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Children rush to be book judges

A call has gone out for more schools and libraries to join the voting for the new Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book Awards, writes Gillian Macdonald

About 3,500 children have already signed up to judge the national Scottish children's book awards, launched last month, but there is still time for schools and libraries to join in.

The Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book Awards, sponsored by TES Scotland, replace the Scottish Arts Council prize for Scottish children's books and form an important part of the literary calendar.

Instead of being judged by adults, a shortlist of books published by Scottish writers in 2005 has been selected by an adult panel and put out to children all over the country to judge.

"We are thrilled with the response," says Anna Gibbons, the Scottish Book Trust manager of Braw (Books, Reading and Writing), the network for children's books in Scotland, which organises the awards.

"Our original target was to involve 1,000 kids in the awards and this number was exceeded within five hours of the shortlist being announced.

"I think it shows there is a real desire in schools to get involved in initiatives which bring books and reading alive for children."

There are three categories for the awards. So far 928 children (41 schools and libraries) have signed up for the early readers group (up to 7 years old); 1,482 children (78 schools and libraries) for the 8-12 years group; and 955 teenagers (68 schools) for the 13-16 years group.

Each group will judge three books. They are expected to start reading in August and have until November 13 to vote, but some have been eager to start straight away, says Ms Gibbons.

The children who take part will have a treat in store, with some outstanding literature offered to them, say the shortlist judges. The early years group will enjoy looking at The Sea Mice and the Stars by Kenneth Steven and Louise Ho, Little Lost Cowboy by Simon Puttock and Caroline Jayne Church, and Charlie Cook's Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. These are beautiful books with a lot for children to appreciate.

The 8- to 12-year-olds will have fun with Deep Water by Debi Gliori, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling and The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard. Many will have read the Harry Potter novel already, but they will have a new chance to engage in debate about its virtues and see how it stands up against other books in the same age range. The very variety of books in this category - from the fun to the magical to the historical - should make for interesting dialogue.

The teenage books were deemed the strongest category by the selecting committee, with each book recommended for boys and girls. The challenge will be to encourage boys to open a book with the title Roxy's Baby (by Catherine MacPhail) or a pony on the cover (Green Jasper, by K. M. Grant) or one about witches (The Drowning Pond, by Catherine Forde). One suggestion from the committee, who chose the books despite these difficulties because they were so outstanding, was to consider putting a brown cover on them to help boys overcome their prejudices. The advice for publishers was to be more considered in their choice of book titles and covers for this age group.

The organisers hope the judging will encourage thousands of children to read for enjoyment. At the same time, it will provide a structured activity for that strand of the English curriculum and get pupils talking and writing about books while discovering the best of contemporary Scottish writing.

The judging could also feed into the curriculum in other ways, says Ms Gibbons, quoting the organisers of the Dundee City of Discovery Picture Book prize, who suggest citizenship (voting democratically), creativity (displays based on the shortlisted books or designing book jackets) and personal and social education (giving children responsibility for running the judging group or encouraging paired reading, perhaps with younger pupils).

Braw is also running a competition for the best reviews of the shortlisted titles. The young judges are invited to send in 100-150 word reviews for the Braw website. They can be submitted on special postcards which Braw will send out to groups at the beginning of the autumn term or in a letter or emailed. The best reviewer in each category will be invited to an awards ceremony in Edinburgh on November 27.

Julie Morrison, head of external relations for the Royal Mail Group in Scotland, says: "We're looking forward to hearing what children throughout Scotland think about the shortlist when they vote and we encourage them all to do so, as that will help to make these awards a real reflection on what young people think of Scottish children's books." Macdonald is assistant editor of TES Scotland and a member of the awards selection committee


Braw suggests talking to children to find out how they would like their book group to run. Things to decide at the start include:

* How often to meet, where and when.

* How long each session will last: perhaps one hour or 45 minutes. It may take a few meetings to decide what works best.

* Will there be reading time in the sessions or will children do the required reading before they come?

* Whether to set a target of how much to read for each session.

* The order in which the books are read.

What to talk about?

Try starting with the basics:

* Is there anything the children would like to talk about?

* Are they enjoying the book?

* Is there anything they particularly like about it?

* Is there anything they particularly dislike?

* Do they have a favourite character? Why?

Additional topics:

* Has anyone done any research on the author? Does the author have their own website they could look at? Are there details of the author on the Braw website?

* Have they read anything by this author before? Is this book better or worse than the one(s) they have read before?

* Does the book cover reflect what the book is about? If not, what could they do to improve it?


Category 1:

0-7 years

The Sea Mice and the Stars

by Kenneth Steven and Louise Ho (Little Tiger Press)

What the selection committtee says:

"A magical book in a lyrical style with illuminating illustrations."

Little Lost Cowboy

by Simon Puttock and Caroline Jayne Church (Oxford University Press)

"A heartwarming tale about a lost coyote pup. Humorous and well written, with a host of other animals playing their support roles perfectly, this picture book reads aloud brilliantly."

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book

by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Macmillan Children's Books)

"The illustrations and text offer perfect support to one another and together they present numerous opportunities for further storytelling."

Category 2:

8-12 years

Deep Water

by Debi Gliori (Doubleday)

"Full of humour, adventure and captivating characters."

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by J. K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)

"A fantastically well written and gripping read that definitely lived up to expectations."

The Sign of the Black Dagger

by Joan Lingard (Puffin Books)

"The perfect mystery suspense story."

Category 3:

13-16 years

The Drowning Pond

by Catherine Forde (Longman)

"A chilling dark experience of power games played out by girls, with an authentic teen voice."

Roxy's Baby

by Catherine MacPhail (Bloomsbury)

"A fast-paced, gripping thriller for girls and boys."

Green Jasper

by K. M. Grant (Puffin Books)

"A really good, page-turning adventure about the Crusades."

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