Thursday, 7 December 2017

Best of 2017 – Storytime Magazine

We at SOTB are keen supporters of all types of children’s literature, including quality children’s periodicals and so our round up of the most notable publications of the year reflects this, as we present Storytime magazine as one of The Best of 2017!



Storytime  is a monthly magazine which is full to bursting with fables, myths and fairy tales all adapted in an engaging, entertaining yet sympathetic manner. Every tale is accompanied by truly stunning, vibrant and perfectly matched illustrations, which are a veritable feast to the eye.  It is aimed are younger children but forgoes the plastic tat ‘free gift’ confident that the quality will draw a readership, which is a welcome change.



Storytime offers free printable activity sheets each month that ties in with one of the featured stories, and are great for promoting the love of stories at home, or use as a resources in a school environment. In addition there are well thought out games and activities within the magazine itself, and its monthly competition where the prise is their children’s book of the month.



2017 was a great year for readers of Storytime, as they began including their own new stories penned especially for them. These new tales have given each issue an added dimension juxtaposing beautifully with the more traditional tales, which really enhances the reading experience.   So far we’ve been delighted by the antics of the Alphabet Zoo, naughty nobody elves, witches, lonely leopards and many more.




In September Storytime marked its third Birthday, and they are getting and better, with a great mash of old and new stories all paired with eye-catching and alluring illustrations, it really is one of the best of 2017, and we at SOTB can’t wait to see what crazy yarns they deliver through our letterbox in 2018!


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Best of 2017 – This Zoo Is Not For You – Ross Collins



Time for another picture book on our round up of the best books of 2017. I don’t think there’s been nearly enough animals so far in our selections and so I remedy this immediately with the charming retro feel ‘This Zoo is Not for You’, which is both penned and illustrated by Ross Collins.



This Zoo is Not for You, is instantly inviting with its hardback tactile cover depicting beautifully imagined zoo animals, with the tiger, panda and flamingo all giving the dull and dreary duck-billed platypus the cold shoulder. The premise is simple, Platypus applies for a job at the zoo, but being strange and new is shunned by all its inhabitants, for being too dull, too common, too dreary and not throwing poo! 



Having failed his interview platypus, leaves and the other animals contemplate their behaviour, and realise they’ve been unkind and ponder the predicament, ‘What shall we do?’ However it is platypus, that saves the day, and soon the tables are reversed, in a beautiful play on words and twist of fate, all animals are reunited with platypus, and all is forgiven.


This Zoo is Not for You, is a delightful story about acceptance and friendship, and also being self-aware – being able to identify when you’ve done wrong, and being brave enough to remedy your actions, even apologising. Along with its poignant message, it is lots of fun, with vibrant illustrations that really have a retro mid-century feel, but in a thoroughly engaging modern style.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Best of 2017 – Superdad’s Day Off by Phil Earle and Steve May





Another of Barrington Stokes Little Gems of 2017 is the strangely familiar tale by Phil Earle illustrated by Steve May, about a father who takes his son out for the day BUT is so tried that he can’t play or do any of the exciting things his child has planned.

You see- familiar! How often have you had a day of work but have been so tired that a DVD, trip to the cinema or indoor play area, where you can sit and sip coffee while your child is entertained – sounded appealing?

However as much as you can empathise with this story, it has one fundamental difference, and the clue is in the title – SUPERDAD’S day off. Yes, Stanley’s dad is you guessed it – a superhero – Dynamo Dan. The reason he’s sooo fatigued is that he is busy twenty four hours a day saving the world. So when father and son go for a say trip to the park and disasters ensue, Stanley steps leaving his Dad to recharge his batteries. Stanley endeavours don’t go unnoticed and soon both he and his Dad are both adorning capes and protecting the world - together.




Superdad’s Day Off is one of the best of 2017, as it takes an all-too-familiar situation and twists it into a fun and family centric story, with lovely messages of empathy and love as son supports parent. The illustration by Steve May are vibrant and funny working beautifully with the text. The book is further enhanced by the activities at the end of the book and lovely dedication with a photograph of Phil Earle’s own Marvellous Mini -Superhero!


