Extreme temperatures, biting winds, icy roads and multiple school closures combined were not able to halt the celebrations as World Book Day’s ‘Big Book Tour’ came to Doncaster. In a tribute to the power of books, and determined not to miss the opportunity to see so many of their favourite authors, nearly 350 parents and children from 20 local schools braved the snow and ice to join us in a fantastic celebration of the joy of story.
The auditorium may not have been nearly as full as planned, but excitement levels were still high as Jennifer Douglas and John Trenchard, alias the Centipede and the Grasshopper, got the fun underway with a wonderful musical performance based on Roald Dahl’s ‘James and the Giant Peach’.
Author and event host, the very funny Steven Butler, then took to the stage and introduced in turn Cressida Cowell, Andy Griffiths, Dermot O’Leary and Cathy Cassidy, giving the delighted audience a range of little-known ‘facts’ about each before they came on. Who would have guessed for instance that Andy Griffiths likes tickling so much that he tickled his daughter and made her puke?? Or that Cathy Cassidy once got stuck climbing out of a flat window and had to be rescued by a team of orthodontists??
Each author had a different style, but all the presentations were excellent, and the common theme was their sheer love for books and stories and the power these have to entertain and enrich us, and even to change lives. Cressida Cowell spoke of her childhood holidays spent on a wild and remote Scottish island, and how the scenery and the adventures she had there inspired her and later influenced her ‘Dragon’ stories. We were treated to a clip from the new dragon movie, due out next year, and also to an extract from her most recent book, The Wizards of Once, a truly magical adventure. She admitted that as a child she loved drawing and writing, but that her handwriting and spelling were dreadful, and she could never have imagined that she would grow up to become a published author!
The hilarious Andy Griffiths, up next, opened with a series of groan-inducing but very funny jokes featuring koalas and fridges (Don’t ask!!). Andy went on to demonstrate that imagination really does have no bounds as he described the wondrous features of the treehouses from his successful series of books, including swimming pools with wave machines, shark tanks to wash your underpants and even a screeching balloon orchestra room! He demonstrated the versatility of the balloon as a musical instrument by finishing with a rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ which I doubt anyone who heard it will soon forget.
Dermot O’Leary was the next author on stage and Steve interviewed him chat-show style on a sofa. Dermot spoke of a life-long love of books and reading, starting with his being read to by his parents, and moving on to developing his own reading tastes, with his childhood favourite being Fantastic Mr Fox. The main character in Dermot’s books is Toto the ninja cat, who, we learnt, is based on his own pet cat, also called Toto. The real Toto was adopted by Dermot and his wife and, although blind, cleverly compensates by using his other senses of smell and hearing to get around. Dermot has created two magical adventures for the ninja Toto so far, a trip to the zoo and a mystery involving the disappearance of all the world’s cheese...
Cathy Cassidy, following Dermot, introduced us to her new book, Love from Lexie, and described how she works to create her stories using mood boards and by sketching and drawing the main characters to help make them real. Her love of reading and stories was clearly evident in her talk. I am sure that her encouraging words about using your imagination and the importance of ideas over grammar and spelling when it comes to writing will have struck a chord with many aspiring young writers in our audience. Inspirational.
Finally, Steven himself finished the presentations in inimitable style, describing a very funny childhood attempt to embarrass his sister that went horribly wrong and led to an awful revenge... Steven described how, as a child, he hated books, as much because his sister loved them as anything else, and how he cannot believe he is now a writer himself.
As all the authors and performers made their way to the foyer for photos and book signings, Lesley, our Chair, went onstage to announce the results of the votes for this year’s winners. They were:
‘Classics’ list: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Secondary list: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Primary List: The Midnight Gang
The audience seemed to thoroughly approve of the choices! Paul from Waterstones then announced the winners of the review competition. Eleanor from Y9 in Ridgewood School won the secondary prize for her review of The Goldfish Boy and Samuel from Y5 at Saltersgate School for his review of Who Let the Gods Out. Their excellent reviews can be read on the reviews page of this website. Lesley then thanked everyone and drew the event to a close.
Despite the less than promising build up, this was undoubtedly one of our best and most enjoyable events ever. The DBA committee would like to thank the authors, Kirsten and the whole of the Big Book Tour team, Steve and the Dome staff, the public library supporters, our fabulous volunteers from DWP, Waterstones, DFS for the loan of the now iconic sofa, our special guests, and most especially the intrepid parents and children who braved the atrocious conditions and made it so special. Thank you and see you at next year’s launch!