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Wizard of Welsh children's stories

His young fans reckon his books rival JK Rowling's best-selling Harry Potter collection - and they call him the king of children's literature.

The magic of T Llew Jones's Welsh-language books has captivated children since 1958, and he still receives birthday cards from a young fan club smitten with his colourful characters and tales.

The author of Trysor Plas y Wernen and Twm Sion Cati says his books have stood the test of time because he is the "boy who never grew up".

Mr Jones, 89, was named president for the opening day of this week's Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff, alongside Welsh novelist Bethan Gwanas. But, after attending the festival since the 1920s, he was forced to sit out the latest festivities because of illness.

Speaking from his home in the village of Pontgarreg, Ceredigion, Mr Jones joked: "Just a few months ago I had a letter from a little girl who said she thought my books were much better than JK Rowling's Harry Potter. The only response I can give is that I wish I had Ms Rowling's cheque book."

He said he was disappointed not to be able to make the trip to Cardiff Bay, but said his heart was at the festival.

The former headteacher remembers taking part in the Urdd Eisteddfod in the 1920s when it was still gaining popularity. Later, and as the former head of Ysgol Coedybryn, near Llandysul, Ceredigion, he remembers supporting many of his pupils in singing, dancing and poetry recitals. He chaired the Eisteddfod in 1958 and 1959 after giving up his teaching post to become a full-time writer.

As this year's celebrations started, he said: "I worry Wales is losing some of its old traditions, and I don't want to see the language, heritage and customs dying out in future years - that is why this festival is so important."

He was dismayed at the lack of Welsh-language books for children and set about correcting the balance. Along with a friend, he helped create the Welsh Books Council. He went on to publish 35 books telling tales of charismatic characters, many based on his childhood experiences, including a village policeman who told him off for stealing apples.

He is saddened that some of today's children would rather sit in front of a computer than read a good book.

In a warning to teachers, he said: "Let children explore their own books.

Don't read to them, that's how young imaginations are made."

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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