Winning books for young readers
Get ready to get reading - The TESS is delighted to announce the shortlist for this year's Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book Awards
Every year the mountain of books submitted for the Scottish Children's Book Awards gets bigger; the field of contestants gets stronger; and the number of judges swells. Last year, 9,000 children voted for the winners; this year, 11,000 have registered already and more are signing up.
The Royal Mail awards, run by the Scottish Book Trust and supported by The TESS, celebrate the very best Scottish writers and illustrators and are a phenomenal success. Hundreds of schools and libraries around the country take part, setting up their own judging panels of children who read three books in their age category between now and the autumn, then cast their votes in November.
There are three categories in all: 0-7 years; 8-11; and 12-16. The trio of books shortlisted in each emerges from a heated debate by a panel of avid readers, including primary and secondary teachers, librarians, representatives of the Scottish Book Trust and sponsors Royal Mail, The TESS, Waterstone's bookshop, the Scottish Arts Council plus, this year, for the first time, Schools Minister Maureen Watt and Lenzie Academy pupil Aidan Turner, who won the secondary review section in the 2007 competition.
The pre-selection is a mammoth task for all, not least a government minister and a schoolboy doing it on top of their day jobs. But the result is a shortleet of books to enthral pupils and teachers of all ages.
The youngest category offers the most fun, with fantastic illustrations and originality in Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts, Goat and Donkey in Strawberry Sunglasses by Simon Puttock and Russell Julian, and Billy Monster's Daymare by Alan Durant and Ross Collins. Although most of the young judges for this section will be early readers and listeners, some will be older, less confident readers encouraged to share the books with younger children. So everyone can be involved in one way or another.
The 8-11 category spans adventure, mystery, science fiction and humour in Hox by Annemarie Allan, DarkIsle by D.A. Nelson, and The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French and Ross Collins.
And the teenage section will capture the imagination of older readers. There's science fiction and time travel in Bunker 10, an exciting thriller by J.A. Henderson. Politics, suspense and compassion abound in The Witness, a nationalistic novel set in the not-too-distant future, by James Jauncey, and there's history and religion in Crusade by Elizabeth Laird, with young Christian, Muslim and Jewish characters at its centre.
"Beautiful picture books, fantastic middle fiction and gripping teen reads: what better way to show the diversity and strength of contemporary Scottish children's books?" says Anna Gibbons, children's programme manager at the Scottish Book Trust. "The shortlist committee is immensely proud of this year's selection and can't wait to find out what the readers themselves think of them."
Fourteen-year-old Aidan says a lot of the titles were "innovative in their approach to different genres. The Witness, for instance, tackled the thriller in a different way on a lot of different levels.
"The middle age range," he adds, "was very imaginative and they all had plots that drew you in - really made you want to read more. Dark Isle, in particular, mixed the real world with fantasy to create a story outside the normal quality of writing. It had a very interesting plot that carried on into its use of actual physical sights and landmarks.
"And the picture books had a consistently high level of drawing. Most had complicated stories - unusual for children's books - but the illustrations really added to them."
Maureen Watt takes her hat off to Aidan's knowledge of literature and enthusiasm for the subject and admits the selection from more than 50 books "was quite a challenge".
"Some of the books were great and a good few of mine got on the list," she says. "I have two children, aged 16 and 15, and they helped me read in the teenage section."
She would like to see a non-fiction category in the competition for books like Chocolate, by Vivian French, and Jackie Kay's poetry collection Red Cherry Red, both of which are to be included in a new "recommended" reading list on the book trust's website. "The story of the chocolate bean would be good for the Curriculum for Excellence - perhaps it's the teacher in me."
But the whole competition, she says, "highlights how, if you've got enthusiastic teachers and librarians and book clubs, you can enthuse children about reading.
"It's good that we have a Scottish-based competition that highlights the state of literature in Scotland."
Julie Morrison, head of external relations for Royal Mail, says: "We are delighted to be sponsoring the Children's Book Awards for the third year running and are sure that this expertly chosen shortlist will inspire and encourage children all around Scotland to read more."
To sign up for judging, go to: www.scottishbooktrust.com
Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by David Roberts (Macmillan)
Billy Monster's Daymare by Alan Durant, illustrated by Ross Collins (OUP)
Goat and Donkey in Strawberry Sunglasses by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Russell Julian (OUP)
Hox by Annemarie Allan (Floris Books)
The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French, illustrated by Ross Collins (Walker Books)
DarkIsle by D.A. Nelson (Strident)
Crusade by Elizabeth Laird (Macmillan)
The Witness by James Jauncey (Macmillan)
Bunker 10 by J.A. Henderson (OUP).