Somewhere between Valentine's Day and Easter eggs comes the shortlist for the Red House Children's Book Award and the ensuing flurry of book testing (horrible word, but it means assessment by children for child appeal and readability) in the National Federation of Book Groups' network of children's reading groups, most of them school-based across key stages 1 to 3.
Child voters have chosen the following top 10 titles from which winners in three age groups and an overall winner will be chosen (again, entirely by children) in time for presentation day in June. Books for younger children: The Gruffalo's Child by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (pictured, Macmillan); Open Wide by Tom Barber and Lynne Chapman (Chrysalis); Baby Brains by Simon James (Walker Books); There's No Such Thing as a Ghostie by Cressida Cowell and Holly Swain (Puffin). Books for younger readers: Clarice Bean Spells Trouble by Lauren Child (Orchard); Best Friends by Jacqueline Wilson (Doubleday); The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer (Puffin). Books for older readers: Eragon by Christopher Paolini (Random House); The Recruit by Robert Muchamore (Hodder); The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson (Macmillan). See www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk for full details of the prize, including the forthcoming "Top 50" list and links to the federation's other activities.
There must be a few future Reading Champions (boys who help motivate other reluctant males to read) in a Red House Award testing group near you. The National Literacy Trust, which has been celebrating the work of book-hungry fathers, grandfathers, and male teachers, librarians and pupils in five years of its Champions scheme, is now running a pilot programme for seven schools in Swindon, Leicester and London.
Schools can tailor their own awards: bronze (for joining a reading group, for example); silver (for being a reading mentor or buddy, or taking a wider organisational role); and gold (for effort far above average, such as running Readathon). A survey of participants will reveal how, why and what boys most like to read, and their ideas for promoting books. See www.readon.org.uk to keep up with developments and sign up to the National Reading Campaign newsletter.