Saturday, 25 October 2014

Guardian Children’s Fiction Award 2014 - reviews: The Dark Wild, The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, Phoenix

Continuing on our shadowing of the this years Guardian Children‘s Fiction Award short list after Nicki's previous post and review of 'We Were Liars’ by E Lockhart [press here to read], here is our reviews of the other three exciting short listed books...

The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

Reviewed by Claire

Twelve year old Kester can't speak to most humans, but he can talk and listen to animals. Not that there were many animals left, after an evil corporation wiped most of them out with a virus, so that humans would have no choice but to buy their food-substitute. In the first book in this trilogy Kester saved many of these animals. In this second book, he discovers that there are other animals in an underground city, who are preparing to rise up against humans. It is only Kester who can stop them.

The Dark Wild has some of everything. A rollicking adventure. Set in a dystopian future. Important theme of humanity’s attitude to our environment. And perhaps most importantly to its readership, a large cast of loveable (and not so loveable) animals that come alive on the page.

This series is marketed as 9+, but it is a challenging read, both thematically and in tone, for that age-group. 11+ seems to me like its natural readership, especially those able readers who are starting to lose interest in other middle grade fiction. There aren’t enough books in that gulf before teen fiction so I was pleased to discover this.

The final book in the series will be published in 2015.

The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses 

by Kate DiCamillo

Reviewed by Sally

Have you ever wondered what would happen if…a twelve year old natural born cynic and a squirrel with super powers and a talent for writing poetry got together? If so then, The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses is for you. If no, then you should read this book to find out why you should have asked yourself the question.

The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses is a quirky and intelligent read for middle grade, centring around the adventures of twelve year old comic fanatic Flora, who resurrects a squirrel who has been vacuumed up by the neighbours top-of-the-range Ulysses 2000. The squirrel, Ulysses after his near death experience develops super strength, the ability to fly and advance cognitive abilities (which he channels into typing poetry). The pair instantly bond, and begin on series of gentle, funny and profound adventures as they try to outwit Ulysses’s arch enemy, Flora’s Romanic novelist mother, who has plan for the bald squirrel that novel a shovel and a sack!

The real strength of The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, is the writing, Kate DiCamillo, delivers a gentle haft warming story with plenty of action and laughs, which deliver positive messages about trust, friendship and acceptance, in an uncondescending way. DiCamillo use of language is beautiful, weaving together words in beautiful way, and not compromising on her choice of words, creating a challenging read which will be particularly suitable to advance readers. I myself had to consult the dictionary on a few occasions. To add to the quirky humour sections of the book have the action told not in words but with sequential narrative, with delightful grey scale comic strip illustrated by K G Campell.

The messages and themes of the books, are all woven together in a subtle way, as the group of eclectic and lonely characters bond together with their shared mission to keep Ulysses safe. The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, is a book that will make you laugh and cry (or maybe that’s just me) and illuminate you on the profound nature of squirrel poetry.

Phoenix by SF Said

Reviewed by Claire 

Phoenix is a science-fiction story set in the far future amidst a highly populated galaxy. This description doesn’t make it sound like the type of book that is usually nominated for prizes, but Phoenix is beautiful on so many levels - even poetic, in parts - and I’m thrilled that it is getting the recognition it deserves.

This is a hugely accessible book for many reasons. It has intriguingly eerie illustrations by Dave McKean, which somehow don’t feel like an overthought - the words and pictures fit together perfectly. The story gets cracking quickly, moves fast and never sags. And then there’s the characters: A boy called Lucky, who dreams that the stars are singing. His mum, who for her time in the story proves to be about as cool a mother as any kid can hope for. And Bixa and the rest of her family, who are aliens with hoofed feet living aboard a spacecraft. It has a clear message of love towards our neighbours, however different their outward appearance may initially seem.

I originally bought this book without knowing much about it, purely based on its genre - my children, like so many others, love both speculative science and space travel, and there is far too little of it on offer. It shot to the top of my reading list when my ten year old son read all 487 pages in one evening, and couldn’t stop talking about it. His favourite part, he told me firmly, was what happened to Lucky in the ending. When I read it, I was surprised by this, for whilst hugely uplifting, it is not a conventionally happy ending for children’s fiction. But in a mind-blowing book like this, conventions fly out of the spacecraft hatches, and really it’s a far better read because of it.

This is a future classic and, having read all of the finalists, it remains the one I would very much like it to win.

So here we are a mixed bag of exciting books, role on November 13th, when the winner is announced!

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