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CARNEGIE AWARD AND CARNEGIE CLUB 

The Carnegie Shortlist has been announced, full of exciting books again, and so our Carnegie Club, St Anselm's Readers is starting up too. As we cannot meet up as a mixed-years group, Miss Nee, our Literacy Coordinator, has already set up a virtual Team where we'll be able to chat and share thoughts and ideas on the Carnegie books we read, and invited all students to join, but parents and carers are welcome to take part in the challenge too; here's how to do it!

Firstly, you need to go to the Carnegie Shortlist page, here: https://carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/cilip-carnegie-medal-shortlist-2021/. All the books are here with brief summaries to give you an idea of what they are about and what age-range they are suitable for.

When your child has read a book (or you!), he or she needs to return to this shortlist page and click directly on the book read; this will take him or her to a page where he/she can submit a review, or enter artwork inspired by the book. There are also videos of challenges set by the authors themselves for all Carnegie Club members to have a go at - really exciting!

However, we're really about submitting reviews.

To do this, click on the 'Submit review' tab under the book. Students then have to select our reading group in the tab below, which is St Anselm's Readers, and enter the Pass Key, which is FOX. As soon as your child submits a review, I will receive an email prompting me to check it and verify it, and when I have done this the review will be uploaded onto the Carnegie site for the world to read!

I really hope that you will encourage your child to take part, and seriously think about taking part yourself. It really is a great feeling when you finish all eight books before the deadline in June, and super to see your review up on the World Wide Web. I'll be dropping my own reviews in here as I complete each book, as well as on the Carnegie website.

Contact me at a.anderson@st-anselms.org.uk for more information.

Adam Anderson, 2iC English

My Reviews of This Year's Books

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Two warnings about this book (both good): don't be eating anything when you read the first chapter (it's gross, but funny), and don't judge the book by its cover - which is ironic as the book is essentially about that! The cover implies that it's a kind of cartoon escapade (admittedly the blurb does suggest otherwise), but, in fact, it provides slices of reality, hugely relevant in today's society with the repercussions of the Black Lives Matter movement. On the surface, the characters live funny, serious, challenging lives, the essences of which are captured in their journeys home from school, but there is always something extra there, something hidden in all the children which we don't, at first, see; that's why as readers, and as human beings, we are encouraged to 'Look Both Ways'. I really like the way that Jason Reynolds has subtly interconnected the different stories: very clever. A endearing and thought provoking read: 7 or 8/10 for me.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Wonderful characterization and storytelling in this engrossing tale. Wolk evokes time and place so well, and there are hard edges to her depiction of life on this mountain in the 1930s, but she also provides us with a poetic vision which softens the edges of reality, allowing us to escape pleasurably into this other world, so far from our own. Having said that, the plot is gripping - a race against time to rescue a life, and to save a life - and events challenge the characters' relationships adding significant tension to the overall narrative. 7 or 8/10 for me.
On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

 Despite the dramatic opening, it took me a little while to get into this book, but it was worth getting over my initial reservations. I think that it when the dual narrative started that the book began to unfold to me, and I embraced the characters more fully. It could be argued that the dolphin plot is subplot to the growth-journey experienced by the teenage protagonists: there is certainly symbolism in it, some of which only comes to light right at the end. There are moments of violence and sex. I think that one instant of the sexual imagery is a little gratuitous, but the rest is a necessary part of the teenage journey and, as such, it is not really shocking or anything more than is frequently seen on programmes watched everyday on the T.V./other media outlets by secondary students; perhaps the only 'shocking' aspect is that the teenagers are expressing their own desires, male and female, directly. I have to say that the imagery of the violence doesn't really work/ring true for me, but it is essential plot-wise. Fitzpatrick has really cleverly adapted the myth and its characters, but if you aren't familiar with this, I wouldn't look at the connections until you've finished the book. Overall, the book evokes a time, a place and its people very effectively, and I was certainly racing through the last few chapters to reach the denouement: well worth while! 7/10 for me.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

Looking at the reviews, I'm glad that some people enjoyed this book. I didn't. I didn't get on with 'The House with Chicken Legs', and this one even less so. Style-wise, I find that there is a lot of unnecessary detail which makes the writing cluttered; the imagery sometimes hits the mark, but too many of the similes are clunky, and often stacked too high, and if I come across any more eyes welling up any time soon, that book will be buried at the bottom of the pile. In terms of plot, it's very clear to any reader, if not Yanka, what her origins are, so the 400+ page journey of discovery isn't a discovery at all - and much of the action is repetitive. I set myself the challenge each year to read all the books on the Carnegie shortlist and, frankly, this was the biggest challenge to date! I so wanted it to end! Sophie Anderson writes that the book 'spent many moons wandering aimlessly round the forest', and this actually seems like a good reflection of the reading experience; I'm rather sorry that it found its way out. 3/10

