The day that school fell under a special spell

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Everything seemed normal, but as the children passed through the doors, they stepped into a magical world. Shirley English followed them ..

Once upon a time, in a land not very far away, there was a school where magical things happened.

To the outside world it looked like any other school in any small town, nestling on the brow of a hill with a small car park, a concrete playground and iron railings.

But inside, this was no ordinary place and on a special day each year a spell was cast over the staff and pupils and the school was transformed into a land of make-believe.

Gone were the pupils in neat uniforms and grown-ups in suits and skirts, and in their place appeared a host of storybook characters.

Inspector Gadget swept through the corridors looking for mysteries to solve and the Worst Witch chatted with a gentleman who bore a striking resemblance to Flat Stanley. There was a kilted giant with a blue and white face, and the Queen of Hearts wandered into classrooms with a sign saying "Off with his head", but the children knew that really she was very nice.

On this special day, normal lessons were banished and, instead, the little school was filled with stories, read by the host of celebrity guests, who took the children on imaginary journeys far and wide.

The name of the school was St Dominic's Primary in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, and the special occasion was World Book Day.

Across the land, a similar sort of magic was at work in more than 3,700 Scottish nursery, primary and secondary schools, who were all celebrating, in their own imaginative ways, the pleasure of reading for the 11th Unesco-backed event.

At St Dominic's the day began with a book swap; then the celebrity guests arrived to read to pupils. Every class had a special visitor and all of them were matched by occupation to the story they told.

A kilted giant, dressed like William Wallace, towered over the P4 class and announced in a gruff voice: "I'm here to tell you the story of Mr Majeika and the School Caretaker." Beneath his blue and white face paint he looked vaguely familiar, but it was not until he put on his glasses and began to read that a cry went up: "Hey, it's the janny!"

A lollypop man read The Dangerous Road Game by Hedley Griffin to P2 and two community policemen had P3 in giggles as they read The Burglar's Breakfast - a tale of a truly hopeless thief - by Felicity Everett.

Other guest readers included a dinner lady, the school nurse, a fireman, a local DJ and two Airdrie footballers, who read extracts from Theresa Breslin's football-themed novel Divided City.

Trish Walker, a P23 teacher, disguised as the Worst Witch of Jill Murphy's tales, organised the day-long celebration. "We felt that matching stories to readers would make the whole thing more exciting and stimulate ideas for questions and creative writing," she said.

The children were asked to come to school dressed as their favourite storybook characters and in the afternoon they held a fancy dress parade, with Thomas the Tank Engine, Angelina Ballerina and Charlotte the spider marching alongside Disney princesses, superheroes, Harry Potter and a clutch of pyjama-clad girls on a Bratz sleepover.

The children then settled down to watch the film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, with snowball cakes and hot chocolate to remind them of the Narnian winter and Edmund's first meeting with the White Witch.

The school adopted the Lewis classic for a One Book, One School project in the run-up to World Book Day and Mrs Walker said it had "really captured the children's imagination", inspiring them to write about their own adventures in Narnia, having tea with Mr Tumnus and meeting the White Witch.

Mrs Walker, who is Theresa Breslin's daughter, said: "We chose this book because it's available in many versions for different ages and so could be used across the whole school. Also, because it is part of a series, we hope the children will be encouraged to read on and find out what happens next."

Theresa Breslin, said: "I think (as human beings) we are hard-wired for stories, and events like this bring books to life for children."

Teresa Verrechia, the headteacher, said World Book Day had been superb. "The children were asking one another what character they were dressed up as and from which book, which shows how well it has worked. It makes books good fun. We've been laughing all morning in the staffroom."

But all good things come to an end and with the final school bell, the spell was broken. By the time the sun rose the next day everything was back to normal.

THE END.

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