Families filled the grounds of Nottingham Castle for a free fun day to enjoy storytelling, book characters, children’s activities and line dancing.

The Free Family Fun Day on the Castle Green on 9 June was organised by Nottingham City Council and partners to celebrate books and reading and promote Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a charity which gives free books to children aged 0-5.

More than 1,400 people came along to the Bookstart event to enjoy book-inspired puppet shows, face painting, crafts and balloon modelling in the company of well-known children’s book characters Peppa Pig and George Pig, Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Bookstart Bear and even our own Robin Hood.

City Council staff and volunteers helped out at the event, joined by Sheriff of Nottingham, Cllr Jackie Morris, and Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years, Cllr David Mellen, who took time to sit and read with children. They also enjoyed high-energy line dancing to one of Dolly’s famous songs led by young dancers from Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama.

Tickets to the free event were given our to Citycard holders in libraries who also joined in by hosting a book trail in the city centre, promoting a national campaign by Bookstart, a scheme which also champions reading with young children.

Since Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library came to Nottingham, partners have helped to deliver nearly 50,000 books to city children under five. This comes as a new study finds children who are consistently enrolled in the Imagination Library are 28.9% more likely to be ready for school at age five than those children who aren’t part of the scheme.

Nottingham’s day of celebrations yesterday didn’t stop with events at the Castle and in libraries; Nottingham was also the first UK city to host an international conference for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Delegates at Nottingham Conference Centre were able to join in the celebrations via a live broadcast of the line dancing from the Castle.

Cllr David Mellen, Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years, said: “All of these events in Nottingham really show our commitment as a city which promotes and celebrates reading as a way of supporting families to form strong bonds and help children prepare for a lifelong love of reading.

“The charity has already helped over 2,500 children in nine Nottingham city wards to grow up with a love of reading. We’re making progress but we’ve still got a way to go so it’s really important that we keep telling people about this charity and meet our aim to give every 0-5 year old in the city a library of wonderful books in their home.”

Local data shows that Nottingham children are likely to start school with reading skills up to 14% behind the national average, so the Imagination Library has significant potential to improve literacy levels. So far 12% of eligible children in Nottingham have registered for the scheme so the council is urging more people to come forward to donate. It costs a total of £125 for a Nottingham child to receive the books from birth until age five. A regular donation of just £2.50 a month can give one child a book every month and really make a difference. More details about the charity and how to donate can be found at www.dollybooksnottingham.org