The fictional children’s character the Gruffalo joined a wealth of writers in a 24-hour series of literary events covering islands in Shetland and Orkney recently.
The 24 Islands/24 Hours challenge celebrating reading, writing and libraries took place from 3pm last Thursday to 3pm on Friday. In a race against the clock, library staff, writers, poets and storytellers travelled by air, sea and road to 24 islands across Shetland and Orkney to share their love of books and entertain islanders. The challenge culminated with the national launch of Ann Cleeves’ latest Shetland-based novel, Thin Air, in Britain’s most northerly library in Baltasound.
Shetland Library head librarian Karen Fraser said the 24-hour event had been “very good”, albeit exhausting. Ms Fraser said: “It was a lot of work to bring it together but we had a very good turnout [to events] and the library was extremely busy on Saturday. It’s brought a lot of publicity to the isles.”
The co-operation between Orkney and Shetland saw one staff member from Lerwick go to Orkney, and one Orcadian came to Shetland. Some events were accompanied by the mobile library, promoting its service.
There were e-books drop-in sessions and workshops in Skerries, Fetlar and Yell, and although fog and flight problems scuppered visits to Foula and Fair Isle, the total number of islands covered exceeded 24, thanks to counting East and West Burra and East and West Skerries as individual islands.
Local poet James Sinclair was able to get into Papa Stour, however. He became “poet in residence” for the day, said Ms Fraser, and delivered leaflets to the school, ferry waiting room and to residents. She added that he also explored the island to inspire his poetry.
In Scalloway, Marsali Taylor launched her latest thriller A Handful of Ash three times – once at sea, then at the castle and the museum. And children’s author Debi Gliori did a webcast for schools.
But it was the Gruffalo that attracted the biggest crowds, said Ms Fraser.
At Mossbank Primary School, the younger pupils gathered in the library, the expectation palpable. But, said head teacher Pat Brown, just prior to the character’s entrance: “There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo.”
The bulky Gruffalo then stooped to get through the door, to whoops of delight from the P1-P3 and nursery bairns.
Librarian Catherine Jeromson read a Gruffalo story, accompanied by actions from the furry brown Gruffalo. Afterwards the youngsters piled in for a hug from the creature.
The previous day the Gruffalo had been in Orkney, and earlier that morning he had attracted crowds of bairns at Shetland Library and the toddler group at Muckle Roe.
Ms Jeromson said: “The bairns have just loved him. Even the older bairns wanted to high-five him.” She added: “The events [in the 24-hour challenge] are to get children to love books and love libraries.”
Mrs Brown said that the Mossbank library had recently been revamped with new shelving and new books, making for a “super selection”. All now arranged in the official Dewey decimal system used in all public libraries. Mrs Brown said: “It will help pupils to identify where they’ll find a book in any library in Britain.”
And now, she said, they would put a book in the correct place “instead of just shoving it back on a shelf”. Now it will operate as a “proper library”, with pupils making a weekly visit and issuing the books themselves.
The whole 24-hour event actually extended over the allotted time, as it continued with two murder mystery sessions of Murder at the Ravenswick Hotel, with
Ann Cleeves, one at Busta House and the other at Shetland Library. Four local actors read the roles and the public had to guess who did it. Ms Fraser said the events went well, and the materials are available to other libraries around the UK.