Roehampton Readers

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

Hodder, 2020

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:

Roehampton Readers – New Members Welcome

The University of Roehampton’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway award shadowing group is welcoming new members.  More information about our group is included below. If you have any questions or would like to sign up, get in touch via the contact form.

Continue reading “Roehampton Readers – New Members Welcome”

Roehampton Readers: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

Review: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

By Julie Mills

Wed Wabbit is a fantasy story told with humour, exploring serious themes including grief, anger, dealing with emotions, change, fears, leadership. Positive play and imagination, co-operation and friendship are positive themes. “Know yourself” might be the motto for this is a moral tale.

wed wabit
Image via David Fickling Books

It is a super compulsive read, good for readers of the younger age group (9/10 or younger if read aloud, upwards). An adventure story with a great narrative, it uses mystery, puzzles and the journey quest as plot movers and includes a map of the land of the Wimblies. This is the land into which Fidge and her cousin Graham are hurled, following the near fatal accident to Fidge’s sister Minnie, whose favourite toy Wed Wabbit has recently taken over the idyllic, but stiflingly structured, land where the different coloured Wimblies live. This is a realisation and subversion of Minnie’s favourite story book The Wimbly Woos and a leap into the imaginative world of the pre-schooler.

Fidge soon realises that there is something rotten in the state of Wimbly Woo: “the prettiness seemed painted on. Nasty things were happening here” (p57). She is driven by the need to return Wed Wabbit the toy to her dangerously ill sister, but in the process leads a motley team of life sized toys to liberate the land of Wimblies not only from the tyranny of Wed Wabbit but from previous weak leadership and stereotyped expectations of its citizens.

Continue reading “Roehampton Readers: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans”

Roehampton Readers: Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

Review: Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

By Lorna Collins

Image of Geraldine McCaughrean via

Geraldine McCaughrean is a prolific author of children’s books, and has won several awards, including the Carnegie Medal nearly 30 years ago with A Pack of Lies[1]. She has been nominated for the Carnegie award a total of eight times, the last time was in 2015 for The Middle of Nowhere[2] which has also been reviewed by Roehampton Readers. The Middle of Nowhere and Where the World Ends are both concerned with survival in almost impossibly hostile environments.  However, the locations could not be more different; The Middle of Nowhere is set in the Australian outback and Where the World Ends is set on the small island of Hirta, part of the St Kilda archipelago of islands situated off the north western coast of Scotland.

Warrier Stac
Image of Warrior Stac by Anna White

McCaughrean’s inspiration came from a visit to St Kilda made by her daughter, who brought back an abundance of stories about the history of the islands, including one about a group of men and boys who were put ashore on Warrior Stac (Stac an Armin) in August 1727 to collect birds, eggs, feathers and oil to provide for the islanders over the winter.  This was an annual event and they should have been collected after two to three weeks at most, weather permitting. However, they were inexplicably abandoned leaving them marooned on the stac for nine months. Nothing more is known about how they survived or what they thought had happened to cause their predicament. McCaughrean states in an interview on the Carnegie website that this is the ideal scenario for an author to build on – a verifiable historical event, but with very little factual information, allowing the author to imagine the gaps.[3] She has used extensive research into life on St Kilda at the time to imagine how it might have felt to be marooned on the stac and her account of the types of birds harvested and how they were used exemplifies the depth of research undertaken (pp. 38-39).

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Roehampton Readers: Thornhill by Pam Smy

Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

By Clare Walters

Cover via


Thornhill is a ghost story that interweaves the stories of two girls. The first is Ella Clarke, who is alive and well in 2017, and the second is Mary Baines, who died in 1982. These girls are mirror images of each other, and Ella’s tale is told through the illustrations while Mary’s is told through her diary entries.

Ella, who has recently lost her mother, has just moved to a new house with her father. Mary has been – and still is in her 1982 diaries – incarcerated in a children’s home called Thornhill. By chance, Ella’s new bedroom window overlooks Thornhill, now boarded up and derelict.

In both girls there is an absence of a physical voice – actual on the part of Mary who is a selective mute, and virtual on the part of Ella, who simply has no one to talk to. This is linked to a lack of agency, as neither girl has control over her life.

There is a third girl in the story, too, another abandoned child in the children’s home, who is simply referred to as ‘She’. Described as a cruel teasing, tormenting, bully who makes life unbearable for her victim Mary, she assumes the role of villain. But because She never speaks for herself, she also lacks a voice. We discover her solely through Mary’s diary, so we are learning about her through the classic unreliable narrator. Are the diary descriptions true? Or could Mary be the actual villain? Continue reading “Roehampton Readers: Thornhill by Pam Smy”

Roehampton Readers: Shadowing Carnegie and Greenaway 2018

Carnegie Greenway Medals

Roehampton Readers, who meet at the University of Roehampton to discuss the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards shortlists as a shadowing group and post reviews to the shadowing site itself, are now in their fourth year. Former NCRCL subject librarian Julie Mills, who currently coordinates the group, reflects on their summer outing and introduces this year’s shadowing experience. 

The University of Roehampton NCRCL Carnegie and Kate Greenaway award reading group recently overwhelmingly voted Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends as their favourite Carnegie Award shortlisted title for the 2018 CILIP awards. This foreshadowed the announcement of this title as the official winner, revealed on June 18th.

The group particularly appreciated McCaughrean’s creation of an immersive, unfamiliar environment both in terms of historical time and sense of place and admired her strong imagery, though some found the language demanding and took a while to get involved with it. There was also strong support in the group for The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas which was awarded the Amnesty Honour prize by the CILIP committee.

