Earlier this year, Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest delivered to 18 primary schools across Shropshire hundreds of copies of The Best Christmas Present in the World, a short story by the former children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo.  It describes how in December 1914 the British and German forces famously laid down their arms to play a game of football.  The story is told through a letter that is found by chance almost a century later, bringing one soldier’s experience hauntingly to life.

To accompany this book, Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest created a letter writing competition.  The children were encouraged to write a letter, either in the past or in the present day, to or from someone working in a war zone or an area of conflict.  The Bookfest organisers were completely overwhelmed by the response from the schools – over 800 letters were written and sent in to be judged.  After tears, laughter and deep admiration generated by the language, themes and interpretation in the pupils’ letters, the judges finally managed to select winners from each year group.

Naomi Ashford's letter, Albrighton Primary School

Naomi Ashford’s letter, Albrighton Primary School

Holly Barnes with Michael Morpurgo

Holly Barnes with Michael Morpurgo

The  winners were invited to Theatre Severn on Sunday 16th November to watch the sold out performance of Michael Morpurgo’s play of The Best Christmas Present in the World, adapted from the book, starring himself and Virginia McKenna and the singing group, ‘Voices at the Door’, directed by Simon Reade.  In a special private gathering after the play, Michael Morpurgo met the winners of the letter writing competition to chat about the project and to present them with their prizes.

The winning entries are now on display at the Shropshire Regimental Museum in Shrewsbury Castle.