Tall Tales at the Town Hall – Family Reading Day

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Relaxing in the MCBF Story Reading Corner

Words and photographs by Neil Harrison

As part of The Manchester Literature Festival, a host of children’s authors and performers, including much-loved Cbeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, gathered at Manchester’s Town Hall on Sunday to enchant local children with wild and wonderful stories at a Family Reading Day.

Author Petr Horacek creates live illustrations
The event – a precursor to next year’s Manchester Children’s Book Festival – saw Cerrie read to starstruck children from her debut book Snowflakes. She was joined on the day by children’s writer and illustrator, Petr Horacek, poetry slam champion Dommy B, educational theatre company, Artful Playground, and author of the Danny Baker Record Breaker books, Steve Hartley.  
Explaining to the children and parents why she believes that encouraging children to read at home is important, and what motivated her to write her own book, Cerrie said,
“I’m going to tell you a little secret about me – I couldn’t read until I was 8-years-old. But I was very lucky because I had a lovely Mummy who read lots of stories to me. So Mums and Dads, if you are not confident readers or you have little ones who aren’t confident readers themselves, please do keep on reading stories to them, because that is the way in.”

Cbeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell reading from her book

“It wasn’t difficult [to write the book] because I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. My main objective was to get a little girl in the book who looked like Mia (the book’s main character), because my daughter looks like Mia. I was looking in the shops all over the place to try to find a little girl in a picture book who looked like her and I couldn’t find very many. So my objective was to have a mixed-race child in a picture book and then the story sort of happened around that.”

“The process of writing a picture book is very long, because you do all the writing and then the illustrator has to do all the drawing. So it took about two and a half years. Actually, a lot of that time was spent creating the book here in Manchester.”

Between performances, the kids were able to enjoy a plethora of craft and reading activities, which were partly organised by Manchester Metropolitan University. Kaye Tew and James Draper of MMU were at the event in order to help promote Manchester Children’s Book Festival (MCBF) 2014. Kaye explained further, 
Drawing Sea Monkeys with MMU’s James Draper
“As well as setting up the MCBF Story Reading Corner, James and I are here today encouraging children to draw ‘sea monkeys’, which feature in one of our main books for next year’s festival – Oliver And The Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. The publishers Oxford University Press have very kindly allowed us to use the artwork from the book in our promotional material for MCBF 2014. Sadly, the kids are much better at drawing than we are!”
The children’s drawings will be used to  generate a gallery of sea monkeys for the land and sea-themed MCBF Family Fun Day on 28th June 2014.

Beaming children, many clutching new (freshly autographed) books, left the event with parents who appeared equally pleased. One satisfied parent, a mother of two, told me,

“Any opportunity to get our kids reading is fine by us. If it encourages them to pick up a book, rather than look at a screen, that’s fantastic. They’ve really enjoyed today, it’s been brilliant. We can’t wait for the [Children’s] Book Festival now.”

Neil Harrison studies Social History at MMU, he is an aspriring writer, an awful guitar player and a proud father. Follow him on Twitter @looseriver

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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