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Author Michael Morpurgo has hard words over Shropshire libraries

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

He is arguably the most popular children's author in the world, and Michael Morpurgo is determined to use his influence to beat the drum for the written word.

His main concern is that the library remains in place for people to be inspired for generations to come.

It comes at a time when councils are under pressure to cut services to save money. In Shropshire a review of library services is under way, designed to save £1.3 million. All Powys libraries will remain open but their operating hours will be reduced next year to save money

Letter-writing winner Lucy McGuire, from Moreton Hall First School, with Michael Morpurgo

The steps set off alarm bells with Morpurgo, who at 71 says he has enjoyed the luxury of having access to public lending.

The War Horse author believes councillors should rethink proposals to cut library services for the good of the next generation.

Speaking after a performance at the Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury, he said the closure of libraries would be especially detrimental for children.

"There is a growing difficulty in getting children to read which needs to be tackled," he said.

"Parents have to read to their children to help them make their own ways in life and to develop into an all rounded adult.

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"Books are a great way to teach children but sadly some parents do not have time anymore. Some children arrive at school without having seen a book.

"It is then down to the great teachers and schools to teach the children how to read.

"The important thing to keep this going is to support libraries and not let local authorities close them.

"Libraries are how people fall in love with books. I know the argument is the internet is taking over but not everybody has the internet – a lot of older people don't.

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"You can access a range and depth of books in the library that you just can't do on the internet.

"They are wonderful places for information and form parts of local communities.

"Councils say not enough people use them but the answer to that is more investment to make them better rather than close them."

Currently one in five children leaves primary schools at 11 unable to read, write and count at an age-appropriate level.

And Morpurgo, with well over 100 books under his belt, said a lot can be done to tackle this growing issue.

"There is a whole lot we can do to put things right. One million children are leaving school not being able to read. This is a disgrace," he says.

"Everyone should have all hands on deck to tackle this problem.

"Organisations like the Book Fest in Shrewsbury are great because they have passionate and committed people encouraging children to read."

Michael delighted hundreds of people at a Shrewsbury Children's Bookfest event in Shropshire at the weekend.

The much-loved writer took to the Theatre Seven stage in Shrewsbury in front of a packed audience to perform The Best Christmas Present in the World.

When asked if he thought War Horse would be such a huge success when he wrote the book 30 years ago, Morpurgo said: "When you tell a story, you tell it and hope it will be a good read. You hope it will be worthwhile and that people will enjoy reading it. That is all I am concerned about. The other stuff is exciting and encouraging.

"Now due to the film and West End production the book has now been read by thousands more people which is great. The film and show both happened by accident – nothing was planned. It is all very magical how much of a worldwide phenomenon War Horse has become."

The subject of war and its consequences is present in many of the author's stories.

With 2014 marking 100 years since the start of the First World War, he explained the reason for his focus on the theme of war was because he was a 'war baby'.

He said: "I was born in 1943 so I grew up with war stories all around me. It made its mark on me.

"It wasn't until when I was in my 30s that the experiences and stories inspired me to write about them.

"I met three old soldiers who had fought in World War One. They were all well into their 80s but each had such fascinating stories to tell, I felt like they were handing over me their stories to tell.

"I then did some research and found out how many soldiers told all their feelings to their horses. That is why I chose to write War Horse – to show the war from all sides – whether you were German, French or English, everyone was hit by the war. Through a horses eyes you can see the universal suffering.

"2014 is the centenary of the start of World War One. Many of my books are set in the 1914-1918 conflict – War Horse, Private Peaceful, Butterfly Lion and Why the Whales Came, Farm Boy, and The Best Christmas Present in the World.

"I will be talking about all these, and more, at festivals this year, meeting my readers and answering their questions."

Speaking after the performance, Morpurgo said he was delighted to be returning to Shrewsbury.

He said: "It is great to be back at this theatre. I know the Theatre Severn very well. It has lovely acoustics and we are always made to feel so welcome. It is in a wonderful setting and the theatre is always full.

"The audience was great and were very responsive and connected. They felt all the emotions of the play. They laughed, cried and smiled.

"There were a lot of people who went to war and never came back. We should never forget these brave people."

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