From desktop to bookshop in four hours

Desktop publishing held no fears for a class of 10 to 11-year-olds, writes Patricia Cleveland-Peck

Sir Cliff Richard and John Major rub shoulders in a booklet published by 26 primary school pupils in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, although the Queen turned down the chance to be included.

The project, which raised Pounds 400 for a children's hospice, was conducted in response to a challenge from Radio Cambridgeshire to the school to produce a book in four hours.

Celia Griffiths, who teaches 10 to 11-year-olds at Abbots Ripton Church of England primary school, had the idea of making an anthology of famous people's reading habits.

Each child chose two people - a "famous" person and a children's author - and sent them a letter and a questionnaire. "The first to answer was Sir Cliff Richard, and the last, right on the day of our production deadline, was John Major," Mrs Griffiths says.

Once all the replies were in, John Impey, information technology teacher at nearby St Peter's comprehensive school, explained the basics of book production and layout to the pupils. "He told us how many pages a book had to have. For our book it had to be 32. It's something to do with folding the paper," says 11-year-old Tod Ledwith.

The children then edited the 25 replies they had received, allowing each subject 60 to 70 words. They had asked the "famous" people questions about their favourite writers when they were children, their favourite writer now, what time of day they liked to read and which book they would take to a desert island.

From these replies interesting entries had to be created. "We didn't just want lists," says Mrs Griffiths. "But individual children were responsible for individual entries, so letting them do the editing themselves ensured variety. "

For the front cover the children picked the stick-children logo of the children's hospice at nearby Milton (which they had chosen to be the recipient of any funds raised by the challenge), as well as their own school's shield.

Pre-publication preparations ended with each child doing a relevant drawing to accompany his or her "famous" person's entry. Then the whole operation moved to St Peter's for the real challenge. There, with the assistance of John Impey, the class got down to some intensive desktop publishing - the booklet was completed with just 15 minutes to spare.

Flushed with success the children then boarded a double-decker bus decorated with balloons and, accompanied by television cameras from Look East, the local BBC news programme, rushed the publication - Famous Favourites - to W H Smith's in Huntingdon, where it was put on sale at Pounds 2 per copy. It makes illuminating reading.

The favourite book of the young Betty Boothroyd, now Speaker of the House of Commons, was Little Women. Now it is War and Peace. TV presenter Noel Edmonds's favourite as a child was The Wind in the Willows. Now although he is "not a great book reader", he tends to take biographies on holiday. Sir Cliff Richard enjoyed the Biggles books as a child and would take his Bible to a desert island. And John Major? His favourite boyhood author was Rudyard Kipling. Now he prefers Robert Goddard. The book he would take to a desert island is the three-volume Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.

As well as the Queen, there were other disappointments. Unlike Her Majesty, few of the footballers or pop stars bothered even to reply. Twice as many authors replied as other celebrities.

There were also a few misunderstandings, as illustrated by the entry for author Noel Streatfeild. It reads: "Unfortunately Noel passed away without me knowing. I was surprised to learn she was a lady. But her nephew wrote back . . ."

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