[Editor’s note: this post was written by Chloe Williams, Principal Business Improvement Officer in East Sussex Libraries]
On a sunny afternoon in June, over 250 children visited the seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, to celebrate their involvement in the 2017 East Sussex Children’s Book Award.
Each September, schools across East Sussex, Brighton and Hove, and parts of Kent, have the opportunity to read the best new fiction titles out there and take part in the East Sussex Children’s Book Award. The Book Award is delivered by the School Library and Museum Service (SLAMS), part of East Sussex Libraries. The criteria for books to make the longlist are that they have been published in paperback in the past year and that they are suitable for children aged 9-11. Schools pay to participate, which gives them access to all the events and a copy of each of shortlisted books. The charge covers the full cost of hosting the Book Award.
Schools who sign up to take part are involved in all aspects of the Book Award. Children decide which titles should make the shortlist (with librarians reading throughout the summer to compile the longlist), and then participate in a whole host of activities to complement the books. There are book review competitions, creative writing tasks set to encourage children to stand in the footsteps of the main characters, and a draw your own book jacket competition, which are all designed to allow children to show their creativity and engage more with each of the shortlisted books.
For the 2017 East Sussex Children’s Book Award, our 12th year of the awards, the shortlisted books were:
- The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin
- The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge
- The Wilderness War by Julia Green
- Black Powder by Ally Sherrick
- The Secret Life of Daisy Fitzjohn by Tania Unsworth
Each school runs the Book Award differently. Some choose their most able readers to form a book group, whilst others run the Book Award with whole classes, and some use Pupil Premium grants to engage reluctant readers. A few schools even ask children to submit a short application to show why they want to take part in the Book Award.
Participation throughout the year
Throughout the school year, those taking part read the five shortlisted books, get together with others and discuss the books. The sessions are run by teachers, literacy leads, teaching assistants and sometimes even parents, and get the pupils talking about what they have read. As part of the package they buy which enables them to take part in the Book Award, all schools receive at least one copy of each book and a pack which gives lots of suggestions about how to get the most out of participating in the award.
During the spring term, we invite the shortlisted authors to East Sussex and host a series of events in schools and libraries which allows pupils to meet the authors and to ask them all the questions they’ve been desperate to ask. It’s a magical moment as pupils who have read an author’s book realise that once upon a time that author was in school just like they are now, dreaming of becoming a writer. It’s great to hear so many aspirations from the children of becoming writers, and inevitably lots of the questions centre on what it is like to be a writer day-to-day, and how authors keep imagining new stories. At each of the events, pupils go away feeling inspired having met someone who is doing the job that they may dream of doing one day. This year, we were lucky enough to have Christopher Edge, Ally Sherrick and Tania Unsworth all visit.
The final part of the award process
And so to the summer term - the books have all been read, the children have submitted lots of competition entries, and then it’s the crucial moment where children vote for their favourite book. As the votes trickle in, pupils get to see democracy in action and the organising team have to try very hard to keep it a secret until the awards ceremony!
When the day finally arrives, pupils get on coaches, into parents’ cars and on trains and buses to come to the final award ceremony held at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. Authors are invited along and our librarians host a show to celebrate all that the pupils have achieved. This year, we were lucky enough to have both Ally Sherrick and Linda Coggin attend the final event.
There are awards handed out to the students who have won the competitions, presentations from schools about each of the shortlisted books (everything from poetry set to music, to re-enactments of the book to interpretive dance). Authors are invited up to take part in a Q&A before the moment comes which every child is waiting for. The winner of the East Sussex Children’s Book Award is announced!
This year, it was a close competition, with The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge being voted the most popular book. A loud cheer erupted amongst the audience, and children saw Christopher collect his award via a video (he was at another book festival promoting his new book and wasn’t able to attend the event).
Children left the show feeling inspired, and were able to buy their favourite books before having them signed by the authors who attended the awards ceremony.
Each year, we are lucky enough that schools participate so fully in the Award, and that the authors are so generous with their time, inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and authors. Congratulations to Christopher for winning the 2017 East Sussex Children’s Book Award, and to all the children who took part in the award. We hope to see many of the schools again for next year’s East Sussex Children’s Book Award, and some new ones too.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce