Thank God it's Friday

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Monday Tomorrow I'm going on my second all-expenses-paid trip to London in a year. The first was last summer to collect my Rave Reviews award, while this time it's for a meeting of Whitbread Children's Book of the Year judges. In the past six weeks, I've read nine new books for eight to 14-year-olds of which I'll help to choose a shortlist of four. I scribble down my views on the books under consideration but my mind keeps wandering to the point when I'll have to stand up in a room full of important people and give my impressions of each book. My favourite is Jacqueline Wilson's The Illustrated Mum.

Tuesday I fly to London with my mother - she misreads the map and we get lost.

Wednesday We spend the day sightseeing. In the evening, we see Les Miserables. I've never experienced such a spectacle before. I also really enjoy travelling by Tube and seeing how busy it is. Tomorrow I'll meet the adult judges - Sandi Toksvig, journalist Nicolette Jones and Simon Puttock of Waterstone's - and the other student judges, Laura Southall and Kate Lawrence.

Thursday To be a Whitbread finalist or not to be, that is the question. The atmosphere tingles with tension as one person's enthusiasm for a book is dampened by others sayig it doesn't work for them. It's an eye-opener to see how differently six readers can respond to a book. It makes me feel really important to be asked what I think. I learn a lot in the discussions about the importance of a story's beginning and ending, and about how the writer holds the reader's attention. But the four-hour session is exhausting. The final four books (The Illustrated Mum, Meeting Midnight by Carol Ann Duffy, Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling) are chosen because each moves at least one of the judges. Just when I think it's all over, a film crew interview me. Everyone wants to know how I got involved in the judging.

Friday The delights of yet another week at school lie ahead. But there's the four shortlisted books to re-read, and then another trip to London to look forward to.

John Boucher, 14, is a pupil at St Columb's College, Derry, Northern Ireland. He is one of the three young judges for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year, who were also national prizewinners in Rave Reviews, a TESNational Association of Head Teachersreviewing competition. This week he will attend the announcement of the Whitbread winners in London

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