Monday, 20 November 2017

Best of 2017 - Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith




Black Friday is almost upon us, the nights are longer and the season colder. Everywhere you look there is Christmas decorations and fake snow, which is a good place to start the next Best of 2017 review of the fabulous, Nellie Choc-Ice by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith.

Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is one of Barrington Stokes’s Little Gems, and it is just that, it’s a frosty, funny, fast adventure about a feisty penguin named (you’ve guesses it) Nellie Choc-Ice. Nellie is an adventurer, that inadvertently explores not only beyond the colony in the south pole but the north pole too!



As Nellie is going where no penguin has gone before exploring the south pole, she encounters a large object that thinks is a killer whale, which crashes into her iceberg and sends Nelly floating off on an ice-raft , all the way to the opposite pole!

On her adventure Nellie encounters a series of dubious characters and manages to outwit them before finally being reunited with the ‘whale’ that takes her home.



As you would expect from Jeremy Strong, the story is fun and engaging, and it is enhanced by Jamie Smith’s energetic illustrations. Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is definitely one of The Best of 2017!


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Hippo at the End of the Hall – Helen Cooper – Best of 2017

Why has Ben had an invitation to visit a museum he’s never even heard of?
It doesn’t open often, doesn’t even seem to want visitors.
And why are two unpleasant people plotting to get their hands on it?
There is so much delight in with Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children about the intriguing Gee Museum, one of those overstuffed with display cases of long-dead animals reconstructed with taxidermy and trays of bugs skewered with pins.

But this one is also touched by a little magic. And Ben soon gets caught up in trying to save the museum when he realises he can hear some of the exhibits speaking.
Ben, along with the very old lady who runs the museum, and some of the stuffed creatures, form an unlikely band of friends. They take on the developers who have evil plans for the museum, unleashing a strange, uncontrollable magic.
Ben also discovers a connection to his father and unearths that there might be more to the museum’s story and some very personal reasons to want to fight to save it.
This is Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children. She is, of course, the brilliant author of such classic and award-winning picture books as ‘Pumpkin Soup’ and ‘Tatty Ratty’, which have been shared and loved by so many children (and adults reading them).
One of the biggest delights of this book is that it has been illustrated by Helen, which brings the strangeness and peculiarly fascinating museum atmospherically to life.
From Flummery the owl to the detailed observations of the scientific devices, it is a little like pouring over a museum display case itself.

As someone who confesses to a fascination for pouring over museum collections (and may have taken their children too many times in the perfect excuse that the visit is really for them), this is a book I think lots of parents are going to love to read with their children. 
From the little fables, to the bees and the chapter headings – ‘Spite and Malice in the Fish Room’ being my favourite (when did writers start to use chapter headings less? I love chapter headings), it is a pure delight.
And as I live near Oxford, where Helen is based, it is particularly pleasing to know that some of our local museums have inspired the story and that some of the drawings come from those collections I have visited possibly too often and know far too well.
But then who hasn’t visited the witch in the bottle at the Pitt Rivers museum a hundred times and made up stories about it? It is so pleasing to think that someone has finally written one. 
It is the perfect feelgood story, made for sharing.
Nicki Thornton - one of my Best of 2017

Friday, 10 November 2017

#BooksMadeBetter Interview with David Stevens founder of Knight Of



Diversity is a hot topic, whether it is white-washing on the silver screen or seats in the Houses of Parliament, it is a conversation that is being translated into action in many industries.

Publishing is no different. Steps are being seen to be taken to promote diversity, eg with many BAME competitions and scholarships being set up to seek out authors and illustrators that reflect a varied society.

Shiny new publishers Knights Of (as in of the round table where everyone is equal) launched just last week on a pledge to increase diversity behind the scenes. The news was met with a frenzy of anticipation of just how this new publisher was going to rise to the challenge of doing things differently.

AimeĆ© Felone and David Stevens have launched Knights Of with a stated aim to approach publishing in a new way and to ‘DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY - and in this way, to make books for every kid.

We at SOTB are delighted to share this interview with Knights Of founder David Stevens to share his vision of this new publishing company, how he plans to make a difference … and just what that difference will be.

