Sunday, 24 February 2013

Red House Award Winners

Saturday 23rd February 2013, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London - this was the setting for the 6th annual Red House Children's Book Award Ceremony.

From humble beginnings in a tent at the Hay Festival to the heady heights of London's Southbank Centre this award has grown in popularity and stature of the years.  It now begins with a lunch for authors, publishers and children from various Book Groups around the country and culminates in a noisy ceremony awarding prizes in three categories and to an overall winner also.

Taking our seats in a packed auditorium the air of expectant anticipation was full of excitement, the buzz of happy children and the noise of party blowers!  We were all watching and waiting for James Campbell, our host, to begin the ceremony.  As the lights when down a hush descended and James Campbell began a short sketch all about the joys of halloumi cheese and squeaky mice - it was very funny!

James went on to introduce the award and explain why it is so significant - a fact echoed by each of the shortlisted authors - that is is about books read by and voted for by children, the only national award of its kind.

To make this years ceremony different to the last the children of Dulwich Stagecoach had been given copies of the shortlisted books and asked to interpret them through short dramatic pieces.  The end result was a brilliant insight into the way in which the children saw the stories.  They introduced each of the three categories with their presentations before the authors and illustrators took to the stage.

In true Blind Date style the authors and illustrators sat on their chairs in a line and James posed to them questions, submitted by their readers, to answer.  Making everyone feel at ease and providing plenty of humour for the assembled audience James was a great host.

In the Younger Fiction category he asked each author to describe their book in just five words, not many could, then each illustrator to show a picture of their favourite moment in the story.  As well as this specific questions included, to Andrew Weale, author of Spooky Spooky House, have you ever seen a ghost to which he answered by telling us a story about a poodle under a lamppost!  Louise Yates showed us a picture of her latest character, a toad, Ed Vere explained how his favourite word was Cake(!) and Lee Wildish how he would turn Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a pop-up book so he could have all the sweets!

The winner, announced by Korky Paul and children from the Plymouth Children's Book Group, was Spooky Spooky House by Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish.

Onto Younger Readers where the nominees were David Walliams for Gangsta Granny, Elen Caldecott for Operation Eiffel Tower, Jonathan Meres and Donough O'Malley for The World of Norm.  David read, with great pleasure, an extract from his shortlisted book and told us how he wants nothing more than to carry on writing for children oh and his favourite word which is 'elbow'(!).  When asked who she would take to Paris Elen Caldecott declared it would definitely be her other half and the five words about her book? Sad, funny, sad, funny again!  Her tip for aspiring writers - read books you love, then read some more and more, then try writing just like that for yourself.  Jonathan Meres explained that the World of Norm was about the normal world and the world in which a boy called Norm lived and that his three sons were definitely the inspiration!  Donough O'Malley told us how much he loved the drawing and as a child was forever doing random drawings and getting into trouble at school!

Presented by Elizabeth Laird and the children of Airdale Children's Book Group the award was given to David Walliams for Gangsta Granny.  David explained that he was thrilled his books had caught on and that he wanted to keep writing children's books as they are so special.

The last category was for Older Readers and the nominees here were Sophie McKenzie for The Hit List, Suzanne La Fleur for Eight Keys and Pittacus Lore for The Power of Four.  Unfortunately, for reasons of security Pittacus Lore could not be present but he did submit a recorded question and answer session to the joy of the audience!  Sophie Mckenzie was on the shortlist for the fourth occasion and on this occasion James asked both she and Suzanne what their superpower of choice would be.  For Sophie it was flying over and above mind-reading as it would be more useful whilst for Suzanne it was difficult to choose therefore she was asked her favourite word.  Unable to name on for fear of upsetting all the other words we soon discovered that both authors had a brilliant sense of humour!  But onto the award which was presented by Patrick Ness and children from the Harrogate Children's Book group to Sophie McKenzie for The Hit List.

Having celebrated all the authors and illustrators for each category of award it was time for Patrick Ness and some children from the Birmingham Children's Book Group to reveal the overall winner of the 2013 Red House Children's Book Award and for Patrick to hand over the trophy to the new incumbent... a drum roll, of feet, plenty of loud blowing - it took three practises to get it right - the winner was announced as Spooky Spooky House by Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish.

They both felt that to win was a real honour as the award, voted for by children, is such an honest reflection of their feelings and opinions.  Their message?  Love books.  Books are joyous, they are made to share and there are so many that it is important not to get stuck on one. If you don't like it move on and find another - we must all learn to love reading - that is the most important message of all.

Thank you to Red House and the Federation of Children's Book Groups as well as all the book groups  and children from around the country for helping to make this wonderful and important award such a success.  I can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Love - true?

So, it's Valentine's again.  The same day every year.  We are given a day on which to celebrate love.  Love for one another, family, friends, pets for all manner of people and things really.  The ones we love are treated in an extra special way every Valentine's day but what if those we love are not people or animals but things?

I am thinking of books of course.  I love books.  I know a few characters who love books too, most notable a little Dog created by Louise Yates.  There are books about love too - plenty of them!  However it is the facts and stories inside the books that I love, oh and perhaps just one or two covers and the feel of the book too.

So when I opened a parcel to find the wonderful Philip Ardagh's The Truth About Love (Macmillan) inside it I was intrigued   What would this book tell me?  Would I fall in love with it?  Would I learn anything I didn't know?  Would it make me laugh?  Would it inspire me?  So many questions for one little book to answer.  It did.  It does.

If you have every wondered why we use the heart as a symbol of love, why there are so many traditions and superstitions surrounding marriage and weddings what prunes could possibly have to do with love - see page 26 - its all to do with the stones predicting the profession of the man you will marry - then this is the book for you.  All the questions you never knew that you had about love and its varies traditions are covered and for a small, short book that is quite a lot of material!

This is a charming book, perfect for those in love at any age and brilliant for pub quiz answers too.  Wow your friends with some weird and wonderful facts about love and fall in love - with a book and with its quirky style.

Having thus fallen why not then turn to some stories about love?  As well as the afore mentioned Dog Love Books by Louise Yates (Random House) you could share with little ones the adorable The Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring, illustrated by Alys Paterson (Bloomsbury).  This very special story is all about the very special shape of love and then for older readers C.J. Skuse's Dead Romantic (Chicken House) tells the story of Camille and Zoe, who, disparing of being able to find the perfect boy decide instead to make him...

Some great books to read, enjoy and above all else share with loved ones this Valentine's Day.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Big Chicken House Breakfast

When an invitation to the annual Chicken House Big Breakfast landed on the mat I was at first disappointed that I wouldn't be able to make it, I soon realised however that there would be some Armadillo reviewers who would love to go along so many thanks to Anne and Morag for attending on my behalf.

For Anne and Morag, meeting for the first time, it was a treat to represent Armadillo at the Chicken House Big Breakfast last week. A lovely opportunity to hear about the books they have lined up, and to talk to lots of authors, publishers, librarians and others who are passionate about good writing for children and young people. 

Chicken House founder and managing director Barry Cunningham got things off to a great start by asserting that despite the messages of doom and gloom so often peddled about young people’s reading, he sees the present as a fabulous and exciting time for publishing. Story has never been so popular, he said. He highlighted some of the authors Chicken House is publishing this spring. Five of them then discussed their new books and read excerpts.

‘The ultimate teenage novel’ was Cunningham’s introduction to Melvin Burgess’s latest book The Hit, due out in April. Developed from an original idea by two philosophy teachers, it explores a mind-blowing central proposition: a hijacked euthanasia drug that gives you the best week of your life - before killing you. In a dystopian world, the drug proves irresistible to many young people. Burgess, pictured speaking here, contextualised this in terms of the loss of optimism within the culture of many teenagers today. Adam is tempted. What’s he got to lose? Everything. The story is about hope in the end, we were told. I think this is going to be a fabulous read. 

More dystopia in Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss, which won the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2012, and sounds very exciting. I enjoyed talking to Moss. He's a secondary school teacher who clearly knows teenagers and their reading interests well. Dan Smith’s novel My Friend the Enemy is a WW2 story about two young people who hide a German fighter who has parachuted from his burning bomber plane. I brought home a proof copy and am very much looking forward to reading it. Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn is a scary thriller with lots of humour thrown in. Quite something to make that combination work, but work it does, if the excerpt we heard is anything to go by. The Extincts by Veronica Cossanteli is for a slightly younger audience. A secret menagerie of creatures thought to be extinct is in danger from a deranged taxidermist. Good fun.

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