Last week I visited Newchurch primary school to read our new winter children’s book called Jack and Boo’s Snowy Day. In fact, it was more than reading the book, it was a half-day marathon session of discussion, questions and winter activities with four classes from reception up to year 3. I’d only read the book in a school once before, so I was still very wet behind the ears. To add to my apprehension, the headteacher had also invited in parents along to sit with their children and listen in. Eeek!
I’d prepared loads of research material, read the book aloud a few times and planned things to do, plus I’d set beeping reminders on my phone so I could dash in time from one classroom to another. Fortunately my job was made easier by the headteacher who based me in one room and arranged for each year group to shuffle in throughout the morning.
My heart was pumping as the first class from year 3 walked in along with a few parents. I had wanted to use the electronic whiteboard to display a digital copy of my book, complete with turning pages. Unfortunately – or typically – the laptop took ages to do anything and I couldn’t control the pages directly on the whiteboard. As I waited for the technician to help me sort the laptop out, the class sat in embarrassing silence on the floor – it was unbearable, so I suddenly announced, “I’ll do it the old fashioned way!” and sat down and started to read from the book. Before long, the class was captivated (mildy interested) and I was away. Soon hands fired up as I turned pages and we got into a great discussion about winter wildlife.
I got so engrossed I hadn’t realised the electronic version was now working on the whiteboard behind me, so when I saw it I proceeded to read from the book, but this time with the benefit of the huge stadium version on the board – very useful to point out things in the book dramatically. There was soon a sea of eager hands waiting to get involved.
For years 2 and 3, I used the themes in the book – winter wildlife, hibernation, migration, snow – as the basis of a quiz, which really got the kids thinking. A child threw out a great fact about stoats that I didn’t know, which prompted me to remark: “That’ll teach me to stand up here pretending to be Chris Packham!”
I ended each reading and discussion with a “make” by showing the class how to make a plastic bottle birdfeeder and gave out instructions so that the children could do the same over the Christmas holidays.
Year 1 and reception were amazing fun too. They got so involved as I read the story and it was fascinating to hear the difference in questions they had. Sometimes a hand would fly up to answer a question, I’d look at them to answer, but they’d suddenly drop their hand and say, “I’ve forgotten now!” and giggle! More often than not, a child would ignore my question and tell me an anecdote about how they made a snowman once – brilliant! I found I got so involved in talking to the children I forgot I’d read a page of the book. A particular highlight was hearing the reception children call like two tawny owls, “t-wit” and “oo-oooo!” It took me ages to get them to stop calling. Great fun.
To finish, I had brought in some ice – not just any ice, Beachy Books Christmas Ice! This was an icecream tub filled with garden leaves, berries and sticks, a few shakes of glitter and then popped into the freezer over night. I was suddenly surrounded by a sea of hands all wanting to touch the ice. They went mad! One boy asked me, “Is it REAL ice?” It was even more impressive when I removed it from the tub and held it aloft for all to see the frozen layers while melting water dripped into a bucket on the floor. Before long we got into a mini science lesson discussing what was happening to the ice and how it felt to touch.
And so, before I knew it, the half day was over, and the last class skipped out chanting “Jack and Boo! Jack and Boo! Jack and Boo!” – I kid you not! I got some great complimentary feedback from the headteacher, teachers and parents and I even sold a few books to parents for Christmas surprises. Later in the day I had children greeting me as “Hello, Mr Bell!” which was very odd and a few saying they’d enjoyed it, so I guess I must have made an impact. I only hope the children learned as much as I did. To paraphrase Bruce Forsyth: “Keeeeeeeeeeeeep learning!”
Look out for Jack and Boo visiting more primary schools in the new year.