Archive for the ‘Carnegie and Greenaway awards’ Category

Carnegie and Greenaway: Wonder

R. J. Palacio

Wonder cover artMy name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.
But Auggie is far from ordinary. Ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.
Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?
Narrated by Auggie and the people are around him whose lives he touches forever, WONDER is an funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

Wonder is quite frankly an amazing book that well and truly deserves its place on the Carnegie Shortlist. I read the book in a night and needed copious amounts of tissues as I neared the end. It should be made clear however that this is not a sad book, instead it is one that highlights the better side of human nature. Although the darker side does raise its ugly head from time to time, this book shows how human kindness can overcome it. Yes there are parts that are quite corny and twee, but I was left with such a feeling of hope after finishing the book, so much so that the corniness didn’t really seem to matter.

Auggie is the main character in the book, even when we read from the point of view of other characters. Born with a severe facial deformity he has had a lot to overcome in his 10 years. Previously homeschooled his parents decide to that now is the time he should start at mainstream school. Auggie is apprehensive but decides to give it a go, it’s not like he isn’t used to the way that people look at him. Initially ostracized there are a couple of pockets of light in the dark. In the end, despite the wishes of a boy who is obviously scared of being different, Auggie gains the acceptance of his classmates by showing a incredible quiet strength.

Wonder is written from the perspective of a number of central characters, all people whose lives have been touched by Auggie. I did miss the perspective of Auggie’s parents but at the end of the day this is a book for pre teens not for adults and the characters that they would wish to hear from are all covered. All points of view were written in the first person, but I always knew whose voice I was hearing. I liked the way that this was done, I don’t think that the book would have had nearly as much impact has it all been written from Auggie’s point of view as a large part of the storyline was how he, as a person, affected the lives of those around him. I also think that the decision to write the book in the first person was a good one. It is a very emotive book about a very emotive subject, the first person narrative reinforced this as the reader feels an intense emotional connection to what is going on.

I also liked the fact that although this book focuses on the better side of human nature, the ‘good’ characters weren’t perfect. Via sometimes resents her brother for taking her parents attention away from her and whilst she loves her brother doesn’t always want the hassle that being seen with him brings, their parents disagree on Auggie starting school, Jack gives in to peer pressure and talks about Auggie behind his back and Auggie does feel anger and resentment at the lot that he has been given. Had these characters not had these little imperfections then Wonder would not have seemed as real and I don’t think it would have succeeded in putting across the message that we should all take time to look at who a person is as that is what counts.

I’m not sure that it will win Carnegie, I think it may be a little sentimental to actually win the prize. It has however been a welcome break from the heavy darkness that can be found in some of the other books on the shortlist. And although I don’t think it will win part of me wishes that it would.

Verdict: A beautifully written, emotional book that give me hope for the nature of human kindness.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Genre: Coming of age
Age: Middle grade/ Teen
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway: In Darkness

Nick Lake

in darknessListen. You’re the voices in the dark so the world can’t all be gone. There must be people left.
I’m going to tell you how I got here and how I got this bullet in my arm. I’m going to tell you about my sister who was taken from me by the gangsters.
Maybe, maybe if I tell you my story then you’ll understand me better and the things I’ve done. Maybe you’ll forgive me…. Maybe she will.
Alone and in darkness, trapped in the rubble after the Hatian earthquake, one terrified teenager holds on to life.

Told in the voices of a black slave from Haiti’s past and a gangster teenager from Haiti’s near past, ‘In Darkness’ walks us through two of the most important parts of Haiti’s history, in a very personal way. We have the story of Toussaint, an illiterate slave who becomes literate during a Voudon ceremony and then leads the slaves to their freedom. We also follow Shorty, a teenager who has grown up in the slums. The story starts in Shorty’s voice, just after the Haitian earthquake that destroyed the country. Shorty was in hospital with a gunshot wound and is now trapped under the rubble. In alternating chapters they tell their story until we get to the point where their stories combine.

