Towards the end of last year I received a lovely email from the fab people at Booktrust, asking me if I would be interested in being part of the panel who would select the books for this year's Bookbuzz scheme. Bookbuzz is a scheme run by Booktrust, whereby school's can pay £2.50 per Year 7 pupil, and in return every one of those pupils will be able to choose a brand new book. The list of books changes each year, with the books being chosen by a panel of 'experts', which always includes at least one teacher and one librarian. Please take time to head on over to their website at http://www.bookbuzz.org.uk/ to read about the scheme in more detail.
I felt very flattered to have been approached by Booktrust, and needless to say I responded with a very enthusiastic "Yes please!" And so, shortly after Christmas, a box containing the first books from the long list of 84 titles arrived and I started reading (following a quick sigh of relief when I worked out that I had already read fifteen of the titles on the list). The plan was that by the time the panel had its first meeting in February every book on the list would have been read by at least two members of the panel.
Mid-February came and the other four panel members and I braved the storms and floods to head into London for our first meeting. I guess this might always be a slightly nervous time for the Bookbuzz team, bringing together a group of people who might have very different tastes and opinions. Arguments? Rants? Fights? I suppose it really could have kicked off, but it didn't. We gelled as a team very quickly, and the object of the first meeting - to arrive at a list of 35-40 books that we would all then read before the final selection meeting in March - was achieved incredibly smoothly, and everyone left with big smiles on their faces.
Cue more reading, and this time we only had a month to read any books on the list that we hadn't already read. I found myself reading during even the tiniest free moment to make sure I was able to give a full and honest opinion at the final meeting, and those four weeks simply flew by. Come mid-March we all met up again (this time in much nicer weather conditions), with four hours set aside for coming up with our final list of twelve books. And we managed to do this in just two hours, much to the surprise and delight of the team from Booktrust. It just happened that the books that were huge favourites of mine, just happened to be very popular with other members of the team, and vice versa. In fact, some books were so popular that they made it on to the final list with very little final discussion at all.
In the end, the biggest challenge was to ensure that there was something for everyone on that final list - boys, girls, struggling readers - and we also had to make sure that there was a mixture of fiction genres, non-fiction, poetry and short stories. This meant that some very popular titles had to be relegated to the reserve list, but that is only as a result of the wonderfully sheer breadth and diversity of the titles that had been submitted by publishers.
Of course, we were then sworn to absolute secrecy until the list was officially released, and that happened last Wednesday. It's great to be able to finally talk about it, and I look at that list of twelve books and genuinely feel that we have chosen a great list of books. Even better, along with some very famous names in children's literature, we have also managed to choose some brilliant debut titles, and hopefully this will bring these new writers the increased attention they deserve.
It was an absolute privilege to work with Jake, Rosemary, Leanne and Katherine as part of the Bookbuzz panel. I read many books that I might otherwise never have picked up, some of which I absolutely loved (Geek Girl and Stories of WWI being perfect examples). Huge thanks must also go to Laura, Caroline and Alison from Booktrust for looking after us so well (and thanks also to the ever fabulous Rosi Crawley for suggesting me as a possible panel member in the first place). If, as a librarian, teacher or blogger, you are ever offered the opportunity to take part as a panel member then please make sure to accept the offer - you will not regret it. Despite there being a huge number of books to read, at no point did it feel like a chore, and you will be left with a warm glow inside, in the knowledge that you have been involved in a scheme that brings joy to a lot of children, a worrying number of whom currently have next to no books of their own.
If you are a teacher or school librarian then I really recommend taking part in this scheme. You have until 23rd July to register, and you can do so by heading to http://www.bookbuzz.org.uk/about-us/register/