My good friend Sarah Ash wears two caps - the first cap is that of international author of a series of acclaimed fantasy novels, the second hat is that of librarian and music tutor at Oak Lodge Primary in West Wickham.
Once I've read 'em, I have been donating loads of the children's and young adult books coming my way from various publishers to Sarah The Librarian who in turn passed them onto several of her students at Oak Lodge in her role as librarian.
I got to visit the school today, to chat with Sarah and with Carl Taylor, who is another teacher at the school. They invited me to come and "showcase" some of my favourite books and to talk to one class specifically, a very special year 6 class who all appeared to me to be voracious readers.
I took with a stack of books and amongst them were Gone by Michael Grant, Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith and The Dread Pirate Fleur by Sara Starbuck. I also took with The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda.
I was incredibly nervous, faced with over thirty pairs of eyes but I quickly overcame my flat-out terror when I started talking books. No one can beat me talking books. Okay, maybe Kaz can, but only when I'm tired.
I explained to them about Gone, the premise - that everyone over the age of fifteen disappeared one day, whilst everyone was at school, and no one knew why. Naturally they LOVED it - I read the first page and a bit to them and I think I would still be there if I didn't make myself stop. I told them to pick up any book in their well-stocked library, to page to the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence. That I told them is how you catch an audience - this is what draws a random reader in.
We moved onto Furnace - again I read them the opening page. Then we turned to the section where the Hell Hounds chase Alex and Zee and I had these kids in the palm of my hand. They were rapt. I was a bit freaked out as this section is not pleasant but they lapped it up. I looked up and all of them were squirming, wanting a copy of Furnace. I showed them that I had four copies with promo items to give away. They went still in anticipation.
Then, I bigged up The Devil's Kiss and explained to them who the Knights Templar were back in the day and that they were disbanded and persecuted by the Church but that now, in modern times, they've resurfaced as warriors against the supernatural. I told them about Billi, the only girl in the Knights Templar and the choice she has to make - save the world or let it go. Fantastic premise. I also think what helped is that it takes place in their backyards - they recognised the areas I read to them, Crystal Palace, Temple in London etc. All very excited!
Next up was the coolest book ever - purely for the title and fantastic artwork - The Dread Pirate Fleur. We quickly established that everyone LOVED Pirates of the Caribbean and that Fleur was definitely something they will be reading. I had four proof copies to donate to the class for reading pleasure.
Once all the books were discussed and I assured them that their copies were staying with Ms. Ash, they all expressed their relief. We next spoke about what they liked about books - what makes a book work for them. I was bombarded with answers - action, adventure, humour, horror, topical lifestyle commentary, the ability for the hero to win through. It was amazing chatting to them as they were all incredibly passionate about their books they had read. Next up they wanted to know what authors I know, did I like Darren Shan, did I like JK Rowling, how do I review books, what is the website called etc.
There was a small break for them to do some research in the library on a series of books they are currently reading, The 39 Clues. As everyone broke up into small groups, some of the kids came over to chat to me about books they really liked and to inspect the ones I had brought in. I discovered a group of the boys are really into their WW1 and WW2 books - which completely took me by surprise. I noted down the books they told me about and promised them some topical books I had at home.
As the afternoon rolled to a conclusion they thanked me for visiting and I was promised several reviews from them for the blog on various books that they had read in the past.
It was an amazing afternoon, I can't stop smiling. Meeting a group of incredibly bright young people like this is so encouraging and made me feel like I had contributed something to them, even if it was for only two hours of their young lives. Hopefully I taught them something about reading books that will stay with them and encourage them to read more / different things.
Back to the real world tomorrow and real work - at least my headcold is better and I don't sound like Darth Vader's dad!