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Be warned: don't judge a book by its cover

15,000 pupils voted for their favourite tale in the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books

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15,000 pupils voted for their favourite tale in the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books

What do Manfred the Baddie, Helen Strang and Ross's friends have in common? Apart from being brave and adventurous, they are all main characters in the three books given top votes this week by 15,000 pupils in the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books.

This year's winning authors - John Fardell, Lari Don and Keith Gray - can be proud of their accolade. It has been bestowed by a record number of children voting for their favourite shortlisted book - over 5,000 more than last year.

The participation levels are a matter of real pride for the organisers, the Scottish Book Trust, says Anna Gibbons, its children's programme manager.

Manfred the Baddie is the winner of the early years category. The authorillustrator John Fardell has had a wide and varied career - potato picker, toilet cleaner, care-worker, drama student, film extra, door-to- door salesman, pierrot, barman, and viola player. But, mostly, he has earned his living as a freelance cartoonist, illustrator, and occasional designer of puppet theatre shows.

Now he can be credited with introducing the word "henchmen" to the vocabulary of his young readers. What a wonderful word for a five-year-old - and just about every young reviewer of his book had the word liberally scattered through their text.

"Manfred had henchmen and they were mean like Manfred. Manfred kidnaps inventors and makes them build evil inventions," explains one of the reviewers, Neve, aged 10.

Then Manfred the Baddie turns into Manfred the Goodie when he realises that he has no friends. But as in some of the best books, there is a final twist in the story - Manfred can't resist being naughty again and rings a doorbell at the dead of night.

"I felt upset when he turned bad again," writes Caitlin, 7, while Keiran, 10, likes it when Manfred returns to his former ways - it shows he is still "naughty and funny".

Winner of the young readers' category (age 8-11) was First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts. This is Lari Don's first children's novel, and what a debut!

The central character, Helen Strang, is the daughter of a veterinary surgeon, who uses her mother's equipment to treat an injured centaur - an act which leads her into an odyssey of adventures with a group of mythical beasts as they try to solve a series of riddles.

The title of the book may not have instant appeal for boys in this age group. But once they open its front page, they are likely to be as captivated as the girls. It's a "five-star tale", writes Hansine, from Flora Stevenson Primary in Edinburgh.

Don't judge a book by its cover, counsels Olivia Steven, 13, from Uddingston Grammar in South Lanarkshire, who reviewed the older readers' category (age 12-16), won by Keith Gray's Ostrich Boys. "Judging solely by the title, blurb and front cover - and the fact it varies somewhat from books I usually choose," I would have overlooked it, she says.

"However, it defied all my expectations," she adds, describing its plot of three boys who steal their friend Ross's ashes and take them from Cleethorpe in England to the Scottish village, Ross, as "enthralling". On this "road book" with a difference, the friends eventually confront the truth they have desperately tried to avoid - that Ross committed suicide.

As Olivia says, "this is not just an inspirational book, but a thought- provoking life lesson".

Each of the winning authors receives pound;3,000, but a further reward will be the knowledge that this year, nearly 30,000 children from all over Scotland were involved in the awards, supported by The TESS.

The majority read the books and sent in their votes; others took part in a paired reading scheme, wrote book reviews or entered the associated Gaelic or Scots creative writing competition.

This year, for the first time, the Scottish Book Trust teamed up with the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland, which transcribed all nine shortlisted books into Braille, audio and large print. This allowed hundreds of blind and partially-sighted children to take part in the judging for the first time.

John Legg, director of RNIB Scotland, says: "2009 is the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille, so we are delighted that young people with sight loss were able to fully participate in this year's awards.

"Whether an author's words are seen, touched or heard, the skill and feeling conveyed in the story can still be enjoyed by all."

Julie Morrison, head of external relations for Royal Mail, the main sponsors of the award, adds: "Helping to promote literacy is a fundamental goal of Royal Mail. Not only is good literacy vital for society in general, it is crucial to the future of our business. If the next generation can read, write and send letters, cards and postcards, the future for us all is very bright indeed."

Winning reviewers

Early years category

  1. Jessica Stuart, 6, George Heriot's School, Edinburgh
  2. Chloe Little, 7, Castle Douglas Primary, Dumfries and Galloway
  3. Sophie Graham, 5, Tong School, Western Isles
    1. Young readers' category

      1. Sophie Doig, 11, St Brigid's Primary, Glasgow
      2. Hansine Marshall, 10, Flora Stevenson Primary, Edinburgh
      3. Bronwyn Gowenlock, 10, Rocking Rolling Raging Random Reading Rangers reading group in Haddington
        1. Older readers' category

          1. Olivia Steven, 13, Uddingston Grammar, South Lanarkshire
          2. Ryan MacKenzie, 14, Buckie High, Aberdeenshire
          3. Tamzene Allison, 12, Fortrose Academy, Highland
            1. Winning reviewers receive book tokens worth pound;25, pound;15 and pound;10 respectively. The winning author will also visit the school of each category winner.

              Award winners

              Early years (0-7)

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