I will hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t sure about ‘In Darkness’. In spite of some absolutely fantastic reviews I just didn’t know what to expect from it. It’s one of those books that seem very ‘worthy’ (and yes it is) and on the hole that tends to put me off (bad librarian!). I’ve read in other books that it’s not a book that you enjoy and that is completely right. It is however a book that evokes a lot of emotion. Incredibly dark, sometimes disturbing the book does include a lot of violence. But the story is about very violent places and times and is therefore fitting and never feels gratuitous. Because of this some librarians have questioned its place on the shortlist as they have doubts about giving the book to Year 7’s to read. Whilst I understand their doubts I don’t think that this book could have been written any other way, yet the writing and the characterisation means that it deserves its place. I think that children of their age tend to self censor when it comes to their reading and will either skirt over the bits they can’t cope with or leave the book unread. Despite the darkness present in the book it does end with a glimmer of hope.

As said above I can’t say that I enjoyed ‘In Darkness’, it’s not that type of book, but I do feel that I gained something in reading it. I know very little about Haiti and its history and the historian in me was interested in learning about its past. A lack of knowledge also meant that I could enjoy the story instead of thinking about how accurate it was. This is a book that also concentrates on relationships between people, between Mother and Son, Father and Son, between gang member and between siblings. This gives the book a human element that is one of its greatest strengths. It makes the focus of the book become the human cost of the events concentrating on the injustices of the times.

Another interesting factor of the book is the way it deals with the Voodoo practices of the characters. There is a such a matter of factness about it the it is obvious that this is just the beliefs of the characters. Whether there is any truth to the power of voodoo is left to the reader.

Although this is an incredibly strong book I’m not sure that it is likely to win Carnegie. I think that it probably lacks the wider appeal that the winner should have.

Verdict: Dark, violent and sometimes unsettling but still a very interesting read.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical, Supernatural
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: Debut Author
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Carnegie and Greenaway: Maggot Moon

Sally Gardner

Maggot MoonWhat if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-coloured eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the “train-track thinkers.” So when Standish and his only friend and neighbour, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…

Maggot Moon won this year’s Costa Coffee Children’s book Award and is probably the one to beat when it comes to Carnegie. Incredibly original Maggot Moon tells the story of Standish Treadwell, a dyslexic boy, who struggles to read and write, and therefore everybody has decided that he is stupid. The book is set in a dystopian world, but in this case a historical one. The book has the feel of 1950’s Britain, but one that is a totalitarian state of the likes of Hitler’s Germany or Stalinist Russia. The country is now a satellite of the Motherland and every aspect of life is closely monitored.

I read this around the time that my daughter was taking the initial screening for dyslexia, which was both a good and a bad thing. It meant that I got distracted by that element of the storyline a little too much, but at the same time was incredibly reassuring. Sally Gardener, the author, is also severely dyslexic and this really shows in how Standish appears to feel about his difficulties with reading and writing. That a dyslexic author has written such an extraordinary book, a book that would be so extraordinary no matter who had written it, really does highlight that dyslexia has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of intelligence and that everybody really can achieve anything, as long as they put their minds to it.

It is probably the most heart wrenching book that I have read so far from the shortlist. I defy anybody to have completely dry eyes when they finish the book. The characters of the book are constantly watched; have to guard every word and action, this atmosphere of close oppression just serves to make the emotion feel all the more intense. This is not a book that gives you hope, but then it tells of a world where there is very little hope. It is because of this atmosphere that Standish’s voice is so important. Standish is different, because he thinks outside the box and this is not a regime that is tolerant of differences. That Standish has managed so far is testament to his grandfather. Their relationship highlights the positive side of human nature, in a book that concentrates so heavily on the negative. It highlights the good that people can do even when everything is against them.

The writing is just beautiful, whilst at the same time being brutal. The story is told in short chapters, giving the story a stop, start feel that just seems to highlight uncertainty present in the world in which it is set.

