I make no apology for the fact that I am posting much later than is usual, because all this week, (and especially today), I've been involved in something marvellous and important for children's books, and I wanted to share it with ABBA readers. (picture is of Oxford KLQ author team members Lucy Coats, MG Harris, Dennis Hamley, Julia Golding, Mark Robson and Quizmaster Wayne.)
Let me introduce you to the phenomenon that is Kids' Lit Quiz. It was all started 19 years ago in New Zealand by Wayne Mills, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland , who in 2008 was awarded the Margaret Mahy Medal for services to children's literature. For all this time, Wayne and his amazing posse of volunteers have organised this annual quiz for students aged 10-13 years in New Zealand, South Africa, China--and Great Britain. 370 UK schools take part, and this last week I have been a member of two of the author teams taking part in heats for Central England and Oxford. I haven't had so much fun for ages. After all, what could be more fun for a children's author than answering questions on books she knows and loves--and in my case on mythology too? The kids were brilliant--and incredibly knowledgeable about children's books. They didn't quite beat the Central authors--but in Oxford, Wheatley Park School (of whom more later), beat the authors by 1 point to score the 2nd highest ever total in the competition. We were all stretched and challenged by the wide ranging and often difficult questions set by Quizmaster Wayne.
Today was the National UK Final, held in Oxford Town Hall, compered by comedian Harry Enfield. 15 schools--all winners of their regional heats--came from every corner of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland, filled with enthusiasm and armed with many mascots. There was huge applause when Cockermouth School in particular arrived. They made it to Oxford on time despite the challenges they have faced during the terrible floods of the last week. Thirty-two authors were there to cheer them on, and each team was allocated two authors to support them. These questions were MUCH harder than those in the heats--and opinion among the authors was that this time we would certainly have come last. The eventual--and very well-deserved winners were local favourites Wheatley Park with a team of four very well-read boys. They--and their school librarian--deserve many congratulations, and I was surprised and shocked to hear that the school is subject to 'special measures', especially since this week other pupils there have won a prestigious regional award for geography. I did ask why the school inspectors had made this decision, and I have no hesitation in sharing what I learned. The inspectors had an issue with the identity badges for some of the staff, citing that they did not have the right documentation. The school was apparently given no chance to correct this, simply being told--and I paraphrase here--'You've failed. Tough.' I have no reason to disbelieve this--and I think it is disgraceful (yes, disgraceful is the word I want to use here) that this should be so. Identity badges have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of education a school gives--and from what I have seen today, where reading is concerned, the school is triumphing, not failing at all.
So, back to KLQ. If you have a school near you which is not taking part, please ask them why not, and direct them to the website so they can enter. It is a chance for young readers everywhere to show what they are made of, to meet authors--and to show, above all that books are cool. It should be on every school's calendar, in large red letters. The World Final is taking place in August in Edinburgh, during the Book Festival--and I hope that the BBC (who didn't bother to turn up today) get their act together and give it some publicity. My goodness, it deserves it.