The Roehampton Readers Group has been going for several years and was formed as part of The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Shadowing Scheme to read and discuss texts that have been shortlisted for these awards. The group meets regularly and after each meeting, one of the members will produce a short summary of the discussions. Below is the results of the group’s thoughts on 2021 Greenaway shortlisted title, The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, and 2021 Carnegie shortlisted title, Eight Pieces of Silva, by Patrice Lawrence. If you would like to join the group, please fill in the contact form at the end of this blog post.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
Usborne Books 2019
Illustrated by Honesta, Kathrin
There were divided opinions in the group about this fantasy novel, with some members finding it hard to engage in the main premise of the story of a girl who transforms into a bear. Others found suspension of disbelief made quite possible by the power of the story telling. Most of the group appreciated the skill with which the story is woven using folk and fairy tale motifs and the telling of traditional stories within the story structure, the significance of which to the narrative of the central character Yanka is gradually revealed. These stories are charmingly delineated with illustrated borders
This is partly a follow up to The House With Chicken Legs, which some members found to be the more successful novel, and the house has an important role in moving the plot on in this story. Some commented that the plot development was sometimes clumsy and overt. Character development is also key to the plot and strong female characters dominate. Many journeys physical, emotional and developmental take place and it can be read as a coming-of-age novel disguised within the folk transformation genre. Themes of body awareness, identity and what makes a family, loyalty and friendship abound. Learning to see things from a different point of view, in this case quite radically from that of a bear, is part of this development. We were impressed with the descriptions of sensory perceptions of the bear, such as feeling the movements of small creatures under the floorboards, rolling in pine needles to get their scent, and learning to live in the moment enhancing these and other experiences. Strengths of the book discussed included the sense of place, especially the forest, supporting the theme of caring for and being at one with the environment, enabled by the powerful sensory descriptions and by the beautiful, and welcome, illustrations.
The element of humour introduced by the animal character Mousetrap was welcomed, and the diverse nature of the “herd” Yanka gathers around herself including Yuri the deer, the wolf and the owl was seen as a significant theme. It was felt, however, that this central message of valuing difference whilst developing a sense of identity and belonging was thumped home towards the end of the book in an intrusive and unnecessary way.
The intended age group is seen as around 9-13 years. The length of the book at around 400 pages could be a challenge although the illustrations help. We felt there were one or two adventures too many. The ending is very positive, almost happy ever after, suitable for the intended readership but not entirely winning over all of our group.
Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence
We discussed the very strong sense of place, both geographically and culturally, set in contemporary London, specifically Hackney. Becks and Silva are very contrasting characters and each is portrayed truthfully and skillfully and using different literary techniques. The portrayal of Silva is a poignant portrait of a young woman grieving the death of her mother which despite a supportive and safe family environment, sends her into obsessive behaviour and a toxic relationship with Logan.
All the main characters are seen differently – and see themselves differently – by the end of the book. And as readers we see them, particularly Silva, from different people’s points of view as the mystery of Silva’s whereabouts is discovered. We thought about the nature of the book – part thriller and part psychological journey creepy at times but also very funny with cutting observations on contemporary London life and the experiences of a young gay woman, in Becks, who “never had to come out because she was never in”.
The wealth of contemporary cultural detail – such as K pop heroes and the Black Panther movie – is crucial to the plot and is both a strength and possible weakness of the book adding to its strong identity but giving it a short “shelf life”. We considered whether or not the denouement was successfully wrought from a rather crowded cumulative cast of characters, and noted some inconsistency of detail. On the whole a satisfying read with a realistic, not over happy, ending.
If you would like to join the Roehampton Readers Group or have any questions, please use the contact form below: