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Grim. The current Hastings public library – part of the ‘creaking but still very much alive’ national service.

A ‘big friendly read’ for children this summer

Mix together the work of one of Britain’s best-loved storytellers, the creaking but still very much alive public library service, and a large helping of PR and publicity and you get this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. It’s been a winning combination in the past and Toby Sargent has been taking a look.

The Summer Reading Challenge, run by The Reading Agency, has been in operation since 1999. The idea is to get children between four and 11 to read more books, and to do so by using their public libraries. Each year there’s a theme to build the marketing around. This year it’s ‘The Big Friendly Read,’ marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl and the happy coincidence that Spielberg’s film of Dahl’s The Big Friendly Giant is set to be one of this summer’s cinema blockbusters.

Sir Quentin Blake (pic credit - Pete Jones)

Hastings ‘local hero’ Sir Quentin Blake (pic credit – Pete Jones)

The children who sign up are given a special collector’s folder which they can complete by earning six special cards. How? By borrowing and reading six books during the summer from the local library. The cards explore some of the most popular themes in Dahl’s work, and feature artwork by his principal illustrator, and Hastings local hero, Sir Quentin Blake.

There’ll be free events happening at libraries across the county to coincide with The Big Friendly Read, which runs until Saturday, September 10. These include circus workshops featuring a visit by Jimmy the Juggling Jester on Saturday (July 30) at Eastbourne Library from 11am to noon and Bexhill Library from 2pm to 3pm. No booking is required.

Meanwhile in August there will be a series of events named Dahl’s Delights offering stories and craft sessions for children aged five and above.

They will be held at Newhaven Library on Tuesday, August 16 from 2 to 3.30pm, Seaford Library on Saturday, August 20 from 10 to 11.30am and Crowborough Library on Tuesday, August 23 from 10.30am to noon. Places for these are limited so do book in advance by telephoning 0345 6080196 and asking for the library holding the event, or booking in person at the library.

BFR Poster for web

Poster for the Big Friendly Read

Last year nearly 840,000 people took part in the SRC across the UK as a whole, helping to disprove the received wisdom that Pokemon-hunting, iPhone-clutching children no longer have any time for books. After all, it’s not so long ago that tens of thousands of youngsters queued outside bookshops at midnight on publication day to buy a hardback book with no pictures and more than 700 pages of closely printed text.

Combine this with the seemingly unstoppable rise in the use of text messaging as the method of choice for young and old alike to converse, and a picture starts to appear of a world more at ease with the written than the spoken word. And if spelling, punctuation and grammar have fallen by the wayside as all this happened, then that’s just the way the communication cookie crumbles, innit? LOL.

Public libraries ought to be big players

Public libraries ought to be big players in all this. They provide a ready-made network of buildings and expertise, and these days embrace both new technology and modern attitudes to how people behave. The days when a visit to the library meant breathing in the evocative aroma of Mansion polish and the clammy feel of a clear plastic book jacket are over. The gentle ker-plunk of the date stamp and the stern chief librarian shushing anyone who spoke above a whisper are long gone.

So it’s infuriating that government – central and especially local – are so unwilling to support, champion and most of all properly fund the public library service. There’s a huge appetite for the written word out there, and libraries could do so much more to satisfy it, given the backing and the chance.

‘Grim façade’ in Robertson Passage

The jury is out for the future of library provision in Hastings following the closure of the town’s main library in Claremont while renovation work takes place. So for now both children’s and adults’ services can be found behind the grim façade pictured above. The refurbished building is due to be opened in “spring 2017.”

Earlier this year Chris Dowling, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for community services, said: “This refurbishment programme will create a flexible, modern library which meets the needs of the 21st century. It will also bring together the adults’ and children’s libraries on one, unified, easily accessible site in the heart of town.”

In the meantime, children can sign up to The Big Friendly Read by visiting the building in Robertson Passage, while more information is available online or by downloading the Big Friendly Read app.


Posted 20:13 Wednesday, Jul 27, 2016 In: Literature

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