Thursday, 3 March 2011

Simon Bartram's South of Newcastle Tour Day 2

Day 2: St Francis School, Peckham

Day Two - sounds a bit Big Brother, especially with Simon's Geordie accent - but what a day. Once again, road works foiled my satnav so I arrived at St Francis School in Peckham, South London just as Simon had finished reading Man on the Moon to the reception class. He said some of them were about 3 years old but all sat and listened as quiet as mice.

The hall had been decorated with a huge moon painting done by the children with lots of rockets and space stuff all over it. It looked really good.

If the reception class were quiet and a little over-awed by this strange man reading them a story, then Year 1 and Year 2 (around 150 children in all) soon put paid to that. The noise levels and the unbelievable enthusiasm by them for all things Bob was fantastic. We agreed that this class was one of the best we have come across. They clearly adored the book which they had been working on before half term, and one boy came forward with his rocket model, with his drawing of Bob and himself in the 'cockpit'.

After a quick cup of tea, in marched the next set of year groups, 3 and 4 - this time wearing space inspired hats, which they waved around and whooped and cheered all the way through. Another terrific response to Simon - who I think is going to expect this level of audience participation all the time now.

We decided to bunk off from the staff room and school dinner and went out to look for lunch - rather a change from Dulwich village where we were yesterday, with its smart shops and delicatessens. High rise flats and boarded up shops - but we found a greasy spoon and Simon had sausage and mash (with gravy - £3.50) and I had omelette and chips. No sauce.

The afternoon session was with the 10 and 11 year olds, who insisted they weren't too old for a story, which Simon incorporated with his chat about becoming an illustrator. They really liked his comment that in this busy world they should keep a little quiet space in their brains, as "ideas are like little birds trying to find somewhere to land".

We had a Q&A session afterwards with questions such as "what feelings occur to you when you are writing" (happy); "what would you like to have been if not an illustrator?" (footballer) and "who helped you at school?" (wonderful art teacher, Mrs Scott).

Tales on Moon Lane set up a bookstall in the school hall, and we were mobbed. Amazing - sold out of Bob's Best Ever Friend and made a serious dent in the rest of the stock. Delighted with the response and so nice to meet the parents, all keen to meet and talk to Simon and have their children's photo's taken with him.

What a brilliant school and so much admiration for the teachers who have obviously inspired their classes. Huge thanks to Jilly and Danielle, the literacy co-ordinators for all their work.

As a special treat I had promised Simon we would go to the Norman Rockwell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. We rushed in (last entry at 4.30) at about 4.45 and I pleaded with the receptionist to let us in - which they very kindly did and we savoured the extraodinary artwork of this American painter. Really inspired Simon - and it was great for me to have a personal guide to someone who's work I have only ever seen on those iconic front covers of the Saturday Evening Post. Really recommended and on until end of March.

That evening saw us in the Angels and Gypsies tapas restaurant in Camberwell (a wonderful place, thoroughly recommended), where around 10 booksellers, librarians and literacy co-ordinators came together for a lovely meal and lots of good chat. Most had not met Simon before, so it was a great opportunity for them all - even if one was an Arsenal supporter (Sunderland are playing the Gunners on Saturday).

A weary late night journey home, but what a great day... I hand over the Bartram baton to the lovely Becky, who's out and about with Simon in Brixton for his next day of events.

I'll be with Emma Dodd in Surrey... but that's a whole new story.

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