Twenty-five winning stories from the first Cambridge Young Writers Award held last year are featured in I'm Telling You!, a collection of work by children in Years 2 to 6 who were invited to write about an important event in their everyday lives.
The book that results is a fascinating social document, which at least partially answers the question of what matters to today's children. And it's still learning to ride a bike, having one's ears pierced, or the day the cat ate the hamster - the familiar, comfortable stuff of childhood (comfortable when it's long over, anyway).
But for some writers, the everyday is not so cosy - as in the stories of Ellen Matkins from Kent, in which Dad attacks Mum and later commitssuicide, and of Curt Richardson from Nottingham, in which Mum escapes to a refuge with the kids. Terrorism drives Balvinder Atmi of Southall from his Afghanistan home, and back in Kent, bullying forces Emily Dickson to change schools. We have read about similar experiences before, but the accounts are fresh and often uncomfortably memorable.
Others are punchy and funny, such as the story by Bryan Clark from Bradford: "When I was six, I was going to the shop, in Skegness. I stood in wet cement and I was there for half an hour. By now the cement was drying and I got worried." Saved by his dad, he ends: "I thanked him all day."
New Cool Schol Stories features the three winners of Random House Children's Books' national short story competition on a schools theme for under-13s. Nick Corrin, 10, from Stockport contributes "A Devilish Dare", bringing real pathos and a nifty twist to the boarding school initiation rite. In "The Detention" by Primrose Lovett, 12, of Harrogate, a small classroom drama spirals into threats of vampirism. Catherine Sides, 10, of Worcester timewarps her protagonist to a Victorian classroom to show her the benefits of modern schools in "My School is Cool".
Novel-length stories from children's authors Ruth Thomas and Michael Coleman complete the book. These are both highly readable, entertaining pieces, but it's the kids who are the real stars. In all cases, these are impressive first outings.
Nicola Robinson The Random House competition was a one-off, but the Cambridge Young Writers Award will be repeated in 2001; information will be sent to primary schools this term and is available from Rosemary Hayes, Durhams Farmhouse, Butcher's Hill, Ickleton, Saffron Walden, Essex CB10 1SR. Telfax: 01799 531192, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Coming soon from CUP is Write Here, Write Now, a collection of winners' stories, poems, and plays from a competition for Years 4 and 5 pupils set up in association with the DFEE earlier this year. Jacqueline Wilson, Roger McGough, Alan Ayckbourn and Phil Redmond supplied the opening lines and the children did the rest.