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Print, you may be damned

Authors on the shortlist of the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books should be afraid, very afraid. Emma Seith reports.

Adam is an eight-year-old who knows his own mind. Books that don't appeal are dismissed as "rubbish", but those that strike a chord have him hopping up and down with excitement.

Adam, a member of the Chatterbook group at Carmondean Library in Livingston, is one of thousands of youngsters who will be helping to judge the nine shortlisted titles in this year's Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books.

Already more than 5,000 children and over 100 reading groups have registered their intention to read and vote upon the shortlisted titles between now and November.

Like Adam, some youngsters have signed up through their local library. Others will be taking part through schools and book shops even members of the young supporters group at Gretna Football Club have taken up the challenge.

The shortlist consists of books published in 2006 by authors or illustrators born or resident in Scotland and is aimed at everyone from pre-school children to teenagers. It was chosen by a panel of literature and education professionals.

Adam has opted to begin with The Flight of the Silver Turtle by John Fardell, in the young readers (8-12) category.

Pat Fisher, senior library assistant who runs the group, is concerned the book might be a bit difficult. Adam reassures her he can cope. "I once read 32 chapters in one day," he happily reports.

Adam also intends taking part in the review competition running at the same time. For Mr Fardell's sake, one hopes his book is good.

Adam is not the only tough critic in this group the authors should beware: all eight children say they would have no qualms about giving a book no stars.

However, Irene Brough of West Lothian library services, an avid supporter of the awards, thinks it is unlikely that this fate will befall any of the books. "Children's book awards are very worthy," she says, "and the kids aren't necessarily interested, but the shortlist for these awards is really, really good and the books are well within the reach of the children."

Some 4,800 children, representing every local authority area in Scotland, participated last year, the first year of the competition, with 585 votes coming from children in West Lothian.

Grant, 10, also a member of the Carmondean library group, feels it's only right and proper that children decide the authors who deserve to win the UK's biggest prize for children's writing. He said: "Adults have different opinions to children. If children are judging, you'll get a more accurate result because we know best what children like."

Janet MacLeod, the headteacher of Highland's new Gaelic school in Inverness, which opened its doors for the first time last month, is delighted that this year the awards feature a Gaelic book. However, at Bunsgoil Ghaidhlig Inbhir Nis, pupils will be encouraged to vote for and review all the shortlisted books, whatever the language.

"The Gaelic section makes the Gaelic children feel more included and it also encourages Gaelic authors," she says. "I've been in Gaelic medium education for 20 years and there are a lot more books now than there were, but obviously being a minority language, we can't compete with children's literature in English. The Harry Potter books, for instance, are not available in Gaelic. But we recognise that all children have to be able to read and write in English, so they'll be taking part in all the different aspects of the competition."

As far as the winners are concerned, Ms Brough's money is on Scots language book Katie's Moose, in the under-seven category.

Certainly, back in Livingston, Robert, 8, is highly amused by the thought of a "coo on the loo". However, nothing will be decided before children finish casting their votes in November. The winner will be announced on November 22 at an awards ceremony.

The book awards are organised by BRAW, the children's arm of the Scottish Book Trust and sponsored by The TESS: awards

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