The publishing industry is really focused on diversity at the moment, with lots of publishers trying to seek greater submissions from diverse authors/diverse intern applications etc. What are the main barriers currently to finding a job in publishing and what will ‘Knights Of’ do differently that might address them?

We’re inspired by what publishing and other children's media have been doing, every initiative and call for openness has strengthened our belief that now is the right time for an inclusive publisher. KNIGHTS OF is trying to address as many barriers as it can – making ourselves available via live chat to answer questions, if there’s a barrier we’ll work to address it.



We love the idea of a ‘fairer team’ – what sort of different opportunities are you going to offer?

We love the idea too! We’re offering paid, remote freelance positions on every aspect of publishing a title. We’re hoping to circumvent prohibitive costs of having to live in major cities, and where possible, we will aim to pair an experienced hand with an entry/mid-level candidate for added value.



You say that Knights Of is “creating a better pipeline: working with writers, illustrators, agents, retailers and other publishers to make books better” and it is really interesting that you are looking at so many aspects of how an author’s work gets to readers. Which of these changes of approach will make the biggest difference to the books you will publish?

It is the one small change that we’re hoping will have the most impact. If your editor, designer, marketer, production team, publicist and sales team are all from broadly different backgrounds the end result will be different.



We have noticed you are accepting direct submissions as well as through agents. What is the main reason for this? Is this a long-term plan or just a short-term ‘open window’?


We’ll keep Live Chat open as long as we can – it’s not going away any time soon. We’re working hard to make sure we’re as accessible as possible – being available as much as possible is part of that.



You mention the relationship with retailers. Do you have plans to reach readers differently other than through the usual channels of bookshops and school libraries or online?


One of the biggest pieces of work we want to undertake is working with retailers to bring non-traditional readers into bookstores. Partnering with as many communities, booksellers, librarians and readers as we can.



Talking of readers, has there been any research into whether there is lower interest in books by children with BAME backgrounds?

Not that we’ve seen. (Cheeky, but with so few books published that meet the criteria would any research be reliable?). Look at what Empathy Lab can do – proving that engagement with as many characters as possible has positive results.



Do you plan to publish in other languages to reach those children who have English as a second language? Will you take submissions in other languages?

We’re just getting started – our first focus is home-grown talent. We’ll look at submissions in translation but, for now, it’s unlikely we’ll be publishing into the UK and Irish markets in multiple languages.



It sounds like we are witnessing the start of a really exciting, forward-thinking publisher. How can we get involved?


Sign up to the #BooksMadeBetter newsletter [http://knightsof.media/#sign-up/] – come write for BooksMadeBetter.com – and tell everyone who might be interested about us. We’re a new start-up company so always willing to talk investment at varying levels.


So - they are being different and being very open, so what are you waiting for - sounds like a brilliant opportunity to get involved. SOTB will certainly be watching this space and wish Knights Of the very best for getting it dreams realised.

Lastly I must say a BIG SOTB THANK YOU to David for taking time out of the hectic start up week to be interviewed and to wish Knights Of the very best of luck. We look forward to reviewing some of their books in due course!

Find out more at Knights Of Website


You can also follow Knight on Twitter @_KnightsOf





Friday, 3 November 2017

The Polar Bear Explorers' Club by Alex Bell - review

Stella and her adoptive father, Felix, live in a fantasy world of strange, unexplored lands and exotic and wonderful creatures. 

Felix, an explorer, fills their home with stories and unusual animals brought home from his adventures and Stella longs for the chance to go on one of his explorations. She is thrilled when she is approved to officially accompany a dangerous voyage to reach the coldest part of the Icelands.
Stella and three other explorers’ children are on the trip, and even a shared ambition of returning from their mission covered in glory doesn't mask the fact that they don’t get on.

