World Book Day used to be just that – one day. In essence it still is of course, but schools increasingly are seizing the opportunity to create a Book Week, celebrating reading and writing and the sheer enjoyment of giving your imagination full play. This is excellent news for children; quite apart from the educational value of books, the ability to lose yourself in a good story is, after all, one of the great pleasures in life and there’s no better time to set this habit going than in childhood.
I visited four schools over Book Week and after and spoke about Ante’s Inferno to audiences ranging from 20 to 120 young people; sometimes just a single yeargroup, at others, the whole of Years 5 to 8. It didn’t matter if the children were 9 or 13; they were all fascinated to hear about Dante, Greek mythology, World War One and how I wove all these elements together into an exciting adventure story. Illustrations of scary monsters by great artists like Botticelli and William Blake helped, though full marks go to the audience where a technical hitch meant that I was unable to show any of these until half way through my talk. ‘Now in this fine, pure blue square’ – I waved at the wall behind me – ‘imagine Dante standing in the centre, holding up his book The Divine Comedy, while down there on the left all the wicked souls are being dragged downed into Hell…’ Without the 15th century painting, the pupils just allowed their imaginations to work a bit harder, that was all.
Much thanks to Chandlings Manor, St Aloysius Primary School, Christ Church Cathedral School (all below) and Cameron House School,for their warm welcome and bright, enthusiastic students. I love it when the questions come thick and fast, and some of the more philosophical ones had me digging deep for answers!