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.

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.

beck

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.

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Roehampton Readers: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Review: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

By Julie Mills

Frank Cottrell Boyce won the Carnegie award for Millions (2004) and his novels have been regularly shortlisted/nominated for the Carnegie medal since then. His children’s novels include Framed (2005), Cosmic (2008), The Unforgotten Coat (2011) and The Astounding Broccoli Boy (2015). He has also revived Ian Fleming’s famous flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (2011).

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth gives us a hearty helping of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s humour and fantasy whilst being grounded in the not so wonderful life of Prez, a young boy who is living in temporary care. It is a boy-orientated narrative with episodic flights of fancy and imagination.

sputnik

Cover via Pan Macmillan

The flights of fancy are great investigations of “what if?” – What if the remote control really could rewind real life? Or a reverse explosion could rebuild Hadrian’s Wall? Or the supermarket self check-out gave you money and not the other way around? – all delivered with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s trademark humour. These sequences also allow him to explore big themes: time, ageing, death, love, home (Life, the universe and everything?). The story also gives insight into the experience of children who are carers, living with dementia and life in care for both young and old.

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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: Shadowing Carnegie and Greenaway 2017

Carnegie Greenway MedalsRoehampton 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. NCRCL MA student Nicki Oakes-Monger, who coordinates the group with fellow MA student Judy Digby, reflects on their summer outing and this year’s shadowing experience.

Carnegie group outing

 

Here we are, the Roehampton Readers shadowing group, composed of current and former Children’s Literature MA students on our summer outing to Chawton, Hampshire. We had a private tour of Chawton House Library where Jane Austen’s relatives lived and which now houses a collection of early women’s writing, including some books written for the instruction of children. We also visited the house where Jane herself lived and which is now a museum. All this was interspersed with the consumption of plenty of coffee and cakes!

We have been meeting as a group for the past four years over the summer in the weeks leading up to the selection of the Carnegie and Greenaway winners. In the past year we have also met up regularly to talk about past award-winning books. It is enjoyable to get together with other people who have a strong interest in children’s literature and the discussions often go into considerable depth, which is a stimulating experience.

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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

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: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

Review: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

By Anne Malewski

oliver-jeffers

Image via Kate Greenaway

Once upon an Oliver, we met a boy with a penguin friend, a curious girl who put her heart in a bottle, a moose that belongs to no one, a bear who was a paperplane enthusiast, and many more who, I daresay, live happily ever after in readers’ minds.

Those picturebooks are excellent both in content and form, as are his paintings and music videos. Without losing his distinct style, Oliver Jeffers keeps exploring and experimenting enthusiastically and he has outdone himself with Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for all the Letters (2014). Again.

Jeffers has reimagined the concept of alphabet books, shifting the emphasis from educational to inspirational (where Once Upon an Alphabet imparts information, on dark matter for example, it does so cheekily and sneakily). Lovingly dedicated to the letters without whom words and sentences and stories would be impossible, his book celebrates each letter with a short story of its own. Not to explain letters but for the letters.

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