Friday, 29 May 2015

More than This – Carnegie Shadowing – review

Expect some big questions and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride when you dive in Patrick Ness’s ‘More than This’ – a novel which will leave you with more questions than answers, but also, is a book that will surely make you think. Oh, and terrify you.

The opening is mysterious as Seth discovers himself in a world he can’t explain – similar to one he thinks he remembers, but not the one he thinks he just left, when he thinks he died. (Yes, it's going to be that complicated.)

He seems to now be in a place he left when he was a child; before he moved to a different country. But that’s not even the main mystery.

The question really troubling Seth is: Where is everyone else?

From the intriguing and enticing cover, you know right from the start that you are being served up something very special.

Patrick Ness weaves three complex and intriguing threads through this book in a masterful piece of narrative structure.

The three interwoven stories – the story of Seth’s ‘other’ life and what led to him being here is told in flashback; the story that goes even further back, to when his family moved out of his childhood home; and the ‘where am I now and how did I get here?’, all add up to something really pretty special.

The story is part mystery, part thriller, part sc-fi, part contemporary novel, and part a story of the emotional consequences of a taboo same-sex relationship. But each is handled with skill so you are drawn more and more into Seth's world. The bleakness of the difficulties he has faced in his young life, plus the struggle for survival today, on top of making sense of his current situation.

It is no less than brilliant that the author manages to achieve all this, relentlessly moving from one storyline to another, dropping in clues to the back-story of each of the story threads, making you feel torn as you have to leave one story to plunge into another. Yet the reader never loses place. Each thread is equally engrossing, each in its own way. Each character and sub-plot each take you into deeper and darker places.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but the contemporary action is laced with menace. The baddie ‘The Driver’ a robot who seems unstoppable and un-killable is truly terrifying, punctuating an emotional story with heart-stopping threat and action.

The reader never knows what to expect next and along the way, if you take time to stop and think, the journey takes you to some terrifying places, and not just the sci-fi action scenes. This philosophical novel poses big questions. 

Is it better to live a life sheltered by the sometime awfulness of reality – or better to face the truth? Is the worst nightmare the one that’s real, or the imaginary one you create for yourself?

I was absolutely blown away by this book and I would love it to win. Such a big novel. So many questions. I enjoyed it totally on an adult level - it is really a timeless book that appeals to all ages.

My only reservation, really, is whether it is really a novel for children? I think you need a certain maturity to fully appreciate this novel on all its levels. I think many children doing the shadowing will love this - particularly the action scenes and the mystery, but I kind of also hope they might want to come back to it and read it again when they are a little older.

Is it a great novel? I would say so – unquestionably Yes. Is it a great novel for children? That is a much trickier one. 

We shall await the judges' final decision.

We asked Patrick Ness 'What is your favourite thing about your shortlisted book?' Here is what he had to say:
"The cover.  I mean, you know, I'm proud of the book like I would be of a child I raised and sent out into the world, but haven't my publishers done an amazing job with the cover?  I feel very lucky."

Thank you Patrick Ness. I agree the cover is awesome, but it is only doing justice to a truly fantastic book. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Fastest Boy in the World – Elizabeth Laird – Carnegie Shadowing review

You might be forgiven for thinking Elizabeth Laird’s ‘The Fastest Boy in the World’, with its Ethiopian setting and story of a boy who lives on a farm and who dreams of being a runner, might be a story children would find it a challenge to relate to, particularly as this is aimed at young readers.

But who wouldn’t understand exactly how eleven-year-old Solomon feels when his grandfather tells him they must journey together to the big city – and the excitement Solomon feels in being given this responsibility, the recognition that he is growing up and the sense that things are about to change.

We are quickly drawn into Solomon’s world. The capital may only be just over twenty miles away, but in a country where few people have cars, and even a bus journey is too expensive, Solomon and his grandfather must go on foot. And Solomon doesn’t even own shoes.

This is wonderful, evocative storytelling – a glimpse into a different land, a totally different culture. But a novel of heart and adventure.
We can feel the wonderful contrast as Solomon sets foot in a city for the first time, and understand Solmon’s excitement when they are finally plunged into the teeming world of the capital – Addis Ababa. Suddenly there are people, movement, pavements, pick-pockets – and relatives that don’t look that pleased to see them.

