Roehampton Readers: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Review: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

By Clare Walters

Set in rural Western Pennsylvania, USA, in 1943, Wolf Hollow (2016) tells the story of 12-year-old Annabelle’s bruising experiences with an ‘incorrigible’, ‘dark-hearted’, older girl, Betty. It is a coming-of-age novel, a Bildungsroman, in which the protagonist goes through a period of intense psychological change over a matter of a few months. She transforms from a happy, innocent child into a more wary, but stronger and independent, young person who’s had first-hand acquaintance with the underbelly of humanity.

wolk uk cover

Cover via Puffin

The story, told in the first person, is narrated by a mature female voice, reflecting on a time when she was younger. The older Annabelle recalls how, during a few momentous months, she was forced to reconsider both her place in the world and her understanding of other people. She ‘learnt how to lie’, and discovered that what she said and what she did actually ‘mattered’ – that her actions directly affected others.

As Lauren Wolk explains in her video on the Carnegie shadowing website, Annabelle is a good girl, with a strong sense of right and wrong, who tries to solve a problem without recourse to her parents. In doing so, she discovers her own moral strengths and weaknesses. To cope with the situations before her, she has to face her own fear and draw on reserves of courage. Annabelle is both brave and loyal, but she is also subject to emotions such as anger and meanness (at one point she prays for Betty to get blisters from her encounter with some poison ivy). She also experiences constant confusion, as she’s unfamiliar with dealing with the difficult new challenges that tumble fast, one upon the other.

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Roehampton Readers: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi

Review: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

By Clare Walters


Cover via Heyday Books

The Fighting for Justice series ‘introduces young readers to real-life heroes and heroines of social progress’ through engaging words and pictures. This fascinating and beautifully produced book about a Japanese-American man who, along with approximately 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, was interned by the United States’ government during World War II certainly fits that bill, and would be suitable for children from top primary to lower secondary school age.

Although born, educated and living exclusively in the United States, after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, in which many American sailors were killed, Fred Korematsu was arrested as an ‘alien enemy’ and jailed. Two years on from his arrest, with the help of a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Fred argued in the Supreme Court that summarily imprisoning Japanese-American citizens violated their constitutional rights. He lost his case and was sent to a prison camp at Tanforan, south of San Francisco, where, with many other Japanese-American detainees,  he lived in appalling conditions in the horse stalls of a former race track.

Almost 40 years later, in 1983, Korematsu challenged the original court ruling – and this time he won. Subsequently he continued to campaign for social justice issues and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998. Now in America 30 January has been designated as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, and there is currently a movement to make this day a national federal holiday. Korematsu’s life history is quite a story… and it’s very well told in this impressive, well-researched, non-fiction title.

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Roehampton Readers: Tinder by Sally Gardner, drawings by David Roberts

Review: Tinder by Sally Gardner, drawings by David Roberts

A Shimmer of Wolves

By Clare Walters

In his video recording on the Carnegie Shadowing website, David Roberts explains how he created the wolves on the cover of Tinder by drawing them first in black pastel, then reversing the image out into white. He says that, by flipping it into negative, the image suddenly glowed and had a vibrancy. It shimmered.

This technique not only helps to create the steely, other-worldly luminosity of the wolves described in the

text, but also reflects the nature of the story – a dark ‘reversed out’ fairy tale (of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Tinder Box’) in which the negatives of war are revealed in a way that has particular meaning for a modern audience.

In her video recording on the Shadowing site, the author Sally Gardner says, ‘True fairy tale-telling is like playing with the piano – you have to know where to put the very heavy notes in and when you put the very light notes in. A good fairy tale is a mix of both, but this fairy tale is definitely more down on the dark.’

Roberts’ method of drawing the wolves directly reflects this theme of dark and light, and highlights the interconnectedness of the two states. By using monochromatic imagery, with a single spot colour of red, the illustrator, like the author, requires us to view this tale in terms of complementary opposites. This is an example of a close synergy between the text and illustrations – a Greenaway criterion – and there are others. The use of scale, for instance. We first see the protagonist on p29 as a diminished figure relegated to the bottom third of an empty pale gray page, as befits a young soldier bewildered by the death and destruction that surrounds him; while the silver man, who wields awesome power, cannot be fully contained within the page on p187. Another highly effective example of this synergy is the use of white text on smudged black for the dream sequences.

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Time & History in Children’s Literature

We asked Clare Walters, one of our MA in Children’s Literature alumna, to write about her experience auditing the Time and History module taught by Dr Lisa Sainsbury in Spring 2015.

All Things Must Pass

A reflection on the Time and History module for the Children’s Literature MA

Audited and reviewed by Clare Walters

The module began with a discussion of what might be meant by ‘historical fiction’. We loosely defined it as books that, at the time they were published, engaged with the past, often mixing in real historical characters with fictional ones. We noted that the nineteenth century texts – The Children of the New Forest and Kidnapped – reflected a fairly stable view of British history, but acknowledged that these books are now viewed in a different light. They are ‘doubly’ historical in that, being read years after first publication, they can reveal more about the time they were written than the period they describe. This was true even of the mid-twentieth century novel The Eagle of the Ninth.

A number of questions were posed of each text. Could a particular ideological framework could be identified, or a didactic purpose revealed? Were authenticity and accuracy of primary importance? And who was the implied reader? We applied these questions to fictional histories, too – those first-person novels where the narrative framework relies on an individual’s (potentially unreliable) memory, such as The Stonebook Quartet, Issac Campion and Code Name Verity. We discussed the inclusion of historical objects in fiction and asked whether these could provide continuity to the present; and we debated the role of images in the historical picturebook Rose Blanche.

