As I wait to board the coach for Heathrow with my colleague Liz Burden and my team of young readers, Toby, Cloudy, Ronni and Sarah, my thoughts go back to November 2004, when this same team, together with four other avid readers, travelled to Abingdon for the regional Heats of the Kids' Lit Quiz. After an amazing close-run competition, our team won, and the next stage was to travel to Newcastle in December to take part in the National final. There was lots to be done and lots to read in preparation. Not in our wildest dreams did we think that we would eventually win that ultimate prize. Well we did win - by one point in an exciting finish. To say that we were all elated was an understatement. The accolades came thick and fast, lots of photographs were taken, prizes awarded and a cake presented to be eaten later back at our home base The Cherwell School, Oxford. After we arrived back, weary but overjoyed, a daunting task lay ahead of us: how on earth were we going to raise the money to get us all there? (The prize of entry into the International Competition in Auckland New Zealand and a tour of the Southern part of North Island was to start as soon as we touched down at the airport.) So for the following six months we were busy writing to Companies, Authors, local shops and even organising our own "Pub Quiz Night" at school (where we raised £1500) to try to get enough money to take the six of us to New Zealand and back. Well we did it, through sponsorships from so many of our supporters, TES, OSLA, Philip Pullman, local businesses, OUP, and several generous individuals, we reached our goal. The total cost of all airfares and expenses was covered by the money donated.
We set off for Auckland on the 7th June in high spirits ready to take part in the International Final on Saturday 11th June. We arrived later than expected as Auckland Airport was fog bound and we had to divert to Christchurch in South Island. The following day, we were all shown the sights of this fantastic city with the first stop being a view from the top of the Sky Tower. We then had a private Maori welcome at the University of Auckland. The occasion was very moving and has left special memories for us all. The next day brought forth the climax of weeks of preparation - The Final of the Quiz! In a very nail biting finish and after a slow start, our team came in a well deserved third out of a total of 14 teams. Each of the students, Toby, Cloudy, Ronni and Sarah answered at least one of the questions.
This was followed by The Kids' Lit Official Dinner where the teams all mixed together sitting on different tables and making new friends, some of
which will last for years to come. Cloudy read one of her favourite stories by Philip Pullman and then we were treated to an after dinner talk by the New Zealand Author David Hill. The following day the team took active parts in the Storylines Festival sponsored by Paper Plus. They had two question and answer sessions where they had to ask questions of the audience i.e. under 5's under 12's under 16's and adults.
For each question answered correctly the child or adult were given a free book. Ronni retold her favourite Hans Christian Story "The Little Mermaid" to a packed room and then each member of the team, together with the winning South African and New Zealand teams, spoke about their favourite stories in Borders Bookshop in front of the general public. Sarah, the eldest member of the team, was even asked for her autograph as she was browsing the shelves!
The official part of our trip over, we were all taken, together with theSouth African Team, on a whirlwind trip of the Southern part of NorthIsland. We saw Geysers in Rotorua, "Craters of the Moon" Kiwi'sthe famous redwood trees and New Zealand's Flora and Fauna at Rainbow Springs. We then went on to watch a Sheep Show at the Agro dome, a Maori Concert which was followed by a fantastic dinner of local cuisine and a walk through a Maori Village. Next was a cruise on Lake Taupo, a short stop at Hobbiton (the site of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy), a trip to Glow Worm caves, and a visit to a school in Hamilton, where we were warmly welcomed and treated to a lunch and a tour of the library and school.
We returned to Auckland on Friday 17th June for the official farewell dinner at a local restaurant where Cloudy made a very nice "Thank You" speech and all the students handed our hosts and local sponsors mementoes of Oxford. During our last full day, it rained for the first time, so after a short spell shopping we spent the rest of our time in this beautiful and friendly country at the home of our Quiz Master, Prof. Wayne Mills. After E-mail addresses were exchanged and tears shed, we bade our sad farewells, promising to return to visit this fascinating country sometime in the future. After a brief stop in Singapore, we arrived home to our families, tired but also exhilarated with heads and hearts full of memories which will last a lifetime.
A few quotes from the Team:
Jacky Atkinson was (at time of writing) the Librarian Resources Co-ordinator at the Cherwell School in Oxford, and is now KLQ National Co-ordinator for the UK.