Tom Palmer visits Catterick!

//Tom Palmer visits Catterick!

The Reading Force Team worked with Carnagill Primary School to organise a very special visit from award winning author, Tom Palmer. In this blog Sarah Bradshaw, English & Service Pupil Lead at Carnagill, shares highlights of the day and much more… 

“I’ve just seen him – we have a celebrity in school!”

That was the first thing one of my young pupils said to me on Friday morning, his eyes wide open and hopping from one foot to the other. They were beyond excited, with important questions such as “Where is his security?” and “Are we actually meeting him?”

For these children, it was such an incredible opportunity, thanks to the forces of Fiona, Hattie and Judith at Reading Force. We had read Over the Line in class, and now they could meet the man behind the text. Another important message – that men can be writers and passionate about books – a strong role model for some of our boys who moan and slump in their seats in English lessons when the teachers say it is time to write a narrative.

Our pupils’ books come from either the local Tesco or Amazon – the nearest bookshop is about five miles away which is a world away for some of our families. Some have never been in a bookshop and seen the vast array that is on offer. So when they walked into the hall to find over 100 books on display, neatly lined up with their names on a signed copy, their faces said it all.

Tom was “normal”. (A Leeds fan – that didn’t go down well….). Not a superstar with a list of demands, but friendly, warm and totally relatable to the children. He had the children hooked as soon as he mentioned his dog and stumped the girls when he admitted stealing his daughter’s scrunchie to use as an important part of his planning text. He explained how he had been knocked back, and 10 of his books have never made the bookshelves. But he never gave up. “Resilience is key”, he explained to the children, “Never give up and always keep going”.

The children had plenty of questions to ask him…wanting to find out more about him. They began to recognise they didn’t have to read a book a night to enjoy reading – it could be a couple of pages from a comic or magazine. One lad smiled at me with a cheeky grin on his face, “If Tom didn’t like reading until he was 17, I have another eight years before I have to read a book”. Nice try, kid.

The highlight for me, as a teacher, was listening to his planning sequence. Who knew a strip of wallpaper could be such an important tool in a writer’s toolkit? It made me think about my own practice and the changes we could start to trial in school. An author can take a year to write a book – so why do we expect a child to write a story in a couple of English lessons? He definitely gave all of us food for thought.

The children never gave up wanting to learn more, absorbing every piece of information. We were honoured to vote for the possibility of a title for his new book, with a serious discussion about what a bog princess was and if anyone would read a book with that title. We requested a dedication on the front page and 50% of the profits, but I am sure Tom will be negotiating that demand. There were moments of silence when Tom produced some genuine WW1 artefacts, to laughter when children thought his picture of Audrey Hepburn was his wife. One determined child, after learning that Tom’s books have not been made into films, told me he will be googling film directors this weekend and telling them they should turn one of his books into a mega movie. There would definitely be a queue to watch that at Catterick Garrison.

Reading Force have been a wonderful colleague from day one, way back in September when I met Fiona. Throughout the year with Teams meetings, everything has slotted into place and they have been so kind and helpful, ensuring all of our Service Pupils receive a book and a scrapbook. As an English Leader, I could never afford an author visit like this with the budget I have; so I took the opportunity with both hands when it was offered to me, as I knew the children would thrive from this and could only be a worthwhile experience.

However, it wasn’t just my pupils that were impressed on the day. Our VIPs, from the Garrison Commander to our North Yorkshire Service Children Champion, were just as amazed as me and my colleagues. There was nothing but positive feedback, and hopefully, some new professional relationships made which could only be of benefit to more Service Children in the local area.

What was the impact? The key question everyone wants to know about. There are so many different angles I could go down with this question.

The impact of the timetable? Well, our usual Storytime session at 1pm everyday from our reading spine went out of the window. The year 5s didn’t want to listen to the class text today, they wanted to read their own books and begin to see what they had picked out. By the end of the day at 3.10pm, I know of at least 4 pupils who had read their book and swapped with their friend to read another of Tom’s books.

The impact of my teaching that day? Teaching also went out of the window! The children clung onto their Reading Force book bags from about 11am. We could see dots of yellow fabric scattered across the field and they held onto them for the rest of the day. The afternoon was spent writing letters, reading our books and completing our scrapbooks. How could I say no to the child who hates reading when they asked me if they could read their new book? Even better, could they read it outside in the sun? One little girl sat quietly on a bench while one of our fabulous TAs started to read the book to her…this is to be continued at playtime on Monday. Another child, so engrossed in the book, walked right past his mum in the playground at the end of the day as his head was still buried in his text…to the amazement of his mum!

The impact for the children? The smiles on their faces said it all as they went to collect their books. I think these quotes sort of sum up the visit:

  • “I liked learning about how many books Tom Palmer had made.” (Sophia)
  • “He was just so sweet.” (Immy)
  • “I liked we could find out more about him and his books.” (Mason)

Loghan has one final question for Tom and for Reading Force – “Could they come back to visit our lessons and see our writing?”

I hope the impact of visiting Carnagill was positive for Tom and Reading Force too. I was proud of the children’s passion for reading and excitement to learn more. I cannot thank Reading Force enough for their generosity, organisation and support for Carnagill, and hope this is only the start. I look forward to collaborating with you all again next year! In the meantime, I am taking the lead from an award-winning author; I am off to buy some wallpaper for my English lessons

Sarah Bradshaw

For more information about Tom Palmer:

Reading Force would like to thank Annington Ltd who generously support their work and activities.