9 March 2016

Just Imagine.... A whole Dahl book in one Day!

“She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village." Matilda                                                                                                      

For a third year in succession, this February half term saw Inclusive Minds at the Imagine Children’s Festival at London's Southbank Centre.

This year (to mark the Roald Dahl centenary), we worked with the festival organisers to deliver a spectacular 'Dahl in a Day' event.

In the Clore Ballroom, the huge public space in the heart of Southbank Centre, an enthralled audience was treated to a unique day-long reading of Matilda.

A total of 21 readers, including celebrities, authors and Inclusive Minds ‘ambassadors for inclusion', took turns taking to the stage to read chapters of the much-loved novel. Cerrie Burnell, Catherine Johnson, Mik Scarlet, Candy Gourlay, Ken Wilson Max, ‘Lionheart’ and Carrie Grant were amongst those delighting the audience.

Readings were interspersed with performances by the likes of Life and Deaf and SLiDE Dance. Even the ‘real’ Matilda (from the West End show) made an appearance, performing the celebrated Naughty song.

At the same time as proudly cheering on our readers, the Inclusive Minds team were also hard at work staffing tables of Dahl-inspired activities. Joining the team for the day were our ambassadors Department for Ability and young ambassador Maya. And given the vast crowds, we were indebted to them for their help! Throughout the day, throngs of visitors came to chat about inclusion and take part in activities.

Particularly popular was the opportunity to generate Dahl-style names, which led to children wandering around the event proudly sporting badges featuring names like 'Oscar Snigger Pants' or 'Flippety Otter-Wiper' (you can see some of the many humorous results here). Likewise, our friends from EmpathyLab proved a huge hit, helping children to see the world through ‘empathy glasses’ and write postcards to Matilda and her friends.

The highlight of the day had to be seeing our super young 'ambassadors for inclusion' on the stage, alongside authors and celebrities. Freddie, Renee, Tara, Keira and Frankie were awe-inspiring! Everyone agreed they were hard to distinguish from the seasoned professionals, reading their chapters with enviable levels of confidence and fluency.

13 year old Freddie said of the experience:

"I really enjoyed reading a chapter of Matilda at the Dahl in a Day event. It was the highlight of my half term! All the organisers were so warm and welcoming and I was very proud to be representing Inclusive Minds. It was a really fun day.”

10 year old Keira told us:

“I thought it was a brilliant experience to be one of the Matilda readers. It was amazing to read at The Southbank Centre and feel everyone there could join in. The other readers were so kind and helped stop me feeling nervous. It was very noisy but I could see people listening and enjoying the brilliant story.”

Her sister Tara who was also selected to read, described it as a ‘lovely event’. She said:

“I particularly loved that the performance was signed, as at school we have some joint lessons with children who are deaf. We are learning some sign language so we can communicate better with each other and it was great to be involved in a public event that was so inclusive.”

The adult readers also seemed to enjoy the experience and many commented on the event's success in attracting a truly diverse audience. Candy Gourlay told us:

"I have never before been involved in such an inclusive and embracing festival. I truly believe some lives were changed. It's a brilliant example that I hope will lead the way for others. Magical!”

We’ll leave the final words to writer, journalist and campaigner Emily Davison:

"By incorporating a tale from one of the world's best loved authors with engaging speakers of diversity, Inclusive Minds demonstrated the power of literature and spoken word and why children's literature is so important. The event highlighted that literature should equally represent the diversity of people who attended the event. Books are a way that we can begin to discover who we are and the world around us. It is vital that books start to reflect all different kinds of people and life stories so that literature can be a place where we feel included and truly immersed in its power."

We could not agree more! Books open horizons and one of the hopes of Inclusive Minds (and our like-minded colleagues) is that the pages of books enjoyed by the Matilda’s of the will be filled with not only with places far and wide, but characters from all backgrounds.

Huge thanks to all involved.