Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Thanks, good-byes and hellos

Well it's always a sad time when you say farewell to friends, so we are sad to say that we are losing Jo from this blog.

Jo is busy doing too many other things, as well as (like me and Sally), trying to launch a writing career and we really hope to see her in print very soon.

Jo helped launch the blog last year and we have welcomed her ever-present enthusiasm and blogging articles and wish her well. (And maybe see a guest appearance from time to time?).

But we are very pleased that she is handing over the reins to another marvellously creative individual, Claire McCauley. Welcome Claire! We are very lucky to have you.

We are sure you will soon get to know Claire through this blog. She is joining us at a busy time as we are in the middle of a massive read-and-review of the Carnegie shortlist and will be publishing our thoughts soon!

But here is a brief introduction to Claire, who studied theatre in education then travelled around the world teaching drama.

After moving to Oxford she had five (yes you read that correctly) babies in eight years (she doesn’t recommend this for those who enjoy luxuries such as sleep or leisure time).

She began making up stories for them which quickly led to setting her alarm for two hours before they woke up to write in earnest.

Claire had her first story published in 2013 in The Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories (Walker Books). She writes all sorts of things for different ages but mostly fiction for 9-12’s.

Her work is represented by the fabulous Mildred Yuan at United Agents.

As a child her favourite books were Anne of Green Gables and its sequels by L.M. Montgomery and the Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer, and she still loves these now.

Claire is on on Twitter as @clairemccauley

Monday, 19 May 2014

Get ready for Carnegie fever - prepare to be provoked and entertained

The Carnegie shortlist always manages to be a truly great mixture of books published each year for children, from the most magical to the most memorable. There is generally at least one which is controversial (and often get hackles rising and sometimes even complaints from parents), but it's always great for debate and shows the trends and favourites among all the hundreds of books published for children every year.

So we have been getting our teeth into this year's shortlist and finding out which ones we think are the must-reads and the classics in the making.

Being swept away by a great story and a great read is often what makes people fall in love with books. But stories also exist because they are great ways of communicating and finding out about the world and to learn about people and lives very different from our own, conveyed in the safe environment of the pages of a book.

Should you be looking for a turning point where children no longer always merely expect to be entertained when they open a book, but start to see that books can be so much more and can appreciate that books can enlighten, educate – they can provoke.

Joining in with Carnegie shadowing is often a great prompt for children to start to explore books in a different way, to read more broadly, more adventurously and more critically.

So here's the list of what we have been reading lately.

CILIP Carnegie Medal 2014 shortlist:
All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry (Templar)
The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (Puffin)
The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston (David Fickling Books)
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (Bodley Head)
Blood Family by Anne Fine (Double Day)
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Faber & Faber)
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (Andersen Press)
The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)

Author Anne Fine is in the running to win the CILIP Carnegie medal for a third time, and if she wins, she will be the first author to win the Carnegie three times, following previous wins with Flour Babies and Goggle-Eyes.

Rachel Campbell Johnston is nominated for her debut novel, Susan Cooper was first published in 1964 and has written a host of novels, non-fiction, plays, picture books and short fiction.

The shortlist features books from publishers large and small - from Templar, Puffin, David Fickling Books, Bodley Head, Faber, Andersen Press and Bloomsbury, many of which deal with the themes of kidnap and captivity. They will appeal to boys and girls and there are books that are aimed at ages from eight to adult.

Helen Thompson, chair of the CILIP Carnegie Kate Greenaway judging panel, said the books place fantastic storytelling at their heart: “Books that tackle dark themes, such as kidnap, war and orphaned children, but which do so with humanity, sensitivity and, in places, lyricism.”

The winners for both medals will be announced on 23rd June 2014 at a ceremony at the Unicorn Theatre in London. The winners will each receive £500 worth of books to donate to their local library and the golden medals.

Watch out for Space on the Bookshelf’s views on all the shortlisted books – and we’ll be picking out favourites and tipping the winners.

Friday, 9 May 2014

3D review –Looking at the Stars- Jo Cotterill – editor interview

We took the chance to talk to Ruth Knowles, Editorial Director, Fiction, Random House about her favourite books and about editing Jo Cotterill's 'Looking at the Stars'.

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

I was a keen ballet dancer and so read and re-read Ballet Shoes and the Drina series. But, like so many of my generation, it was Enid Blyton who got me properly into reading. I love Mallory Towers.

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

The classic book that has stayed with me is The Silver Sword. I read it first age 11 - when I did enjoy it - but have come back to it many times since and I can remember the journey of Ruth, Edek and Bronia so vividly and with such emotion. It's a wonderful, haunting WW2 novel that still feels fresh.

The more modern book I've loved and that stays with me (and I should say that I'm purposely not choosing a Random House title or a book I worked on at Andersen. There are so many of those that I love, but I don't want to choose one author and their work over another!) is Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks. Phil Earle, who was then part of the RHCP sales team, gave me it to read when I was in my first week as the editorial assistant at RHCP. It really showed me what teen books could be like - gritty, pacy and with such vivid, real characters. It really changed the way I thought about my new job.

Recently, I've also loved Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

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

For any adult who was a child bookworm as I was, the thought of going anywhere without a book is unthinkable. I know - first hand from my TA days - this isn't the experience every child has, by  any means, but I do think that the thought that there could just be one book out there that changes a child's mind about reading is so very inspirational. It means that everybody involved in writing and making children's books could play a part in changing a person for ever.

What do you love about this book and what makes it stand out?

