rarity in modern books, going back to the foundations of storytelling; being engaging, and entertaining without being high octane. I strongly recommend this as a book for all but in particular advanced younger readers, who can find it difficult to find age appropriate yet challenging reads.

For maximum enjoyment I recommend reading with a nice cup of tea, and maybe an anchovy, banana and custard sandwich!

Mini - One Question Interview with Dave Shelton:

Q - What is your favourite thing about your book A Boy and a Bear in a Boat?

A - The ending. It's probably the thing about the book that most divides readers (some people really don't like it at all) but I think I got it right. It's the right ending for the story I wanted to tell. I wrote it quite early on and it was very comforting to me, as I struggled and struggled with the middle, to know that there was this good place (as far as I was concerned) that I would eventually reach. I knew where I was going, even if I wasn't always sure how to get there, and that was a big help.

For a chance to win a copy of A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, and other shortlisted books, enter our Carnegie Giveaway! Just e-mail with your name and address, and 'Carnegie' in the header.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Review: Waiting for Gonzo, by Dave Cousins

Adult(ish) review

I'll admit it up front: I'm a big Dave Cousins fan. His debut, Fifteen Days Without a Head, was stunning. Gritty, dark and honest, not to mention the brilliance of the title. And it's just won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Europe, so I'm feeling pretty smug sat up on my high horse right now.

Waiting for Gonzo is different. The grittiness is gone, replaced by funny. As you watch Oz's world deteriorate following one (usually Oz-driven) catastrophe after another, you can't help but smile along with fearing for him, because Oz is a real teenager, doing all the real things teenagers do. He sees a photo on a wall at school, and the next thing he knows, he's drawing a moustache on it. From then on in, Oz's world tumbles.

The honesty of Dave Cousins' writing remains. He has a fantastic touch when it comes to relationships, and in Gonzo, those relationships are constantly being tested. There's his mum and dad, who have just forced Oz to relocate to the middle of nowhere, away from his friends and city life. There's his sister, who... well, that would be giving things away, wouldn't it? And then there are the people Oz meets at his new school, who are as varied and unpredictable as you can imagine, from a boy who dresses as a Hobbit in his spare time to the girl who starts appearing more and more in Oz's like after he adds a certain moustache to her photo.

What? Do I have something on my face?

This is an easy book to read, because it involves you so quickly. Oz himself is hot-headed, eager to be accepted, but ultimately he wants to do right by people. Watching him feel his way forwards through disaster after disaster is as captivating as it is fun.

And guess what? Like Fifteen Days Without a Head, Waiting for Gonzo is simply stunning.

Teen review, by Emily, age 15

This is a light-hearted and easy to read book about the trials and tribulations of a city boy, moving to what he views as a very strange and small countryside community. I thought that the slightly more unique way of writing, where the book is written for someone, ‘G’, is very interesting and enjoyable to read. Part of the enjoyment is in trying to work out who ‘G’ is, and also what the developing countdown in the narration is leading up to.

Although this sounds as though it was essentially a carefree book, it does in fact deal with some difficult issues: the book deals with these in a mature and sensitive manner. I enjoyed the book, and I think the ideal reader age would be perhaps 10+ as the language is not too advanced for younger readers but still engaging.

There are only 3 days left to enter our Gonzo giveaway! Just send us an email at with your name and address, and 'Gonzo' in the header. The winner will be drawn on Friday 10th May.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Editor Interview: Claire Westwood from OUP on Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins

Claire Westwood is an Editorial Assistant at Oxford University Press. Previously, she worked as part of the editing team at Taylor & Francis. Here, she talks about her love of children's books, and working on Waiting for Gonzo...

What was your favourite children's book as a child? 

Ooh, that’s a really tricky one! I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm and picking just one book from my childhood is impossible. Having said that, I devoured pretty much everything by Roald Dahl, and of all his wonderful books, Matilda was a particular favourite of mine.

Miss Trunchbull is definitely one of literature’s all-time best baddies, and the bit where Bruce Bogtrotter succeeds in eating the entire chocolate cake still makes me wants to punch the air with elation. I saw the musical version of Matilda at the theatre recently and I think I actually did punch the air at that point! 

What is your favourite children's book as an adult?

Again, that’s almost impossible to answer. My favourites are constantly changing depending on what I’ve read recently. I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio last month and it left me on such an amazing emotional high that when I finished the last page I quickly turned back to page one and read the whole thing again! I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan and have lost count of the number of times I’ve got into arguments with people who say they don’t like it. Usually it’s because they’ve only just seen the films, and I have to resist the urge to become overly zealous about how much better the books are!

