worm pointing children's zone

CLPE poetry award

Tony Mitton on being a judge | 20-Jun-06

Hello Readers,

My name's Tony Mitton and I'm one of the author judges for the 2005-2006 clpe poetry award. I've been asked to say a few things about being a judge on this award, so I'll write a paragraph or two about this. Remember that anything I write here is just an impression or an opinion, so that while you might take note of what I say you don't have to agree with me.

By the time the author judges get involved in this award quite a bit of selection has already taken place. A panel of teachers and, I think, at least one clpe representative, have looked at all the available books of poetry written for children during the previous year. They've sifted out the best books in their joint opinion (usually between 5 & 10 books).

So as an author judge I only had to look closely at 7 books to start with. As the reading went on we three judges began to ask to look at some other titles we'd noticed on the original long list, and in the end one or two of those got onto the short list. So it seems that though there's a panel choosing the shortlist to begin with, the author judges are allowed to interfere with this and change it a bit.

This is how I do my judging.

To start with I organise my working life so that for a few weeks I find time most days just to read. During this time I gradually read my way through the books, trying to make sure I'm not reading when I'm feeling stale and dull. You can't judge a text fairly if you're feeling off when you read it, I find.

While reading I try to keep an open mind and not to rush into fixed judgements. I make notes if I want to, or just memory notes in my mind. Gradually, bit by bit, I begin to have opinions about the books that seem somehow more special than others.

A lot of the time I swing between thinking, 'Am I finding this a really good poetry book?' and 'Would primary age children, as I remember them, be likely to enjoy and appreciate this book?' As well as being a writer for children I am also an ex primary school teacher and also a parent who took a big interest in the books my son & daughter were reading during their childhood. I use my experience in these respects to help me judge the books I think most likely to 'sing' to primary age children, all the time remembering that Yr 1 pupils are much younger than Yr 6 pupils, and also remembering that some children are more ambitious & maturer readers than others.

Of course, poetry is very varied in its moods and styles. There's everything from whacky yuck-splat kinds of writing to very deep and thoughtful text which encourages the reader to think and feel carefully.

Because of this, all the time I'm trying to balance what I really like and admire with what I think many children might take to. I'm also trying to be fair to different kinds of writing, not necessarily ruling things out just because they're, say, funny (there are fine traditions in humorous verse)
nor because they might be too serious (I know that many children think and feel strongly and deeply from an early age).

As a judge I'm not entirely in control of which books get through to being commended, nor which single book finally gets the clpe award. To start with, there are two or three author judges (this year Valerie Bloom, Roger McGough and me, Tony Mitton). At the final meeting we give our opinions and can influence each other by what we say. Interestingly, both years I've found the author judges seem to have had quite similar opinions. So maybe good books really do rise to the surface naturally? I wouldn't want to be too sure about that, though.

Along with the author judges there are also panel members &/or guests who also are an important influence on the final meeting. Their role seems to be to push the author judges to be as sure as possible about what they're saying. Sometimes they argue with us, not necessarily to change our minds, but at least to put a different case and to get us to think a bit harder about what we?ve begun to decide.

In the end we manage to produce an honour list, a list of books we think that children will enjoy and benefit from and which teachers also will find useful as a resource in their classrooms & schools. Out of that list we try to choose one book which stands up as the best thing all round: a book whose poems are good and varied, whose illustrations are appropriate and accomplished, and whose design and production values are also strong. That book gets the prize.

I hope you get to read some of the books on the list. A poetry book, of course, you don't have to read right through. You can dip into it, flick through it and chance across all kinds of things that you can spend special time on or just skip over, as the mood takes you or as your taste dictates.

Happy reading,

Tony Mitton

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