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Worldwide quiz is inspired idea to get kids into books

By Barbara Henderson

A little bleary-eyed from my Black Water book launch the night before (yes, I have a new book out!), I stumble to the train station. Despite the freezing fog, my train is running to time, and a good thing too – I can’t be late!

I’m on my way to the north-east Scotland heat of the worldwide Kidslit Quiz in Aberdeen. Devised and run by New Zealand-based Wayne Mills, there are heats all around the globe. For extra fun, an authors’ team is included in each competition, although our scores weren’t counted towards a possible win – that had to go to the kids.

Seeing a roomful of kids from 20 schools or more, raring to answer questions on books and nothing but books is enough to get any author excited. I was here last year, but this time, for the first time, a couple of teams from Charleston Academy in Inverness made the journey, too.

As you might expect, Aberdeen schools were well represented, and others had travelled from as far south as Dundee. The game was on!

Some of the rounds were challenging to say the least. A set of questions on ‘colours’ for round one was all but impossible to me. Thankfully, my team included the knowledgeable Alex McCall, author of two humorous middle-grade books and the youngest ever winner of the Kelpies Prize, Scotland’s biggest prize for unpublished writers, in 2013, aged only 19.

The authors' team – (from second left) Alex McCall, Kimberlie Hamilton and Barbara Henderson – with organiser and Harlaw Academy librarian Alison Ustun (left).
The authors' team – (from second left) Alex McCall, Kimberlie Hamilton and Barbara Henderson – with organiser and Harlaw Academy librarian Alison Ustun (left).

Aberdeen-based American Kimberlie Hamilton, author of a string of non-fiction books on animals, came in handy too, especially on US literature. Rounds on precious metals, quests, residences and constructions followed.

Our nemesis was the round on scientists – I have never felt so ignorant in my whole life! But overall, we didn’t disgrace ourselves, which is all that matters, right?

As I sat around, amazed at the general knowledge of these young people, I reflected on how amazing the initiative it is. Wayne Mills, the quizmaster, spends his year reading and creating more than 2000 separate questions for his quizzes, culture-appropriate for the countries he visits (kids in Australia may not know books from Nigeria; Singapore readers may not be familiar with Scottish titles etc).

He and his wife travel around the world in quiz season. Donors and sponsors make these events possible, with winners receiving book tokens of considerable value. The top scorers in each round are free to choose books for themselves too, so that the majority of those taking part will be able to travel home with a book of their choice. So far, so awesome.

But imagine: you travel up from, say, Dundee High School with your teacher and nervously take your place. Over the next two hours, you edge into the win and BOOM! You are on your way to the national final in London in December!

If you are lucky enough to win that one, the next all-expenses-paid trip will take you to the world final, held this year in Hamilton, New Zealand, with a visit to the Hobbiton film set thrown in for good measure and the chance to meet 20 famous authors in person. Mind officially blown!

We need more initiatives like this, incentivising reading and modelling enthusiasm for the written word to the next generation. Well done Dundee High!

Incidentally, many of the questions this year drew on the world of comics. I thought I’d reflect this in my recommendation today.

Look out for: A brand-new Manga adaptation of Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, adapted by Inverness comic writer Richmond Clements and illustrated by London-based Manga artist Inko.

Vibrant and exploding with energy, this earns its place on anyone’s bookshelf, particularly for those who love Scots and the work of our national bard.

Tam O'Shanter by Richmond Clements.
Tam O'Shanter by Richmond Clements.

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