Taking children to the supermarket can be more educational than you think.
Sixteen children from a reception class at Sir Frank Whittle School Coventry, sat on a mat facing two stacks of tins. To the left was "sparkling" cola ("test the zest"), to the right was carrot and coriander soup, and straight ahead -- "wow!" -- was a chilled display unit offering chicken breasts at knock-down prices.
The children weren't looking at any of these tempting diversions. They were looking at Kerry Kyte, who was reading to them from a book eared The Bear and The Picnic Lunch. This was a new departure for all concerned. At this time on a Friday morning, Kerry would normally be sitting on a check-out, and these four- and five-year-olds would be in a classroom with their teacher, Barbara Mullenger. Instead, she was looking on benignly while Kerry competed gamely with easy-listening background music and public address promotions. ("If only your dog could clean his own teeth. Well, now he can, with Pedigree Dental Rusks.")
This was a trial run for a rather different kind of promotion. The Big Read was launched yesterday in 227 Asda supermarkets nationwide, as a partnership between the supermarket chain and a new library development agency called Launch-Pad. Between now and June 13, professional storytellers, librarians and specially trained check-out workers like Kerry will be trying to attract the attention of small children visiting stores with their parents. According to LaunchPad's development director, Miranda McKearney, "it's about libraries recognising people's changing lifestyles and the need to reach them outside the traditional library-based service."
More to the point, it's about children's changing lifestyles. "Surveys suggest that children do not go to libraries for fun," says Guy Daines of the Library Association. "They see libraries as being old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. Potentially, we have a great image Problem." And they are not alone in that. Theatres, too, are struggling to attract a more youthful audience. On Friday (June 4), the Birmingham Rep launches 10 Days in June, plugged as "a celebration of the best theatre, opera and storytelling for four- to 14-year-olds."
The Rep's head of education, Rachel Gartside, acknowledges: "Theatre audiences are ageing. We need something to stimulate younger minds to ensure that we have a sustainable future. A lottery grant has enabled us to apply main-house production values to children's theatre for the first time. But advanced bookings are better for works which parents are family with, like Peter and the Wolf and The Magic Flute." New writing, like David Greig's Danny 306 + Me (4 Ever), is being sponsored by the Sainsbury's Checkout Theatre. …