BLOG POST: Essex Year of Reading & Toto the Cat

Essex County Council launched their Year of Reading and asked Red Lion Books to supply books to St Thomas More’s Primary School, ahead of Dermot O’Leary (former X Factor host) visiting the school.

Yes“, we said.

Set up by the Essex Education Taskforce, the Year of Reading is a £1million project aimed at encouraging children and adults to read regularly and former Colchester schoolboy Dermot O’Leary was a popular choice to launch it, providing a storytelling session from the 5th instalment of his series, Toto the Ninja Cat, encouraging pupils to take part in the scheme. When his schedule took him to St Andrew’s Primary School in Marks Tey, we were asked to deliver books there also.

Of course“, we said, loading up the car

Oh, and delivery over to Essex County Council in Chelmsford?

Absolutely“, we replied, feeling the excitement of the launch build; especially when we heard that Dermot was going to provide a live Zoom event to the first 100 schools signing up. This number doubled, and then quadrupled, from the original 100 and soon 400 schools across the County were able to benefit from an event which may turn out to be ‘that’ spark. That thing that sparks the interest in a young person. That moment of engagement. The lightbulb moment when a child suddenly sees the joy in reading. This is what excites us at Red Lion Books: book connections.    Connecting a child to a life long journey of reading and then, connecting adults to a book they will love.  We often use the hashtag #BooksConnectUs

We were thrilled when Essex County Council asked if Red Lion Books could supply books to schools, across the 3,670 square km of Essex, wishing to purchase copies of Toto the Ninja Cat & The Legend of the Wildcat (5)

We will need lots of gaffer tape and some windowed envelopes but yes!’

Using the Royal Mail (and some serious spreadsheets) we were able to set ourselves up as authorised suppliers to each school and organise deliveries in a short space of time. Even schools who missed the deadline or phoned saying, ‘Child x, y, or z forgot to send payment in, is it too late to add 1 more to our order?‘, were told, “Yes“. It has been fun to post paperwork out to all four corners of the County (thank goodness for windowed envelopes) and good to communicate with various schools. One parcel went to the Infant School rather than the Junior School (soon resolved) and another school found their tracked and signed parcel in the ‘Village Shop’ as a local shopkeeper had thought they were being helpful by taking it  in.  What an adventure TOTO has had!

We are grateful that the ECC chose to support an Essex based, independent business and we are excited about the Year of Reading campaign.

We would love to hear from schools, parents or pupils who loved the event.  We have a prize for the best book review.

The Closing Date is April 15th (Good Easter) and entries can be emailed to via your school.

JO COLDWELL, Red Lion Books, March 2022
Twitter: @radioleary @hachettekids #TototheNinjaCat #EssexYearofReading @essex_cc
Instagram: @dermotoleary @hachettekids #TototheNinjaCat #EssexYearofReading @essex_cc


Dermot O'Leary at St Thomas More's Primary School, Colchester for Essex year of reading event and sh

Credit: Brittany Woodman