Meeting weekly once the shortlist for the awards has been announced, the group discusses one title from each shortlist, with a different group member each week leading the discussion on the chosen titles. Discussion is often wide ranging, covering past winners and children’s literature themes and theory in general, but it is always informed by the criteria used by the judges when selecting the winners.

Continue reading “Roehampton Readers: Shadowing Carnegie and Greenaway 2018”

Roehampton Readers: Shadowing Carnegie and Greenaway 2018

Images via CILIP

The MA Children’s Literature programme at the University of Roehampton runs a reading group Roehampton Readers, which discusses the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards shortlists as a shadowing group and post reviews to the shadowing site. The group  meets weekly to read one of each of the titles shortlisted for the Carnegie and Greenaway awards, with a member of the group leading the discussion on each title.


The next meeting is on 25th April. We meet at 5.30 until around 7.00 in Fincham room 002 and the books we will discuss are After the Fire by Will Hill and A First Book of Animals illustrated by Petr Horáček and written by Nicola Davies.


All children’s literature students past and present are welcome to come along and we would love to have some new members.


Roehampton Readers: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

By Kay Waddilove

Salt to the Sea is a historical YA novel set in the closing months of World War II. As with her debut Between Shades of Gray (2011), previously shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, Ruta Sepetys weaves a fictional narrative around an actual, but little-known historical event. In the final months of the Nazi regime a multitude of refugees, both civilians and soldiers, fled from the advancing Soviet army to the Baltic Sea ports in the hope of boarding a ship to safety, and escaping the chaos of war-torn Europe. Several German ships were conscripted for this evacuation, dubbed Operation Hannibal, including the Wilhelm Gustloff, a large cruise liner designed for around 1400 passengers. Approximately ten and a half thousand refugees were loaded onto this ship, which, on 30 January 1945, was hit by Russian torpedoes. It sank in less than one hour, in a snowstorm, and approximately 9000 people died, over half of them children.

As Sepetys informs the reader in her postscript, this sinking was “the deadliest disaster in maritime history”, with a death toll exceeding those of the Titanic and Lusitania combined, yet it is a tragedy that is virtually unknown outside Germany. As a writer committed to shining an ideological light onto such “hidden chapters of history” through “the child and young adult narrative” (Between Shades of Gray did this for the plight of Lithuanian deportees to Siberian labour camps), Sepetys explores the event from the different perspectives of a group of young protagonists. The refugees came from Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the author builds her story around four contrasted fictional characters: Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a Polish teenager; Florian, a Prussian art preservationist; and Alfred, a punctilious Nazi soldier. They all have a secret; carrying their guilt, their fate, their shame, or their fear – or perhaps all four – as psychological burdens which they describe as “hunters” in the opening chapters.

Cover via Penguin


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Roehampton Readers: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Review: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

By Lorna Collins

The Bone Sparrow tells the story of 9-year-old Subhi, whose family have fled Burma (Myanmar) as a result of the persecution of the Muslim minority known as the Rohingya. Subhi, however, knows nothing of his homeland, since he was born in the Australian detention centre in which the story is set.

bone sparrow
Cover via Hachette Children’s Group

Subhi’s life consists of permanent hunger, constant threats from other detainees as well as from the ‘Jackets’ who run the centre, interspersed with involvement in smuggling packages for older members of his ‘family group’.  His only escape is the magical ‘Night Sea’ of his mother’s stories which he believes brings him gifts. We later discover these ‘gifts’ are left by Queeny, his seemingly heartless sister as  mementos of their father, knowing (as Subhi does not) that they will never see him again.

Jimmie, a girl who lives outside the centre, manages to get in through a hole in the fence. Her mother had died 3 years previously and we gradually learn that she has been pretty well ignored by her father since then, resulting in her skipping school and being unable to read. She carries with her a book of stories written by her mother which she longs to read. Subhi is able to read and longs to hear fresh stories, since his mother, previously an avid story teller, seems to have given up altogether. The two children quickly form a bond. Jimmie also able to bring with her a thermos of hot chocolate which is an unimaginable delight to Subhi.

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Roehampton Readers: Beck by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff

Review: Beck by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff

By Lesley Smith

Beck is a picaresque coming-of-age novel set in the first half of the twentieth century. The central character is a mixed-race orphan who suffers from physical, sexual, emotional and racial abuse, but eventually finds his place in the world.

Cover via Walker Books

Prejudice influences his very conception, as his mother meets his father when he is drinking beer in a street in Liverpool. A black sailor, he has been refused entry to the pub. After his family all die in a flu epidemic, Beck endures three years of harsh treatment in an orphanage. He is then shipped to Montreal to lodge temporarily in a home run by Catholic priests and learns to nurture plants in the priests’ vegetable garden. This learning serves him well in later years, but the abiding memory of this time, and one which comes back to haunt him again and again, warping his attitude towards any kind of loving relationship, is the appalling physical and sexual abuse he suffers from the priests.


Sent to work on a farm, Beck is despised, half-starved and made to sleep in a barn because his skin is black. He runs away, but has a long way to travel before he finds a place where he can be properly accepted. The plot takes us on a considerable journey through Beck’s formative years and across Canada, although sometimes whole years are left out of the story and the reader is left wondering how Beck managed to survive during these periods. A pivotal moment is his meeting with an older woman called Grace. She is also of mixed race, but she has created a role for herself within the indigenous Blackfoot tribe who are themselves viewed as outcasts by society as a whole.

Continue reading “Roehampton Readers: Beck by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff”