The first Angus Book Award has been presented to Sue Welford for her book The Night after Tomorrow. The award, unique among local authorities, was sponsored by Angus District Council, which is keen to encourage young people to develop the reading habit.
Third-year pupils from the seven Angus secondaries - Arbroath Academy, Arbroath High, Brechin, Carnoustie, Forfar, Montrose and Websters High from Kirriemuir, participated in the mammoth reading venture.
Gavin Drummond, director of libraries and Moyra Hood, school librarian, helped choose 25 books published in the preceding year.
Early last November teachers and librarians read all the books on the list, and drew up a short list: Kezzie by Teresa Breslin; Baby and Fly Pie by Melvyn Burgess; But Can the Phoenix Sing by Christa Laird; Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien by Maggie Prince; The Night After Tomorrow by Sue Welford.
Shortly before Christmas, books began to arrive. It was an exciting time for both teachers and pupils and we all began reading in earnest to meet the voting deadline of the second week in March.
The spin-off benefits have been manifold. Pupils in the first year of Standard grade courses have already had an insight into the requirements for Higher English's response to personal reading component and have been able to compare multi-genre, quality, teenage literature. Most important of all it has introduced the concept of reading for enjoyment to pupils who might never have taken to the idea. As the teacher of the participating class at Montrose Academy, I saw the keenness and enthusiasm of the children. I now have a class articulate in the parlance of literature.
Angus schools received their ballot boxes and voting papers in the week beginning March 11. The pupils embarked on frenzied final reading and produced posters promoting the books for a backdrop to their photocalls for the local press. These children were important, were stars, they had participated in the Angus Book Award.
The voting led us no nearer to the winner. There was a three-way tie between But Can the Phoenix Sing, Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien, and The Night After Tomorrow.
I was delighted when I heard Christa Laird, author of But Can the Phoenix Sing, would be with us for an afternoon. My class had a new direction for their activity, as they researched the Egyptian myth of the Phoenix and produced posters in support of her novel.
The opening setting for But Can the Phoenix Sing is the Jewish ghetto in wartime Warsaw. Later the action joins the partisans. Now a man, Misha was then a 14-year-old boy, and the story follows his wrangles with his stepson and his search to find his identity, buried in his wartime experience which left him infertile.
Christa Laird was a delight to have in school to talk to the pupils. She validated the blocks, angst and traumas felt by Standard grade pupils by the way she presented her own tribulations with her work.
Hazel Whyman is principal teacher of English at Montrose Academy.