Solomon begins to understand some skulduggery has been afoot and prompted, for what has been for his frail grandfather, a huge journey.

But they find friends in unexpected places, plus a few stories of Grandfather when he was young are revealed – plus a little history of this troubled country.

And the backdrop of all of this is the impending returning visit and parade by the country’s running heroes fresh from Olympic success, and Solomon, always, always dreaming of running.

There is a simplicity of storytelling in Elizabeth Laird’s ‘The Fastest Boy in the World’ that masks that this is about some big themes, dealt with in a book suitable from age seven – no mean feat.

Grandfather has been a huge presence in Solomon’s life, but is taken ill. What eleven-year-old wouldn’t recognise the fear and responsibility of being alone in a vast city in charge of a very dear and ailing relative. 

Even finding the right bus would be a challenge for most youngsters, as it is for Solomon. But Solomon reacts with chivalry and courage when faced with some pretty big challenges.

It’s a really satisfying and heart-warming story that does a double achievement of helping you understand the fears, hopes and dreams of a boy in another country – and realising these are not so different from our own.

A joy of storytelling. Great to see a book for younger readers being recognised on the Carnegie shortlist - and who could fail to be moved and excited by Solomon's epic run.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Carnegie Review - Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song opens with the awakening of eleven year old Triss, who after a near-drowning has gaps in her memory, and also, somehow, in herself. Her little sister, Pen, knows she’s not right, and hates her for it. So do her dolls. And her overanxious parents are increasingly suspicious, which leads Triss to investigate what happened on the day of the accident at the pool known as ’the Grimmer … black as perdition and narrow as a half-closed eye'.

Cuckoo Song is a changeling story with a twist; it is told from the perspective of the changeling herself. But the twists don’t end there. Its characters are rarely who they initially seem, forcing Triss to rapidly change her allegiances. The readers loyalties change too, as the characters' competing ideas of what is right and good is explored, and how far they’ll go in following them is exposed.

The world these characters inhabit also twists, from the evocative 1920’s England of the opening, to the increasingly creepy magical structures built within it. And the theme of building extends throughout the story, with characters including a menacing architect and the mysterious Shrike, who animates objects into living beings, to the themes of rebuilding a family after betrayal and building a life after the death of another, or of oneself.

This is a long book, and the tension mounts gradually in the first quarter, until eventually taking off at breakneck speed. But throughout, Cuckoo Song is filled with rich folklore and the unique, descriptive flair of Hardinge, a multi-award winning children’s novelist.

Reviewed by Claire McCauley

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret – DD Everest - 3d-review – editor interview

Alice Swan, Commissioning Editor, Faber Children's, was longlisted in this year's Branford Boase Award, set up to reward the most promising new writers and their editors, as well as to reward excellence in writing and in publishing. 

The Award is made annually to the most promising book for seven year-olds and upwards by a first time novelist. Alice Swan was nominated for her work on 'Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret', which we are featuring this month on Space on the Bookshelf.

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

Our family didn't have a television growing up so we did A LOT of reading, especially when it was winter and we couldn't go out and play all evening. I find it very hard to name a favourite book, but I do remember a summer holiday where I was obsessed with Joan Aitken and read everything she'd written. 

I think Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is definitely up there. We read Northern Lights as a family, with my mother and father taking it in turns to read to me and my three younger brothers and sisters. 

When it came to The Amber Spyglass I was too impatient to wait until story time so I devoured it myself over a few days. I remember thinking that I had read some profound work of philosophy - I was empowered by the fact that I understood the metaphor - and I couldn't wait for my dad to read it so I could discuss it with him. 

We were also obsessed with audio cassettes as children as we used to go on long driving holidays around the campsites of France or Spain and it was here I discovered favourites such as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. 

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

Every book I edit has a place in my heart because when you work on something that closely you feel like you know every word. It's also a joy to discover classics I didn't read as a child such as Noel Langley's The Land of Green Ginger. 

