I left a fog-shrouded Nottingham at the crack of dawn and, after a four-hour train journey, emerged blinking into the Hampshire sunshine in time for a pleasant lunch with the awards organisers, Kathryn, Hannah and Emma, from Hampshire’s Schools Library Service.
The award is for the best picture book for older readers as voted for by Year 5 pupils in Hampshire schools. The presentation was held at Ringwood Junior School and in addition to Ringwood’s Year 5 pupils, children from several other schools were also in attendance, as was my editor, Emily Ford, who had torn herself away from Macmillan’s frantic final preparations for the Bologna book fair.
The award came in the form of a piece of engraved glass, which looked like it had been plucked from Superman’s crystalline Fortress of Solitude. After being presented with the award, I explained how the story had been partly inspired by the real Santa traps I had built as a child.
After reading the book, I sprung a surprise on the audience by showing them a video message from the book’s illustrator, Poly Bernatene. Poly was unable to attend the presentation as he lives in Argentina, but had sent me the video message to say “Thank you” for the award. The video turned out to be an even bigger surprise than I’d anticipated as, until that point, nearly everyone attending had been under the impression that Poly was a woman (as his name is so similar to the English girl’s name “Polly”). However the video showed otherwise and got a big round of applause.
It’s a huge shame that picture books and other illustrated books are often regarded as being for young children only — especially when there are talented illustrators like Poly producing such fabulous artwork. So it’s great that Hampshire has this award to recognise their wider appeal.
I’d like to say a huge “THANK YOU!” to all the children who voted for the book and to the School Library Service for organising the award and looking after me so well on the day.