When giant robot chickens do battle with a lion

Children's book awards pit debut author against heavyweight

They share a first name and their surnames are remarkably similar, but the careers of two authors going head-to-head in the Scottish Children's Book Awards could not be more different.

In this year's "younger readers" category (ages 8-11), world-renowned writer Alexander McCall Smith and his story Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion will go up against 20-year-old university student Alex McCall and his debut novel Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens.

The film-making and screenwriting student was stunned by the success of his book. "It's amazing," Mr McCall told TESS. "It's my first book and I have only been a published author for about six months."

Competing against Mr McCall Smith was "completely terrifying", he added. "I have been a huge fan of his work for years, and I would have hoped that by the time I got to meet him professionally, I might have a couple of books under my belt."

Mr McCall's literary break came when he won a competition held by Kelpies children's publishing house. "I have always wanted to be a published author, from when I was about 12," he said. "One way I thought I would get there was to enter lots of competitions. So when I saw the Kelpies competition, I thought that was perfect. I entered and I won."

He hopes to publish a second book soon and will return to university to continue his degree in the coming weeks.

As a shortlisted author in the Scottish Children's Book Awards, Mr McCall will be meeting many of his readers in schools across the country. But he has a word of advice for teachers planning to read his book with pupils. "It has a lot of jokes. If you are looking for a serious book, this is not it," he said.

Although the shortlisted titles in the "Bookbug readers" category (ages 3-7) will be given to all P1 children by the Scottish Book Trust, teachers and librarians can sign up to read the books shortlisted in the other categories with their pupils. The winners in all categories will be decided entirely by votes from children. The deadline for votes is 6 February 2015 and the triumphant books will be announced at a ceremony in March. More than 38,000 pupils voted in last year's awards.

Young people can also submit book reviews for a chance to win an author visit for their school, and children with an interest in film can compete to win pound;250 in book tokens by creating book trailers.

Vampires frequently appeared in the shortlisted books of previous years, but this year's trend seems to be robots. The subjects vary greatly, however, from a tapir who is lost for words to a young boy tending an olive grove in a war zone.

Jasmine Fassl, head of schools at the Scottish Book Trust, said the awards were "much more than a celebration of Scottish literature - they are about expanding children's horizons.

"By simply reading just one of the shortlisted novels in their category, a five-year-old can imagine what it's like to have rampaging robots as babysitters, a 10-year-old can hop aboard a pirate ship and a 15-year-old can be transported into the mind of a teenager in a war zone."

She added: "We hope that children, teachers, parents and librarians across Scotland will take this journey with us and get lost in these nine wonderful stories."


Scottish Children's Book Awards shortlist

Bookbug readers (ages 3-7)

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