Middlesbrough Reads, a local literacy campaign, has teamed up with children's author Rachael Wong to use the power of storytelling to give children a voice during lockdown.
Rachael Wong, author of The Bridge that George Built (Brewin Books), based in Middlesbrough, is launching a series of daily storytelling videos from Monday (18 May) to help children document their lockdown experiences and give them a unique chance to be part of the story.
The story, titled Parmo to the Rescue after the sausage dog protagonist, will be hosted on the Middlesbrough Reads Facebook page. Every day next week at 10am, a new chapter will be released in a video and will follow the Middlesbrough-based Jones family as they navigate life in lockdown.
At the end of each video, local children will be given an opportunity to suggest what happens next in the story - what mischief will Parmo the dog get up to? What are George's neighbours like? Will the children manage to complete their school work? Wong will then incorporate children's plot suggestions into the next daily chapter.
Children will also be invited to send illustrations once the story is complete and the final story is due to be written up into a free ebook for children to download.
Wong's story presents many aspects of lockdown in a child-friendly way and frames the pandemic from a child's perspective. There are characters who are shielding because of underlying health issues, key workers, explanations of social distancing, and the frustrations of missing contact with school friends.
Wong is already well known in Middlesbrough as every primary school in the town was gifted a copy of The Bridge that George Built as part of the Marvellous Middlesbrough story writing competition. In addition, all proceeds from the book were donated to the MFC Foundation. Parmo to the Rescue features familiar characters from Wong's previous books, and Parmo the dog is of course named after the local delicacy.
To watch the story unfold, tune in to the Middlesbrough Reads Facebook page every day next week at 10am. Story suggestions for the following instalments should be posted on the Facebook page, or on Twitter using #BoroReads, by 6pm each day to be considered for inclusion in the next chapter.
Rachel Wong, author of Parmo to the Rescue, said: "I think it's really important that we include children's experiences of lockdown when creating a record of this point in history. Making a story together is an engaging way to document the coronavirus pandemic from the perspective of local children. Despite only being a matter of weeks, lockdown has been a large portion of children's lives, and I wanted to create a way to give them a voice. This video series is a great way to tell Middlesbrough's story in a positive light, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the children's ideas for the plot."
Allison Potter, Manager for Middlesbrough Reads, said: "We're delighted that Rachael wanted to work with us on this project. Since 2013, we've been successful in working to close the attainment gap in Middlesbrough and have brought it closer to the national average. However, school closures risk undoing some of this work so it's vital to keep children reading and writing during lockdown. Rachael's videos are a fantastic way to make local children feel valued while also keeping them engaged with literacy."
This initiative is one of many that Middlesbrough Reads has offered during lockdown. The campaign works to improve the literacy skills and future prospects of local children, and the Facebook page was set up in response to school closures to support families online. Over the last few weeks, Middlesbrough Reads has created fun activities, promoted access to free resources, and has organised a Roald Dahl themed competition, all to keep children engaged in reading and wider literacy while they're at home.