STORIES were read to meerkats, rhinos and penguins as part of a stunt to promote reading among children.

Chipping Norton Literary Festival organisers were at Cotswold Wildlife Park on Saturday to tell families about the event.

Children watched as park keepers climbed into the animals enclosures and read books including Meerkat Mail and Rhino’s Horns.

Festival director Clare Mackintosh said: “The reading to the meerkats was the best because the penguins weren’t as interested in the story.

The Oxford Times:

  • Clare Mackintosh

“The meerkats came over to the keeper and stood on her lap and crawled over her wellies. They looked at the book and nibbled at it.

“They seemed to really enjoy it – it was very sweet and the children absolutely loved it.”

It is the first time the festival and wildlife park have been partners and Mrs Mackintosh said there was a connection between animals and reading.

She said: “Part of the aims of the festival is to make books more accessible. We’re really keen to promote the fact that literature shouldn’t be out of reach so we thought it would be a good idea to bring on board something that’s already engaged with a lot of children.

“When you look at children’s stories, particularly picture books, they are heavily animal-focused. Children love reading about animals so it’s a really nice fit for us.”

“It was a really good opportunity to speak to families in an environment where you wouldn’t perhaps expect to see books.”

The Oxford Times:

  • Jade Stott reads to the meerkats

There were cut-outs of meerkats around the wildlife park for children to find in a treasure hunt and the idea will be replicated around Chipping Norton during the festival.

The event takes place from April 24 to 27 and includes talks for adults and children, including from Blackadder producer John Lloyd, journalist Kate Adie and Charlie and Lola author Lauren Child.

Reptiles and insects will also be on display at St Mary’s Church on Sunday, April 27.

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