World Book Day 2020 - How to hold a school event that changes the way children feel about books!
Updated: Jan 14
When Standens Barn Primary School in Northampton made their initial enquiry they talked of wanting to bring a book to life as part of World Book Day. In the initial phone call and emails they were describing the book Leon and The Place Between in detail. I'll admit I tuned out slightly at this point. Almost every school that books me does so because they are studying this book, so I'm very aware of people using it as inspiration and didn't think I would see anything new. I couldn't have been more wrong.
As the event approached there was a few more emails back and forth explaining the premise behind what the school was trying to achieve, my interest was starting to spike and I knew this was not your typical school day. My typical school day doesn't start with a brief interview with BBC Radio Northampton. I was even given a small script to read some lines from the book as an intro to the performance.
I was to play the book character Abdul Kazam and illustrate to everyone that magic and wonder is real if you just believe.
Building excitement in the lead up to the event
A week before World Book Day the school put circus posters up that were mysterious enough to gain attention but not give anything away, on the morning of the event they were tweeting hints. It was like with Glastonbury dropping hints about their headliner.
As the hundreds of pupils poured in from outside I was hidden behind my backdrop, an excited murmur was difficult to contain and it was great to be behind the curtain and picture their faces.
There was 3 Year 6 children on stage with me who were in on the secret but other than that no children in the school knew what was in store. The 3 Year 6 actors played the roles of children that didn't believe in magic or were afraid of the dark. One of them was the character Leon who does want to believe, he encourages his friends to watch as the ringmaster begins his cameo.
The headteacher, Mr Blight was doing his best Hugh Jackman impression and played up to the role with 110% commitment. I've only had one other introduction that was anywhere near as good in a school environment. Surely there must have been some stage school training somewhere in Mr Blight's past?
One of their staff members had spent her half term making a magic box, beautifully painted in all different colours with a magical door which Leon was to later climb inside as the finale to the story. It was a DIY set design effort by the staff.
I can honestly say waiting behind the backdrop, i've never felt so nervous for a school show. The school had put all this effort in and now it was on me to bring it home.
The opener of my show is usually more gentle introduction allowing me to chat to the audience and break the ice, but this intro called for something different. I went straight in with Cyr Wheel. A big impressive prop with a high impact but is not my speciality at all, though I always bring it along because to a school child I can do 30 seconds and it looks very spectacular!
The whole show was fantastic with lots of audience participation. I really cherish my first visit to a school, because it's completely new to everyone. The staff and the pupils can share in the delight of the skills on display but also watching the kids faces. Sometimes it's a child's first experience of circus or only opportunity to enjoy something like this.
For the finale of the show, The ringmaster was back out and asking the Year 6 actors if they believed in magic now? Leon stepped forward and entered the magic box. To the whole schools delight the box was reopened to reveal that Leon had disappeared. I heard whispers that playground rumours were circulating that he had gone to France! HAHA
Feedback in the staffroom at lunch was real ego boosting experience with lots of the staff showering me with compliments and just generally patting everyone on the back for what a successful event it was.
I've made a video which illustrates just how exciting the show was and it got 400 views already which is super. You can check it out here.
A topic to base the learning around - Leon and The Place Between.
Obviously World Book Day is not just about a circus show, the whole idea was to bring the book to life for the pupils, that's what made this event unique to anything else I have seen in primary schools.
It celebrates the book, Leon and The Place Between and encourages children to believe in magic. The pupils spent the day basing their learning around the topic of circus and magic as you can see from the tweet below.
Not only that but each year group was treated to 45 minute circus workshop sessions with myself, so the children got a chance to practice their skills and learn spinning plates, flower sticks, diabolos and juggling. A hugely beneficial experience for so many reasons.
The Parents will thank you for this school event!
I've seen so many great comments on Standen Barns facebook page from grateful parents that know what a great school team they've got. They write really lovely comments saying how great the staff are for putting in so much effort to create magical events for their children.
I can only imagine this creates a very positive feedback loop of grateful and engaged parents meaning happy kids and happy staff. What more could you want.
Well done Standens Barn Primary School. That was the best atmosphere I've seen in a primary school and the most fantastic World Book Day event!