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Dinkin Dings and reading are the winners

The excited sound of more than 1,500 children reverberated around the Kings Theatre in Southsea yesterday.

But it wasn't pop stars or actors that provoked the deafening roar – it was reading.

The ninth annual Portsmouth Book Awards once again filled the theatre with excited 10 and 11-year-olds, ready to hear the winner of the shorter novel category – one of three awards given by the School Library Service.

For the past few months, 1,753 pupils from 28 schools have been reading and voting for all five books on the category shortlist that included Wizard Dog, Bamba Beach and A Bit of a Hero.

That makes an astonishing total of 8,765 books read, and end-to-end that many books would stretch from the Kings Theatre to the Central Library in Guildhall Square.

As Councillor Lee Hunt, cabinet member for sport and culture, walked on stage to announce the winner, a huge cheer went up from the assembled children.

After a few agonising minutes, he finally put them out of their misery and declared 35-year-old Guy Bass the winner for Dinkin Dings and the Frightening Things.

The ex-actor and theatre company director then took to the stage and thrilled the crowd with hilarious tales of his own phobias. Tales of spiders in particular provoked fits of giggles.

This was followed by tributes to the winning book by two schools who had been forewarned about the winner.

Court Lane Junior School in Cosham performed a short ghoulish play telling the story of Dinkin, the boy who was frightened of everything except monsters.

Sending their schoolmates shivering and giggling in equal measure, the year five class used spooky sound effects and projected images to recreate the comic tale.

Next up were 30 pupils from Cottage Grove Primary in Southsea, who launched into a song inspired by Dinkin's adventure.

A huge sing-a-long inevitably followed and the children were even asked to repeat their performance.

To send them on their way, all the children were encouraged to take up a summer reading challenge to read four books over the holidays to make sure they keep up the good work.

Cllr Hunt declared the event a fantastic success, claiming it was even better than last year.

He said: 'I think it will just keep getting better because kids are enjoying reading all the more. Today they were rooting for their favourite books and it really got them going. '

He added: 'I think it's amazing to see kids enjoying reading again like this, and it's all down to the library staff, all the volunteers, the teachers and the mums and dads. The enjoyment of reading really came out in the crowd's response, and in my eyes all the authors deserve to be winners.

'The fact that Guy Bass is only 35 just goes to show how many careers there are in culture, leisure and sport.'

THOUSANDS INVOLVED IN VOTE

This year a total of 3,663 children were involved in voting for the Book Award winners.

In the category of longer novel - judged by year eight and nine pupils from secondary schools – the winner was Sophie McKenzie for her novel The Set Up.

Sophie won the award for the second successive year, having won in 2009 with her book Blood Ties.

Taking part in that vote were 136 pupil judges from 11 Portsmouth secondary schools.

The award for best picture book - judged by Year One pupils from infant schools – was claimed by Jane Devlin for her book Hattie The Bad. This was the author's first picture book and it was voted the winner by a total of 1,840 pupil judges from 31 Portsmouth schools.

WINNER GUY SAYS: 'IT'S SURREAL'

After the roar that went up from the Kings Theatre crowd, there's no doubting that Guy Bass was a popular winner.

He certainly impressed the children with his jokes and stories, but then with a theatre background confidence on stage seems to come naturally .

Yet even with experience of excited crowds, the 35-year-old wasn't ready for the rock star's reception he received from almost 1,700 avid readers.

'It's just totally surreal,' he said. 'There is nothing that can prepare you for this.

'I never imagined when sitting in my study coming up with ideas that I would end up here being mobbed by hundreds of children.

'But it's absolutely fantastic. To see how excited they get about reading just blows my mind.'

Guy started in a London theatre company but is now the author of 14 children's books. Yesterday was the second anniversary of when the first book in his Dinkin Dings series was published.

His award-winning latest work is number three in the series, which he said started as an extended poem.

He said: 'I was going to write it as a poem to begin with, but I'm not very good at making things rhyme.

'It probably works better as a book anyway.'

Guy said his first book – about a monster who is too weedy to leave the house – actually came from his experiences as a temp worker in London.

'I was doing this terrible job and one day I wrote a page based on how I was feeling and it all grew from there. I never predicted it would take me this far but it's been a great journey.

'Being a writer is a pretty fun job all-in-all.'

EAGER READERS ARE RECOGNISED WITH AWARDS

Eager readers were also recognised at the awards yesterday when one girl and one boy were revealed as the Readers of the Year.

The lucky winners were Phoenix Compton, from Arundel Court Junior School, in Landport, and Shannon Bartholomew, from St John's Primary School, Fratton.

Phoenix, 10, from Landport, said: 'I love funny books and scary books the best, that's why I wanted Dinkin Dings to win. I read a 500-page Darren Shan book in a week once, that was the longest book I've read.'

Shannon, 10, from Hilsea, said: 'My mum used to read me stories when I was little and I've loved reading ever since. Jacqueline Wilson is my favourite.'

The other shortlisted children were: Hannah Gough, Copnor Junior School; Lydia Weedon, Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School; Ria Olford, Craneswater Junior School; Megan Cleary, Fernhurst Junior School; Amelia Whittingham, Highbury Primary School; Pippa Manning, Isambard Brunel Junior School; Anya Stuart, Langstone Junior School; Phoebe Lord, Mayville High School; Dayna McEntee, Meon Junior School; Adrian Duffy,Portsdown Primary School.

Cerys Rogers, Solent Junior School; Eliza O'Sullivan, St Jude's Primary School; Ison Wilson, St Paul's Catholic Primary School; Lizzie Cameron, St Swithun's Catholic Primary School; Rosie Robbins, Westfield Junior School; Faith Eweh, Wimborne Junior School.

 
 
 

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