Friday, 17 January 2014

Different Flavours of Kids - Elizabeth Kay


The Kids' Lit Quiz  is an annual literature competition for children aged 10 to 13. It puts bookworms at the heart of things and lets them compete for fantastic prizes. The quiz has heats in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, USA, Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Australia; winning teams qualify for national and world finals. The Kids Lit Quiz is not for profit and run entirely by volunteers. International sponsors include Serco, Softlink, Scholastic and Oxford University Press.

I’ve been in the authors’ team a couple of times – it’s a for-fun addition to the teams taking part in the regional finals. In 2013 there were about 26 teams, and the questions were grouped into categories such as Owls, the Supernatural – and Mythical Beasts. I felt really honoured that one of the questions was about a character in The Divide. The authors’ team acquitted themselves well (as surely they ought, having the benefit of many more years’ reading, and an example to set!) but were pushed extremely hard by the winners. Wayne Mills is the quiz compiler and compѐre, and he does a truly fantastic job. Schools can find details about entering on the website, and some practice questions which will give them an idea of what to expect. The kids who take part in these quizzes are always a joy – they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t avid readers to start with, and this is reflected in the breadth of their general knowledge and the ease with which they discuss a diversity of topics. It’s also nice to meet up with other authors, such as Mark Robson.

Obviously, all children’s authors want to encourage reading, but encouraging writing is part of it too. I’ve been asked to read entire manuscripts, as well as the more usual requests for free signed copies of books and general writing advice. In the US, many schools tell their pupils to contact authors when they’re writing book reports. The emails I get vary widely. Sometimes they’re lengthy and articulate enquiries about particular aspects of my characters; however, the most terrifying questions I’ve ever fielded were face-to-face at a talk I gave in Ukraine, where I was asked about the imaginary world on the other side of The Divide, and whether it reflected British society or was a more utopian concept. All this by a ten-year-old in nearly perfect English. Other times I’ve been asked to pay a quick visit to a school on the other side of the world, or sent a list of questions that have clearly been compiled by the teacher. And lastly, there are those emails which (I hope!) haven’t been supervised by a member of staff at the school at all. What inspired you as an author is a favourite, and can sometimes arrive with no name, no school, no explanation and no please. About a month ago I got fed up with this, and although I did include an answer to the question I made my feelings plain, expecting to hear no more about it. I also said that if this was how the teacher had instructed students to write to authors, he or she shouldn’t be surprised if the class got very few replies, and it would be a good idea to show this email to the person concerned. To my utter surprise I got an apology, an explanation, and an offer to send me the project concerned once it was finished. We corresponded several times, and I’d like to think that the sender learned a valuable lesson about being polite when you ask for something. I was finally told that very few pupils had received any replies at all. This correspondent was perfectly capable of being pleasant and polite, and was clearly a nice kid – the need to behave in that way had never been explained.

            Some correspondents start off as ten-year-olds, and are interested mainly in dragon
anatomy or whether there is such a thing as magic. As they get older they continue to write to me, but they want to know whether there’s any chance of a romantic relationship between my main characters – a human boy and an elf. Of course, there’s a long history of this sort of thing in English folk songs – Tam Lin springs to mind, although once disenchanted he does turn out to be a highly eligible human being. And then, in the end, the young readers grow up – and the stayers are the ones who frequently start writing themselves. This side of being an author is immensely rewarding.

            A lots of children do really enjoy competition, and surely something that is entered into on a voluntary basis is well worth supporting. So congratulations to the City of London School for Girls, who won this year’s UK final, and keep reading in preparation for the World final in Falmouth on 9th July 2014. Long live the Kids Lit Quiz!

4 comments:

madwippitt said...

Competition is a wonderful thing! It's what started me off writing!

Nick Green said...

I was all set to attent the North London heat this year, but had to cancel on the day due to unforeseen circumstances. Most disappointing for me! It's an amazing event.

Lydia Bennet said...

your enthusiasm telling about their enthusiasm is inspiring! and I'm sure your corresponding with young readers is making a difference to their lives and future reading - and writing.

Dennis Hamley said...

Like you, Elizabeth, I'm a regular at KLQ contests. They are wonderful occasions:they make you feel that books are being read voraciously despite Gove's efforts to make sure nothing written after 1880 is ever looked at in schools. Wayne really is an extraordinary man. To start single-handedly what has become a world-wide institution isn't easy. And he's great to have a drink in the pub with afterwards. Yes, I too have been in authors' teams many times. In the Oxford heats in November so many of us turned up that there had to be two authors' teams. The other lot beat us by half a point - but together we won the whole quiz, though got no prizes. Strange. Authors usually finish about sixth.