It’s a wonderfully imaginative fantasy adventure story that really rips into action when Stella and the other youngsters get separated from the experienced adult explorers as an ice bridge collapses.
Stella knows their biggest danger is not the ice or the unknown perils, but the fact that they cannot bury their differences.
Can Stella help bring together elf healer Beanie, wolf-whisperer, Shay and grumpy magician, Ethan, into a team that is strong enough to survive both the journey and the tricks of magical creatures?
They encounter unicorns and pygmy dinosaurs, must outsmart frostbite fairies, carnivorous cabbages and ice magic that can freeze the heart, before they can get home.
The non-stop twists in the plot and the inventiveness of the peril make for plenty of thrills and spills, but it’s the forging of the unlikely team into a really strongly bond is will stay with you after you have finished reading the story.
One of my 'Books of 2017' - Nicki Thornton

Friday, 27 October 2017

Sofa Dog by Leonie Lord – Best of 2017



It is high time for a picture book to feature on SOTB Best of 2017 list, so here is the fabulously funny and charmingly illustrated Sofa Dog by Leonie Lord.

If you have a dog in the household or have ever had a family dog, then I’m sure this book will hit a cord, if you’ve not had the experience of sharing a house with a canine, then this is still; a humorous and entertaining tale, and maybe even serve as a warning to the nature of owning hounds!

Sofa Dog is a story about one sofa, one dog and the dog's human. Sofa Dog loves the sofa, and is only happy to share it only with it’s human, however begrudgingly Sofa Dog has to make way for not one but two cats, and just as Sofa Dog think it couldn’t get any worse there a rat-a-tat-tat at the door.



Before long the house is full and the sofa crammed with relatives, animals, and even a musical orangutan. The sofa gets so crowded that Sofa Dog gets pushed off and out into the rain. But soon something begins to move, and bite, and all the residents of the sofa being to itch. The itch leads to eviction, and Sofa Dog, has the Sofa back.

Being a owner of not one but two Sofa Dogs, I know that the observation Leonie Lord makes in the exquisitely envisioned picture book are all too true, and therefore believe that Sofa Dog is indeed one of the best of 2017!


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood - Best of 2017

There are several things that might surprise you about the great warrior adventurer; the amazing Podkin One-Ear, that son of a chieftain and famously great hero.
Firstly, Podkin isn’t impressive at all at the beginning of his great adventure. He’s too lazy to even want to be a hero. In fact, he is spoilt rotten. But then everything changes when the big bad Gorm, the dreaded enemy, arrives.
Kieran Larwood’s tale of a rabbit thrust into an unwanted adventure won this year’s Blue Peter prize. It features the wonderful, Podkin, who lives in a cosy and well-ordered world, entirely happy to leave it to his sister, Paz, to pay attention in sword-fighting lessons – or any lessons at all. What is the point of them?
Podkin, his big sister, Paz and little brother, Pook, have to go on the run in a harsh and snowy world. Podkin has zero survival skills and must rely on the kindness of others if what is left of his family and his whole burrow are to stand any chance of not being wiped out.

But in his heart, Podkin doesn’t want to be the sort of person no-one can rely on in a crisis. He needs to find out if any of his family have survived, save his burrow, and defeat the dreaded Gorm, who are ruthlessly taking over the previously peaceful world of the rabbits. 
Podkin might be the only one who has any chance of finding a way to defeat the Gorm. But is it too late to pay attention not just to sword-fighting, but to his history lessons and find any way a small, scared and not very brave rabbit can stop the evil Gorm from dominating in a world where they have been banished underground.
The Gorm are a terrifying group of baddies, part-iron, part-rabbit, seemingly invincible. Why have the Gorm suddenly got so powerful? How on earth can they be defeated? Podkin is plunged into a position where there seems to something he has much to learn at every turn as he tries to gather an unlikely team to take on the enemy. But he's a character easy to like in this wonderful tale of a very unlikely adventurer. 
Podkin discovers he has plenty of courage and learns to use guile rather than fighting skills, trying to outwit his opponents. He goes on an amazing journey, learning the history of the world he dearly loves and it so close to losing and finds friends and strengths he never knew he had.
A wonderful and imaginative adventure, sensitively told, packed with action and set in a well-realised world. This is definitely one of my Books of 2017.
Nicki Thornton

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory - Best of 2017

Mold, whose most distinguished feature is his very large nose, works for healer, Aggy. He must go on a journey and learn to be a hero when Aggy, who has looked after him since he was abandoned as a baby, is arrested for poisoning the king.
Aggy’s arrest leads straight into a page-turning adventure, the action plunging Mold through city sewers and into wild swamps, into a world fraught with unexpected dangers and some very nasty smells.