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

The books I read as a child were often my first experiences of a particular emotion or feeling. Melvin Burgess's Junk made me think I was streetwise, for example. I'm sure all young readers feel the same way - your protagonists are your heroes and they can shape your views and widen your horizons. You can find friends in books, too. 

What do you love about ‘Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret’ and what makes it stand out?

I am the biggest fan of magical books and I always have been. What's so special about Archie is that you can imagine being that boy, leading a normal life, and then WHAM you suddenly discover that your family are the secret guardians of the world's magical books. That's a very exciting premise, right there. 

As a reader you want to feel like you could be right there inside the book - that it could happen to you - the closer it is to the real world, the easier it is to imagine. DD Everest has an amazing talent for world building and this is a book with a lot of depth. 

There are so many details to get excited about, such as the magical instruments in the Museum and the ancient practice of magical book upkeep. Archie and his cousins are very normal, grounded characters, not to mention cheeky, and they're instantly likeable. It's the sort of book that you can really immerse yourself in, escaping the real world and getting to know a more exciting one! 

How many people worked on this book from arrival of manuscript to finished book on shelf?

Lots! I co-edited it with Antonia Markiet, the US editor, but besides us there is the publisher, the desk editor, the typesetter, the copyeditor and the proofreader. Not to mention the designer of the cover, the production person who arranged the printing, the marketing and publicity teams, the sales team that get it on the shelf in the first place...   

Monday, 11 May 2015

Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret – DD Everest - 3d-review – author interview

We welcome Des Dearlove (aka DD Everest), debut author of 'Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret' to Space on the Bookshelf. 
We talked to him about how the magic of fantasy books that he started to love as a child has led to him creating a world where books are very, very magical indeed . . .
What was your favourite children’s book as a child?
The Hobbit! I must have been about nine when I first read it and I just loved it! I can still remember the sense of adventure it inspired in me. There’s something very special about the world that Tolkien created and the idea that small people like hobbits can have very big adventures. When I opened that book, I was Bilbo Baggins leaving home without even a pocket-handkerchief!

Other books I enjoyed were the Norse and Greek myths, which had a big influence on me, and stories about boarding schools, especially as I didn’t go to one. I devoured the Billy Bunter books.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
The Lord of the Rings -- it’s the Hobbit for grown ups! It is such an epic story and so perfectly constructed.
Treasure Island is another book that I have grown to love as an adult. My dad read it to me when I was young, and as I get older it has a very special place on my bookshelf because he read it to me. I can still see him sitting at the end of my bed! That’s the power of reading to children – they never forget.
Some of the more contemporary children’s fantasy is brilliantly imagined and written as well. I love the Harry Potter books for bringing together the worlds of boarding school (Bunter) and wizards (Gandalf).
Terry Pratchet’s Discworld novels are also favourites because they can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?
The audience – the fact that they are read by children! For an author it is brilliant because you have an audience whose imagination is still wide open. It allows you to become a child again. And the themes most children’s books deal with are the great themes of life: loyalty, love, trust, the battle between good and evil. What else is there?
Why did you start writing for children?
I’m not sure I ever did start writing for children, not consciously anyway. I write what appeals to me. I still love books about magic -- and unlikely heroes like Bilbo Baggins. I still yearn for worlds that are more exciting than my own. I’m very happy to be a children’s author. But I didn’t set out to write a children’s book. In fact, I am still surprised by it – and that people so young can follow my plot when some adults struggle with it.
What made you want to write this book?
I found books magical as a child because they allowed me to explore a wider world. They were like doors to exciting places and adventures. That was the inspiration for Archie's world. I just thought wouldn’t it be fantastic if there were books that contained magic that spilled out when you opened them. Or books that drew you into their stories, which is what happens to Archie. 

Then I thought where would you find the most magical books in the world? And the answer was obvious: in the greatest library the world has ever seen: The Great Library of Alexandria! So the mythology behind Archie’s world became very vivid very quickly. That makes it very rich to write about and I hope gives it extra depth and interest for the reader.
What is your favourite aspect of writing for children? 

