Published: 12:10, 11 October 2021
| Updated: 12:21, 11 October 2021
A brother and sister are taking on children's literature and joining forces to engage children in reading.
Author Amanda Prowse, 52, and her younger brother, illustrator Paul Ward Smith, 49, have released their debut book and held a reading at Wrotham Road Primary School, Gravesend.
From left: Paul and Amanda speaking about their new book
Amanda is a best-selling contemporary literature author whose titles include The Day She Came Back and Poppy Day but what drew her to take the leap to children's books?
"There has never been a more appropriate time than right now where we need a little message of hope because the last couple of years have been really tough," she said.
Their book – The Smile that went a Mile – was Paul's idea as it started when he was trying to keep his son Arlo, who is six, entertained during lockdown.
"I just started drawing stories and people started relating to them and it got Arlo into drawing as well," Paul said.
"His friends would come over and start to look over my shoulder when I was drawing with my tongue sticking out going 'what are you doing there Paul?'.
"It's just seeing their interaction to seeing colour and seeing these stories unravel in front of them. It is a very addictive thing."
Their debut story follows a girl called Emily who smiled at a woman called Mrs Simpson on her way to school and follows the journey of that smile throughout the day.
Amanda, who used to live in Kent and spent summer holidays in Reculver as a child, said: "What I love most is it is a really simple message which is if you smile at each other more you connect more. You can change someone's day by smiling at them and actually the person who gets changed the most by a smile is you."
The project stems from the pandemic which Amanda reflects on saying: "Life is difficult for a lot of people right now and it is hard for a lot of children who have been through this whole upheaval so we thought what better message. A simple message of smile more and connect to strangers. It is just a wonderful way to get together."
According to the National Literacy Trust, children's enjoyment of reading increased by 8% during lockdown and Kent County Council says reading for fun improves youngster's literacy.
During the visit to Wrotham Road, Amanda and Paul read aloud to pupils and gave away their book for free so they could share it with their families at home as a way of giving back and getting children to read.
Their school tour coincided with national libraries week (October 3-10) and the duo spoke on how "massively" important libraries have been in their own childhoods.
Amanda said: "We grew up in a house without any books and libraries were our haven, our safe place, our educators and our friends and there is nothing more incredible than going into a library.
"We all need to support out libraries. It breaks my heart to see them underfunded, to see them closing because I think the difference they make to kids like me in city areas is huge. It is a real shame.
"So we need to support libraries and actually people do not need to buy a book, they need to get a book from a library and share it."
This summer more than 12,000 children took part in Kent libraries' summer reading challenge and nearly 68,000 children aged 0-11 across the county were active members of a library in 2019-20.
Amanda added: "Reading with your children not only encourages them to read and it is beautiful thing to connect you but those are the memories I have now with my kids.
"If kids are familiar with books from a young age they are much more likely to become adult readers."
Early years foundation stage leader at Wrotham Road school, Ritu Bhathal, said: "Instilling a love of books and reading is so important as it lays the foundations for a lot of a child's learning going forward.
"In this age of technology, it can be tough to engage children in reading as some will have a tendency to want to look at videos on screens.
"There are families who are unable to provide books for their children. This can make reading seem like an alien concept when there is an online game to play or a film to watch.
"This is where it becomes important for us, as a school, to provide all our children with the opportunities to listen to stories, absorb rich vocabulary and engage in conversations about what we have read."
Paul, who now lives in Tonbridge with his wife Stevie and son, added reading with his son has become part of their daily routine as the pair suggest reading is better for mental health, creativity and learning.
Amanda added: "It is an incredible gateway into education."
The siblings, originally from Essex, are planning to invite schools to the old fire station in Tonbridge as they host a five day reading workshop from October 18 to 21.