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Tzar retires but Kids’ Lit Quiz reign continues

Tzar retires but Kids’ Lit Quiz reign continues

Most people look forward to a rest when they retire, but as Wayne Mills is retiring to dedicate himself to the Kids’ Lit Quiz he created; he’s probably going to be even busier.

The University of Auckland senior lecturer wants to expand the quiz to more corners of the world and is aiming to have it running in 20 countries by 2020.

Wayne first started researching kids’ books when he started teaching at Napier Intermediate in 1971.

“There was a woman on the staff there who was also the librarian who said to me ‘Wayne, you will never remember every book you read unless you write it down’. Little did I know what great advice that was.”

From then on every time he read a children’s book he had a pen in one hand poised above a library index card. When an interesting topic or twist came up in the book he would write a question about it and the accompanying answer.

When Wayne started the Kids’ Lit Quiz in 1991 he already had an encyclopaedic level of knowledge of children’s literature all carefully documented in a filing cabinet in his office. Not only is he the Quiz Master, they now call him the Tzar of Kids’ Lit, with over 40 years of children’s literature behind him.

His idea was to create a game similar to Trivial Pursuit, except where all the wedges would be different literary genres.

Aimed at 10 to 13 year-olds, teams consist of four students who work together to answer wide-ranging literary questions. They are asked 100 questions from 10 categories. These questions vary every year and can be sourced from classic children’s literature to the latest best seller.

”There’s no reading list, the kids have to read everything that’s been written for kids in the last 200 years.”

“The kids love it because they know it’s a real challenge, it’s not been dumbed down in any way.”

Now it’s a huge event and on the literary calendar of most New Zealand primary schools.

“Kids just have to read their hearts out and it forces them to read hugely.”

In New Zealand and around the world thousands of school children aged between 10 and 13 have been involved in this hugely popular event.

Even rock-star Lorde sings its praises. She fondly recalls her first overseas trip to South Africa when she was 12 with Belmont Intermediate’s Kid's Lit team to represent New Zealand after winning the national finals in 2008.

In the late 1990s teams from Australia took part, but the quiz really took off when kids from Newcastle in north-east England first participated in 2003.

This encouraged other parts of the UK to join, followed by South Africa in 2005, China in 2006, Canada, the United States and Australia in 2011 and Singapore and Honk Kong in 2013.

Not content with taking the quiz to all four corners of the world, Wayne’s intention now is to expand the quiz into even more countries, especially within the Commonwealth.

He wants to have the quiz in 20 countries by 2020 including Malaysia, Indonesia and the republic of Ireland. He’s also had requests to take the quiz to Uruguay, Botswana, Bahrain, Cyprus, Nigeria and Kenya.

This will mean more reading and travel for Wayne, who already reads about 100 books a year to keep up-to-date with the latest children’s literature.

Next week he heads to Falmouth, Cornwall in the UK with New Zealand’s winning team from Awakeri School near Whakatane to host the world final on Tuesday 8 July at the Princess Pavilion.

Wayne says it’s great that while millions of people are counting down to the FIFA World Cup final on 13 July, a quiz based on kid’s literature has also gripped thousands of school children around the world and is reaching its dramatic conclusion in the same week.

Wayne says it’s all worth it for the reward of seeing kids enjoying developing their reading both by themselves, but also with the support of their families.

Initially Kids’ Lit was began to encourage and reward students for their reading ability, but over time it has motivated and fostered students’ self-sufficiency and encouraged students to widen their scope of reading.

As the quiz has grown so too has the evidence of its benefits to kids’ reading. There’s a growing body of work and research to show that the quiz is improving their reading range and age levels. One obvious improvement is the increase of boys’ participation in the quiz. Now about 50 per cent of the contestants are boys, who have traditionally lagged behind girls in reading ability.

“What I am doing with the quizzes around the world is that they’re having more impact on reading than what I’ve done in the classroom and the university. It’s about reading for pleasure.”

“This quiz is opening doors both literally and figuratively for children around the world to enjoy reading.”


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