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Turning over a new leaf as records tumble


By Barbara Henderson


I have a confession: I am the chief of hypocrites.

My only consolation is, I am not the only one. Like millions of exercise-averse viewers around the globe, I have lazily lounged on my sofa, watching the Doha coverage of the Athletics World Championships.

Guilt gnaws at my mind, but I shoo it away and reach for another slice of pizza. Go, Dina! Go Katarina. Make the records tumble!

And when they do, my house celebrates as if, somehow, this was all our doing. Records do that to us, don’t they?

There was another record to celebrate this week, did you know? It wasn’t on national television and it didn’t make many headlines, but your local little book festival in the Highlands achieved something truly remarkable last week.

For the past two years, NessBookFest has kicked off with a primary school read-in, a record attempt to get kids reading, simultaneously, across the region. Make time for a book, the organisers suggest. Of course, schools do this anyway, but there is something about a co-ordinated plan to break a record, isn’t there? We are in it together. Everyone counts. Just as every split-second advantage earns heptathlon points, schools cannot be complacent.

The first year, the numbers were low as word got around – merely the high hundreds, with a couple of big schools and some hangers-on. The following year, publicity was better: 33 schools took part and 3479 pupils read at the very same time to kick off the festival in style.

It certainly generated plenty of buzz as pictures were shared on social media, young readers up and down the country. Perhaps most surprisingly, some of the schools weren’t in the Highland region, but had got wind of the initiative and wanted to join. And why not? The more the merrier.

This year, the record attempt garnered unprecedented momentum in teachers’ social media groups. Schools from the Borders, the Outer Hebrides and almost every other region of Scotland registered their interest and vowed to take part.

Pupils at Cromarty Primary School took their read-in onto the beach.
Pupils at Cromarty Primary School took their read-in onto the beach.

As the first day of the festival fell conveniently on National Poetry Day, there was an added dimension – each school was asked to include at least some poetry in their reading slot.

And there the two worlds of books and sport overlap once more – as I appeared at the primary school where I work last Monday, my PE specialist colleague approached me. “Do you know of any poetry that would be good to read? I’ve got a class in the gym hall and I’ve been asked to do this read-in…”

In short, the record tumbled as more Highland schools and a wide variety of others came on board. A total of 5288 primary school children from at least 42 schools, reading or being read to simultaneously, is impressive enough. But I cheer particularly for the tiny rural schools with a mere handful of children who make the difference, just as the huge Central Belt establishment with 370 pupils did.

I love the fact that, wherever they were, they could join in and be part of it, be cheered on just like the athletes in Doha.

One particular image stands out for me. So many of our Highland schools are in beautiful locations, but the prize for the most atmospheric and impressive reading photo surely must go to Cromarty Primary who quite literally went the extra mile for the poetry read-in.

“Children don’t read any more,” people frequently complain. “They never go outdoors any more either; they just sit inside with their screens.” Not so, I say. See for yourselves!

Maybe the pupils of Cromarty Primary heard the crowds cheering from afar, me among them, as they took their reading record over the finishing line.

Look out for: An event this time. Come and cheer Strontian author Sylvia Hehir as she launches her debut Young Adult novel Sea Change at Waterstones Inverness on Thursday, October 17, at 6pm. Free. I’ll be asking the questions.



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