Around Week Five the focus changed to the time-slip novels Charlotte Sometimes, A Stitch in Time and Midwinterblood, where the action shifts between various time frames. In these books less emphasis is placed on the historical and more on the personal. The text becomes an emotional dialogue between past and present, and there is often interplay between a linear structure of time (chronos), and a more mythical sense of time, in which significant moments repeat themselves (kairos).

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Carnegie Roehampton Readers Review: All the Truth That’s In Me

Carnegie Greenway MedalsThe Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at Roehampton University to discuss the books, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove. 

Review: All the Truth’s that In Me by Julie Berry

By Clare Walters

This is both a teen love story and a murder mystery, set in what appears to be a seventeenth century American Puritan village called Roswell Station. Four years before the novel begins, a 14-year-old girl called Lottie Pratt is murdered and her friend, Judith, the protagonist, is abducted. Two years later Judith returns to Roswell Station – minus part of her tongue. Silent, shunned and traumatised, Judith is a reclusive 18-year-old at the beginning of the story.

The novel is unusual in that it uses the ‘second person’ narrative form. That is, one of the main characters, Lucas – the object of Judith’s affections and the person to whom all her thoughts are addressed – is referred to primarily by the second-person pronoun ‘you’.* This gives the novel an epistolary feel, as if the central character were writing a letter, or telling her secrets to a diary. But early on the reader is made aware that, as a result of her inflicted injury, Judith cannot speak; nor can she write, owing to a minimal education. So it is clear the words on the page are Judith’s private thoughts, an interior dialogue with the man she has loved all her life.

858365This method of telling the story provides an intense intimacy, as if we, the readers, are literally inside Judith’s head. Because of this intimacy, Judith’s turbulent emotions of frustration, isolation and passion are rendered especially vivid. After her mutilation, the wider community of Roswell Station fear her, believing her silence indicates she is mentally defective and may even be cursed. But the reader shares Judith’s secret and knows that, rather than being a ‘half-wit’, she is intelligent, alert and hungry for knowledge.

Because the narrative stays focused entirely on Judith’s thoughts, there is a potential risk of the story becoming narrow and linear. But Berry maintains a varied change of pace by the inclusion of time-shift flashbacks to earlier periods, as Judith recalls snatches of events from her troubled past. These fractured memories provide clues to the present and, like pieces in a jigsaw, they help both Judith and the reader solve the mystery of exactly what happened on the night of Lottie’s death.

The novel is packed with racy action, from adultery, murder, assult and suspected rape, to full-on battle and courtroom showdown, enough drama for a modern-day soap opera. Yet each action has its own logic, stemming partly the nature of the restricted, highly conventional, society in which the novel is set – where prejudice and ignorance combine in a combustible cocktail – and partly from each character’s own personal flaws and strengths. A jealous man, driven wild by his wife’s adultery, becomes a recluse. An embittered mother, worn down by life’s hardships, rejects her child. A brave girl, constant in her love, wins her man.

Judith’s lack of speech is both physical and emotional, and the structure of the novel reflects this. Rather than traditional chapters, the book is divided into short, sometimes tentative, sections that echo the protagonist’s struggle to regain her voice and re-establish her confidence. Chapter titles are avoided, and instead each section is headed with a single Roman numeral. This not only allows for a smooth transition between sections, some of which are only a few lines long, but also subtly evokes a more traditional era in which Roman numerals were more widely used. Within each section, the sentences are short too, giving a choppy, almost breathy, sense of delivery.

But although the sentences are often brief, the writing style has a poetic quality to it. The action takes place in a community that is steeped in both the rhythms of the Bible and of the natural world, and the language Berry uses reflects these two pillars of life. With almost Biblical cadence, Judith says, ‘I’ve watched you open your door each morning, these two years since I came back. Watched your throat swallow cold creek water, heard your feet tread through the forest leaves, seen your hands steer the plough. Were all your labours and your living for nothing? All the beauty you brought into my life, shall it go unpaid?’ (page 63).

This poetic sensibility can also be seen in the use of lyrics and melody, for music speaks to Judith of past freedom and happiness. Prior to her mutilation, she sang with her father. And at the point at which she begins to regain some speech – when she is at last emerging from her virtual entombment – she recalls a love song he taught her and sings it afresh. ‘Again and again I sing, until the sound is limber, light and pure. What is this thing inside me that can make such sound, after so long? How could I have let it be stilled?’ (page 140) As well as the actual sentiments expressed, both the alliteration and the rhythm here emphasise the strength of Judith’s emotions and give the writing a memorable richness that lifts this novel out of the ordinary.

Although clearly set in the past, this tale deals with the universal themes of love, loyalty, courage, forgiveness and truth, which are perennially relevant to readers. There are also clear parallels with current twenty-first century issues. Girls, for instance, may identify with the right for women to be heard, to be educated and to be judged on an equal footing with men. Disabled readers may recognise Judith’s isolation. But it also portrays a society alien to our own current Western culture, particularly with regard to sexual mores, and this could challenge a young reader to engage with an alternative perspective. So, overall, I feel this book unequivocally meets the Carnegie aim of a book that shows ‘outstanding literary quality’ and that provides both ‘pleasure’ and ‘a real experience that is retained afterwards’.