The Big Bookend has run two writing competitions – a Pirate Writing Competition for children aged 5-11 and a Review Writing Competition for young people 11+.


Pirate competition poster copy      BBE YA competition flyer copy

Pirate writing competition – winner reviews

Daniel Ingram-Brown
Daniel Ingram-Brown

Comments by Daniel Ingram-Brown

Swash-Me-Buckles the Pirate by Bo Hashemi [Category: Ages 5-7]

From the moment you read the name of the pirate in the title, you know it’s going to be a fun story. It doesn’t disappoint. This is a tale about a lost sock (‘as smelly as a dustbin’). But it isn’t just anybody’s sock. No. It belongs to the infamous Captain Hook. The collision of an iconic baddie with something as everyday as a smelly sock, is a clever idea full of humorous potential. There’s good use of dialogue, as the pirate and her friends (yes, this pirate is a female – a nice surprise) approach Hook, at first with fear but then with growing boldness. I enjoyed the twist at the end, when they all become friends! I always like a story that makes me think about something differently. This story made me think of Captain Hook in a different way – it made me imagine him as older, more ordinary, grumpy, and perhaps a little less fierce. I think this is Hook after his swashbuckling days are over, luckily for Swash-Me-Buckle and her friends! Well done, Bo.


The Odd Dog By Seth Kellar [Category: Ages 8-9]

This story made me laugh from the start. It has a lovely, surreal quality. The picture painted of the quirky crew aboard their bright pink ship, is vivid and imaginative. This is a cast of characters I hope will have lots more adventures together! I loved that Seth undercuts our traditional ideas about pirates, making them ‘quite clean’ and ‘thirsty for a cup of tea’. The way he contradicts his own narrative voice (using brackets) makes his style engaging and unique. The bungling crew mistaking their dog for a parrot is a wonderfully humorous plot idea, and the twist at the end, where the competition judge shows himself to be equally stupid (hopefully not a reflection of all competition judges!) is a clever end to a well-crafted tale.


How to Fight a Kraken By Anthony Zhao [Category: Ages 10-11]

A powerfully simple story, Anthony Zhao’s tale is full of dark atmosphere and vivid language. In the introductory paragraph we learn that it has been foretold that a monster will rise again from its slumber. This draws the reader in, setting up the epic nature of the battle ahead. Anthony then takes us into brooding, dangerous waters, where the sky is as ‘black as coal’ and a shadow moves under the ship. There is a lovely use of active language, as the mythical creature, the Kraken, ‘erupts out of the sea’ and we see its ‘barbed teeth’ and ‘sword-like spikes’. The story builds well, culminating in the final battle. Like all good monster stories, this beast seems unbeatable and relentless. There is a real sense of threat, as we’re told that the crew are almost drowned and the captain fears that ‘at this rate, I could be the only survivor’. But, of course, in such a tale, the beast must die. I love the image we’re left with as it slumps back into the sea, the water ‘red with blood’. The journal style of the story works well and I’m glad that in the end the captain of this ship lives to fight another day!


David Harmer
David Harmer

Poetry Competition

Comments by David Harmer

The Pirate Captain By Harry Robinson

Usually it is hard to rhyme well, but Harry is very good at it, and I liked the way the last two lines of the poem echo the first two, a clever poetry trick. The bounce and beat of the poem are very successful and it is song like, almost a sea-shanty. So technically the poem works well and of course, Harry has put a load of really excellent pirate stuff into the lines. A very good poem! Oooo-arrr!


Review Writing Competition

June Taylor
June Taylor

Comments by June Taylor

Saba Hussain “The Quietness” (age 13)

I thought Saba’s review was honest and informative and she sets the scene very well, describing the two main characters and their contrasting lives in 19th Century London. She describes it as “a breathtaking book” and her review has really made me want to read it! I was particularly impressed that she picks up on the style of the storytelling, remarking that one character’s side of the story is in 1st person, the other in 3rd person, and considers why she thinks this works.

I think it’s a very fair comment she makes about the book’s front cover. In today’s climate where books are very fiercely marketed you’d think they wouldn’t design a cover which makes you think the book is going to be “tedious”! In Saba’s view it really didn’t do its job, so I’m left wondering how she ever came to read it in the first place then? I think Saba’s own idea for the front cover sounds much more appealing and would draw me in. Much like her review has drawn me in and persuaded me to read this book some time soon.


