Published On: Wed, Feb 23rd, 2011 at 7:20am

The 2010 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books

Glasgow’s Tramway Theatre underwent a transformation yesterday. The metamorphosis saw the state-of-the-art venue in the city’s South side become a virtual circus, complete with clowns, fire-eaters, stiltwalking butterflies, and acrobats. What better environment to celebrate the 2010 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books?

Ringmaster Janice Forsyth, charged with overseeing the proceedings, spoke of fulfilling her dream of running off to join the circus, which was met with an applause that seemed to imply it was a dream that was shared by many of the 500 young people in attendance.

Record numbers were involved this year, which saw over 16,000 children from all over the country voting for their favourite books, an increase of 1,000 over last year, and 11,000 since the awards began.

“I think that is an absolutely tremendous achievement” said, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance, “I really do think that The Scottish Book Trust has to be congratulated for the growth and success of these awards.”

In the Early years category (0-7) – named the Bookbug Readers Category after the new identity created for The Scottish Book Trust by nominee Debi Gliori – Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson won the award for her picture book What the Ladybird Heard, illustrated by Lydia Monks. Unfortunately Donaldson was unable to attend the ceremony, however she did send a video message and said she was this time “saved from despair”. Previously she was shortlisted three times and went home empty handed.

MSP Angela Constance commented on The Scottish Government’s “very strong relationship with the Scottish Book Trust”, explaining that the government had invested one million pounds to allow for the Bookbug reading project to continue.

Barry Hutchison picked up the award in the Younger Readers category (8-11) for his debut novel: Invisible Fiends – Mr Mumbles. The novel’s plot details had some of the adults in attendance squirming in their seats as the terrifying Mr Mumbles – who from all accounts sounds like Freddy Krueger’s little brother, and just as frightening – was introduced to the audience by a selection of pupils from various schools in a pre-produced video.

In his acceptance speech Hutchison, whose reputation amongst the younger members of the audience was obvious from the rapturous applause he received simply upon entering the theatre, remarked: “Anyone who has ever been to one of my events before will probably have heard me talking about my phobia of clowns. So you can imagine my delight when I was told that today’s ceremony was going to have a circus theme.”

Previous winner, Catherine MacPhail, collected the award for the Older Readers category (12-16) for Grass, another obvious favourite judging by the audience’s response. “To win this wonderful award once was exciting enough,” said the author, “but to win it twice, I still can’t quite believe it’s true”.

The ceremony may have been theatrical, and the award announcements, as Forsyth acknowledged, may have had more than a little of the pomp and grandeur that will surely accompany this Sunday’s Oscars. But, as Angela Constance pointed out, the underlying focus of events like these is to improve child literacy and get young people excited about reading:-“We are incredibly fortunate to have so many excellent authors and illustrators from across the country to inspire our future writers. The development of literacy skills is, of course, a key focus of the Curriculum for Excellence and these awards play an important role in encouraging reading and writing in the younger generation.”

And with that, the 2010 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books was brought to an end. Big tops packed up, make up wiped off, and clown shoes stowed away for next year, but most importantly, the 16,000 young people involved in this year’s awards have in the process been enthused about reading.

Surely a statistic which reinforces The Scottish Book Trust as a success.

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