School visits are a great way of getting to see places I might have otherwissed missed. I didn't know anything about Twineham, but as I watched several ladies leave the hotel carrying horse saddles, and saw this huge horsebox on the road, I began to suspect the area had a bit of a theme. (I discovered the school's very near the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead.)
Teacher Andrew Chapman gave me a lift, and before we went into the school, we stopped by the adjacent early Tudor church for a peek:
The school had a lot of fun surprises, including Bella the Reading Dog. While I was in the staff room between assemblies, children came in, one at a time, each carrying a picture book. A volunteer named Margaret would ask them for their latest news, and after a little chat, the child would read his or her picture book to Bella and Margaret. It was clear the kids saw reading to Bella as a real treat. One of them brought in a pony book - Margaret mentioned to me that a lot of them bring pony books - and since Margaret had been a horsewoman, she and the kids could talk very knowledgeably about all things equestrian. Watching this was so inspiring, seeing how much the kids were motivated to read and cheered by this combination of cosy individual attention from a grownup and getting to spend time with a kindly dog.
Another nice surprise was PENS! It's always nice when a school gives me a new pack of pens that won't run out of ink after five minutes. But this were super-swish! (I found out Andrew worked as a graphic designer before he became a teacher three years ago, which accounts for his excellent taste in pens.)
My first session was with the Reception and Year 1 group, and I read them Dinosaur Firefighters! First I taught them how to draw Dipsy, the firefighting Diplodocus:
But they were SO excited about T-Rexes that I decided to teach them how to draw Trevor the T-Rex (who appears in both Dinosaur Police and Dinosaur Firefighters). They really got into it and these pictures were even more fun!
For Years 2 and 3 (Andrew's classes), I read The New Neighbours, and the children drew their own bunnies and designed houses for them to live in. Here's a tower block, very much like the one in the book! We also had bunnies living in an airplane, a carrot patch and the bottom of a bin, among other places.
Andrew (Mr Chapman) had a lot of great art projects displayed on the classroom walls, including this 'Madeleine in Brighton' series, based on the books set in Paris, by Ludwig Bemelmans.
This one really caught my attention, the children's studies of early cave paintings. Andrew explained to them how, in prehistoric time, the artists wouldn't have been able to use photo references. So they all went out to a field, looked at some horses, then drew them from memory. It reminded me of a picture Philip Reeve did, years ago, in Brighton on a little piece of driftwood. I told the children about our book coming out on 1 September, The Legend of Kevin. I think they'll like it! (You can see updates on the #LegendofKevin hashtag on Twitter.)
For Years 4-6, I led them in a Pugs of the Frozen North themed assembly, where we drew pugs and created a giant Race to the North Pole gameboard.
A huge thank you to the wonderfully organised and inspiring Andrew Chapman, head teacher Scott Reece, all the other teachers and assistants, the PTA who raised funds for the visit, and Julia Ward from Hove's fabulous independent bookshop, The Book Nook.
I asked Andrew how he knew to be so well prepared - it makes so much difference to how much the children will get out of it - and he told me he'd worked his way through this article I'd sent him. He said it made everything much easier, for which I'm very glad.
Thanks again! And goodbye, Bella! xx