He ventures far from the world he knows, staying only one step ahead the bad people after him, finding help in unexpected places. Despite everything thrown at him, Mold never gives up, knowing only he can find a cure, stop the king dying, and prove Aggie’s innocence.
Mold is a character easy to warm to, big-hearted, as much as he is big-nosed. He makes increasingly good use of this most distinguishing feature, discovering he can tell someone’s character from their scent.
This intelligent adventure has many subtle themes running through it – pleas for tolerance and for celebrating difference rather than being afraid. Mold discovers much during his adventure, not least that the king he admires has not always behaved well to the people he rules. And about his own heritage and why he was abandoned.
Debut author Lorraine Gregory admirably brings in these big themes into a page-turning adventure. She also gets top marks for breaking a few rules (brave for a debut author), particularly her use of dialect. Mold’s voice is not only authentic and easy to understand, but it also pulls the young reader straight into Mold’s colourful world.
‘Mold and the Poison Plot’ is a perfectly-pitched and captivating fantasy adventure featuring the truly marvellous Mold and is a really very classy read indeed.
One of my Books of 2017 - Nicki Thornton

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Explorer – Katherine Rundell - review

From an exciting opening that features a plane crash into the heart of the Amazon jungle, Freddie, Con, Lila and Max are plunged from the skies right into the heart of the rainforest and begin their story of survival in a world that is menacing, unfamiliar and fraught with danger.
All have had a sheltered upbringing where the closest they have come to adventure is reading about it in books. Now they need to work out what berries they might eat without dying, and come up with a plan of how on earth they might achieve the impossible, escape the miles of dense, threatening jungle and get home.
The team make an enchanting group. They quickly learn they must depend on each other and put their differences aside to survive. They all have to be brave and find skills they didn’t know they had as well as look after each other.

When help arrives it is in an unexpected form, along with the growing realisation that the only possible way out is to first learn to live successfully in the jungle rather than trying to fight it.
It’s an old-fashioned adventure story that will appeal to anyone who dreams of being thrown into an adventure where you only have your wits and bravery to survive.
From being an unfamiliar and threatening place, the children learn to work with the jungle as they learn to work with and trust each other, gradually building as much of a strong bond to each other as they do to the unfamiliar and dangerous world that surrounds them.
From an exciting tale of survival against the odds, grows a charming, compelling and warm-hearted tale of friendships forged in danger, responsibility – and respect for the natural world.
Not simply an exciting adventure story, this will leave readers with plenty to think about.
One of my Books of 2017 - Nicki Thornton

Monday, 18 September 2017

Story Sack – Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph





Here at Space on the Bookshelf we are rather fond of Story Sacks, as a playful learning devise, to help children foster their love of stories. Last year we did a series of features on how to create Story Sacks, along with pushing the concept to include non-fiction Story Sacks, plus ones for older reads, even up to YA.

It’s been a while since we did a Story Sack feature, so it is about time we remedied that with a Story Sack based on Rob Biddulph’s beautiful picture book Odd Dog Out. 



Odd Dog Out is a vibrant beautifully illustrated picture book, about a Dachshund, who is the Odd Dog Out in a city where all the other resident dachshunds look and behave the same; crowds of suited bowler hat wearing clones, who don’t approve or understand Odd Dog Out and his individual style. So Odd Dog out longing to be understood goes in search of other Odd Dogs Out like him. When he finds a place inhabited by dogs just like him, he meets an Odd Dog Out and realises that individuality is no bad thing, and becomes proud to stand out in the crowd. Odd Dog Out, is more than just an entertaining story and a veritable feast for the eyes, it also contains subtle yet positive messages about individuality and loving who you are.



Odd Dog out is a perfect book to be the basis of a Story Sack, it is an engaging story, with a moral core, and has much potential variation on way that you could compile the story sack. But first let us begin with a recap of what a Story Sack is comprised of…


  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.


