The shortlist for this year's Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books was announced yesterday - so with the news of the top three for each age group hot off the presses, pupils can start reading.
The awards, run by the Scottish Book Trust and supported by The TESS, celebrate the best of Scottish writers' and illustrators' work.
One of the key factors which make this the literary event of the year for young Scots is its high participation rate. Almost 30,000 youngsters took part last year, and already this year more than 15,569 have registered to vote through schools and libraries. So it looks as if the 2009 record could be exceeded.
The judging process is highly inclusive, with a shared-reading initiative funded by Crerar Hotels to encourage upper primary and S1 reluctant readers in five authorities to read the three books in the youngest category to P1-2 pupils.
For that, teachers in Fife, Perth and Kinross, Aberdeenshire, Highland and the Western Isles will receive additional books, continuing professional development on shared reading with former teacher and education consultant Catherine Howells and drama specialist Pam Wardell, and drama sessions for pupils delivered by Ms Wardell.
Yet again, the Scottish Book Trust is running a review competition - entries can be in English, Scots or Gaelic on any of the shortlisted books. And there is a linked writing competition for pupils in nursery to P3, P4-7, and S1-4, promoting Scots and Gaelic. The deadline for both is December 17.
The book awards are also very democratic, with schools and libraries setting up judging panels of children who will read the three books in their age category, then cast their votes online by January 28, 2011. The winners will be announced at a special ceremony at the Tramway in Glasgow on February 22, 2011.
There are three categories: 0-7 years; 8-11; and 12-16. The three books shortlisted in each have emerged, as always, from heated debate among a panel of readers made up of primary and secondary pupils; teachers and librarians from Aberdeenshire, Falkirk, Moray and Glasgow; representatives of the Scottish Book Trust, including its online teacher in residence, Michael Stephenson from Inveralmond High; independent bookshop the Watermill in Aberfeldy; and sponsors Royal Mail, Creative Scotland and TES Scotland.
The youngest category (0-7 years) is as full of fun, humour and colour as ever. This year, the most junior participants have been christened "Bookbug Readers" in recognition of the book trust's new role in promoting reading to young children through Bookbug, the successor to the Bookstart programme.
On the shortlist for Bookbug Readers, Simon Puttock's Love from Louisa, illustrated by Jo Kiddie, is the perfect vehicle for teachers to introduce the craft of letter-writing to pupils. Set in a farmyard, it has Louisa the "disgruntled" pig berating the farmer in anonymous letters about his messy yard.
What the Ladybird Heard, by Julia Donaldson and illustrator Lydia Monks, is also set on a farm, with a central character this time of a ladybird, who manages to outwit two baddies bent on skulduggery. It's not only colourful but tactile too, with its glittery ladybird trail.
Author and illustrator Debi Gliori often warms to weather-related or environmental themes. Stormy Weather takes the reader through tempestuous seasons to the gentle land of nod, as its baby animal characters snuggle up and drop off to sleep.
Readers in the 8-11 category will find their imaginations taking flight as they delve into their pick of three for this year. Invisible Fiends: Mr Mumbles by Barry Hutchison should probably carry a health warning along the lines of "do not read late at night if alone in the house!"
Lucinda Hare took the inspiration for The Dragon Whisperer from the menagerie of animals at her Edinburgh home. Although it's another fantasy book, it's very different from Invisible Fiends and from the final book in this section - John Fardell's The Secret of the Black Moon Moth, which contains lots of modern science but has a delightfully old-fashioned feel of the Boys' Own adventure story.
When it comes to describing the books in oldest category (12-16), "gritty" is the word that springs to mind for two of them - Crossing the Line by Gillian Philip and Grass by Cathy MacPhail. Both deal with tough teenage issues - in the first, it's the consequences of a stabbing, while in the second, a teenage boy witnesses a murder and becomes entangled in a gangland underworld.
The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird could not be more different. Set in 17th-century Scotland, it takes the reader back to the dark days of the Covenanters and witch-hunting.
- Bookbug Readers (0-7)
- What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (Macmillan)
- Love from Louisa by Simon Puttock and Jo Kiddie (Harper Collins)
- Stormy Weather by Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury)
- Younger Readers (8-11)
- Invisible Fiends: Mr Mumbles by Barry Hutchison (Harper Collins)
- The Secret of the Black Moon Moth by John Fardell (Faber)
- The Dragon Whisperer by Lucinda Hare (Bodley Head)
- Older Readers (12-16)
- Crossing the Line by Gillian Philip (Bloomsbury)
- The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird (Macmillan)
- Grass by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury).