Books come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some tell stories. Some are filled with facts. Some rhyme. Some have flaps. They might have photographs inside, or they might have drawings. You can get books that are black and white, or books that explode with colour. . . and some are great to read over and over and over again.
With so many fantastic books to choose from, how does anyone ever know which book to pick?
It can be a very tricky question. That is why Scottish Book Trust recruit a panel of experts every year to help choose which books are included in their Bookbug Bags.
A Bookbug Bag is a wonderful thing. Every year thousands of bags are distributed to children across Scotland, filled with books to be read and enjoyed. These books are gifts that the children can keep and read as they grow.
This year I was incredibly honoured to sit on the panel that chooses which books are to be included in the Baby, Toddler and Explorer Bags, as well as those in the Baby Box.
The big box
When you are asked to sit on the panel, you agree to read all the books that the Scottish Book Trust have shortlisted. This means that a few weeks before the panel meeting, you get a delivery of a pretty heavy box.
Inside the box was over 80 books to be read. The books came with a big list that tells you which book is to be considered for which bag.
I got to have some great fun reading all the books trying to choose a top 5 for each bag. Selecting was tough especially as some books were quite similar. But what helped me was remembering to look for books that everyone could enjoy.
Scottish Book Trust encouraged us, as much as possible, to share the books with children. I tested some out by reading them with my son and a few of his friends and seeing which ones they enjoyed most. Others on the panel tested the books with class groups and families they worked with. This meant we all came with a good idea of what books children responded to best.
Then came the big day. Scottish Book Trust invited everyone who was on the panel to meet together to decide on which books would be included.
The panel was quite big with about 20 experts all there. The experts came from a range of backgrounds. Some ran Bookbug Sessions, some worked in schools, some with charities, some with the NHS and some, like me, were involved in creating children's books.
The Scottish Book Trust team had used everyone's top 5s to create a list of the most popular books. And we talked about each of these books in turn.
It was important to listen to other people's opinions because there were so many different experts in the room. Sometimes after listening to someone else your view changed entirely and a book you thought was no good, you suddenly realised might be brilliant or vice versa.
We spent a long time discussing each book and at the end, we voted on the books to be included in each bag. We tried to choose books that would go well together. This meant we wouldn't have two books about vehicles in the same bag or two books that were both lift-the-flap books.
But most of all, we tried to pick books that were fun and that we thought children would really enjoy.
Now we have chosen, our work as a panel is done. But that doesn't mean the job is finished. Scottish Book Trust now need to get our chosen books ready for the bags. For instance, some books that were quite big might need to be printed a bit smaller to fit inside the bags. The bags then need to be distributed right across the country, so that every child who is of the right age gets the books we selected.
It was a big responsibility to choose a gift for every child in Scotland. I really hope they enjoy reading them as much as I did.