So, every Story Sack should contain soft toys. So for Odd Dog Out that is going to have to be sausage dogs. Now you can ether purchase one, like this TY one on the photograph, or if you a feeling creative, you can decorate your own, using blank dachshund soft toys (these ones found a well-known hobby retailer for £2.50 each.) To complete the look I got my Mum to crochet Odd Dog Out’s scarf and hat, and the bowler hat was also donated by Bookaholic and Crafter extraordinaire Leilah Skelton. Alternatively you could make a bowler hat with egg boxes and black paint.




For the non-fiction book, I opted for an Usborne book about dogs, which is informative colourful and accessible for younger children. 



For the games, I have two options, The first one is Wiener Dog Playing Cards set which has different Dachshunds on every card, which can be purchased on line, and used to play happy families, or like story cubes. The second option is cheaper and involves a spot of crafting. In Addition to the book Rob Biddulph’s Odd Dog Out Characters feature on a line of stationary, cards and gift wrap. The gift wrap you can use it to make your own Odd Dog Out pairs game!



The last element of a story sack is the Worksheets, now usually I create sheets based on the book, however, for Odd Dog Out it is much easier as on Rob Biddulph’s web-site there are a downloadable PDF Worksheets based on the book – Thank You Rob! 



So there we have it one colourful and fun, Odd Dog Out Story Sack! 


But before I go, I would like to quickly celebrate that fact that this tory sack was a collaborative effort, and would not have shaped up so well without the kindness of others both, and so please join me in thanking them.


A BIG Space on the Bookshelf Thanks goes to the lovely Leilah Skelton, who saw my twitter post and sent me the bowler hat for Not-So-odd-Dog-Out! Leilah is a senior bookseller from Waterstones in Doncaster. She does a lot of crafting with book promotion, and is a big fan of Rob Biddulph's work. So much of a fan that she has reviewed each of his books in rhyme! Leilah can be found on twitter at @Leilah_Makes



Also Thanks to my every obliging mother, Brenda Berry, who is often crocheting items for story sack, for the lovey Hat and scarf for Odd Dog Out.


And finally to Rob Biddulph for the fabulous books, and the worksheets!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

CILIP Carnegie 2017 Round Up & Predictions!





Every year here at SOTB we shadow the CILIP Carnegie shortlist and endeavour to predict the winner. More often than not we get it right, but it is always a tough call, as the calibre of the books is so high. This year is no exception, the short list has been full of powerful read, written by some of the most talented and established wordsmiths, with story than span genres and vary in tone from funny to tragic. With any more ado, here is our round up and predictions…


'The Bone Sparrow' by Zana Fraillon is an engaging, empathetic, enlightening and harrowing; in short it is a work of poignant beauty that shines a light on a very contemporary humanitarian crisis: refugee camps. Told from the perspective of Subhi – or ID-DAR-1, who was born and raised on the camp, as he navigates through the dangers of life camp and from the eyes of a Jimmie a girl from the other side of the fence whose curiously takes her in the belly of the camp. The Bone Sparrow, shows the hardships, indignities and dangers of life within refugee camps, whilst interweaving a deeper fabric of tales creating a rich, multi-facetted unique tale about hope. I think The Bone Sparrow with its endorsement from Amnesty International, it hits the zeitgeist and has a real chance of taking home the medal.



‘Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a rare gem that brings brilliant humour to the story of a homeless boy who befriends an alien dog and they join forces to save the world. Humorous books are a rare sight on the Carnegie shortlist. That in itself tells just how wonderfully brilliant and compassionate Frank’s writing is – and how difficult it is to approach big subjects with humour and to write a properly funny book. It might also make you feel differently about how aliens visiting Earth might look, but that’s another matter.



‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a beautiful read. We get drawn into the separate journeys of four narrators. As they all work towards finding their place and understanding in the world, so the stories also start to connect in a very satisfying way. Well-observed, complex, and a heartfelt read about a group of likeable teenagers who are suffering, but find ways to pull through, this is a triumph of lyrical writing that helps us connect with big issues, small things that are important, and lives that feel very real.



Ruta Sepetys ‘Salt to the Sea’ is a triumph, set in the last days of WWII, it is told by multiple the perspectives of four young people, all in first person, all with distinct unique voices that effortlessly fit together to drive the plot forward. The four protagonists gradually meet and with each interaction their fate is cemented as the endure all the atrocities that the war can hurl at them, until finally they are all aboard the ill-fated Wilheim Gustloff that sets off across the frozen waters, massively over capacity with too few lifeboat. When the ship goes down, their secrets unveil along with their fates.



