9 April 2011

16. Sparks by Ally Kennen

Sparks was one of three books shortlisted for the Solihull Children's Book Award which I am involved in peripherally. Some of the students in my Book Club read and voted for their choice for the winner, and we attended the ceremony as well, which, as always was great. This year, two of my students were also asked to announce the winner and present the award which was a lovely opportunity for them and they did us proud. The SCBA is great because the shortlisted authors all come to the awards ceremony which is attended by children from Solihull who have read and voted. The children get the opportunity to meet the authors and have books signed afterwards so it's a really accessible award for children to get involved in.

Whilst The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh ended up winning, Sparks was my personal favourite. I started reading it in a hurry to try and read all the shortlisted novels before the ceremony and was pleasantly surprised to find myself genuinely really enjoying it. 

It's the story of Carla, and her brother and sister, whose Grandpa dies suddenly one half term holiday. Whilst their parents are organising a normal funeral, Carla finds a letter that her Grandpa left her where he writes of his desire to have a traditional Viking funeral where a body is put onto a burning boat and floated out to sea. He writes though that he knows that this is illegal so asks Carla to burn some old letters like this instead. However this gets Carla thinking about whether she and her siblings could actually pull of a proper Viking funeral and so begins the epic task of giving Grandpa the Viking funeral he always dreamed of.

The novel is a mature mix of action and family and teen drama and Ally Kennen cleanly mixes the two to make a young adult novel that is rather difficult to categorise although probably ultimately falls under adventure. There are some genuinely exciting parts such as when Carla and her siblings attempt a test run with a toy boat which causes a security alert at the nearby nuclear plant as well as some very touching moment with some very realistic portrayals of the way a loving family deals with grief.

Reading it as an adult there's the constant feeling of 'How on earth are they going to actually steal a corpse from the undertakers, get it on a boat and set it on fire', a question which didn't bother younger readers. These conundrums are dealt with in a vaguely realistic manner and the ultimate plan is more convincing than it should be, down to Kennen's great writing.

To top it off, Ally Kennen is a funny and friendly author who my students loved when they met her. Her five minute talk at the award ceremony was great and she was super friendly to every child who wanted an autograph which goes a long way in my book.

Sparks is a great young adult book (although some of my student readers commented on the fact that they found it too sad - it's not a sad book per se but the idea of a grandparents death affected some of them quite severely). I shall eagerly anticipate whatever Kennen writes next. 

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