IT was a close-run thing, producing heated discussion and strong opinions, when avid readers in a Darwen high school were given the task of voting for their choice of "Children's Book of the Year."

As part of their celebration of the National Year of Literacy, Moorland High School chose eight students from years 7, 8 and 9 with a mission to read and review ten selected works of recent children's fiction, donated by WH Smith, Blackburn, in only six weeks.

Only one vote divided the two finalists, giving top marks to "The Crowstarver" by Dick King-Smith, with "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" by JK Rowling coming a very close second.

"I am extremely pleased with the response and level of involvement of the reviewers," said teacher Vik Moriarty, "and by the interest created by the project in the rest of the school."

The results of the book competition were announced today at Darwen Library, where a display, and details of all the books reviewed, will be on show until April 9.

The winning book and runner- up are reviewed here by pupils from the school:

Spider, the boy who is different

THE CROWSTARVER, by Dick King-Smith (Transworld, £10.99 hardback) reviewed by Ben Davies - year 9.

THE Crowstarver is the tragic but inspiring tale of Spider, a young boy who, through no fault of his own, is "different" from the other children. We are made to think that he has learning difficulties yet, in other ways, he is brilliant.

He adores animals and spends all of his free time with them, from the smallest spider to a galloping horse. He can also imitate the noises and sounds of the animals just by listening to them for a few minutes. Spider was found by Tom, a shepherd, on a shivery winter's night. He had been left by a stranger and Tom and his wife Kathie took him in and raised him as their own.

Spider was a strange child; his parents thought that he would grown out of his idiosyncratic ways, but he did not.

However, Tom managed to find Spider the perfect job: crowstarving, or scaring crows from the fields

I really feel for the characters in this story, especially Spider, when people are calling him names behind his back as if he is some kind of medical experiment. Kathie and Tom are portrayed as kind, considerate people.

The story has a tragic but strangely happy ending.

This is a book for the advanced reader and could be enjoyed by adults too. Once opened the book cannot be put down and receives 10 out of 10 for a superb read.

Look out, there's a monster coming

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, by KJ Rowling (Bloomsbury, £10.99 hardback) reviewed by Chris Walton, Year 9.

ORPHAN Harry Potter lives with his aunt's family, the Dursleys, who treat him badly because he has magical powers.

During his holiday from Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a strange creature visits him and warns Harry that he should not return to school, where sinister deeds are about to happen.

Harry, however, ignores this and goes back to Hogwart's.

The term gradually gets worse and worse. While playing the game of quidditch on broomsticks, Harry is badly injured.

He also has a very strange teacher for "Defence against the Dark Arts," and, to top it off, something, or someone, is attacking the students.

The villain, the heir of Slytherin, is back and has released a monster into the school. Harry now starts a thrilling search for answers explaining who the monster is and how to defeat it.

With a great storyline and well-written characters, the book should have won.

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