The Carnegie Medal, awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children, was established in 1936 in memory of the Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). A self-made industrialist who made his fortune in steel in the USA, Carnegie’s experience of using a library as a child led him to resolve that “If ever wealth came to me that it should be used to establish free libraries.” He set up more than 2,800 libraries across the English speaking world and by the time of his death over half the library authorities in Great Britain had Carnegie libraries.
CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Prez doesn’t talk anymore. He didn’t talk in The Temporary, where he was taken when his granddad started behaving oddly. He didn’t talk when The Family came, to take him to live on their farm in Dumfries for the summer. He is very good at listening though, which proves useful when a small, extremely talkative, mind-reading alien named Sputnik, arrives on The Family’s doorstep. Sputnik is on a mission; he needs Prez to show him ten reasons why Earth is worth saving, otherwise it will be shrunk to the size of a golf ball. Prez has no idea what to do – he can’t ask for help, because he doesn’t talk, and The Family also seem to think Sputnik is a small, yappy dog. Time is running out – how can Prez show Sputnik all the Wond
Wonderfully witty and wise this has the author’s trademark perfect blend of humour and pathos with realistic human characters existing within a tightly plotted, fantastically inventive and original adventure. There is a very satisfying complexity of ideas which make the reader think as well as laugh. This writer is particularly skilled at using fantasy to say something about the world we live in and how we relate to each other and it is the relationships which really matter. That between Prez and his grandfather with dementia is particularly well drawn and the ending of this uplifting story is both touching and credible.
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, the nice Jackets never stay long, and at night he dreams that the sea finds its way to his tent, bringing with it unusual treasures. And one day it brings him Jimmie. Carrying a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made out of bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.
Simply and innocently told from a child’s perspective this important and timely novel brings to life the risks people are willing to take to make their voices heard and the resilience of the human spirit. Subhi’s hauntingly evocative descriptions of life in the camp deftly capture the claustrophobic feel of the camp, whilst his vivid imagination and love of stories provide a much needed escape from the awful reality of his situation. The plot is skilfully executed, blending together the two different narratives of the main characters, allowing both to influence the other’s life and propelling the action forward. Finally, the credible and consistent ending offers hope, but no easy happy ending.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else. Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother. Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father. Alyce is staying at home to please her parents. Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers. Four very different lives are about to become entangled in these intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?
Not a word is wasted in these lyrical stories of family, romance, tragedy good fortune and redemption. Short chapters with alternating points of view immerse readers into multiple storylines where there is a tonal balance between a sense of urgency and great reflection. The four protagonists are subtly and so convincingly developed it is difficult to imagine they are not real people. The author has succeeded in creating a thoroughly convincing world.
The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard
Alice is 15, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone, but something inside her is broken. She has a brain injury, the result of an assault. Manny was once a child soldier. He is 16 and has lost all his family. Alice is reaching out to express herself through her beautiful-broken words, and Manny is running to escape his past. When Manny and Alice meet they find the beginnings of love and healing. The Stars at Oktober Bend is a powerful story about the strength of the human spirit.
Told in their distinctive and memorable narrative voices this is a wonderfully evocative tale of two damaged young people who find redemption and hope in their love for each other. The author’s use of poetry as a way for Alice to convey her innermost feelings and to reach out to the world around her, works extraordinarily well and the poems are simple and beautiful. The lyrical, outstanding writing throughout develops strong characterization and a vivid sense of place, as their tragic stories gradually unfold; building to a dramatic climax that brings each strand of the novel together in an intensely satisfying way.
Railhead by Philip Reeve
Zen Starling is a petty thief. A nobody. Destined to ride the rails to nowhere special. That is until Raven, a strange and mysterious figure, enlists him for one small job. One small job that might just bring everything in this galaxy, and the next, to the end of the line.
The novel is difficult to characterise being a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, romance and thriller. A whole world is built through very imaginative use of language which underpins a complex but well-constructed plot. A plot that is kept light, inventive and original, engaging and fast-paced throughout with clever use of humour and wit. The characters are easy to relate to; due to the realistic and interesting way they are portrayed, even minor characters are rounded and engaging. Through exploration of some of the non-human characters there is an exploration of what it is to be human whilst also exploring quite harsh criticisms of society in subtle ways. This is an engaging, emotionally satisfying read, using exciting language to draw the reader in.
Beck by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff
The final novel from Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet is a sweeping coming-of-age adventure, with all the characteristic beauty and strength of his prose. Born from a one-off liaison between a poor young woman and an African soldier in the 1900s, Beck is soon orphaned and sent to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. Shipped to work on a farm, his escape takes him across the continent in a search for belonging. Enduring abuse and many hardships, Beck has times of comfort and encouragement, eventually finding Grace, the woman with whom he can finally forge his life and shape his destiny as a young man. A picaresque novel set during the Depression as experienced by a young black man, it depicts great pain but has an uplifting and inspiring conclusion.
Gripping from start to finish, the writing in Beck is flawless, successfully balancing graphic cruelty with a gradual softening of tone as both the lead character and the story develop and grow. Beck himself, is witty, colloquial and utterly believable and heads up a cast of richly drawn, well rounded characters. This is a story that stays with readers reminding them that in spite of discrimination and hardship, there can be love, goodness and hope in the world.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories. They converge in a desperate attempt to board an overcrowded ship in a Baltic port, which is tragically then sunk by a torpedo. Based on a true story, the incident was the worst maritime tragedy ever.
Mood is perfectly handled throughout this novel as we follow the characters, first through feelings of weariness as the journey towards the port, to anxiety at the prospect of not gaining a ticket to board, to sickness and overcrowding once on-board and, finally, to both desperation and hope in a traumatic conclusion. The structure of the book works exceptionally well as short chapters tell the interwoven stories and slowly reveal the secrets of our four distinctive narrators. Engaging, interesting and, at times, terrifying characters abound as historical events are brought to life through their collective stories. This is a haunting and beautiful novel that breathes life into one of World War II’s most terrifying and little-known tragedies.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Annabelle has lived in Wolf Hollow all her life: a quiet place, still scarred by two world wars. But when cruel, manipulative Betty arrives in town, Annabelle’s calm world is shattered, along with everything she’s ever known about right and wrong. When Betty accuses gentle loner Toby – a traumatised ex-soldier – of a terrible act, Annabelle knows he’s innocent. Then Betty disappears . . . Now Annabelle must protect Toby from the spiraling accusations and hysteria, until she can prove to Wolf Hollow what really happened to Betty.
The language used in this novel exquisitely conveys the atmosphere of the 1940s American rural setting. The naivety of the voice vividly conveys the mores of the time and the young narrator. Every character is believable, well developed and fully rounded, combined with well observed small domestic details. This is a truthful exploration of a small-time attitudes and injustice without being overly sentimental, and exploring questions of morality within the confines of the story. In places, it has shades of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, making it a rich and satisfying read.
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