I had a World Book Day with a difference this year. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was a ‘prize’ for two schools in Huddersfield whose pupils had come up with the best caption about why the Town Foundation’s reading diaries rocked.
The vibrant and fact-packed reading diaries, published by Igloo Publications, go out to 15,000 pupils across Kirklees
The winning competition entries were from pupils at Hillside Primary School and Spring Grove Primary School. Ramessa from Spring Grove wrote: ‘The diaries are fun and help children with their learning… they also tell parents how to help their children be successful with their reading.’ I really liked the fact that Ramessa had mentioned parents in her answer – it’s so important that parents are involved. The second winner, Chelsea, made me laugh: ‘Reading diaries rock… because the info inside will blow off your socks!’
So to Hillside and Spring Grove it was.
Mandy Taylor, the Foundation’s Fundraising Officer, organised everything – all I had to do was turn up at HTAFC’s training ground at Canalside by 9.30am. Unfortunately I forgot that bit and parked at the Huddersfield Town ground instead; I really should learn to read instructions. Actually, I think it was more like my inner Town fan on automatic pilot, instinctively driving to the scene of so many dramas, including one the previous Saturday when we’d beaten Barnsley 5-0.
Luckily Canalside is only a mile away along Leeds Road. A former ICI sports ground, it has been bought by club chairman Dean Hoyle and transformed into a base for training and a venue for fans to meet before the match. I was a wee bit nervous as I knew HTAFC’s ex-star striker and now club ambassador Andy Booth was going to be there. I used to love watching ‘Boothy’ play and even went to see him at Hillsborough when he was transferred to Sheffield Wednesday. Watching players perform on the pitch and meeting them in real life are two wholly different things. It’s the same when I meet writers I admire – it’s always overwhelming for the first few moments and then you realise they’re actually real with skin and teeth and hair and stuff.
Today was no different. Yes, Helena, I had to tell myself, the tall bloke in the navy blue tracksuit holding out his hand for you to shake really is Andy Booth - don’t just stand there gawping – nod and smile, woman. Nod and smile. Luckily Andy (as I now know him) couldn’t have been more pleasant or easy to talk to – I knew the day was going to be fab within five minutes. What I hadn’t expected was to catch a glimpse of the entire squad having breakfast! I tried not to stare as the players queued up for toast and scrambled egg but I’m not going to lie to you, it was difficult to concentrate. This is going to sound weird but the thing that always gets me when you see professional footballers up close is the size of their calf muscles. They’re as huge and as rounded as a baby’s head. Buying smart trousers must be a nightmare.
Anyway, speaking of heads…
It had been arranged for Oliver, a student at Huddersfield New College, to accompany Andy and me to the first school, Hillside. As if having a writer and an ex-Town captain visiting wasn’t reward enough, they were going to get Captain Boothy, Andy’s mascot, too. I don’t know how many tonnes of latex were used in the making of Captain Boothy but I’m thinking somewhere between ‘considerable’ and ‘enormous.’
Captain Boothy’s head
Hillside was wonderful. Set in the middle of a neat and well-kept council estate in Newsome, the new-build school was buzzing when we arrived. Time flew and I didn’t have time to answer all the incisive questions the pupils had prepared – I’ll create a separate blog for that next.
Caption winner Chelsea Savage being awarded her Football Mad book as an additional reward for her winning entry. I couldn’t let her have my copy of ‘Do Shinpads Come in Pink? but I’m sure it’ll be on her ‘to buy’ list with her World Book Day voucher (hint, hint).
Sharon Steele (centre) teaching assistant and librarian at Hillside Primary with Andy Booth Photo ©Sharon Steele
After the session, Captain Boothy returned to his sixth form studies and my new bff, Andy Booth, headed back to Canalside to grab Town’s recent record- breaking signing Nahki Wells. Yes, hot-shot Nahki (pronounced Nah-kee) was the lucky lad selected to meet me and the Spring Grove superstars later on.
Meanwhile, Mandy, Caroline Lee (one of the Foundation’s main patrons) and I grabbed a coffee and a chicken sandwich before making our way to Spring Grove Primary School.
This town centre school is a handsome Victorian building with an arresting central hall and wrought iron ballustrade running round a mezzanine above. I remember reading a book about Spring Grove in the 1970s as it was one of the earliest schools to embrace pupils from India and Pakistan; it became renowned for its inclusivity.
Once again we were made to feel really welcome and the children participated with enthusiasm. I did my reading-is-brilliant-and-I’m-an-ace-author bit. I was so glad Andy and Nahki were late (Nahki was having physio treatment) because once Nahki arrived that was IT on the book front.
Huddersfield Town forward Nahki Wells with pupils from Spring Grove Primary School. This picture even made it to the Bermuda Sun newspaper
I’m not sure how many of the children had heard of 23 year-old Nahki, who is from Bermuda, before World Book Day but he made an instant impact. I’d go as far to say, because I saw it with my own eyes, that on March 6th 2014 a role model was born. Relaxed and personable, he answered the pupils’ questions in a measured, quiet voice that had them hanging on to every word. Questions included ‘What boots do you wear?’
‘Do you know Ronaldo?’ Nahki replied.
‘The same as him.’
A bit of product placement for you… Christiano Ronaldo & boot
I’m thinking every shop in Huddersfield will have run out of the Nike Galaxy range by 2.00 pm today. Actually, I can see Nahki as the face of Nike in a couple of years time – apart from the alliteration (Be as cool as Nahki and wear Nike… ) Nahki’s a player to watch, on and off the pitch – that’s for sure.
So that was my brilliant World Book Day. How was yours?