When I was a child, I remember being enchanted by my little world. As my tiny feet walked through life, I found that almost everything was a reason for wonder and joy.
These days, I try my best to emulate that perspective. Luckily, I got the chance to feel that side of me shine again in Manchester.
As I look back on my time in this remarkable city, I think that participating in RocketWorld was one of the highlights of my time in Manchester. RocketWorld is an initiative that brings together international students around Manchester universities to visit primary schools across Greater Manchester. During these visits, university students have the opportunity to share stories about their country with 7-11 year olds. RocketWorld aims to help tackle intolerance, prejudice and racism by dispelling fear and ignorance through fun and adventure. Over 18 000 children have now taken part in the projects and over 1500 volunteers from all over the world have taken part as well. All visits involve a giant EarthBall with NASA satellite imagery. This shows our planet as it is seen from outer space without borders.
RocketWorld is part of the International Society’s One Love school projects. The International Society is a not for profit organization that works with Manchester Universities to offer its members opportunities to go on trips across the UK, attend language classes and participate in projects such as RocketWorld. Being away from home can be tough but if you’re lucky, you meet people who make you feel at home wherever you are. The International Society was my home away from home throughout my exchange.
Rocketworld is a mission for international peace and friendship. My part in the mission involved talking all about Canada. I told the kids about our crazy Canadian winters, our love for hockey, the color-changing maple leaves and I even told them about maple taffy (or as I described it there – a sweet syrup lolly). They were all ears. Staring at the photo of syrup drizzled on a bed of snow, one boy exclaimed: “That’s wicked!!” Their infectious energy made me excited about all those Canadian gems that I often take for granted. At one point, I asked the kids if any of them knew how to make a snow angel. Their hands darted up as they exclaimed “Me! Me! I do!” then proceeded to sprawl across the gym floor and show me. My heart was full.
Everything new that I shared was a catalyst for greater curiosity. And every funny part of our country I showed them was met with a sense of intense wonder untarnished by prejudice or judgement. In the eyes of a child, we are all equally deserving of the chance to tell our story. You see, from little worlds, big worlds grow.
Throughout my time in Manchester, I’ve looked for stories to share with you. From the Learning Commons to the John Rylands Library to Radio Lollipop to Trafford Tales to everything in between…stories have abounded my time in this city. They have an unparalleled connecting quality and they can fill us with wonder and joy again. As I share this final Insights into Manchester post, I hope to share one more message: Where there is life, there are stories waiting to be uncovered - stories we will read, stories we will learn, stories we will remember and stories we will write ourselves.
“I’m on my way”, I tell Suzanne Wild, a Service Development Officer for Manchester Libraries, who I am meeting this morning.
The sun shines on the nape of my neck and seems to emanate from all angles of the sidewalks as well. I am heading to Gorton, an area in Manchester where the City Council Depot is located and where the Books to Go office is. Spring has arrived in Manchester and lately, flower sightings have been welcome affirmations that the persistent Mancunian rain paid off. As I wander down this back road, I am hard-pressed to find real flowers peeping through the sidewalk. So I settle for the next best thing: Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers”. Insert headphones. Walk onward.
In a suddenly transported state of mind, the shining sun plants flowers in my footsteps. Seeing The Nutcracker with my family used to be a Christmas tradition. I distinctly remember my anticipation leading up to the opening act. The lights would dim and there would be a moment of silence before the magic began. I loved to relish that moment. I would dwell in the silent presence of anticipation, waiting for the curtains to draw and reveal all that I had dreamt of.
Before I knew it, I had arrived at the Gorton depot. Suzi was waiting for me there and together, we were going to work counting out and placing book copies into bundles ready for distribution during National Bookstart Week.
Bookstart is the world’s first national bookgifting programme. It ensures that children and families across England and Wales are given access to free resources through their local nurseries, libraries and schools that encourage reading for pleasure from birth. Every year, National Bookstart Week sees this project at its peak - Events and distribution are organized around a chosen book and delight ensues. This year, the spotlight is on Lucy Cousins’ A Busy Day for Birds.
I had never seen that many copies of a single book before. The depot was filled with boxes and storage containers that we spent the morning filling up, labeling, and sending off. Throughout our time there, the depot truck drivers came by to pick up the packages and deliver them to their respective destinations. As mechanical as the process may sound, it felt magical to be a part of this chain of events. Actually, I was standing on the cusp of a magic moment. These books were on their way to meet children across Manchester. Kids would soon get to marvel at the rich colors and the delightful coos and caws of Cousins’ work. We were there, standing in the silent presence of anticipation waiting for that first act to begin.
I don’t think a book can arrive in a child’s hands by accident. Books mobilize people. Before the orchestra strikes its first chord, an innumerable amount of forces align to make sure all runs smoothly. As we packed up the boxes, the books seemed to whisper “I’m on my way”. And there I was - sitting in the audience waiting for the curtains to pull back and for the magic of reading to begin.