I love it there are no limits to their imagination. So, for a writer, it is the biggest canvas of all. But, at the same time, children are very perceptive so they will find any flaws or holes in what you create. So, on the one hand, you are challenged to make a real leap of the imagination; and on the other, you have a great responsibility to make it as vivid and compelling as possible. That sets up a really exciting creative tension challenge that the writer has to try to rise to.   

'Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret' will be published in paperback on June 4.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret – review – DD Everest - 3d-review

There is something fundamentally appealing about thinking there may be a magical world that lurks just behind the real one we can all see - if only you could find a way to get there.

In ‘Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret’, when Archie receives a very old book for his birthday, little does he know that it will lead to all sorts of adventures and the chance to step inside a world he never knew existed - and one that is different and more dangerous than the one he was brought up in.

Archie has instructions to take the book to an address in Oxford. There he discovers a place his parents tried to keep from him. A world where ancient magic is kept alive. He meets relatives he didn't know he had and before he knows it he is apprenticed to a secret library and discovers that some books aren't simply content to sit on shelves all day.

It's a story with plenty to fire the imagination. Archie discovers he is descended from a series of magical folk who have a very special quest – to recover and look after magical books.

He must train in a very unusual and particular skill. He must learn the craft of the secret folk who work preserving and restoring magical books and investigating their magic.

But dark sorcerers want to get their hands on certain books and an attack on an apprentice makes Archie realise that magic can be dangerous and that the library is no longer safe – for the people who work there, or for the precious books.

While he quickly tries to learn the history of the enchanted library, and its magical folk, he also begins his training to protect the books. And he secretly tries to work out who is scheming to undermine the library and the whole magical world.

What stands out about Archie Greene is that the magical world is terrifically well created; done so it never holds up the action, yet we are rapidly introduced to a whole imagined world, a colourful cast of characters, plus the lore of the magical folk in a really short space of time.

The fact that it all seems very real, just ready for us to step into, but full of crazy, unexpected instruments and tasks we must understand, is what makes this such a treasure of a book.

Writing fantasy for younger readers must surely be challenging - creating a whole make-believe universe with a far less generous word-count than you get for older readers is a real skill. DD Everest does a wonderful job, deftly bringing the whole world of magical books to life and handling a complex plot that is accessible for young readers.

From magical creatures, history, lore, warring collectors and book thieves to riddles and secret codes – there is much Archie must understand and solve and the reader is taken on a great journey along with him. 

Archie and his cousins want to ensure that the world Archie has only just discovered is not going to be destroyed forever.

It’s a thoroughly absorbing imaginative, but gripping adventure as Archie tries to discover how he can best help the books calling on his new-found friends and talents.

'Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret' is a very welcome addition to fantasy stories that will appeal to readers from eight upwards - with more adventures to come this autumn.

Review from Alex,  aged 10

Archie Greene in an exciting adventure story about a boy who discovers he is magical. But that is not the only secret he finds out along the way.

He meets his two cousins, who are magical too, and they show him around and introduce him to a secret world hidden beneath a bookshop in Oxford. It is the world of the Museum of Magical Miscellany and it is full of all sorts of magical books. His cousins help him on his journey to greatness!

But the museum is under attack and although Archie must protect the books he discovers he has a rare skill and can hear the books talking. That’s when he learns that not all books need protecting – some are not to be trusted and some are even full of dark magic. Then attacks on the library begin.

So I really recommend this book. You can never put it down and it is full of magic, adventure and excitement.

Carnegie Short-list Review & Mini Interview - Buffalo Solider by Tanya Landman

Buffalo Solider is an astonishing tale about a child who is born into slavery, survives the American Civil War, and grows up to become a solider riding into savage battles with native Indians.

Tanya Longman's short-listed, historical YA novel Buffalo Solider, is a fascinating tale which stretches from the period leading up to the American Civil War through the Indian Wars to the waning of the Wild West. What makes Buffalo Solider stand out isn’t just the impeccable writing and gripping voice but the perspective. Most books, films and documentaries about this period in US history usually centre on the political struggles in the exclusively white Washington or the battles between the Yankees and the Confederates. Few texts give heed to the people that the outcome of the war affected most or the ramifications it had on those who were enslaved. In Buffalo Solider, Tanya Langman has tackled this subject from the eyes of Charlotte, a slave on a plantation, whose world is ripped apart by war and the promise of freedom. 

