I was asked by friend and fellow author, Catherine Bruton, who also happens to be an English teacher in her spare time, to be a judge in King Edward’s School The Box Factor final. So, still a little uncertain of what I was letting myself in for, I donned lipstick and sequins, practised my Cowell-esque snarl in the mirror, and headed for the school theatre.
On stage, a young boy strode to and fro, deep in final rehearsal. Behind him, last minute technical hitches were spotted and quickly ironed out. Year 7s streamed into the auditorium brushing the crumbs of hastily eaten lunches from their uniforms. I shook hands with my fellow judges – the head girl, the head boy, the librarian – We took our places on the panel, stopwatches at the ready, and battle – I mean – competition commenced.
Distracted for a moment, I glanced across at the tantalising display of story boxes. Each one lovingly made, decorated and filled with artefacts to represent a favourite book. A deceptively simple version of Todd’s journal from The Knife of Never Letting Go sat alongside a fantastically flamboyant, Magic Faraway Tree. An entire ship sailed above them representing Michael Morpurgo’s Alone on a Wide, wide Sea. And of course, this one caught my eye!
Luckily for me, this box was not a grand finalist. This particular story is rather close to my heart and seeing Opal Moonbaby fashioned out of a ball and looking very much like her own planet, well, I would have had a hard time not choosing it. I would have had to be summarily dismissed from the panel. So I pulled myself together and got back to the serious business of judging.
This was such an ingenious idea; students being encouraged to take apart the components of books they’ve loved and put them together again in their own inimitable way for others to enjoy. Each highly individual performance was a personal unwrapping of a favourite book, designed to share the flavour and highlights and persuade the audience to read the book for themselves. As the contents of the boxes were revealed in many and various ways – we watched filmed book trailers, news items, the fictional characters themselves appeared on stage, impassioned speeches were made – I began to panic. How on earth were we going to choose a winner? I had a five star system but could see the librarian next to me was working in decimal points. The head boy was a sportsman and his sheet looked like the score card from a test match at Lords, while the head girl had just been for an interview conducted in Russian and I couldn’t understand her scoring system at all.
Anyway, we managed it in the end. Prizes were awarded and I went home happy, to add a load more book requests to my list for Santa.
The only down side – I didn’t get to do a single snarl!