Michael Rosen at Ladygrove Park Primary School in Didcot. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardianvia guardian.co.uk
When I was at school, we rarely had interesting visitors to the classroom: the highlight was probably the local policeman, who popped by once a year to show off his panda car. I'm not that old, but in the 20 years since my days of learning times tables, it's clear this has changed, and for the better.
It's no surprise that the rise of the touring children's author has come hand in hand with the reduction in space for children's books in the press. Author events are now a key marketing strategy. But rather than seeing this additional task as a chore, there's a whole generation of children's authors and illustrators who embrace it as a core part of what they do. And in the push to compete with more flashy forms of entertainment, the school event is the best weapon in a children's author's arsenal.
Over the past few weeks I've been involved in school events as part of the Crystal Palace children's book festival, which takes place on 23 October. I've taken authors and illustrators into schools not only to promote their work, but also to promote creativity amongst the children. Watching hundreds of children respond to Gary Northfield drawing Henry VIII has been particularly fascinating.
Gary is a comics artist, well-known for the brilliant Derek the Sheep from the Beano Max, yet here he is, getting kids excited about a long-dead monarch. And of course, after he'd drawn the tubby Tudor, some of the children tried out their drawing skills in front of the hall, too. By taking a roundabout route to their hearts, he'd instantly recruited a legion of fans.
I'm sure some teachers must hate us. We're in the enviable position of being able to prove that reading and writing is fun: a teacher could battle for weeks to get a child to read something, only for an author to come in one morning and talk about giant robots, (and if they were Neill Cameron, draw them), and suddenly books are fabulous. Watching a school go nuts for a battle between Neill Cameron's robots from Mo-bot High and Sarah McIntyre's Vern the Sheep was a real joy.
School events like these are pure entertainment. Kids get to participate and enjoy being creative, while immersing themselves in the world of literature and art. It's proof to them, if it were needed, that this world isn't stuffy and boring, but full of potential and amazing things to discover.
It's clear that no other creative industry puts so much time and effort into inspiring the young – but without these road warriors of literature helping children to love books, authors of grown-up literature might soon find themselves without an audience. By marrying children's books with the fun side of schooling, we'll see the written word survive long into the days of 3D TV.