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho

A bit of a hit and miss book for me, but when it does hit it is powerful. It is the story, told through verse, of a girl trying to come to terms with the death of her father, finding some solace in a library and an enigmatic librarian, but seeming to lose herself in gaming/the virtual world. Coehlo borrows the myth of Daphne and Apollo, where Daphne is turned into a tree to escape the undesired advances of  Apollo, using it as an allegory for the Daphne of the book trying to escape the change in her life which she has to face. For me, this allegory doesn't work as trees are symbols of life, growth and rebirth, not the effective death in life which Daphne suffers in herself, but maybe I'm missing some subtlety here - and it does work at times. This is also true of the verse; it does work at times, quite powerfully, but at others it loses force, usually when Coelho is rhyming the verse and it gets a bit clunky as a result. Overall, this book on loss is relevant for the times in which we live, but I rather think it made the shortlist because of the role of the magic-realist library and librarian more than that! 5/10 for me.

 Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

An excellent book again from Elizabeth Acevedo. The characters, setting, scenario are compelling from the outset, and the dual narrative creates a tension in the plot which never lets up. I especially love the way that she handles the verse form; sometimes it's fluid, flowing, effortlessly carrying the plot along, whilst at others it intensifies, becomes recognizably poetry, capturing key moments in all their complexity - and what's particularly impressive is that this gear-shift seems so easy to Acedevo (I'm sure it wasn't!). Interestingly, like 'The Girl Who Became a Tree', this book centres around the loss of a father, but it becomes so much more than that: family, love, friendship, sisterhood and cultures colliding. Brilliant. 8 or 9/10 for me.

Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann

Although I still have one more to read, I suspect that this will be the ultimate winner. It's a very relevant tale highlighting challenges which can be found in our multi-cultural society today, particularly the clash of predominantly patriarchal cultures with the greater equality between the sexes, which is essentially the aim  of European society. However, more than this, it is a tremendously compelling read. Yes, it is very hard-edged at times, quite a challenge for younger readers, but worthwhile as it does expose realities of which all young people should be aware. Mann handles the verse very well, bringing an emphatic touch to the narrative when required, and never getting in the way of the plot; despite the number of pages, I devoured the book in a couple of sittings. One aspect I particularly liked was that the central character herself wasn't perfect, had flaws, but far from disabling empathy it really encouraged me to see her as a real person, and engage with her in her struggles. Overall, it's on a par with 'Clap When You Land', but its increased relevance might just pip it for the judges. 8 or 9 / 10 for me.

Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

This was my final shortlisted book to read, and generally I wasn't disappointed. Yes, the characterization is a bit cliched in places, but it is inspired in others (especially Fuga, the aspiring Matador). Sepetys really captures the atmosphere of the Madrid of the era too: the sense of the pervasive, underlying tension. The plot rattles along, carrying you through this very chunky book quite effortlessly. But then we get to Part 2 and, for me, it all falls apart. You might love the ending, but to me it lost its integrity: looking at the dark side of the Franco era and its repercussions on the lives of so many individuals. However, still worth a 7/10 for me. With summer coming up, a great beach or garden book!

Here's the information and reviews of last year's books. 

Follow this link to read about how you can take part in the biggest children's/teenage book competition in the world: https://www.stanselmscanterbury.org.uk/News/Carnegie-Award-and-Carnegie-Club/.

AND THE WINNER IS...

'Lark' by Anthony McGowan: the first one I read and number 3 on my list, but I'm not sorry it's won at all; it's a super little read. Still plenty of time to read the books and post reviews. The Shadowing group winner will be voted on soon, with that announcement in October, so watch this space!

 

First up, I read two of the books, very cold adventures! Here's what I think of them.

'Lark' by Anthony McGowan; An adventure set in the Yorkshire Moors based on two characters from his last book, 'Rook'. To be honest, it probably does help if you have read 'Rook', but it's not necessary; the strength of the bond between Nicky and his older brother, who has special needs, is still very strong, and central to the books success. Not giving too much away here, far from home on the North Yorkshire Moors when a blizzard blows up out of the blue, no phone signal and not much of a map... The book follows their adventure, rammed with drama and comedy at times, and it certainly packs a huge emotional punch at the end.

