wild railway adventure at newton prep

Can I just say for the record that I am a big fan now of Newton Prep School in Battersea? I was a bit nervous this morning when I went to do a full day there because I’d never done a whole event featuring my latest book, When Titus Took the Train. I’d mentioned it previously in talks, but the head librarian wanted me really to focus on it because the Year 1 classes had been doing a big unit on transport and there were some keen train lovers in the audience.

So I came up with some new event ideas and the five-year-old Newton preppies got to be my guinea pigs. Which was good, because the first class was a bit obsessed with guinea pigs… no wait, hamsters. They liked their hamsters. Especially one on telly that I’ve never heard of (can anyone help me here? Is it Binky the Hamster? Something like that. According to them, he has huge eyeballs.)

The kids were great, we had loads of fun reading Titus, then I drew a simple train shape and the kids made up their own characters and I drew out whatever they told me to draw. When I scribble on a flip chart in front of a room full of kids who are almost exploding with enthusiasm and wacky ideas, I can only half pay attention to what my hand is doing, so it never comes out looking very professional. But we totally don’t care because we’re laughing so hard.

After we all drew an engine with wacky passengers together, all the kids drew their own carriages, which we lined up across the room to make a very long train. Then the kids helped me make a board game, and then made their own, but I didn’t get any photos of those because they all took them home to play. (Oh, and hey, you can download a free pre-made Titus railway board game here.)

What made my day absolutely wonderful was the head librarian, Nelia Beyers, who spent her whole day looking after me and making me feel like a rock star. She’s fascinating to talk to because she know so much about books, has a very interesting musical family, comes from South Africa and wow, is she organised! To let you know the extent of her organisation, when I finished my first talk, I was taken to the library where there was a big tray of fresh tea and coffee and a plate with a perfect range of biscuits, no two the same: ginger nut, rich tea, hobnob, chocolate digestive, chocolate rich tea. I ate two of the biscuits, and when I came back from my second event, the plate had been perfectly restocked with the same range of biscuits, the two I’d eaten exactly replaced. And I never even saw Nelia leave, she must have tea tray elves.

Here’s one of Nelia’s elves, a fab American from Boston named Christine. The two of them helped me sign books, and more books and more books, and then another team of elves arrived and I signed more books, for about three hours. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever signed so many books in my life, it was amazing. I also really loved seeing the library guest book, signed by other writers and illutrators who have visited. Here you can see a sample of the pages, signed by Jan Fearnley, Carll Cneut, Eleanor Updale and Chris Wormell.

Thanks so much, Nelia and Newton Prep for your great support today! I feel so much more confident and excited about using When Titus Took the Train at events, and you guys were full of amazing ideas. Here are a bunch more train carriages from our illustrious five-year-olds.

The activity sessions were very noisy, particularly the second one after lunch, but I was thrilled when I listened in to what the kids were chattering about while they were drawing; they weren’t just having random conversations, but all talking about the railway adventures they were having, and bouncing the ideas off each other. As they were going out the door, they were calling back and forth to each other about what they’d named their board games, and the names of their railways stations. It was all a bit chaotic, but hearing that gave me a quiet little glow of satisfaction that something had gone very right.

I just have to point out that the animals on the left here are playing chess.

The two aliens in the middle are drinking cups of tea.

This guy drew Morris the Mankiest Monster as one of the passengers. Aw!

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