‘Beck’ by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff bring together two powerhouses of YA writing and comes up with a commanding story about a young man who never gives up. It is big in every way – emotional, heart-wrenching and harrowing. Beck suffers abuse from almost everyone who should be helping him. But the sensitive writing draws us right into his story and we start to share Beck’s unswerving belief that however far he must journey, whatever deprivations he might suffer, that he should never give up believing that he will find a place in the world. This might win for not only being a remarkable collaboration, but previous winner, Mal Peet’s, final book.



‘Railhead’ by Philip Reeve is a wonder of imagination, taking you to a truly unique universe where not only humans, but trains, insects, and robots, have intelligent life. Small-time crook, Zen, is recruited by a mysterious figure to steal a work of art, but he and is soon swept up in huge issues about the nature of what we are told of the truth of what surrounds us. A powerful and page-turning novel with engaging and believable characters and sublime and exciting world-building. And a page-turning plot. What more could you want? Sci-fi books for children are rare – sci-fi books for children that are this good should be cherished. Cherish. It really deserves to win.



‘Wolf Hollow’ by Lauren Wolk. Betty was a favourite ‘baddie’ character in this year’s list – a great demonstration of how appearances can be deceptive. Main character, Annabelle, is a great opposite foil for Betty, determined to stand up for wrongly-accused Toby and bring Betty’s true nature into the light and expose her all too easy to believe lies. A clever, manipulative and morally complex story. It may just have the edge for being all these things, plus successfully travelling that narrow path of also being suitable for a younger age group.



Lastly, Glenda Millard’s ‘the stars at oktober bend’ is a touching and brave book, again in multi aspect told from two very different yet complementing voices, a story of falling in love and overcoming tragedy. the stars at oktober bend’ is where four years previously, the twelve year old Alice Nightingale’s, life changed forever. Attacked and left with fault wiring, speech difficulties and fits, she lives her life is a state of forever twelveness, and she dreams of a better future that transcends her twelveness. Alice’s dreams come true when she meets and falls in love with Manny, a boy who’s trying to outrun his tragic past in a new country not plagued by war. The two heal one another and just as the begin to outrun the past, it raises it’s vindictive head, along with floodwaters that come thick and fast threatening to wash away any hopes for a future.


2017 is yet again another crop of incredible books; with strong voices and characters real enough you can almost touch them. As with every year, it is difficult to pick just one book that standout above the rest. Personally, all the book I read, were so strong that I could not pick one above the other, however Nicki has circled out Philip Reeve’s ‘Railhead’ as a worthy winner. So it is our official SOTB prediction that ‘Philip Reeve will be taking home the medal! Good luck to everyone on the list, and we all wait with baited breath for the announcement on Monday!


Friday, 16 June 2017

the stars at oktober bend –Glenda Millard – CILIP Carnegie 2017 review


Our finial 2017 CILIP Carnegie review takes us to the wilds of rural outback Australia with ‘the stars at oktober bend’ Glenda Millard’s touching tale about two teenagers whose lives have been tainted by tragedy, as they endeavour to escape the past and take control of their futures.

Initially I found, the stars at oktober bend, disorientating, finding the setting difficult to place both in time as it could easily be any time from the 1950 to present, and where, again could be any backwater town, USA, UK, anywhere. Add to this the lack of any capitalised letters in the first half dozen chapters, and the whole reading experience was a leap of faith. Faith that author Glenda Millard would reveal all in her own time, and that you didn’t necessarily need all this information up front. Indeed the leap of faith was made easier due to the strength of the voice which is so strong and endearing that reading it is a pleasure even if you are not sure where or when the action is taking place.

the stars at oktober bend is told from duel perspectives, by two young people who live on the periphery of society and who are negotiating life’s usual hurdles plus the taller ones that the past has put before them.

