A children's tale for every taste

Added variety is spicing up the literary offerings in this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards

Elizabeth Buie

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Crazy critters, comedy and a blend of fact and fiction - this year's shortlist for the Scottish Children's Book Awards has something for all tastes.

Run by Scottish Book Trust in partnership with Creative Scotland, and supported by TESS, the awards are an annual celebration of the quality of writing in this country aimed at the very youngest children up to young adults.

"The main aim is to generate a real buzz around reading," says Chris Newton, acting children's programme manager at the book trust. "It's a fact that most children these days are pretty comfortable in front of a computer or a TV screen, but if you can get them laughing at a good book or engrossed in a thrilling story, they're more likely to see reading as something which is an enjoyable alternative to other activities."

What makes this award unique among national book awards is that it is the young readers who have the final say on who wins each of the three categories: Bookbug readers (0-7 years), younger readers (8-11) and older readers (12-16).

The three shortlisted titles for each category were announced this week, so children and teenagers have plenty of time to register their votes by the deadline of 31 December. Last year, a record 23,000 young readers took part - significantly up on the 16,000 of 2010 - so this year's participants (and the teachers and librarians who support them) have a challenging target to beat.

The youngest Bookbug readers have the most visually enticing feast with some beautifully illustrated books to choose from. It is a literary feast too in the case of The Day Louis Got Eaten, by John Fardell, in which a little boy's sister reacts stoically after he is gobbled up by a succession of fearsome-looking monsters. The storyline certainly whetted the appetite of five-year-old Milo from South Morningside Primary in Edinburgh, who commented: "I liked how the girl made lots of machines with her bike to save her brother, by using bits of wood that were on the beach."

Milo also liked Julia Donaldson's story Jack and the Flumflum Tree, which follows Jack's quest to the Isle of Blowyernose to find a cure for his granny's moozles, because the tree "had lots of wiggly things with no branches and a purple spotty fruit on it".

Catherine Rayner's beautifully illustrated Solomon Crocodile is about a mischievous reptile who becomes crestfallen after annoying everyone else in the animal kingdom - until he finds a soulmate. Milo is attracted by the book's drawings, "especially the one with grass like a savannah and the one with leaves of different colours, light green, dark green, pink and yellow".

The younger readers' shortlist offers a great variety of styles. Edinburgh-based Soldier's Game, by James Killgore, tells the story of a Bruntsfield Primary pupil with a love for football, who learns that his great-grandfather not only played for Hearts but was one of the players who joined a batallion of volunteers to fight in the First World War. Jeremy, 10, from George Heriot's School, said the book felt "very personal and close to home because it was set in Edinburgh"; the contrast of truth and fiction in the same book worked well, in his opinion.

Cathy MacPhail's Out of the Depths confronts the challenging topic of a child being murdered in a school, but this did not put off Eilidh, 10, also from George Heriot's, who declared it a "terrifying fantasy for older readers" and "the fabulous first in a series".

World of Norm: May Contain Nuts, by Jonathan Meres, could not be more different. It is the laugh-out-loud story of Norm, for whom a great many things go wrong after he moves to a new house - from his dad's snoring to his own inability to find the toilet in the middle of the night. Pupils will relate to the young hero's misadventures - and as David from George Heriot's says: "It makes you feel like you could actually be there."

Readers aged 12-16 also face a real contrast in styles. Barry Hutchison's The 13th Horseman combines humour with fantasy and has, as Ryan from Dunfermline High says, "an amazing storyline". The remaining two books have their roots in historical fact but to varying degrees employ fictional narrative. Code Name Verity, a tale of espionage, torture and female derring-do, offers "a different perspective from the countless other World War II books", in Ryan's opinion, while The Prince Who Walked With Lions tells the tale of an Abyssinian prince torn from his mountain home after his father's forces are beaten by the British Army, then placed in Rugby College by Queen Victoria.

- The Scottish Children's Book Awards are also supported by Crerar Hotels, Barcapel Foundation and Waterstones.

- Digital and audio versions of the shortlisted books are available from CALL Scotland at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.


Bookbug readers (0-7 years)

  • Jack and the Flumflum Tree by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by David Roberts (Macmillan)
  • The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell (Andersen Press)
  • Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner (Macmillan)
    • Younger readers (8-11)

      • Out of the Depths by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury)
      • Soldier's Game by James Killgore (Floris Books)
      • The World of Norm: May Contain Nuts by Jonathan Meres (Orchard)
        • Older readers (12-16)

          • The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison (Harper Collins)
          • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Electric Monkey)
          • The Prince Who Walked With Lions by Elizabeth Laird (Macmillan).

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    Elizabeth Buie

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