Monday, 27 May 2019

Shadowing the CBI Book of the Year Award, 1/2

After months of giving out about the lack of a junior book club in our local library and of thinking about running one myself, I finally took the half-plunge this year and organised a shadowing group for the CBI Book of the Year Award.
I first gathered my material:
- A dozen kids, aged 6-12, who wanted to be there;
- 6 titles suitable for the age range;
- 3 to 5 copies of the books for sharing and/or reading aloud;
- A venue or two;
- Enough activities to engage all the ages represented and fit in the time and space allocated;
- Plenty of time and energy;
- A ceremony to attend.

We had 18 kids originally signed up, with about 12 materialising. We never quite had our full quota present at the same time, but everyone was reading away in between sessions. The parents' role was invaluable here, as we were not a school group. They took the time to bring their kids to the meetings, they made sure the books were read or at least given a go, they made sure nothing got lost! And I believe they enjoyed reading some of those books themselves (the weather one in particular!).

We identified 6 titles that were suitable for our shadowers' ages and abilities, and we managed to get quite a few copies of those through the public libraries. We bought extra copies so that we had enough to go round and swap.
Because we were tight on time, we didn't get to discuss one book as a group, so it might be an idea for next time to decide on a limited number of titles, regardless of how many are suitable age-wise.
We also have to decide now what to do with the books we own and how we can share them fairly between the members of the group.

Securing the venue proved easy enough as our local library, while not in a position to run a junior book club themselves, was more than happy to host us for what turned out to be some very lively sessions. On the plus side, there was room enough for all (including the parents who tagged along), we could borrow/renew/return other books at the end of the session, we had tables and chairs for our activities. It was free! On the other hand, we couldn't actually run around and let off all the steam some of us needed to let off; there was a closing time which meant we were sometimes pressed for time.
But on the whole, it worked out great and the librarians were very understanding!
We also ran a session in somebody's home when only two members had read a particular book; this was lovely as it ended up with lots of tea, cupcakes and in-depth conversations about the future of humankind and robots. But you couldn't do it with the whole group.
Finally, we had our Easter break meeting in Richmond Barracks where we treated ourselves to a spot of lunch before invading the old school room for our session on Hibernica Finch. This was the kids' initiative and the museum staff let us run away with it although we hadn't cleared it in advance with them. Ahem. We'll know for next time!

Discussions and Activities
We made good use of the shadowing pack, where we found plenty of questions for our discussions and crafts ideas to try out. They all enjoyed listening to and chatting about the picturebooks, even though some felt they were for younger readers. What struck me was how generous the kids were in their appraisal of the books, most of the time. No matter how many plot holes I could see and gently hint at, they were ready with their own explanations and solutions, making the book bigger than it first appeared and making it satisfying by their own standards. And when they didn't like a book, they had very good, articulate reasons for their dislike. They also felt comfortable not finishing a book on that basis and telling the rest of the group why.
Because of where we had our sessions, some activities were not an option (like, sadly, the Mucking-About-inspired food fight). We also had to deal with the wide range of ages in our unusual group. I tried offering several activities for the same book and the kids could choose what they wanted to do. But it ended up in some confusion. What worked better was picking one activity and let the kids adapt it themselves to their abilities and interests. This worked splendidly with Between Tick and Tock where we created a soundscape based on all the noises present in the book. We were going to then organise our sounds into a 'stripsody' (taking our inspiration from the wonderful Cathy Berberian), but by the time I got to explaining this to everyone, one group (the 11 and 12 yos) had written a rap using the onomatopoeias from the book. It was terrific!

Each kid was given a reading journal to record their thoughts and ideas as they read the books. I didn't see those journals again, so I've no idea how useful (or not) they turned out to be. But who doesn't like a notebook?
Every member was given a chance to vote on the books they had read or been read, and most of them took it. The concept of scoring a book was quite alien to the younger shadowers who tended to give 100/100 to anything they enjoyed. Some readers felt shy giving 'bad' scores even to books who had done little for them, as if it was a reflection on the author as a person or on their own character. 
I gave the kids some scoring guidelines to help with the process. Inspired by the Irish voting system, I suggested they first rank the books they had read in their order of preference. Then they could decide if a particular book deserved to be in the 0-24 band ('I didn't enjoy it at all') or the 76-100 ('I loved it and I'm going to recommend it to my friends'), or anywhere in the in-between categories. 
Once we collated the votes and calculated the average, our overall winner was very clearly Hibernica Finch with a solid 85/100. 

Time proved the trickiest thing. Because we weren't a school group, we had to find times outside of school hours that suited most people, if not everyone. We also had to work around the Easter break. We settled on Friday afternoons, which was not always ideal after a long week. Tiredness and giddiness levels were sometimes high. (And that's only the grown-ups!) But everyone always appeared happy to be there.
We managed four meetings in the six weeks we had between the announcement of the shortlist and the deadline for the votes to be in. Each session was packed and seemed too short, even though we were usually at it for an hour and a half!
We also had to figure out the timing of each meeting to make sure the kids had time to read the books and swap them around. With the picturebooks, I read them aloud at the beginning of the relevant sessions, so everybody was on the same page. We kept the longer titles till later, to give everyone a chance to make progress and picked activities that either helped them discover the book a bit more (like the quiz on Hibernica Finch) or else didn't require them to have read much of it (like illuminating our names in the manner of Mucking About).
Not sure what can be done about it, except, again, strictly limit the number of titles (and therefore of meetings) we read and vote on.

The ceremony
We were lucky enough to make it to the award ceremony in Smock Alley with nine shadowers for two grown-ups. Some of the kids weren't quite sure what it was all about (in spite of several explanations beforehand) with some expecting to be featured in the video (in spite of no camera crew appearing at our meetings) and others thinking there would be prizes awarded to children ('It does say children's books doesn't it?').
They were happy on the whole, even though they felt a bit disconnected to the actual laureates as, out of the six awards, four went to books they hadn't read (as they were for teens/YA), especially the overall and children's choice awards. Some suggested there should be two children's choice awards: a junior and a senior one. I'm just going to leave that there…

It was a brilliant experience and I really enjoyed hearing
what you, dear shadowers, had to say,
and seeing what you created out of each book. 
Thanks once again to everyone involved
and huge congrats to the young readers,
the shortlisted creators and the award recipients! 

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