Charlotte’s voice is compelling and uncompromising; showing a girl with great resolve and sprit who witnesses the horrors of war and soon discovers that freedom doesn't mean safe. With no home, food, or prospects and ever growing racial hatred, Charlotte takes extraordinary measures to keep safe.

‘What kind of girl steals the clothes from a dead man’s back and run’s off to join the army? A desperate one that’s who.’

Hiding in plain sight, Charlotte becomes Charlie and lives by man’s rules. She rises up the ranks in the new Black Army Legion, Company W, fighting the ‘savage’ Native American and negotiating the hostilities of the rival white legions.

“…I find that there aint nothing that makes you feel quite so alive as when you’re staring Death right in the face and every second might be your last.”

As Charlie, becomes a weathered solider and the role of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ becomes more than just fighting Indians but moving them to reservations and rounding up any who flee, she beings to inwardly question the orders and motives of them folks back in Washington.

“The Indians got the army telling them they gotta stay put on the reservation, else they’ll be shot. But I seen with my own eyes that the food they been promised don’t show up the whole of the following winter and the whole winter is a long time to go without eating and them folks start to starve.”

Despite the horrors and injustice that Charlie see’s in her time as a buffalo solider it’s her personal nightmares that haunt her the most. The fear of boy from her childhood, with blue eyes and golden curls like an angel; Jonas. Charlie’s life becomes infinitely more difficult when Jonas becomes captain of Company W.

“The last thing I see Jonas do is point at me with one hand. He put the other to the side of his neck and clench it into a fist. Then he jerks it up sudden, cocks his head to the side, lets his tongue loll out like he’s been hanged.”

Landman has written and book that grips you from page one and doesn’t let go until the final line. Charlotte is a strong and empathetic protagonist that makes you want to see her rise out and find peace and contentment. The writing is well crafted with subtle and powerful metaphors, like the bear cubs that are kept for amusement then freed only to freeze to death or the stirring up the ants to make them battle…

Ruben would take a stick and stir up a pair of ants’ nests. He’d get the red ones fighting the black.”

Buffalo solider looks at the issues or war, delving into the darkest traits of human kid, and question the notion of freedom, something that most of us take for granted. It is a triumph, a truly engaging read, although recommended for Young Adult readers due to subject and historical language.

Mini Interview with Buffalo Soldier author Tanya Landman

What is your Favourite thing about your book Buffalo Solider?

What I love about Buffalo Soldier is Charley. There are some characters you don't create - it's more like they're standing at your side telling you their story. Charley is one of those. I love her strength and her humanity.

Friday, 1 May 2015

When Mr Dog Bites – Carnegie Shadowing – review

This was the book I was really looking forward to reading for our shadowing for two main reasons – it seems to have been the one this year that has got everyone talking (and I always like to read books people are talking about).

Plus it had very high billing as a ‘Curious Incident’ for Tourette’s, which sounded very intriguing (if not extremely difficult to live up to).

Any award should include books interesting enough to get people talking, and this book has been controversial enough to make headlines. 

If you’ve already heard about this book you will probably know one thing about it – it is full of swearing.

So the question I really wanted to address was – was it on the list mainly as a book that would get children talking? Is it good enough across all areas for me to want it to win?

The concept of the book is that the main character, Dylan Mint (great name), has a very rare type of Tourettes that means whenever he is stressed he can’t stop himself verbally insulting people.

By far the best thing about the book is the really deep way that the reader engages with Dylan and his condition. You really feel for Dylan as he can’t help just going around being incredibly offensive, which, inevitably, causes lots of problems. 

It's an incredibly compassionate book that is presented in a fun and funky way rather than an overly emotional one, so will appeal to a different group of readers. Diversity and inclusiveness always get a big thumbs up from me.

