When I was a little girl I lived in an imaginary world. I’d walk to the bottom of our garden, to my swing, hidden behind the trellis, and escape to a world far away. I’d swing for hours, dreaming of a different time and place, a world all of my own. If I wasn’t there, I’d be somewhere with my head in a book, reading about Pippi Longstocking and her latest adventures. My son has his mud garden and his trains. I see him creating all sorts of adventures and living them out with his toys. He may not be the best reader or writer in his class, but he has an imagination that brings him so much joy. The Oxford Literary Festival is currently taking place and on Sunday we spent time meeting a hero – Cressida Cowell.
I was supposed to be somewhere else with my oldest friend celebrating our 50th birthdays, but the snow meant we’d had to reschedule at the last minute. I’d already booked tickets for my 8 year old son and his Dad to see Cressida Cowell talk about her new Wizards of Once series of books, and luckily I was able to buy a ticket for myself on Saturday morning. My son was so happy when I told him that I’d be coming too. We’d be meeting his hero together.
If you’ve followed the blog over the last year or two you will know that we were introduced to Cowell and her How to Train Your Dragon series of books by my son’s Year Two teacher, Miss P. She read the first book to the children in class as part of their Dragon themed term topic. Then we all went to the Oxford Story Museum on a school trip, and again one of the staff member’s there told us all about Cowell and the children had a chance to draw their very own dragon.
It really started something with my son. He clearly loved the topic and the book. I’d heard of the films but we hadn’t watched them, only the programmes on TV. I hadn’t realised that they were actually based on books though. So to build on this new-found love I bought him the series of 12 books, and the world of Hiccup and Toothless has filled our bedtime reading ever since. In fact we’ve only recently finished the last book in the series and we’ve both been hooked. The books are wonderful, and I’ve thanked his teacher before for introducing us both to the series. If you’ve not read the How to Train Your Dragon books with your children, then do, they really are very entertaining and very different from the films in so many ways.
We’ve also now watched the films, which have cleared up a number of questions we had from watching the TV shows. We’d spent quite a while wondering why Toothless was now black and considerably larger than in the books. All became clear.
Anyway, it’s fair to say that I have a big fan of the books here, to the point where the boy who hates dressing up, actually did dress up as Hiccup last year for World Book Day. When a friend mentioned that Cressida Cowell was going to be at the Oxford Literary Festival I just knew I had to get tickets for him, even if I couldn’t go with him. Meeting a hero as a child is something that will stay with him forever. I never got a chance to meet any of the authors I liked as a child, but I will remember meeting James Hunt forever.
My son had bought Wizards of Once and the Incomplete Book of Dragons with a book voucher he’d been given for his birthday. I suggested that he taken them with him on Sunday, in case he had the opportunity to ask Cressida Cowell to sign them for him. Do you think she really would Mummy? I don’t know, I said, but there’s always a chance isn’t there. Fingers crossed.
Meeting a hero is a serious business, especially when you are a rather shy 8 year old. We arrived early at the Sheldonian Theatre, and walked around the marquee close by for a while, admiring all the books that were available. My kind of heaven. My son very proudly told his Dad that he’d got all of the Cressida Cowell books that were on show. All of them Daddy! He was so eager to meet his hero, that the biting cold wind wasn’t going to stop him queuing up outside ahead of time. There was one family ahead of us in the line, with two more eager fans, and we were all rather relieved when the doors finally opened and we could step back into the warmth. Being my son, the thought of sitting in the front row, right in front of his hero was just a little too overwhelming, so we settled for the second row on the aisle, close enough to get a good view but not ‘too close’.
Is she here, is she here? Not just yet. Of course, he knows exactly what she looks like and was sat telling his Dad all about the Blue Peter award she’d won recently for Wizards of Once. We’d started to read this new book last week and he’s already been drawn into a world of wizards and warriors and deep dark woods.
Then all of a sudden she was there, in front of us and the room went quiet and we were all taken on a journey. It was inspiring as an almost 50-year-old listening to Cressida Cowell talking about creativity and childhood and being all you could be. I turned to my son and he was hanging on every word. I prayed that he was really taking it all in. Understanding and realising that having an imagination and being creative are wonderful talents to possess and nurture and explore. That actually, if he’s handwriting sucks (although it is actually improving loads) then it’s not the end of the world. Capturing his thoughts is way more important. Believing, dreaming, being and not letting go of that wonderful imagination he has.
Listening to Cressida Cowell was thoroughly entertaining for all of us, and I could see that my son was just enthralled. If one day this means he picks up a book independently that will make me jump for joy, but actually I love reading to him, so that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. But more than anything I want him to walk away from meeting a hero and realise he can do it, he can do anything he puts his mind to. Fingers crossed.
At the end of the talk there was indeed a chance to get his books signed by Cowell, I think every child there had at least one book they wanted signing so it was going to be a rather long process. My son gets really overwhelmed in large crowds so I was concerned at one point that it was all too much for him and he’d walk away without seeing her. He’d already told me he couldn’t ask her a question and he couldn’t have his photo taken with her. That was too much. He just wanted to see her and have her sign his books. Ok I said, and I held his hand tightly, it’s ok, stick with me. I have a question to ask about Wish and her mother, but I do think we should ask Cressida if we can take her photo, even if you don’t want to be in it too. You may never get another opportunity, I said.
Eventually we were there, in front of his hero and it was all a bit too much, he couldn’t say a word to her, but when she asked him if he’d have his photo taken with her, something magical happened. I nearly screwed it up totally with a phone that was too full of photos (surely not!!), but he stood there, smiling.
Meeting a hero is a wonderful thing, and as a parent, I’m so happy for my son that he managed to meet his. But the magic wasn’t over. We’d decided to grab something to eat in Oxford before heading home. While we were waiting for our meal, my son got his note-book out and started to draw, started to create a new adventure and my heart might just have burst just a little bit.
Creativity, imagination, long may they thrive and grow within my son. Meeting a hero – Cressida Cowell, a day not to be forgotten in a hurry.