Nadia Mahmood “Allegiant” (age 15)

Nadia’s style is very energetic, reflecting the pace and excitement of this book I think. I’m not immediately drawn towards this type of subject matter to be honest, but again Nadia has made me want to read it so that’s a reflection on how effective her review is. That said, she critiques it very well, exploring thoroughly why she connected so closely with the characters, in particular with the heroine Tris.

I was pleased she gave me some background about the author because an author’s motivation for writing the book always helps me make a decision as to whether I’d like to read it or not. Although Nadia says this is one of the best books she’s ever read and gives it a glowing ten out of ten, she does however imply that she thought it was a little too violent and tragic. I liked her honesty.

I love Nadia’s emotional response to the book and the fact that she’s not afraid to say that she has learned something from reading it. Her reader recommendation at the end is very useful as she suggests what sort of person would enjoy it and it’s helpful to know there are more books in the series.

I think my one criticism of Nadia’s style is I would’ve liked a little more punctuation, but in a way it added to her enthusiasm and her excitement! Again I got a good feeling for this book and she has convinced me that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I started reading it. I’m glad though that she prepares the reader for the fact it is violent and tragic.


Helen Brandom
Helen Brandom

Comments by Helen Brandom

Saba Hussain “The Quietness” (age 13)

Saba takes us quickly to a crucial part of ‘The Quietness’: the mysterious way in which a large number of strangely silent babies are adopted in the middle of the night. This makes the reader of Saba’s review more than eager to learn what suspicious happenings lie at the heart of this Young Adult novel (based on fact). Queenie, 15, from a poverty stricken background, is one of the two main characters. The other is wealthy Ellen, 16, from the other side of the tracks. Saba points out that Ellen tells her part of the story in the first person, whereas Queenie’s is told in the third person. The writer’s decision makes me want to read the book. Why is Ellen in the first person? Is she more important than Queenie? I’ve downloaded ‘The Quietness’ – so will be able to form my own opinion. Thank you, Saba, for making me want to read the book. Isn’t this the reason for reviews: either to make us eager to read a particular book – or warn us that it might not be worth reading! This is not the case where ‘The Quietness’ is concerned. Well, done Saba!


Nadia Mahmood “Allegiant” (age 15)

Nadia’s in-depth review of ‘Allegiant’ introduced me to Veronica Roth, a writer I didn’t know. Sadly, I haven’t had time to read this Young Adult dystopian novel, but Nadia’s words have gone a long way to make me intrigued by a story that looks to be so strong on love and friendship; in fact on a whole range of emotions – from love, right through to violence and conflict. It interests me that Nadia expresses her dislike of lethal weapons and the book’s inclusion of over generous helpings of tragedy. I get the feeling that although she admires the writer tremendously, Nadia feels that with greater sensitivity the same end result could have been achieved. Well done, Nadia!

Review of Passions and Pressures, Young Women in Fiction by Nadia Mahmood

Our Review Writing Competition winner, Nadia Mahmood, reviews our Passions and Pressures event which took place as part of this year’s festival.

Two novels both inscribed with a feminine touch. The event allowed the audience to hear the reasons behind the words printed in these mind blowing novels and the authors gave us a sneaky peek of what lay ahead.

The Secrets of the Henna Girl written by Sufiya Ahmed, a  novel as inspiring as her dedication. The story explores the life of a girl called Zeba who is being forced to marry her cousin, trapped in a remote village in Pakistan. Zeba is left shattered beyond words but her parents’ family honour blinds them from seeing their suffering daughter. Sufiya explained that the front cover which is handcuffs upon bridal hands was because she spoke to force marriage victims who described their marriage as the day they were imprisoned. This novel shows readers the harsh reality of some girls’ lives.

Embers by Amy Keen, a story where the Salem witch trials are coming back to life and the darkest secrets are unravelled. Scarlett has to try to cover up her power before she gains unwanted attention but will she be able to hide the visions. Amy Keen talked about her favourite books which were Twilight and Divergent series and her passion  is evident in her novel.

The authors are both clearly hard working and their novels are a true reflection of that. They have also created two new heroines, Zeba and Scarlett.

From L to R: Dr Helen Reid, Sufiya Ahmed, Nadia Mahmood, Amy Keen. Photo by Steve Evans.
From L to R: Dr Helen Reid, Sufiya Ahmed, Nadia Mahmood, Amy Keen. Photo by Steve Evans.
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