Quest to show it's cool to read
The competition is one aspect of the Uk-wide StoryQuest children's literary festival, which has featured a series of performances reaching 13,000 children over the past week and culminates today in a grand finale of sessions with writers, poets and storytellers at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
StoryQuest, backed by the Prince of Wales Arts and Kids Foundation and the Cartoon Network, 270 leading businesses and various organisations, aims to develop arts skills among one million children by 2008 and halt the worrying decline in leisure reading. Almost half of British children admit they don't read a single book outside school hours and 35 per cent of 16- to 25-year-olds score below level three in literacy, the minimum recommended level.
About 1,800 secondary pupils from west of Scotland schools travelled to Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall last Friday for the Scottish StoryQuest event.
After a short cartoon animation, the audience was treated to readings and performances by Morpurgo and some of Britain's best known children's writers, such as David Campbell, Philip Ardagh and poet John Foster, followed by a question and answer session.
Barclay Price, director of Arts and Business Scotland, said: "There is a lot of research that shows first year students lose interest in reading. I suspect it is a combination of the secondary school curriculum being heavier than primary, peer pressure and less time for teachers to encourage creative reading.
"We felt it was important to target these groups and give teachers a chance to develop childrens' enthusiasm. We also want to encourage pupils that an arts-based curriculum will bring benefits to their careers."
Morpurgo said: "It's really important that parents take time to share stories with their children and make them interesting and exciting to them.
"I want to put the fun and joy back into stories, to get children out of school and focus on the joy of words of storytelling.
"I want to give our young audience an insight into how stories are made and give them the inspiration to go on and explore and reignite literary passions. Reading is massively enabling."
He added: "The curriculum implies that books are a tool you use to ask questions from. We need a new way to look at books."
The StoryQuest website features resources and games designed to ignite enthusiasm for reading and help children hold their own storytelling events. The site also includes an audio archive of performances from the eight StoryQuest 2004 events.
Katrina Tweedie Children aged 10-14 should submit entries of 500-1,000 words for the StoryQuest Tales contest by Nov 8. www.storyquest.org.uk