I’ve just had two brilliant days in Denbighshire, North Wales. I spent Tuesday with the pupils of Ysgol Esgob Morgan. This school, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, is no ordinary school. How can it be when its head teacher, Tim Redgrave, came up with the Patron of Reading idea? Not only that, he chose me as his patron, which just goes to show the man’s a genius. It stands to reason, therefore, that when your head teacher is a genius, all the staff and children at the school will be dusted with genius, too.
I had such a wonderful time with them all. I listened in awe as Mr Hatwood’s Class 5 took assembly. Every child was involved and they belted out their lines and displayed their drawings with aplomb. I then indulged in a bit of storytelling, based on The Pied Piper of Hamelin, playing an old man with great conviction, even if I do say so myself. Afterwards, I met Mrs Bailey’s Class 3 for the first time. A happy bunch, as you can tell. I then discussed poltergeist and opening lines of books with Y6, watched a bit of girls’ and boys’ football, told fibs to Y4 and they told even bigger fibs back (Luke’s was the best ‘fib’ and involved a packet of Quavers). The days also involved chocolate cake, chilli con carne and meeting several students on placement from Edge Hill University. Lucky them! I can’t think of a better school to be allocated for observing teaching at its best.
On Wednesday I was in the fabulous Ruthin Library for a day with the Denbighshire Primary Writing Squad. It’s a massive achievement for pupils to be chosen to participate in the squads – only two Y5/6 children per school are selected. I was delighted (but not surprised) to see Billy and Tal from Ysgol Esgob Morgan in the cohort of twenty four.
The idea of Writing Squads is that the pupils spend a whole day, three times a year, with a professional author. That puts the author under a certain amount of pressure, too. This is no ordinary workshop! These kids are special!
I began with my failsafe poem; Ian McMillan’s Ten Things Found in a Shipwrecked Sailor’s Pocket and asked the group to create a character for the unknown sailor. Using a list from 1800, they came up with some convincing names for their characters:
HMS Denbighshire Primary Writing Squad
Sailors’ Roll Call:
Harry John Owens
Isaac Reuben Josia
Nathaniel Walter Hughes
Herbert Benjamin Redvers
Walter Edward Charles
Arthur Albert Abrahams
Ralph Seth Henry
John Albert Jones
Dave Thomas Williams
Benjamin Jack Jones
Stephen John McCoy
Fritz James Jermaine
John Arthur Gregory
Edmund Frederick Amos
John William Edwards
I then discussed the importance of research. The point being that, no matter what the topic, and however far-fetched the story the author is writing, there is usually some kind of background information needed to make the story come alive. So, before we began writing, the squad spent half an hour researching various topics to do with being a sailor, such as ranks, causes of shipwrecks, types of jellyfish and so on.
Some of the squad researching in Ruthin Library
Having filled their heads with knowledge, the squad was ready to explore the story of The Royal Charter, a steam clipper shipwrecked off the coast of Anglesey (only about fifty miles from Ruthin) in 1859, with the loss of over 450 lives. Together with the poem, it formed a terrific basis for our creative writing.
Here’s Ellis’s cinquain:
Fierce and rough.
Crashing, killing, mind-boggling.
You snap ships like they’re twigs and biscuits.
Other pieces included letters from mermaids, a play involving a drunken sailor and moving letters to the bereaved.
All in all, it was a full-on day but the squad rose to the challenge magnificently and came up with some excellent writing. The young writers all deserved a huge round of applause and the librarians deserved a barrel of rum!