'Nowhere on Earth' by Nick Lake: Another adventure, this time set in a very cold Alaska. Emily and her brother, Aiden, are on the run (read it to find out the reasons). They stowaway on a small postal delivery plane, but it crashes into the side of a mountain. When the 'rescuers' appear, things start to get really dangerous. I love the action sections of the book which are really dealt with well: very difficult to do in writing. Lane foreshadows the twist not too subtly; I got it: wonder if you will. For me, the ending of the book kind of fizzled out; it really didn't deliver the emotional punch of 'Lark', but see what you think. I think a good edit on the last few chapters would have made for a more successful book overall; however, a very enjoyable and tense adventure read nonetheless.

And now I've finished this one- much hotter: the Canaries and Africa!

'Girl, Boy, Sea' by Chris Vick: Again, a good adventure story suitable for all year groups. For just over the first hundred pages, I thought that this was going to be my favourite: a dramatic shipwreck, a boy alone at sea, a miraculous meeting, hardship, ingenuity and some beautifully written imagery of the ocean and the sky. However, then the book began to lose me. I suppose the set-up was very Morpurgo-like: a sort of 'Kensuke's Kingdom', but all at sea. However, I never really got the necessary empathy for the central character and narrator, Bill, which Morpurgo creates so effortlessly, and so I found that I wasn't really invested emotionally in what could be described as the second and third parts of the adventure, but maybe you would disagree; there is certainly still plenty of action and drama. For me, as in 'Nowhere on Earth', the ending did fizzle out a bit. I think a more creative, non-linear approach to this section would have worked better; again, in my view, a good bit of editing required, but still an enjoyable read overall: just not a life-changer!

BY THE WAY, if you live in the Wingham area, I have personal copies of 'Lark' and 'Nowhere on Earth' if you would like me to pop one through your door. Just email me at a.anderson@st-anselms.org.uk and I'll see what I can do, confinement permitting. 

'Lampie' by Annet Schaap: Definitely my favourite so far. I'm a bit of a sucker for magic realism, and this book has a well-balanced dose of both. Lampie's life is tough. Her father, still in mourning for his wife, Lampie's mother, two years after her death, and struggling to come to terms with his disability, turns to drink and violence. Lampie is essentially his slave, fulfilling his role as lighthouse keeper and household chores- but the household is falling apart despite her best efforts, and the love she still feels for him. However, one stormy night, Lampie is unable to light the beacon and a ship is wrecked. Her and her father are cruelly punished. And then the magic, and the adventure for Lampie, begins. Great imagery, characterization and plot absolutely hooked me into this book. I really felt Lampie's trials and triumphs. My only disappointment came at the end- because it ended! This book is a translation from the Dutch, but it really doesn't feel it; you get a true sense of the author's authentic voice. A great read suitable for all year groups.

 'Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black' by Marcus and Julian Sedgewick, illustrated by Alexis Deacon: A strange book. Not quite sure what to make of it, but I certainly had no problem finishing it, so that must say something. A brother is trying to rescue his older brother, lost in a bomb blast in London's Blitz, and the efforts to so this become increasingly strange and surreal. However, I'm not sure that the title, absolutely bursting with drama and adventure, really reflects the content of the book. For a start, most of it is set overground in a very recognizable WW2 London, and if you're expecting mythical monsters, well, there aren't any. This is a dual narrative switching between the diary and illustration of Harry, the younger brother, and the verse narrative of Orpheus, both tracking and leading Harry on his journey. The verse doesn't really work for me, and that becomes rather significant at the end of the book. The illustrations are impressive, really capturing the feel of the period. I think it is probably suitable for all year groups, but at the lower end a degree of reader maturity is required to deal with the complex narrative. It is an expensive book, but I have a school copy if you live in the Wingham/Littlebourne area and would like to read it. Just email me on a.anderson@st-anselms.org.uk.

'Patron Saint of Nothing' by Randy Ribay: This book is in the vein of 'Saint Death' by Marcus Sedgewick which was shortlisted a couple of years back, and which I absolutely loved. This doesn't quite have the same impact, although I think it could have with some judicious editing, but is still a compelling, bleak, hopeful work looking hard at a very dark issue indeed: President Duterte's murderous regime in the Philippines. He claims it is a war on drugs, but it is a lawless butchering of drug users and dealers, and innocent people caught in the crossfire, and not a war on the causes of drug dealing and drug use. The book exposes the brutal outlook of the authorities as 17 year-old Jay flies to the Philippines to investigate the murder, in the war against drugs, of his cousin, Jun. His uncle, His uncle, Jun's father, is a police chief and a great supporter of the war even though it has taken his son. He ventures into the ghettos to seek the truth, and see the reality behind dug-use. The truth, when he does find it, is not straightforward, carrying plenty of emotional punches as it is revealed. As stated, I do think this book could have been stripped back a little bit, but I understand that Ribay wanted to create a great sense of the gulf between U.S. and Philippine societies, so the focus on the U.S. sections is understandable. Probably not for the younger years, but I think more mature Y8s and upwards could definitely engage with the characters, the situations, and find the read a great culturally broadening experience.