The short chapters make the book look like it is intended for younger readers, when it probably isn’t. It is a true crossover book in that adults will enjoy it too, but I wouldn’t give it to a child younger than secondary age, the content is quite dark and they wouldn’t necessarily understand some of the complexities of the plot. It is however a book that should be read, not for light hearted enjoyment, but just to experience the incredible writing.

Verdict: Beautifully written, if a little brutal at times, a book that just cries out to be read.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Genre: Historical, Dystopian
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: The Weight Of Water

Sarah Crossan

weight of water cover artArmed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother’s heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat.

This is a book that is stunning in its simplicity. The writing, especially coming from a debut author is just exquisite. I originally bought this book for my school library as it was about a polish girl coming over to England and I work at a school with a large polish population. I thought it may be good for girls who had come over from Poland to relate to but really this book is so much more. I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d already read ‘Breathe’ Sarah’s other book but not really realized that both were by the same author as the books are so incredibly different, both in subject matter and writing style. I’d enjoyed ‘Breathe’ but it hadn’t quite lived up to the hype for me, in contrast ‘The Weight of Water’ very definitely does.

This is a book written as poetry rather than prose. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t ‘get’ poetry and I normally avoid books like this like the plague, in fact the only time that I do read them is when they appear on the Carnegie Shortlist but this book was really a pleasant surprise. Telling the story of Kasienka, all from her point of view it covers, very sensitively, all sorts of issues that teens all over the world face. Family breakdown, isolation, bullying, first love and the building of new lives are all covered within the book. I did find the original premise a little unbelievable, that a mother would uproot their child from all that they knew to follow a man that had left without word with just a postmark to go on. But I think that may have been me reading the book as an adult rather than a child. I wanted to find out more about Kasienka’s parents, but that was not something that Kasienka would know and this was her story not theirs, that would be what a teen girl would have been interested in and rightly so.

Kasienka is a strong central protagonist. Whilst we get a look into others lives this is her story not theirs. This works really well in adding to the feeling of alienation and isolation within the book, a very common feeling for many teens. That Kasienka comes from a different country and doesn’t speak the language means that she finds understanding her peers very hard. These misunderstandings come from both language and cultural barriers, but again although they may be more pronounced in this case they work very well at showing the confusion of teens as they start to try to understand the world around them and their place within it.
‘The Weight of Water’ is an incredibly quick read, it only took me about 40 minutes to read, although running to over 200 pages the way the book is written mean that pages aren’t filled. Yet what amazed me was the depth and range of feelings that the book provoked in me in that time, just because it is a quick read does make it shallow or superficial in any way. It is quite the opposite and I think that this is why the choice to write the book in poetry format really works.

Verdict: A beautifully written coming of age story, told in a very strong, very believable voice.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Genre: Coming of age
Age: Young Adult
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Award: Code Name Verity

code name verityI have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.

Code Name Verity is set during the Second World. Split into two parts the first section is ‘written’ by one of two friends, though we don’t find out her name until the end of her section. Captured by the Gestapo whilst in Nazi occupied France, she tells the story of her friend Maddie, and through this the story of their friendship. The second part of the book is told by Maddie herself as she tells her own story in the aftermath of her friend’s capture.

Now I mentioned last week that I had tried to read this book some time ago, but had not managed to finish it. It wasn’t that I hated the book, leaving it wasn’t even intentional, I just put it down one day and then never picked it up again. Since then I have seen countless bloggers and librarians rave about the book, where I was left a little underwhelmed. So expecting the book to be on the shortlist I started it again with a completely open mind, hoping that I could see in the book what everybody else has loved so much. I did find the second reading so much easier, I was drawn into the book to a much greater extent than before. In the writing and the storyline I can see what everybody else has loved, but I still don’t think it’s the book for me.

Code Name Verity is undeniably a well written book, telling a beautiful story of an unlikely friendship set against the hardship of the Second World War. I am left wondering why I just don’t connect with the book. Although I have an interest in history, modern world history has never been my favourite period so that could possibly be an issue for me. I think the main issue for me the first time round was that the book was just not what I was expecting.

