Oh, books! They are incredible things, aren’t they?! They have a special magic and the power to bring people together, unite them and excite them. I feel very privileged to be able to share books and spread their magic.
It was a joy to take my year 6 book group to the East Sussex Children’s Book Award final ceremony last week. To see their excitement and watch them revel in the build up to the announcement of the winner. To hear them chatting passionately about their chosen authors and to watch them bouncing at the thought of actually meeting them in actual real life. They were so passionate about their chosen authors that, on the minibus on the journey there, they gave themselves temporary biro tattoos on their hands to proclaim their faith. “Matt Haig to win” “Christopher William Hill rocks”. (I was holding on to my twitter-based insider knowledge that Matt Haig was at his home dealing with estate agents and house viewings, and therefore not the soon-to-be-revealed winner.)
The East Sussex Children’s Book Award is an annual award run by the East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service. It is an incredibly child-centred award with children in years 5 and 6 involved through the entire process. The five shortlisted books are selected by a group of local schools and the participating years 5 and 6 children spend six months reading, reviewing and working creatively with the shortlisted books. The winner is voted for entirely by the children and is revealed in a special award ceremony for the children.
This year the shortlisted books were:
Since the start of the year we have been busily reading and discussing the shortlisted books, and the children have been writing reviews, designing book jackets and doing their own creative writing based on the books.
Matt Haig’s To Be a Cat caught everyone’s imagination and was unanimously enjoyed, Ali Sparkes’ Out of this World had a core group of fans, but it was Christopher William Hill’s Osbert the Avenger that ignited the most passion within the group. One of my girls is a voracious reader and dreams of becoming a writer. She inhaled Osbert and then bought the next book in the series and raved about it to the group. It was swiftly shared round and a Christopher William Hill gang was formed. Often seen huddled round copies of the books and whispering together, they knew every inch of every murder and death and plot twist. They have analysed his writing style and written their own reviews. They have been begging me to get my hands on an advance copy of the third book, but alas, they will have to wait til next school year.
The intensity of their love for Christopher William Hill’s books and the way they have been inspired by his writing both surprised me and filled me with joy. Unlikely friendships grew from their shared love of the books. A so-called ‘slow reader’ burst from his shell and became animated when discussing the books. They asked for recommendations and sought out other books that they might enjoy and recommended them to each other. This is what books can do! This is what reading can achieve! And it is beautiful to watch!
So back to the ceremony. I’m sure you can understand now that I was sitting on crossed fingers for Christopher William Hill to win. The CWH crew were sitting next to me, faces alight with hope and anticipation. And when his name was called as the winner we all burst out with YESes and cheers. I looked round to see my crew and I wished I could have photographed their faces. Filled with joy and pride and amazement. And then in came Christopher William Hill. The room erupted! My kids could barely stay in their seats.
Christopher William Hill was joined on stage by one of the shortlisted authors, Ali Sparkes. We had seen her at an event during the build up to the final and she is a fantastic speaker. If you get the opportunity to see either of them at an author event, grab it! They are both fun, witty, honest, incredibly funny and fantastic with the kids. Their passion for what they do is palpable and they really did light up the stage. They were very generous with the children, happily signing books and answering questions and having their photos taken.
My kids came out of the event energised, passionate and full of chatter. About what would be the best way to die, what food sounded the most deadly, where Ali Sparkes got her incredible sparkly boots and whether there was a story behind them. They raved about the authors and their stories. They chatted about what they want to be when they grow up and what kind of books would be the most fun to write. They were buzzing. And that’s what books can do. Yes, Christopher William Hill and Ali Sparkes were energising but these kids have been chatting about books like this since we started. They have been set alight by books!
The best thing about this whole experience has been sharing it, and loooots of books, with the kids. It has been a real privilege to see them grow up over this school year and to share all the booky chat with them. I feel very honoured to have been able to ignite their book passion and help them find and explore so many new books. I have loved being a small part in the process and I really hope I get to run the book group again next year.
A HUGE thank you, from me and from my booky crew, to East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service, to all the shortlisted authors and especially to Ali Sparkes and Christopher William Hill. I think I have some budding new writers growing here, thanks to you.
And for Christopher – my student’s passionate and prize-winning review of Osbert:
The story is about a boy called Osbert Brinkoff , who is a young genius. Osbert and a girl called Isabella both pass an exam to enter a school called The Insitute. Yet they did not know that the teachers at the Insitute were cruel and horrible. Soon after the two children get accepted, Osbert speaks out of line to the head master of the Insitute. Trouble lies ahead for the Brinkoff family when Osbert gets expelled and vowed revenge on the teachers of the Insitute.
My favourite character , undeniably , is Osbert; because, in my eyes he is quite admirable for creating those ingenious plans to get rid of the teachers of the Insitute and not get caught.
I loved the entire story, I loved the plot line and how every thing was set out; It honestly is the best book that I have ever read.
I think that both boys and girls would enjoy it, mainly boys though. It may appeal to a small selection of girls, I am one of those girls. The age group reading this book should be 9-12 year olds.