`Pupils think, one day maybe I can do what he's doing'

6th March 2015 at 00:00
Award-winning authors praise the power of the school visit

More pupils should be given the chance to meet writers and illustrators during school visits, according to some of Scotland's leading children's authors.

The winners at this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards told TESS that author visits to schools could be "life-changing" for students.

Cathy MacPhail, who this week picked up her third Scottish Children's Book Award, for Mosi's War, said that visits often inspired pupils to start reading for pleasure, which in many cases improved their written work. "Children read more because they want to read the author's book, and that leads them on to other books," she said.

Ms MacPhail added: "It would be lovely if every child got to meet an author. I think that would be wonderful."

However, finding the funding to attract high-profile figures was often a concern for schools, according to Ms MacPhail, who is also patron of reading at Falkirk High and the reading champion for St Stephen's and Port Glasgow High in Inverclyde. "The problem is that an awful lot of schools feel they cannot afford an author visit," she said.

Ross Collins, who illustrated Robot Rumpus, winner of the category for children aged 7 and under, agreed that writer visits could have a "huge impact" on children.

"You can basically see the cogs turning in [pupils'] heads," he said. "Something I really like to do is show them something I did when I was their age, a little book I made when I was 8. That makes them think: `If I am this good now, then maybe I can one day do what he is doing.' "

Mr Collins said the visits also gave children the opportunity to see writing and arts as a viable career.

Alex McCall, whose debut novel Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens received the most votes from children in the young readers category (aged 8-11), said he was inspired to write his first book by an author visit during his own school days.

"Author visits are hugely important," he said. "It makes the writers real people. Meeting with the people behind the book is crucial."

All three commended the work of the Scottish Book Trust in supporting schools to arrange visits from authors and illustrators. The trust estimates that it part-funds 1,200 of these events each year - less than one for every two schools in the country.

The three authors received their awards in front of 600 children at a ceremony in Edinburgh this week. The awards are run by the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland, and are voted on exclusively by children. This year, more than 28,000 votes were cast.

Jasmine Fassl, head of the Scottish Book Trust's schools programme, said: "There's nothing nicer than celebrating the books that children themselves have enjoyed reading, and the continuing success of the awards is down to everyone who is involved in encouraging the children to vote - the authors, illustrators, teachers, publishers, parents and librarians - who are passionate about giving children a love of reading for life."

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