'On the Come Up' by Angie Thomas: I really loved Thomas' last book, 'The Hate You Give' (I'm told the film is nowhere near as good), and this book doesn't disappoint either. The characterization is equally strong for starters, and consistently good across a range of characters. Bri, the central character, is a 16-year-old rapper, and Thomas uses verse in the novel in her raps, and they really work (unlike in 'Orpheus Black') - I love the way that Thomas builds up to the raps in Bri's mind as she creates them freestyle. I'm sure that Thomas is presenting us with a sanitized version the 'the ghetto', but there is plenty of reality in there; just like 'THUG', it portrays the endemic racism and institutionalized unfairness at the root of U.S. society (just look at the stark differences in covid-19 infection in the U.S. between Black Americans, Latinos, and the White population for evidence of this) just as powerfully, but ultimately does leave us with a positive message on this front: given a chance, things can improve. So many challenging issues, but so many positive messages too; it's long, but unlike 'Patron Saint of Nothing', I don't think this is down to editing, but just because there's so much in it. I must admit, I did struggle with some of the slang and virtually all the brands which make up a large part of this, but by the end of the book I thought it was great - or should I say 'dope'? There is, as is to be expected, quite a lot of the use of the f-word, so perhaps not for the younger years, but certainly for Y9 and above, especially if they're into hip-hop. Another important book for Angie Thomas as far as I'm concerned.

Finally the last book.

'Black Flamingo' by Dean Atta: I actually finished this a couple of days back, but had to try to get around what I felt about it before posting. For personal reasons, Michael's (the narrator's) journey was of interest to me; and indeed, I think it is a book which will help lots of teenagers and adults, gay or otherwise, to understand the journey of sexual awakening which so many go through. Michael's character and journey are indeed compelling. However, I never really believed in any of the other characters (sorry if they are based on true people); Michael's journey is incredibly Michael-centric and, sadly for me, this lessened the emotional and intellectual impact of the book overall. The book is written, mostly (I think), in verse, if not totally, but as with other novels, too much of what is meant to be verse is just prose cut into lines as far as I'm concerned; however, when the verse does sing, it is very effective. Overall, very mixed about this book, although I have no trouble finishing it. I have written that I think 'On the Come Up' and 'The Patron Saint of Nowhere' are important books as they really tackle wider issues through individual stories and need to be read. I think that this book is interesting rather than important as, for me, it remains resolutely Michael's story alone, with the other characters and their part in it just bit-players. Mature Y9s and over only for this one, I feel.

SO! Overall, here is MY top eight in order.

1- 'Lampie' by Annet Schaap: simply wonderful; a book to take you far, far away.

2- 'On the Come Up' by Angie Thomas: an important, well-written book with great style and characterization.

3- 'Lark' by Anthony McGowan: 'Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait' as Dickens once wrote, but all in only 110 pages.

4-  'Patron Saint of Nothing' by Randy Ribay: as I wrote, would have been better with some intelligent editing, but another important book.

5- 'Girl. Boy. Sea.' by Chris Vick: as I wrote, I thought that this was going to be a number one after 100 pages or so, but I think it drifted, and the ending was rather clunky in my view.

6- 'Nowhere on Earth' by Nick Lake: absolutely loved the action and characterization, but the ending was frankly, I think, disappointing; an emotional sponge when it should have been a sledgehammer.

7- 'Black Flamingo' by Dean Atta: I suppose it was meant to be Michael's tale, but it was simply too much his tale alone, for me, when his tale is also such a journey for all those involved. And as I wrote, the verse at times...

8- 'Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black' by Sedgewick and Sedgewick: I'm thinking of an old advertisement: 'Does exactly what it says on the tin'; well, what the title suggests is not what you get. Definitely also loses a mark for annoyingly repeated grammatical error: 'to go and get...' type thing - horror as far as I'm concerned.

Of course, it's up to you to make your own minds up, so it would be great if you could post your reviews at https://carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/cilip-carnegie-medal-shortlist-2020/. Just click on the text under the book, enter the group which is 'St Anselm's Readers' and the password which is 'LOVEBIRD' (not my choice!), type in your review and send.

I really hope that I get some reviews challenging my views! You can always email me directly at a.anderson@st-anselms.org.uk.

Keep reading!

AA