The book is predominantly from the view of Alice Nightingale, in her sate of ‘forever twelveness’ with broken wiring, broken speech and debilitating fits. Unable to attend school Alice spends her days, tending her ailing grandmother, and in the company of her dog Bear, writing poetry that she displays all over town. Alice dreams of being more; more than forever twelve, more than the girl from the family plagued with tragedy and scandal, more than a victim. But in her small world, with only her grandmother, Bear and her younger brother who insulates and protects them from the outside, all hope to transcend the twelveness that was inflicted on her seems impossible. As Alice posts her ANON poems around town hoping someone will hear her words her dreams are answered when Manny the adopted son of a local couple finds them.

The other perspective in , the stars at oktober bend, is from Manny, who is a long way from his war torn home, haunted by secrets and struggling to get to grips to the nuances of another culture whilst slipping the grasp of bullies. As we watch Manny, desperately try and outrun his past and problems, he navigates towards the Nightingale family and Alice in particular.

As Alice and Manny find love and begin to heal, dark forces are at work trying to unsettle their happiness, when flood water brings a deluge of destruction threatening to wash away their dreams for a future, and a foe with a vindictive thirst for revenge wades in.

the stars at oktober bend, is a beautiful and emotionally challenging book, recommended for older readers. It tackles the difficult subjects of war, murder, rape and torture, whilst challenging the labels of ‘victim’ and ‘migrant’ showing that people are more than the box others put them in. It is a brave book tackling subjects that are often shied away from in literature for teenagers, yet deals with the subject in a responsible and respectful manner, making it an empathetic and endearing read.

I believe that the stars at oktober bend is not only a book that promotes empathy, braking boxes and ripping down labels, but also like many of tales, has an element of warning. A message to young people to the danger in the world. A wolf in the woods for the twenty first century.


Saturday, 10 June 2017

Beck – Mal Peet – CILIP Carnegie 2017 review

This is the sweeping historical final novel from previous Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet, telling the epic tale of the hardship of a multi-race orphan in Liverpool in the early 1900s, who suffers terrible abuse from those supposed to protect him. The story follows his journey and how his indomitable spirit only grows and how he learns not simply to survive, but to thrive.

It is a moving and memorable tale of inspiring and remarkable resilience. 

It might be bleak, heart-breaking, tough to read in places, but it's strong message shines through in Beck's character. That no matter where you might start from, even with a damaged early life, it does not stop you being able to give and receive love.

These are big themes for a children’s novel. Big themes for an adult novel. This story definitely comes with a warning that it is not for younger readers (though perfect for old children's book groups or indeed any adult bookgroups).

It is due to Beck’s unbroken spirit and strength of heart that he somehow manages to transcend the terrible triple fate of his birth – being born poor, of mixed-race and then orphaned at eleven, when he is thrown onto the mercy of the charity of the church, told he is one of the lucky ones, and shipped off to start a new life in Canada. But there he suffers appalling abuse in the hands of the Catholic brothers into whose hands he is delivered.

Even this does not break Beck's indomitable instinct to survive, his spirit never waivers, even in the bleakest of situations, and he a character that is warm. clever, resourceful and loyal.

It is in rooting for Beck to find a happy ending that keeps us reading as he survives every setback and clambers and conquers every obstacle.


It is also the beautiful writing which brings close understanding, so full of empathy in this collaboration between Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff, who completed the work after Peet died.

The writing is outstanding, varying between being sometimes shocking and raw, sometimes beautiful and tender.

What Beck is really searching for is a sense of belonging, which he so nearly reaches, but remains tantalisingly elusive. 

It unstintingly tackles huge issues: racism, sexual abuse by clergy members, poverty. Beck not only overcomes everything that is thrown at him, but, more importantly, finds a way not to be brutalised. He finds a way not simply to survive, but to remain able to give and receive love and when Beck has journeyed far, grown up, the tone finally softens. 

You will want to follow Beck’s journey right up to his hard-won happy ending in the arms of the older woman, when Beck can finally put the devastation of his harrowing early years behind him, find love and achieve the place he belongs, somewhere he can truly call home. And enjoy what he so richly deserves.

A story not without pain, but one with an uplifting and inspiring conclusion. Beck is a story bursting with life and feeling and his journey is one worth the struggle. And this book is definitely worth the read.

Nicki Thornton