Dylan is sixteen, but does have a very naive view of the world, which definitely makes the reader feel that as well as having Tourettes (basically a genetic illness of the nervous system which means the body tics and jerks) that he is in some way not fully developed mentally as a sixteen year old (is this part of Tourettes?). Not sure. Ultimately it's not really a story about Tourette's very much.

Dylan is trying to make sense of the world and care for his friends and his family. But he's a teenage boy, so he doesn't always do it in ways you might expect. His close relationship with buddy Amir is very touching.

Dylan has a close and warm relationship with his mum (his Dad is away in the army). They spend evenings together; he makes her soup, they comfortably share tv viewing. He misses his dad. Then Dylan accidentally overhears something he shouldn’t – he believes he has learned he has only months to live.

Having set up a great relationship between Dylan and his mum, you can't help but wonder why would he not want to talk to her about his imminent demise?

Knowing he will die, Dylan declares an intention of having sex, picking on a girl to whom he is mostly attracted by her trendy, branded clothing and accessories.

I liked this point and thought it skilfully made as the world is seen through Dylan’s eyes and he constantly wants people to see beyond his exterior (and that of his best mate, who suffers racist abuse rather than abuse about his disability).

The fact that Dylan himself makes many surface judgements about people was cleverly done.

The most touching scene in the book I felt, was where he discovers that he has learned to care for the girl, for who she is, flaws and all. As a book about love among disabled teenagers, the book was terrific. The disco scene is truly hilarious and the quality of the writing really shone here.

There were a lot of sub-plots. A lot. All of which were trying to tackle big issues and the book felt somewhat overloaded and relied heavily on plot devices and twists. 

There is a plot twist at the end where Dylan learns he won't die. (Mum and the doctor were actually talking about the fact that Dylan has a new baby sibling on the way.) Why the secrecy? Why does Mum not make any effort to try to prepare Dylan as much as possible for the arrival of babies into the house? 

We discover Dylan’s dad was an alcoholic, was booted out of the army, became a violent armed robber and was repeatedly violent towards Dylan’s mum and is actually in jail. I did struggle to reconcile the considerate and thoughtful Dylan, with someone who didn’t notice his mother was a victim of repeated extreme violence. 

The final twist is where Dylan’s Tourette’s symptoms are dealt with by Dylan being offered a miracle cure.

One of the best things about stories is their ability to allow you to step into someone else’s shoes.

And this is a very good book for that. 

The book is big on its ability for the reader to get under Dylan’s skin, but a bit light in its ambition in terms of dealing with some of its plot issues with the depth given to other parts of the book.


You can’t discuss Mr Dog without discussing the swearing. At the start, Dylan’s swearing is mostly done with very good comic effect. Words are said unintentionally and without malice, although the words themselves are profuse and offensive, It does mean it is not a book you would recommend for some readers who would very probably otherwise enjoy it.

Not only does Dylan’s internal monologue and his dialogue start to be littered with swearing, all the children use foul language and are frequently vilely abusive to each other. Yet none of the adults ever swear.

In the end it was in danger of feeling more like a book about swearing than it did about anything else, but I was actually left feeling confused what the book was trying to say about swearing.

Author Brian Conaghan has set himself quite a challenge and he pulls off an appealing story for older teenagers about disability that is actually funny more often than grim.

Dylan is a warm and quirky character and the story of adolescent friendship and first love among the disabled made this, ultimately, an uplifting read.

There is lots here that is worthy of plenty of classroom and bookgroup discussion - absolutely a book that should and will get people talking. And I am always in support of‘difficult’ books – where would we be if everyone jumped on band-wagons and shied away from anything challenging or experimental?

For me, it would actually have been a whole lot better without half so much swearing.

My overall feeling is that ‘Mr Dog’ suffers from too many flaws for me to really have it as one of my ‘great’ books.

We asked author Brian Conaghan the question: ‘What is your favourite thing about your shortlisted book?’

"The favourite thing about my book is the friendship that exists between Dylan and Amir, it demonstrates how important having trusted and loyal friends around helps shape the person both boys become."

Many thanks to Brian - and we wish him very good luck with his original, heart-warming and thought-provoking book.