I think Jo has got the perfect balance between showing us the reality of war and all its hardships and brutality, with hope and imagination. What makes the book stand out for me from other children's books that are set in wartime is Amina's storytelling. There's the most wonderful scene - Jo read it at her launch party - where a young boy who has been stunned mute by the horrors he's seen is able to talk again thanks to his engagement in the stories Amina (the book's heroine) is telling and the world she's created. I read the book so many times but it still gives me goosebumps.

How many people have worked on this book and for how long?

I know that Jo has been working on it off and on for many years, but my involvement started in the summer of 2010. Jo's Sweet Hearts series had just launched, and we were having lunch in Queen's Park. I asked Jo what else she'd been working on when she came up with the idea for Sweet Hearts, and she told me about this book she had in her bottom drawer - Looking at the Stars. I loved the sound of it and said to Jo that when she was happy to share it I'd love to read it.

I bought the book for Random House and did my first edit in the Autumn of 2011. Then I went away for a year - on a secondment to Andersen Press - and Jo had her second daughter. We carried on working on it at the start of 2013, but it didn't need much more doing to it at all, just a few tweaks here and there.

In addition to me, there is obviously a wonderful designer and publicist involved. A sales team, who loved the book, a production department who made it,  and also I had support from a lovely RH editor who is now at Orchard books, Jessica Clarke.

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

I always knew I wanted to work with words, and for a long time thought Journalism was the route for me. Then I went to a graduate talk and heard horror stories about journalists rooting through bins to find a gossip story and decided against it! I then thought about teaching, and spent a wonderful year working as a Teaching Assistant in the SEN department of a high school. I ended up doing a lot of work with teenage boys who had behavioural issues and dyslexia. I couldn't find things they wanted to read really - other than car magazines! - and suddenly everything fell into place and I thought that if I could be involved in the making of books that one day teenage boys just like the ones I'd worked with might find the right book to turn them into a reader.

Ruth Knowles, Editorial Director, Fiction, Random House

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

3D review –Looking at the Stars- Jo Cotterill – author interview

What was your favourite book as a child?
I had so many! But there were two that made a big impression on me: 'The Ordinary Princess' by M M Kaye, and 'The Dark Is Rising' by Susan Cooper. The first one is a story of a girl born a princess but who is desperately bored by her duties and so runs away to become a kitchen maid in another castle. She also builds her own cabin in the woods. It combined my love of all things fairytale with my innate sense that girls wanted adventure and challenge, not just to sit around looking pretty. The Susan Cooper book has remained a firm favourite through my adult life too. It mixes Arthurian legend and dark magic in a modern setting and is simply one of the best children's books ever written.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
That's an excellent question, and one I haven't been asked before! 'Holes' by Louis Sachar is a book I regard as absolute perfection in storytelling. The structure and characterisation are as polished and gleaming and perfect as a diamond.

Why did you start writing for children? 
I've always loved writing, and I've always loved children's books. I would prefer to read a children's book (particularly a teen or Young Adult book) than one written for adults. I'd like to think it's because children's books encapsulate great storytelling in its purest form, but possibly it's because I haven't quite grown up yet.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?
Meeting them. Kids are directly enthusiastic and emotional about books in a way that adults aren't. School visits are always so exciting and rewarding. I have to say though that I also love the quiet creative magic that happens when I'm writing a book.

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

Children aren't fully formed. Their opinions and knowledge wavers and changes, and they are so open to new ideas. It is a real privilege and challenge to write for children because your book can have a powerful impact on a young mind. All adults will recall stories they read in childhood. The stories we read then can quite literally change our path through life, and that's very exciting.

You are best known for your ‘Sweethearts’ series of books. ‘Looking at the Stars’ is quite different. What made you want to write this book?

I wrote 'Looking at the Stars' before I'd even had the idea for 'Sweet Hearts'. At the time the news was full of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it made me wonder what qualities a child needs to come through such horrors. I started writing it without any real idea of where it was going, and discovered over the years (as it went through various re-writes) that it was becoming my vehicle for saying so many things about my belief in the importance of imagination. 'Looking at the Stars' is, if you like, the closest I have yet come to expressing what is most personal to me in a wider context. Family, loyalty, compassion, generosity, independence of spirit and being able to see beyond yourself: these are all things that matter greatly to me and that's why 'Looking at the Stars' is a book of which I am very proud.

Friday, 2 May 2014

3D review –Looking at the Stars- Jo Cotterill - reviews

I LOVED this triumph of simple, powerful storytelling. It's a story within a story about Amina and Jenna,  two spirited, independent - and very different - sisters. When foreign troops arrive in their country, the excitement of liberation quickly turns sour and events spiral terrifyingly out of control. Yet in spite of the bad things that happen, Amina discovers that her ability to tell stories offers much more than just hope to her family and the people around her. At times sad, it is entirely appropriate for 10+ readers who will be gripped and uplifted with how the sisters survive and craft a hopeful future with the power of stories.

Mark Thornton from Mostly Books

Our children’s-view review is from Katherine Burns from Didcot Girls School, where Jo Cotterill visited on World Book Day. Katherine is already a big fan of Jo’s through the ‘Sweetheart’ series and read the book in a day!

"It’s an absolutely stunning book which can hit hard and make you cry. I know I certainly did! The author’s writing is so creative and powerful in this, that I this is one of the best books that I've ever read. I would definitely recommend it."

We will be interviewing Jo on Monday and asking where the inspiration for such a different book for her came from.