Seven sessions at four schools over two days: the Northern Children’s Book Festival certainly kept Jason busy during his first visit to the northeast of England with his books.
Jason was delighted to be invited to help the NCBF celebrate its 40th anniversary with a series of events in Gateshead and Sunderland. Managed by enthusiastic and supportive librarians from the two council areas, the events themselves took the books directly into schools.
Largely entertaining children between the ages of 3 and 5, Jason concentrated on his pre-school book, What Can You See?, with the help of his growing coterie of cuddly animals, as featured among Hannah Rounding’s illustrations.
Encouraging children to join in with the rhyming, inviting them to be inspired by the toys and props and following up with drawing activities based on his books, Jason kept the children engaged and entertained. A new addition to his session – a lion mask – was one of the highlights for many children.
Starting at Carr Hill school in Gateshead, with a group of about a hundred children – across a wide age range, he worked the crowd with some cheeky rhymes; What Can You See?’s “toilet to wee” is always a winner – and mirrors on the wall of the school hall facilitated the closing page of the book, in which children are encouraged to look at their reflection with their grown-ups.
There was only one potentially awkward moment when he was helping the children come up with words that rhymed with their names and one girl was called Scarlett. The first word that came to mind was not one Jason wanted to share with the children.
At South Street Primary, near Gateshead’s main library, a girl asked if Jason could come outside to play with the children for break-time, after their session.
In Sunderland, Jason was met by more groups of energetic reception-age children, at Shiney Row and Valley Road. The youngsters caught on quickly to the themes of the books, joining in where they could and laughing at some of the surreal situations thrown up by playing around with language and Max Low’s bold illustrations. Only once did he have to resort to a bit of magic to draw their attention back to him, rather than the cuddly snake that had long since disappeared from the back of his chair.
“I’m so used to reading my books at schools, playgroups and events I know in north London that it was great to be able to literally leave my comfort zone and share them with a whole new set of children,” Jason said. “It was particularly gratifying that wherever the children come from, they can still enjoy the rhyming fun in my books – and I’m happy to report that almost everything still rhymed and laughs sound the same in any accent.”