11 towns, 48 schools, 1500 children. It was a busy November for Waterstones Children's Laureate Chris Riddell who has been travelling across the North West of England meeting children, teachers and librarians on his laureate school library tour.
It all started with a letter. On 14 November 2016, on the eve of his tour, Chris Riddell published an open letter to secretary of state Justine Greening calling for the government to fund school libraries from the education budget because they play such a vital role in helping children become readers: "By promoting reading for pleasure, introducing our children to life-changing books and turning them into lifelong readers, school libraries are a vital resource that must be nurtured" wrote Chris, with support of all the former children's laureates (collectively known as the League of Laureates): Malorie Blackman, Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Browne, Michael Rosen, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake.
And with that Chris Riddell leapt on the train for Preston to meet a host of school librarians and literacy coordinators at a Youth Library Group meeting and then onto meet children and librarians from schools in Blackpool and Manchester. School librarian Gillian Hagan, from St George's School in Blackpool, which hosted over 500 children from local schools in the very first school event on Chris Riddell's tour told us: "'It was lovely to see all the students enthralled from the minute Chris started the event by sharpening his pencil. To have a visit from someone that they only know through the books in the school library is a fantastic experience."
We caught up with Chris at Canon Slade secondary school in Bolton on day two of his school library tour, where Chris thrilled 300 children from six local primary and secondary schools with his live drawing and storytelling.
First Chris made all the librarians in the room blush by telling them how much he loved them, and then launched into the fascinating and funny story of how he became an illustrator, why he thinks reading for pleasure is so important - and how he ended up as the Children's Laureate.
Anne Burns Collections Access Officer from Bolton Libraries said Chris's visit was: "One of my best days with an author ever. I completely believe author visits make a difference to children's reading."
Emily, a year six pupil from Our Lady Roman Catholic Primary school in Aspull, told us: "Before I met Chris Riddell I thought he'd be dark and mysterious because the first Goth Girl book that I've read is quite mysterious. I thought he'd act like a character from his book but still be nice. But he wasn't mysterious at all, or dark, and he made us laugh so much, we didn't expect that."
After Chris's event in Ladybridge Primary School in Bolton, also attended by 300 children from six schools, year 6 pupil Kaitlyn told us why she loves reading: "When I get stressed it helps me to read books and imagine being in that place, being with the characters. It takes me to a different world." Her classmate Maryam added: "Reading helps me to relax. Sometimes I feel sad when a book ends. After you read it, it's finishing your friendship with the book."
Fast forward to week two of the tour and Chris was wowing children and librarians in Bradford. Bradford library's development Officer for Young People Christinea Donnelly told us: "Chris not only inspired the children with his artwork and stories but voiced such support for libraries and librarians that it helped to restore our confidence in ourselves and the service we offer to thousands of children across the district."
Yusef aged 10, from Lister primary school in Bradford told us: 'It is important to meet authors and illustrators because it inspires you to read a book. Some people are lazy and don't read a book and some people might say this author's inspired me so I'm going to read them!"
What has been the long-lasting impact of the tour and meeting so many children, librarians and teachers face to face? Fauzia Jan, reading specialist teacher at Lister primary school told us one week on: "the children are still 'buzzing' about the event. Since we met Chris last week I have had at least one child every day saying they have been reading one of his books and love the illustrations. The fact the session was interactive, in a simple way was brilliant."
The last word from Chris Riddell: "This library tour has been an absolutely fascinating chance to get to parts of the country that I wouldn't normally get to. Going to North Wales, going to West Yorkshire and all the points between. The thing that I've really enjoyed is meeting a whole range of different people all concerned and interested in and invigorated by children's books and reading. It's been fantastic to talk to classes of children from different schools coming together in library spaces. Being able to talk to librarians and also people in further education, in art education, to talk to students at Wrexham University. It's been a fantastic two weeks of discovery."
Thank you to all the schools, libraries and local authorities that took part and made this tour possible.