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Simon Woolley on reading to kids and breaking records

Simon Woolley describes the uplifting experience of reading to children... and breaking a Guinness World Record into the bargain!

By Simon Woolley

There are very few activities more pleasurable than reading an enchanting story to your captivated child.

My own son’s favourite is Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. ‘Dad, Dad, ‘Dang and Blast’, he’ll splurt at any given moment. ‘I’ll rip your guts out’, before launching himself towards me when we wrestle.

Yesterday those reading skills, and the sheer pleasure of sharing a colourful story, were played out and the London Muslim Centre where I – and small army of readers together with 3,324 children from schools around the East End of London – broke the Guinness Book of Records for the most children reading with an adult.

And the book… well it had to be Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I read to about 30 children from the Columbia School in Tower Hamlets. We started at page 80 just as Willy Wonka was nervously, but excitedly, inviting the five lucky children and their guardians into his chocolate filled world.

I’m not sure who enjoyed those 30 minutes of reading more, the readers or the boys and girls. For me, looking around at a kalidescope of young children from every background, and possibly every religion, coming together to read this most English of tales was a truly uplifting experience.

Fact is, one way or another Muslim organisations and communities in East London often feel they are under constant attack. The organisers of this event – The If Charity along with the London Muslim Centre – wanted to show a side of their community spirit that is so rarely reported. True to form, this world record event was of little or no interest to the vast majority of our media. And that’s a shame.

What I’ll remember most from this recording breaking day was the little boy who asked me after we had finished: ‘Sir, sir, are we world record holders now ?’ ‘I think you are young man’, I replied. ‘You can go home and tell your family you’ll be in the Guinness Book of Records’.

‘Thank you sir’, he said and turned around to his friend, punched the air, and shouted, ‘Yes! We did it’.


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