Children sang Happy Birthday to the Duchess of Cornwall as she officially opened a new library at a school in South Wales.
Camilla was also presented with a cake during her visit to Millbrook Primary School in Bettws, Newport, on Wednesday.
The library is one of hundreds that have been transformed by the nationwide Primary School Library Alliance set up by the National Literacy Trust and Penguin Random House to address the chronic underfunding of such facilities.
Camilla, who is patron of the National Literacy Trust, also used the day to launch The Duchess’ Birthday Books Project.
In celebration of her 75th year, she announced that she would be providing 75 primary schools from disadvantaged areas across the UK with a wellbeing and happiness-themed mini library. The initiative will reach around 25,000 children.
The royal visitor was given a warm welcome by the pupils and teachers, as she was greeted by headteacher Keri Smith and local dignitaries.
She also met the school’s “reading buddy” – a dog called Taliesin, who is on hand should children prefer to read aloud to him rather than another person as they are learning.
Camilla was joined on her tour by How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell, and children’s writers Tom Percival, Nadia Shireen, Connor Allen and Casi Wyn.
Ms Cowell told the PA news agency: “I remember all the books that were read to me as a child by teachers, my parents. They live with me.
“The library is a safe space and books are often a great comfort. There is a wisdom in books often, and you’re learning life lessons through a story.”
Camilla revealed during the writer’s speech that one of the books that helps her escape is Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice.
“Libraries are a way out too. You can’t get a job without basic literacy skills,” Ms Cowell continued.
“As the Sutton Trust has said, we’re facing a real problem with social mobility particularly, exacerbated by the pandemic. We have to try and address this and bring out the best in all children. It’s not a society if some children fall further and further behind. This is our country’s future.”
Ms Smith said literacy levels had taken a dive during the coronavirus pandemic and that it is important to address the issue as quickly as possible.
“For our children this is one of the most important things that has certainly happened to them thus far, and something they will remember for the rest of their lives,” headteacher Ms Smith said.
“This library is going to leave a legacy of interested readers which will pass on from their generation to the next generation.
“I can’t tell you how vital this is for us. We are one of those schools in a socio-economically disadvantaged community, one of the one in four who did not have a library, and now we have the best library in the world, in my opinion.”
Chief executive of Chase in the UK Sanjiv Somani, whose Rewarding Futures School Libraries programme funded the library renovation, said: “Creating an inspiring and welcoming space in schools is one of the first steps in helping children discover the magic of reading, which we believe provides a vital contribution to their mental wellbeing.”
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