Books that have changed minds

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
Hidden animals, ghosts and teen romance have converted even reluctant readers into expert book critics. Gillian Macdonald reports.Why have Scottish children's book awards? And why involve thousands of youngsters in judging panels all over the country? It might be simpler to have an expert panel choosing the winners. But for anyone reading the hundreds of reviews children have sent in, the answer is clear to see.

"This book made me feel great and happy." (Katie's Moose)

"I don't actually like reading. When my teacher first read the start of the book to the class, I was fidgeting then it got interesting ... This book has changed my mind about reading." (Chill)

"This is something I can relate to, because my parents have split up and I know how it feels." (Scarlett)

The emotions tumble out in the children's reviews, as they are happy, scared, sad, excited, moved, inspired and enthralled by what they discover. And these are books they might never have read, had their teachers and librarians not encouraged them to sign up.

More than 8,500 children took part in judging the nine books shortlisted for this year's Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book Awards, organised by the Scottish Book Trust and sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council and TES Scotland. And over 4,200 of these cast their votes. The winners were announced yesterday at a ceremony in Glasgow.

Three-quarters of the votes came from the youngest category, where teachers could involve children as a whole-class project. "A nice development this year is the number of teachers who have used the picture book category with learning support pupils in a paired reading scheme with younger pupils in the school," says Anna Gibbons, children's programme manager with the Scottish Book Trust.

There were three books for each age group to read, starting with Katie's Moose by James Robertson, Matthew Fitt and Karen Sutherland, Dan and Diesel by Charlotte Hudson and Lindsay Gardiner, and Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner for early years (0-7). For young readers (aged 8-11), there was The Flight of the Silver Turtle by John Fardell, Chill by Alex Nye, and The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan. And for 12 to 16 year olds, there was The Medici Seal by Theresa Breslin, Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy, and Nemesis: Into the Shadows by Catherine MacPhail.

Competition for best teenage book was particularly hot, with 29 votes between the winner and runner-up - "testament to the quality of the books on the shortlist," says Ms Gibbons.

But this year's winners are: Katie's Moose (published by Itchycoo); Chill (Floris Books) and Scarlett (Puffin). The authors will receive prizes of pound;3,000 each, with pound;500 for the runners-up.

Katie's Moose, in which Katie had to find all her animals who were hiding, was funny and exciting, says Ryan Todd, 5, of George Heriot's School in Edinburgh, whose review was scribed by Katie Smith, 11. The girl in the book had to look for the dug, the pig, the craw, the coo and her wee moose. "I thought having all the flaps to lift made the story even more exciting," says Ryan. "It was funny and well written".

Chill instilled quite different feelings in the eight to 11 year olds. They enjoyed being scared by this ghost story about a boy trapped in an old remote house. Nahla Mohamed, 11, of St Brigid's Primary in Glasgow, "liked the way Alex Nye developed the characters because it gives me a clue what they are like".

The winner of the teenage category, Scarlett, was perhaps more of a girl's book, thought Robert Mason, 14, of Perth Academy: "It has a really girly style cover but what matters is it is still a good story."

Scarlett is a young rebel sent to stay with her dad and his new family when her mother can no longer cope with her. Elena Stuart, 12, of St Paul's High in Glasgow, chose it because it had "adventures, cliff-hangers and teenage romance!" But in the end, she was "mesmerised by all the emotion and care the author put into this book".

This is only the second year of the awards, which also include a Gaelic winner announced in May - Uspaig agus S-S by Marie Macaulay and Kathleen MacInnes.

But, as Julie Morrison, head of external relations for Royal Mail, says: "Children and young people throughout Scotland have taken these awards to their hearts. Not only have they taken time to read the books and vote on which ones inspired them, but they have also reviewed the books and authors at the same time."

Winners of the review competition

Prize - an author visit to their school and book tokens.

Early years (aged 0-7): My favourite book is Dan and Diesel. It is about a boy and his dog. The boy is blind and his dog can help him to see and he is a guide dog. The best bit was when Dan played a boogaloo tune. The book made me feel happy because I can see. Ross Duncan, 6, Macduff Primary, Aberdeenshire.

Young readers (8-11): I would like to recommend a book called the Flight of the Silver Turtle. It's an action-packed adventure about a planeboatcar. It's well worth reading even if you're picky about what you read. If you like getting lost in another world, then this is the book for you. It has superb ideas that no author whose book I've read has dared to write before, like children flying a plane and children diving in dangerous waters. All the characters have their own unique personality, so whatever your personality is like you're bound to like one character in this book ... Lewis McAllister, 11, Drymen Primary, Stirling.

Older readers (12-16): When I picked up The Medici Seal, I was expecting a sort of Da Vinci Code for kids. While mystery is central to the plot in this case also, other elements are skilfully included. When the storyline is not grabbing you with its high adventure and tales of friendship, you'll want to immerse yourself in the captivating world of the 15th century or discover more about the fascinating personalities. All these elements make the story a very enjoyable read, which draws you into its world ... Though at times it doesn't have the pace of other books up for the prize (particularly Nemisis: Into the Shadows), this is no bad thing, as the atmosphere is so enjoyable ... Scott Reid, age 13, Buckie Community High, Moray.

Winner of the Gaelic review: Molly Todd, 9, Inverness Gaelic Primary.

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