The fun side of education was on show in Eastleigh and Hedge End today, as renowned children’s author Jeremy Strong visited two schools in the Borough, presenting his Laugh your Socks off show to some very excited children, their teachers and an Eastleigh News Reporter….
The staff and pupils at Freegrounds Junior School had carried out some preparatory work over the preceding week and were clearly looking forward to the occasion as they gathered in the school hall for the hour-long show.
Although it was part of a tour which promotes Jeremy’s 100th book, entitled Kidnapped! The-Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog’s Sizzling Summer, what quickly became evident was that his show was a great deal more than entertaining a hall full of children and signing books afterwards.
Right from the outset, Jeremy was educating and inspiring the children to read and write, to enjoy words and language, to focus on what they do well and keep on doing it. He was helping them to become story-tellers, rather than worry too-much about technicalities such as spelling, punctuation and grammar, which everybody learns with experience but not always at the same pace.
But this was all done in a very entertaining way, with lots of laughter from the children and lots of interaction with them too. To do that Jeremy used simple techniques such as;
- noting what happened if his name was slightly mis-spelt, and getting the children laughing.
- pointing out that we are all authors, as everybody in the room had written a story at some stage in their life.
- showing the audience one of his earliest stories and the many mistakes therein, but explaining that people could still read it.
- explaining that stories last for thousands of years once they have been written.
- finishing with the suggestion that the magic of story-telling in itself, is much more powerful than the magic of Harry Potter…
There were many other examples too, all of which were designed to encourage children to read more and write more and perhaps become authors themselves.
Towards the end of the show, there was a question and answer session, where the children asked some very good questions. We learned that Jeremy Strong formed his ambition to become an author when at primary school, because he was praised by his teacher for writing stories, something he feels is harder now because of the National Curriculum. We also learned that Jeremy highly recommends Strawberry Ice Cream with black pepper [seriously! – I must try that sometime..!]
After the show, there was the opportunity for children to buy books and have them signed by Jeremy Strong, which everybody seemed to enjoy as much at the show itself. The children were very helpful with the photographs being taken by Eastleigh News and the Daily Echo, and were very well-behaved too, despite the hot conditions in the crowded school hall.
In a quieter moment, I asked Jeremy Strong where the inspiration for his 100 books came from. Jeremy replied;
“The ideas come from all sorts of place. At the moment I’m partly on tour because of the most recent book, which is about the 100 mph dog. She was based on a real dog that belonged to a friend of mine, that was very speedy, could run like the wind, but unfortunately didn’t know what her name was and didn’t know what ‘stop’ or ‘stay’ meant or any of those usual commands that you can use with dogs. She was completely hopeless but nonetheless rather lovable. They’re around us all the time, it’s really a question of noticing them.”
I also asked Jeremy how he tested his books, before he sent them to the publishers. He explained;
“I used to try them out on my own children and also when I was teaching, a long time ago, I used to read them to my class which was a very good test-bed. But now my wife has to do the testing, so I quite often read them to her, chapter by chapter as they get written. Partly because it’s not just a question of hearing what somebody else thinks about it and what their reaction is, but you want to hear how it sounds yourself when you are reading it. It makes you much more aware of what’s happening in the story if you read it out loud. It’s always a useful exercise.”
Regarding his current tour of the country, Jeremy explained;
“We started at the beginning of this week and we carry on until the middle of next week. We started in London and end up in Middlesborough, with all points North, South, East and West in between.”
And on his visit to Crescent Primary, Jeremy said;
“We had a great time. It is a lovely school to visit, lovely children. I like going into schools because the children always seem to get a lot out of it. We have quite a lot of fun, quite a lot of laughs, but they are also picking up a lot of information about writing and reading and so on. Hopefully it inspires them with their writing and their own reading too.”
Speaking to Eastleigh News before the event, Kathryn Tooley of Hampshire Schools Library Service explained;
“We have a ‘Meet the Author’ programme. Every term, we have a week of author events that we spread around the county. We have them in schools, primary schools and some secondary schools, for three weeks throughout year. We also have events like this, when authors are on tour. If we can get them and put them into schools we’ll tap into that as much as we can.”
“We chose these two schools because they have a culture of reading and they have Head Teachers that are very pro-reading. We also picked two that were accessible to each other, as we couldn’t spread Jeremy too widely around the county on a one day visit.”
“We do as many author events as we can, as it is such a fantastic way of getting kids enthused about reading.”
The Assistant Head Teacher at Freegrounds Junior School, Clare Hawkins, added;
“We’ve been very fortunate that the Library Service have arranged this.”
“It’s very exciting. All week we’ve been doing work related to Jeremy Strong.”
“We’re really very excited that the children have the opportunity to have their book signed and hope that it inspires them to become avid readers that read for pleasure, which is what we are aspiring to as a school. To promote reading, especially for boys. ”
“Boys would much rather read a non-fiction book, facts and information. Some of Year 3 have been looking at the titles and predicting what the book will be about. It feeds their imagination and inspires them.”