The dual narrative of the book works very well. The ‘voices’ of the characters are very different, but entirely consistent with the way that the other friend sees them. It is the relationship between Maddie and her friend that really makes the book. Two girls that would have been very unlikely to meet at any time other than war, just ‘click’ and quickly become very important to each other. They don’t need to see each other every day or know everything about the other’s life; they are just there for each other. The age group that the book is aimed at often struggle with forming friendships, doubts about their own identities come to the surface which affect their relationships with others and this is a really positive relationship that girls can use as an example. Though towards the end of the book something pretty shocking happens, it is completely in line with the friendship that the two young women have.

The book also deals with some very sensitive situations that go hand in hand with war such as death and torture, but these are handled well enough that reading the book is not an issue for younger secondary school students. They may however struggle with the writing style, which in a lot of ways is quite grown up. The Carnegie judges gave the book an age rating of 13+ and I would probably agree with this assessment, though there will of course be many exceptions!

Verdict: A beautifully written story of friendship set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Egmont Press
Publication Date: February 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 339
Genre: WW2, Historical fiction
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards 2013

It’s that time of year again; The Carnegie and Greenaway shortlists are out. For those that don’t know, these are two of the most prestigious book awards in the country. The Carnegie Award looks at books published for children over the past year, The Greenaway Award will be looking for the best illustrator of a picture book. Last year the fantastic ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay won both awards. Over the country thousands of school students will be shadowing the award, so we at Big Book Little Book had to get in on the act too. It’s quite a special time of year for me, as a school librarian I get to see lots of students trying books that might not otherwise have tried, widening their reading choices and getting involved in debates about the books. Awards like this really encourage children to read. I’ve also been more excited this year largely thanks to the buzz on Twitter and I think this will only get greater as more of us read the books and start discussing who we want to win!

So the shortlists, firstly Carnegie. This is the award out of the two that I really love, normally the shortlist comes out and I haven’t read any of them. This year I have read five. There are a couple of surprises on the list and a couple that most expected to be on there. What’s nice about this list is that all age groups should enjoy the books. In recent years there seems to have been a shift towards books for older children. This year it is mixed but most should be suitable for all secondary children to read, some are suitable for younger children too. Here are some of my initial thoughts on the books; reviews will follow in the coming weeks, before the winners are announced in June.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan– A lovely simple read I was initially quite surprised this was on the list, I shouldn’t have been. This book is written in verse, something I normally dislike, but I didn’t really notice that in this case and really enjoyed the book.

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle– I haven’t read this one yet and judging by other comments it is one of the surprise inclusions.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner– Set in a dystopian past this one was always going to make it onto the shortlist and it well and truly deserves it place there. Winner of the Children’s Costa Award I think it is probably one of the favourites for Carnegie too.

In Darkness by Nick Lake– At times incredibly dark, this book told in dual narrative at different points of Haiti’s history really draws you in. It was no surprise that this book was chosen to be on the shortlist.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio– Another that I haven’t yet read. Not because I haven’t wanted to but because it’s been so popular that the book hasn’t been there for me to read. I’m looking forward to reading it now we will have more copies.

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick– Now I’m a bit of a Marcus Sedgwick fan girl so I’m not entirely sure that my opinion can be taken as impartial. I’m so happy that this book is on the list, I think it is possibly my favourite of his yet. I read it over a year ago, so may well need a reread before I review it, what a shame…

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton– The third book on the list that I’m yet to read and another that seems to be a bit of a surprise. I’m looking forward to reading it though and it sounds like a book that I’ll be able to share with my primary aged children which is always good.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein– This book has been raved about by librarians and bloggers alike. I knew it would be on the list but the first time I read it I didn’t even finish it. Now on my second read and keeping an open mind I’m hoping that I can see what everyone else has loved about the book.

So all in all a very strong list. Last year the winner was obvious from the outset. This year it’s all a little bit harder to predict.

At Big Book Little Book we don’t neglect the books for little (and not so little) people too. We’ll also be reviewing the books shortlisted for the Greenaway Award. I’ve not read any of these yet but the list does include some authors and illustrators that I know and love so I can’t wait to get started on reading these books too.

Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb
Again! by Emily Gravett
Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Pirates ‘n’ Pistols by Chris Mould
King Jack and the Dragon by Helen Oxenbury (illustrator) and Peter Bently (author)
Black Dog by Levi Pinfold
Just Ducks! by Salvatore Rubbino (illustrator) and Nicola Davies (author)

Check back next week for the first round of reviews!

Post by Alison

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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Wrap Up

And the winner of the Kate Greenaway Award is…

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay (illustrations)

And the winner of the Carnegie Award is…

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay (illustrations)

Patrick Ness has done it again.  He also won the Carnegie Award last year with the final instalment of his Chaos Walking Series ‘Monsters of Men’.  This is also the first book to win both the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards, though it is Jim Kay who wins the Greenaway for his illustrations.

This wasn’t my favourite in either category but it is an exceptional book and is therefore a worthy winner. I do have quite a few very happy students, which is unusual when it comes to winner’s announcement time!

This year was very unusual in that very few students liked one book much more than the others. They all found picking a favourite really difficult and said that they would be quite happy for 3 or 4 of the books to win.  We also had more students finishing the whole list than ever before, a fantastic achievement given that there were 8 books on each list this year. There’s been lots of lively discussion and two friends very nearly fell out in a disagreement over ‘The Midnight Zoo’. As always, Carnegie has brought readers together and encouraged them to read and discuss books they normally wouldn’t have touched. This for me is the magic of the Award.

My Winners would have been ‘Between Shades of Grey’ by Ruta Sepetys and ‘There Are No Cats in This Book’ by Viviane Schwarz. This year, like the students I was actually happy for any number of them to win. That’s not because the standard was low, far from it.  This year the books were more readable and probably aimed at slightly younger children, something I don’t believe is any bad thing.  In past years students (and me!) have struggled to read most of the books but that wasn’t an issue this year which is a welcome change.

So now Carnegie is over it’s time for me to start looking at what I want to nominate for the local book award the Brilliant Book Award…

Post by Alison

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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Can We Save The Tiger?

Martin Jenkins and Vicky White (illustrator)

Tigers are big, beautiful and fierce. But, like many other animals, they are in danger of becoming extinct. With breathtaking illustrations this large-format picture book tells us about the threats to the many endangered species on our planet and the need to prevent their extinction.

This is a bit different to all the other reviews I’ve done as this isn’t a fiction book, but a non-fiction book. It’s a book that gives you facts and information rather than telling a story. But then that doesn’t quite sum it up either. The style of writing in this book does make it sound like the author is telling a story; it’s just in this case it’s true. I struggled to work out what age group this book is aimed at. There is quite a lot of writing and some of the words are quite complex, it’s not an early reader. The style however does seem to be aiming towards educating quite young children. I know if I read it to my pre schooler he would ask masses of questions (we are really going through the ‘why?’ stage at the moment), but then that could well be what the author intended.

That all being said this is a lovely book and I do think the style of writing makes it. It takes a difficult subject for little ones to understand and makes it interesting and fun. There are masses of facts held within the book and I know that I did learn at lot from it. The illustrations really complimented the words. Largely line drawn, they had fantastic detail whilst at the same time appeared very simple. Perfect for little ones and a great starting point for conversations about animals nearing extinction, it certainly made me want to go out and learn more, and as a librarian anything that may make children want to learn more about a subject definitely has the thumbs up from me. I found this a rare book, an information book that I actually enjoyed reading, one that I would turn to read for enjoyment rather than research.

Verdict: A lovely fact book on animals for young children that should really start the questions going.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: February 2011
Format: Hardback
Pages: 56
Genre: Non Fiction
Age: Early Reader, Middle Grade
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: The Gift

Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan (illustrator)

In a quiet town, of a sort not found nowadays, lives a beautiful young girl. One summer day, she visits the woods with her mother and father. While her parents prepare the picnic, she seeks out buttercups and daisies for a flower necklace. As she does so, a wish forms in her mind – and to her surprise, a silver haired woman appears, ready to grant it.

