Friday, 28 April 2017

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth - Frank Cottrell Boyce - CILIP2017

Prez has a problem, in fact, Prez has several problem. His grandfather has become worryingly forgetful and can't look after Prez any more, so Prez is looked after at the Temporary where all the homeless children end up. 

Prez has also lost the ability to speak, although he discovers he can communicate with one person who arrives at the chaotic but friendly farmhouse where Prez has been invited to spend the summer.

That person is Sputnik, a lively alien determined to discover all about earth and finds something to be enthusiastic about in everything from chips to buses. Most humans see him as a dog, which means he can get away with a lot - quite handy when Sputnik's approach to most tricky situations is to make things go really, really fast, or ask if he can eat them.

Frank Cottrell Boyce is brilliant at tapping into kids' wish fulfilment. Who wouldn't love it if an alien dog 'fixed' your toy light sabre at a party so it slices through everything from girls' plaits to metal bars.

Sputnik can surf gravity and can fly a digger to 'fix' Hadrian's Wall.

Frank Cottrell Boyce is an absolute comic genius, but he doesn't use his brilliant comic writing to create a book full of gags. His humour is used very cleverly to deflect all the bad things that are happening.

Prez is so full of optimism, so accepting, that it takes a while to sink in just how bad his situation is, especially as he learns Sputnik's real purpose is to write a report on what is worth keeping about the world so it won't be destroyed - if he can't find enough good things to say about Earth, soon no-one will have a home.

And although the story is funny and full of madcap wishes coming true, at its core it is a wonderfully compassionate story about how the kids with no homes of their own need fixing most of all.

With any funny story it is easy to be swept along and lulled into thinking of this as a light read. But as with all Frank Cottrell Boyce's books, there is a serious story at its heart. It's only when you look at how many other writers attempt to tell stories about such serious issues and decide to do it with such brilliant humour that you even begin to appreciate how difficult it is to tread such a fine line. To come up with a book that delivers its serious message in a way that simply feels like great entertainment? Frank Cottrell Boyce is really in a class of his own.

This is a brilliant book from a brilliant author. The book also has enchanting illustrations from Steven Lenton.

Frank Cottrell Boyce won the Carnegie medal with his first book for children 'Millions'. If you think the best way to tell a story full of hard-hitting truths is to do it with humour, then this should be the one you want to win.

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