It is the last day of this year's Summer Reading Challenge. How I will miss it!
These are the things I will miss most. The friendly library staff who always look so very
pleased to see me when I negotiate my perilous way through the revolving doors at the library entrance. "We are so glad you are here!" they exclaim. Or, sometimes: "We really don't know what we would do without all you volunteers!" I have to say that they
have been extremely well briefed by Frances, the Children's Librarian who clearly knows how important it is to make sure volunteers feel valued and appreciated. It is an object lesson for any organisation which relies on voluntary help - volunteers don't ask
for anything but a word of thanks goes such a very long way.
I will miss sitting at my table covered by an oil cloth decorated with pictures from Roald Dahl books. Oh, and I will miss the Big Friendly Read
theme which has been such a success this year. This week on our TV screens there has been lots of coverage from schools up and down the land where pupils have been dressing up as characters from Dahl's stories to celebrate the centenary of the Great Man's
birth. Young James, Middle of the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys told me over the phone last night (we'd rung to sing Happy Birthday!) that he went to school dressed as Fantastic Mr Fox. I suppose, I mused at the other end of the line, he could just have
gone as James. As in, himself. James didn't quite get the joke - I find jokes, even better ones than this one, don't travel too well over the telephone - and explained, seriously, that one of his friends had actually dressed up as James (he of Giant Peach
fame) accompanied by a very large orange ball, representing the Fruit Factor.
I did think of dressing up myself for this last morning at the Big Friendly Read table, possibly as one of The Twits, but I thought
better of it, just in case anyone might think I always looked like, well, a twit.
I will miss the joy of seeing a young'un who started off hiding behind his mother, too scared to even talk to me, gradually,
as the magic of the stories took hold, emerging with a broad grin on his face to recount the grisliest of grisly moments in his Horrible Histories book.
I will miss asking the Successful Ones to choose what
colour felt tip pen they want me to use in writing out their name on their certificate - and carefully inscribing said certificate in my very best handwriting. This was always my Most Stressful Moment: nobody wants to pin up on their bedroom wall a certificate
on which their name is scrawled untidily - or, worse still, spelt incorrectly. And how I will miss destroying the peace of the library by encouraging the latest "finisher" to join me in a celebratory drum roll on the table to herald the award of their certificate
and "gold" medal.
In two hours this morning we had eight such celebrations. You may think this a modest enough total till I tell you that at least half of today's finishers brought three, four or - in one
case - five books to my table. I reckon I listened to abbreviated versions of around 24 books in the course of the morning. One dad was all at sea: "I didn't know they belonged to this club," he told me, "their mum always brings them...." Both his children
needed to read one more book to earn their certificate and medal - why didn't he take them to choose a book they could read here and now at the library, I suggested? No sooner said than done - another drum roll, two more certificates, two more medals awarded.
Plus one grateful dad: "I reckon my wife would have killed me if they'd come home empty- handed..."
One lad had chosen the latest Harry Potter book as his last Big Friendly Read. He kindly filled me in on
what happened to each of the main characters over the twenty years since they left Hogwarts, scene of JK Rowling's Stories of their Magical Lives. A solemn lass introduced me to a book about Good Parents. No, not what you are thinking, she wasn't checking
up on her own mater and pater - this book was all about how various animals, from cheetahs to penguins, kept their small fry safe from harm. Asked which animals she felt made the best parents, she pointed to the meerkats. I suppose you could say meerkats are
always looking out for something - children and all?
"The Elves and the Shoemaker" was one youngster's choice. Lots of current children's stories seem to rewrite age-old fairy tales - but this was the original
version. I love this story. I love the way the shoe-maker and his wife make smart suits and shoes to repay the labours of the elves who worked tirelessly every night to turn the leather into shoes. Those elves knew all about volunteering.
As I leave at the end of my session, I say goodbye to Frances the Children's Librarian and say how much I will miss my stints at the Big Friendly Read desk now that the 2016 Summer Reading Challenge is finished.
"Thank you for making it so special for the children," she says with a sly grin. I guess she saw (or heard) our drum roll celebrations.
It's possibly the sweetest compliment
I have received for ages, whether wholly deserved or not.
It was, I tell her, my Absolute Pleasure.