This book looks at the whole life of a girl who one day went for a picnic, found a clearing and decides that this is where she wants to be buried. It sounds quite morbid but it really isn’t. It’s a book that celebrates life and all that happens within it. The story highlights the main event in the girl’s life, there is little to no character development, in fact we never even find out the girl’s name, but that doesn’t matter. Part of the magic of this book is that it could be about anybody. All through the book, and therefore her life, the girl returns to the clearing. She plants flowers and creates stone towers in order to really make the place her own, until she returns there last, in her dreams, on her deathbed. The ending to this book is really bittersweet. This is another that it’s quite difficult to put an age too. It is aimed at younger children, but I think it would take a certain amount of emotional maturity for them to really understand and enjoy it.

The illustrations are a delight. They are in a single colour on each page and the colour reflects the mood of the page, which almost gives it a dreamlike quality. Whilst there aren’t huge amounts of detail in specific objects and people there is so much going on within the pictures. This means the book can be read time and time again and the reader will still find new things within the pictures. This is a big plus point as the nature of the story means that it’s difficult to get really involved with it so it was good that I found that the pictures really brought it to life.

Verdict: A bittersweet story of the circle of life backed up by truly delightful pictures.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Barefoot Books Ltd
Publication Date: October 2010
Format: Hardback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture Book, Death
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: British Book
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: My Name Is Mina


David Almond

There’s an empty notebook lying on the table in the moonlight. It’s been there for an age. I keep on saying that I’ll write a journal. So I’ll start right here, right now. I open the book and write the very first words: My name is Mina and I love the night. Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?
And so Mina writes and writes in her notebook, and here is her journal, Mina’s life in Mina’s own words: her stories and dreams, experiences and thoughts, her scribblings and nonsense, poems and songs. Her vivid account of her vivid life.
Mina is different. Not like other children her age. She tries to do as she is told in school but she can never quite manage it. The other children know she is different and mostly stay away. But Mina likes it like that, at least that is what she tells herself. Homeschooled and isolated, Mina starts a journal. One that talks of school, life and word. Lots of words. It also talks of a family who move in down the road and their son, a boy called Michael.

This is the prequel to ‘Skellig’. A book that I have yet to read, I almost read the book before I read ‘My Name is Mina’ but in the end decided not to, a decision I’m still not sure about. I do know something about the storyline in ‘Skellig’ and am now very much looking forward to reading. I have a strange feeling I may return to ‘My Name is Mina’ to reread when I have finished it.

I was told my another school librarian that this was perhaps a book about a child, but would be enjoyed more by adults. Whilst I do see her point I would be inclined to disagree. It isn’t for any child, I think it would take a more mature child to read and enjoy this, but they would get so much from it that it would be worth that bit more concentration we would need. Through Almond’s words we are transported into this world of a child who doesn’t quite fit. A child who sees the world in a very different way to the rest of us. Any child/ teenager will no doubt relate to parts of Mina’s personality and may well come away with a greater understanding of other facets of her personality. As an adult working in education I found it fascinating. I liked and admired Mina and hated the idea of her being ‘caged’ by the educational establishment, but at the same time understood how frustrating for the establishment to deal with Mina. A child who isn’t doing as she is asked because she wants to be difficult, or because she is lazy, but because she sees the world in such a different way that she doesn’t know how to do as she is asked. I hope that it will change the way I deal with young people, as I firmly believe that there is a little piece of Mina in all of us.

The journal format of the book, and parts of the way it is written meant that I sometimes found it difficult to follow. I had to go back and check which timeframe I was in sometimes, or even just read ahead and hope that it would eventually become clear. But this is part of the magic of the book, the darting around between time and subjects is part of what really helps you understand who Mina really is, someone who is different, not bad, not wrong, just different.

Verdict: Compelling reading for both children and adults who will come away having learnt a lot, maybe even about themselves.
Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Booksl
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Genre: Growing up, Issues
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: British Book
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