One of the things I love most about making children's picture books is the occasional event, where I emerge from my little creative cave out into the bright wide world, and talk to kids about what I do.
This year has been a real treat, visiting three local infant and primary schools. First up was Corfield C of E Infants School, where I was invited to join in with their "Storytelling Week". I spent a lovely Friday morning visiting each class from Reception to Year 1 then Year 2, mostly reading my first book The Greatest Cake.
I am always amazed at how well children sit down and listen intently to the rhyming words of my strange flying cake story - no matter what age they are. They might not understand every single word, but they are able to follow what happens in the story, and they always give me such positive feedback. I'm not sure whether they are just happy to be doing something different with somebody who is not a teacher, or whether they actually do really love the story, but I'll take it!
Afterwards, each child was given a worksheet to either colour in a drawing of a cake, or design their own "greatest cake". To my delight, most children chose the latter option and it filled me with so much joy to see them getting stuck into wild and wonderful designs. I could hear excited conversations about what flavours their cakes might be and they couldn't wait to add sparkles of colour. What I really love about these creative workshops is observing how each child is different and approaches the task in their own way. Some children were free with mark making, some used all the colours they could, some were thinking hard visualising what they wanted to create, some were working quietly and concentrating on the fine details, some were chattering animatedly about how the cakes might taste...not one child was worried or anxious about doing the work.
It was particularly exciting in Year 2, as my 7 year old niece, Ivy, was in that class and had been beside herself with excitement knowing that I was visiting. I wondered how she might react when I was actually in her classroom, but she behaved so well, and I only overheard her whisper once, "That's my Auntie". She did give me a reassuring hug before the storytelling began too, which gave me a little confidence boost. Her friend Finlay (already a firm fan of my books) had many questions about Wooglefog and wanted to know exactly how I had managed to draw all those pictures. My books might not be selling out in supermarkets and bookshops, but I can honestly live off fans like these. Thank you to all the children at Corfield for making my visit really special.
Next up was Langley Mill Infant School, where I was invited to celebrate their World Book Day event. This time it was an afternoon visit, organised by the lovely Emma, who I had met previously at a school visit in Nottingham a few years ago. I visited every class from Nursery, through to Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, where I read my books and answered some brilliantly thought out questions.
When you spend most of your time working alone and not talking to anybody, it's easy to get out of the habit of actually talking to children of various age groups. I always find it strange going from the really young then switching to kids a couple of years older. I never want to patronise and talk down to children (actually they know a lot more than me about certain things) so it can be hard to find the right tone initially. I love that I have 4 books now that I can pick and choose what to read according to age groups (or attention spans!). I have read The Greatest Cake so many times now, that I can actually recite it word for word once I look at the page that I'm on (very impressive to some kids).
At this school I ended up doing something different in each class, and I'm learning to just go with the flow more. Some schools like to have an itinerary of what I will be doing, some schools are happy for me to just read books and chat, some like to let the children ask questions...I'm happy to just be there if I'm honest! I enjoy the variety of it all. Favourite questions: "How is your day going so far?", "How do you make books?", "What is your favourite book out of the ones you've made?", "Do you listen to music while you work?", "What's your favourite car?", "Have you ever worked on an ipad?", "Do you know any famous authors?", "How much money do you make?"
I do love question time.
Afterwards the headteacher had kindly organised a cake sale in the school assembly hall, where I was also able to sell my books as parents collected their children. This was a real treat, as I got to meet some little familiar faces properly and also talk to their families. I absolutely loved signing their chosen books for them and I like to hear them spell their names out proudly to me. It's also really interesting seeing which of my 4 books was the most popular: 1. The Greatest Cake, 2. Wooglefog, 3. Bonnie's Ball, 4. The Peg People. Thank you so much for having me, Langley Mill Infant School.
World Book Day 2023 was spent with Ladywood Primary School. I was invited to spend the whole day visiting each class and it was much bigger than the previous two schools (I had a timetable and everything). What a whirlwind this day was! It's always nice to start in Nursery class at the beginning of the day, because they've just about settled down from the excitement of the school run. It was even more exciting on this day because all the children and teachers had created wonderful hair creations or hats relating to a favourite book! There MUST be some hairdressers among the parents because there were some outstanding Unicorn creations going on.
I barely had time to think about what age group I was talking to - I only had about half an hour with each class, so I had to just dive in there and be super speedy with reading and telling them all about how I made the books. This is something I got much better at as the day went along (with the exception of the class I visited just after my lunch break - I had a few brain fog moments there). Each class was different and I decided to just go with the flow once I had read The Greatest Cake and talked about why and how I made it. In some classes there were lots of questions to answer, others were a little more reserved and seemed happier to hear another story or two.
One class in particular stands out in my memory, as I remember the teacher had done some research on my website about what Wooglefog was about (over the moon that I had been researched!), then a lovely boy called Patrick had a whole list of questions to ask me about making books. I could see his mind working over time about all the things he wanted to ask me - he was keen to improve his own stories and work out how to start a career making his own books. His questions turned into a back and forth conversation and I almost forgot about the rest of the class (apologies!). I could have sat there all day and talked to him, along with a few others who had some amazing questions. I do enjoy getting the questions that really make me think. It is fascinating to see how engaged children are with what I am saying. I'm not sure I'm much of a career advisor and I can only tell them my story about what I'm doing, but there are some real star pupils with such intelligent minds - I hope they go on to achieve their dreams.
At the end of the day, the lovely Sam who had organised the whole thing, had set me up a little desk and chair outside, right in the middle of the school run. Once again, children and parents were invited to buy one of my books and luckily the rained stayed away! Such a joy to meet the familiar faces on a one-to-one basis and hear what their names were, and which was their favourite book. The best seller this time was Bonnie's Ball, followed by The Greatest Cake, then Wooglefog and finally The Peg People. To my utter delight, Patrick gave me his own "greatest cake" drawing, which sits next to me at my desk today (see image below). A huge thank you to Ladywood Primary School for having me for the whole day. Afterwards, I felt in equal parts full of adrenaline and also wanting to lie down for about a year. (How do teachers do it!!)