Monday 10 October 2011

Oxfordshire Book Awards - or 300: The Remake

by Jo Wyton

Last Thursday was the day of the Oxfordshire Book Awards, held at Abingdon School. I attended as part of a team of volunteers/well-bribed peoples (Sally Poyton and Gabby Aquilina) to help the brilliant Mostly Books independent bookshop sell books to the children / teachers / librarians in attendance.

The Oxfordshire Book Awards have been running for a few years now - the books are voted for by the students of local schools - both primary and secondary - in three categories:

Primary picture book
Primary book
Secondary book

Check it out - a cake of Axel Sheffler's winning book, Zog!

The day started off well - I arrived in time for lunch, which is always good, then helped load the books into a car to go to the school. I won't try to estimate how many boxes of how many books we carried, but I can tell you that my spine changed trajectory between starting and finishing. We also had a fun game of Dodge the Car Whilst Not Dropping Box or Being Able to See Your Feet.

Whilst the ceremony was going on in the Amey Theatre, we set about constructing our makeshift bookshop. Cue lifting of tables that realistically women of 5 foot 2 shouldn't have been lifting and then the shuffling of those tables into something resembling practical. It turns out that this is an effective way to realign your spine after all that box carrying.

There were several authors in attendance, including two of the winners - Malorie Blackman (Boys Don't Cry - secondary book, which incidentally I've just read and it's flipping brilliant) and Axel Scheffler (Zog, with Julia Donaldson - primary picture book). Sally Nicholls, Jo Cotterill and S.L. Powell were also there. (Michael Morpurgo was the other winner for his book Shadow, but was unfortunately unable to attend, although he was there last year.) All were doing book signings after the ceremony.

So, picture this, if you will...

A school canteen. (Still smelling suspiciously like canteens did in the 1980s. You know - bleach and custard.) Four long (and heavy) tables lined up, and covered with cloths (because nobody likes a dirty book) (jokes on a postcard). Three tables set at jaunty angles for author signings. Books set out on various stands, in order of target age range, separate stands for the winners and authors in attendance, series fiction in order (harder than you'd think).


Peace and quiet reigns. Just calm old us and the books.

Wait a minute... Oh my God, they're all heading straight for us! Man your stations!

300 children, all with pocket money stashed away in folded-up envelopes and stuffed in their pockets. All wanting the same books. Mayhem! Soon there were pound coins flying everywhere, kids whose pocket money fell fifty pence short of the book they really wanted, a plastic bag shortage and a penny piece catastrophe.

And SO much fun.

It's so great as a (wannabe) writer to see 300 children running at you, looking for nothing more than the latest, bestest book. How on earth those lovely authors coped with sitting there with mere canteen tables standing between them and so many excited kids, I will never know, but they all looked incredibly relaxed and calm!

Malorie Blackman hard at work!

Axel Scheffler equally hard at work!

The calm after the (signing) storm.

I love getting involved in stuff like this - it's great for reaffirming your belief in kids' love of books (if you're not left hiding under the tables first). There will be more on volunteering at events like this on Notes from the Slushpile in a couple of weeks, from Mostly Books' Nicki Thornton, but until then I'll just say that it's a great thing to do for anyone, but especially if you're trying to become a writer.


  1. The photo really brings back the day, the madness, and excitement, the terror at adding up with a calculator!

  2. Looks like a great time! An amazing cake too. Yum.

  3. Lovely post - how fabulous to see all those children lining up to buy books! The cake looks spectacular too. So nice to get a glimpse of great children's events like this - thank you for posting about it.

  4. Oooh! I like that Tall Story is in front of that display ... I wonder why? These awards are so important not just to authors but to the whole culture of reading. You gals have helped save the world.

  5. ... and how many cakes did it take to bribe volunteers?

  6. Tall Story quickly disappeared, Candy! (and.. ahem... I have no earthly idea why it's at the front... ahem...)

    Of course we've helped save the world! I've had capes made for the next time we do an event. Who needs Superman when you've got books?

  7. oh, good job, Jo! What a fabbie event!

  8. Glad you enjoyed it - couldn't have done it without you. Be careful carrying all those boxes though - I used to be 5 foot 8.

  9. Sounds like such fun!
    ...but you had to add up? WITHOUT a calculator?

  10. Wonderful to see this, Jo! A fun reminder of what it's all about.


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