Kids are never too young to be read to, says top children’s author

May 18, 2017

Burgess Hill Girls ‘old girl’ Kelly Willoughby is heading back to her school for this month’s Burgess Hill Girls School Open Day, and she’s keen to spread the word about the importance of reading to children.

Kelly, author of the ‘School for Stars’ book series alongside her sister, This Morning host Holly Willoughby – who also attended the school – says her love of reading was instilled in her by their mother. And it’s something she, in turn, is passing on to her daughter.

‘It all starts at home,’ says Kelly. And she says it’s the sooner the better when it comes to reading to youngsters.

‘Children are never too young to be read to, even when they don’t understand what you’re reading!

‘Holly started reading to [her son] Harry when he was in his cot. Babies get used to hearing your voice.’

‘And 15-20 minutes of “snuggle time” spent with your child after a busy day is so important,’ says Kelly. ‘Their language becomes much better if you read to them. And discussing books can keep the lines of communication going. It can lead on to discussing other issues – perhaps something that’s bothering them.’

The first book in the eight-strong School for Stars series, First Term at L’Etoile, was published in 2013. It follows the journey of twin sisters Molly and Maria Fitzfoster as they enroll at L’Etoile.

Packed with drama and dance, midnight feasts and makeovers, Kelly says the stories were partly inspired by the Enid Blyton’s classic Mallory Towers series. ‘Our books developed into little mystery stories because that’s what we liked reading when we children.’

Kelly says the desire to write also dates back to her childhood: ‘When we were little, we were always making up stories,’ she says. ‘My mum encouraged it.’

‘We were real bookworms. I don’t think there was an Enid Blyton book I didn’t read. I’ve always made up stories for my daughter; Holly does the same for her kids.’

And how does the writing partnership with Holly work? ‘Because we’re sisters we speak in the same way, with the same tone, the same turn of phrase. We bash out the story together and I do the actual writing. If something doesn’t work, I phone her and we sort it out.’

Kelly says she’s delighted to be appearing at Burgess Hill Girls – where Holly was also a pupil. And the connection with the school is now into its second generation – Kelly’s daughter now a pupil at the school. ‘When we moved back to Sussex from London last August, we didn’t even look anywhere else [for a school].

Are the Etoile books specifically for girls? ‘Our books are for anyone who wants to read them,’ says Kelly. ‘We found writing quite an organic process. Holly and I were quite girly girls, so on reflection I think you just write in a way that comes naturally. The books were our first stab at writing fiction. They were a labour of love.’

‘You write what you want to write, and if people want to read it that’s great.’

‘And as long as children are reading…!’

Seven of the best: Kelly’s favourite chidren’s books

  1. The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
  2. Mallory Towers series by Enid Blyton
  3. The Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton
  4. The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
  5. The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton
  6. Nancy Drew series by Caroline Keene
  7. Any fairy tale – especially Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty

The Burgess Hill Girls School Open Day is on Friday 19 May, 10.45-12 noon. To find out how to register, visit http://burgesshillgirls.com/admissions/open-events.