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Dewey-eyed drama

LOUIE CARR (BELOW)TALKS TO VICTORIA NEUMARK

The children of Rawthorpe Junior School face me and sing their hearts out. It is the culmination of weeks of working together on The Beetle and the Bookworms. Now, in the last rehearsal before the dress rehearsal, the children are with it heart and soul.

We got on well from the beginning, the class of 30 children, their teacher Janet Fordham, music teacher Barbara Lawson, and me. I wrote the script and lyrics, Margaret Edwards the music, but it is the children who have given it life.

I've worked for years as a school librarian and have been dismayed by the rudimentary library skills of many students entering higher education.I believe the best time to start developing these skills is at primary school, so in 1989 I wrote The Beetle and the Bookworms to develop awareness.

Set in a library at night, the action features an aging beetle giving evening classes to young bookworms on the advantages of booklearning. As he guides the "literate larvae" through the ABC, the dictionary, the world gazetteer, the author catalogue and the Dewey Decimal Classification system, the play is enlivened by showstoppers like "Easy as ABC" and "Grubbing Along Together". Interspersed with the target information on library familiarisation are snippets of knowledge about the life cycles of bookworms and beetles, with catchy rhymes about butterflies, moths and skippers and the lepidopterae.

Sounds a bit tame? Yet every member of the class joins in enthusiastically, even the boys who are normally reluctant to take part in plays and poetry readings.

So there we are, the class, their teacher, the music teacher and me. It is a straight run-through, no criticism offered. The choir and percussion group are ready, the music teacher at the piano, words of the songs on the overhead projector in case anyone forgets. At a nod they begin. They are performing for me, the author, and they sing with joy and mastery.

It goes without a hitch. For me this is my best lesson and more satisfying even than the grand performance. This lesson is the moment I realise the play belongs to these children; they have made it their own. And I bet they still remember the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

Louie Carr is assistant librarian at Huddersfield University

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