What do you think makes children's books so inspirational?

I think it could be something to do with the fact that when you read them, you’re still forming a sense of who you are as a person, and so the books you read as a child have a massive impact on the sort of person you end up becoming. 

I know from my own experience of the characters who really inspired me— characters like Pippi Longstocking, Jo from Little Women, and Georgia Nicholson in the books by Louise Rennison– who made me think, ‘Wow, they’re awesome—I want to be just like them!’

What do you love about Waiting for Gonzo, and what makes it stand out?

From the first few pages I just fell in love with the main character Oz. He’s a bit of an idiot to be honest; he’s always putting his foot in it and makes some very bad decisions along the way, but he’s a good egg really and you can’t help rooting for him in spite of everything.

I think that’s one of the main strengths of Dave’s writing: he can make you care deeply about the characters in his books, and you just have to keep on reading to find out what happens to them next. 

The other thing that makes Waiting for Gonzo stand out is how funny it is. There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments—many of them involving Ryan – Oz’s friend who likes to dress up as a hobbit!

What made you want to work in children's publishing?

Well I’ve always loved reading children’s books and this way I get to do it every day and get paid for it! It’s a win-win situation, really. Is editing a debut author any different than editing an established author? Well sort of yes and no. In my experience every author is different and has his or her own individual way of working. I think one of our main jobs as editors is to understand that and adapt our editing style to suit the author.

Don't forget - if you want to win a signed copy of Waiting for Gonzo, just email us at SPACEONTHEBOOKSHELF@YAHOO.COM with your name and address! Competition closes on Friday 10th May.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Author Interview: Dave Cousins, Waiting for Gonzo

The book up for review this month is Waiting for Gonzo, by Dave Cousins. We loved Dave's debut, Fifteen Days Without A Head, which has just won the Crystal Kite Award for Europe! Over the next few days, you can catch up on all things Gonzo, with an interview with the book's editor, a Spotlight on Writing feature, and two book reviews - one from us, and one from 15 year-old Emily. If you want to find out more about Dave, you can also find him at

To kick things off though, a few words from the man of the hour himself...

Dave Cousins hard at work on his Acme Machine...

What was your favourite children’s book as a child? 

The Machine-Gunners by Robert Westall. If there’s one book that made me want to write, this is it. I loved this book from the moment I first picked it up, aged eleven. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it since. Even though it was published in the early seventies, the quality of the writing and storytelling means it still feels as fresh and exciting as ever.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult? 

Difficult question! There have been so many great books published in recent years it’s impossible to choose just one. I recently enjoyed Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan and Grounded by Sheena Wilkinson. I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Sara Grant’s Half Lives, which is brilliant, and I’m really enjoying Slated by Teri Terry at the moment. I’m also halfway through re-reading Bryan Lee O’Malley’s superb Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.

What makes children’s books so inspirational? 

To keep young people reading, stories have to really engage. There’s no room for self-indulgence, clich├ęd characters or lack of story. Secondly, I think the teenage years are a fascinating time to write about – filled with doubt and discovery – the time when we struggle to learn who we are and find our place in the world.

Why did you start writing for children? 

Ever since I was quite young, my response to things that happened to me, or stuff I heard about, was to turn them into stories, songs or drawings. Many years later, inspired by some of the fantastic books I’d read, I decided to sit down and have a go myself! The fact that the stories I find myself writing always have a teenage character at their heart makes me suspect I’m still roughly thirteen in my head!

What made you want to write this book? 

To keep going for the length of time it takes to write a book, I have to really care about the characters and the things that are happening to them. 

Waiting for Gonzo started as one of many ideas that sat around in a notebook for years, before my narrator Oz arrived and transformed the spark into a story I wanted to tell. Once characters come to life a story gains its own momentum and I have to type fast to keep up! I knew I wanted the book (and Oz’s character) to make readers laugh, but there were also some serious things happening to the characters. Getting the right balance of humour and heart was quite a challenge.

What’s your favourite aspect of writing for children? 

Being a writer is my dream job, but one of the most rewarding aspects of writing for young people is getting the chance to meet and talk to readers.

Teenagers are too often demonized, but I’m constantly inspired by the humour, ideas and enthusiasm of the students I meet in schools. I believe that sharing stories is hugely important, and it’s great being able to play a small part in this process.

And to top it all off, you can also win a signed copy of Waiting for Gonzo! Just email us at with the name of the book in the header. The winner will be drawn on Friday 10th May - good luck!