My Lockdown Books: Nineteen

I’ve met Frank Cottrell Boyce and he’s a delightful man.  We should have met at the Carnegie Kate Greenaway Medal award ceremony in July 2005.  However, the devastation wreaked on London by terrorists the day before meant that the ceremony was cancelled.  Instead there was a much lower-key award made at the end of the summer in CILIP’s building in Bloomsbury.  I seem to recall that the judges and Frank convened on the pavement outside for photographs.  And as we hung around, we chatted.

The book we were celebrating was, of course, Millions.  I had enjoyed it very much and I continued to read Frank’s books after that, often reviewing them.  Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth came to me from Catherine at Macmillan with a post-it list attached.  That seemed a bit random to me and not something Catherine normally did.  However, once I’d read the book, it all made perfect sense.

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I felt a strange sense of recognition as I read on and gradually I realised that the book was set in and around Dumfries, the town in southern Scotland that we moved to as I was about to start school.  And it seemed to me that it was in fact set in my part of Dumfries as I wrote in my review for The Scotsman.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is whimsical, heart-wrenching and hilarious. Prez is a boy whose life has been turned upside down causing him to retreat into silence. But when Sputnik erupts into his life all that changes. For the better? Well, eventually. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are always enjoyable and this one, set in and around Dumfries, is no exception. As a very former pupil of Troqueer Primary I was delighted to find myself reading about my old haunts but wherever you’re from you’ll enjoy walking those streets with Prez, Sputnik and their friends.

As I said, I’ve read most of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books and it’s hard to choose you favourite book by an author you like but I think this might be mine.

Collecting the Carnegie

I first made an abortive attempt to collect a copy of every winner of the Carnegie Medal back in 2007 when I was involved in organising the Carnegie Children’s Book Festival in Dunfermline. I did track down some of the older titles but since then I’ve moved house twice and not all of them have survived those processes!  Now, ten years on as the eightieth anniversary of the Medal is celebrated, I’m starting again.

Some of the books have been part of my life for a long time irrespective of their Medal-winning status. It was The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton that first made me aware of the prize.  I borrowed it from Lossiemouth Library back in the day and the front cover had an image of the Medal on it.  I didn’t know what it was at that point but it was clear that it was significant. The Edge of the Cloud is still one of my favourite books – and I now have a signed copy, a treasured possession.  An even earlier acquisition is Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome, the very first winner.  I read all of the Swallows and Amazons books at a very early age and they remain on my shelves.  And so, in an aside, does Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick, a fictionalised account of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia.  It was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal but unaccountably didn’t win.

There are other winners on my shelves including the Scottish trio of The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater, The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter and Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin.  Naturally, I have A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce as I was involved in awarding those two Medals.  And as I looked back through the list of winners I realised that along the way I’ve acquired many others simply because they’re books I want to have: One by Sarah Crossan, Just in Case by Meg Rosoff, Tamar by Mal Peet,The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo, Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty, Wolf by Gillian Cross, The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Last Battle by CS Lewis, We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold, Visitors from London by Kitty Barne, The Circus is Coming by Noel Streatfeild and The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett.

So here we go again. Some will be easy to find as they’re still in print, others will be trickier and a few, I have no doubt, will be nigh on impossible. A Valley Grows Up anyone?  Or The Story of Your Home?  But I love a challenge!

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

I have never grown out of my delight at reading books set in places I know so when I realised that Frank Cottrell Boyce had set his latest book in Dumfries I was ridiculously excited.  In fact I felt it necessary to share my excitement with Catherine at Macmillan Children’s Books!  As a very former pupil of Troqueer Primary I was delighted to find myself reading about my old haunts but wherever you’re from you’ll enjoy walking those streets with Prez, Sputnik and their friends.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is whimsical, heart-wrenching and hilarious. Prez is a boy whose life has been turned upside down causing him to retreat into silence.  When his grandfather is taken ill, Prez is sent to live with a family on a farm for the summer and in their care he begins to relax.  But when Sputnik erupts into his life everything changes.  For the better?  Well, eventually.  Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are always enjoyable and this one, set in and around Dumfries, is no exception.