Boys and girls from Solihull Junior School opened a new chapter in cross-cultural communications by taking part in an innovative video-conference to introduce a popular British children’s book to the US.
The 10 to 11-year-olds joined best-selling author Peter J Murray in their library for the live US launch of his spooky thriller Mokee Joe is Coming, which included presentations and a discussion by video link with pupils from the PS 56Q Harry Eichler School in Queens, New York.
Solihull Junior School, a co-educational independent school in the West Midlands, was chosen from among hundreds visited by the writer to stage the book launch because of its video-conferencing facilities and experience, and the commitment of its pupils to reading.
Having already sold more than 500,000 copies, the Mokee Joe trilogy features a character at the centre of an ongoing struggle by a group of school friends against the forces of evil.
In the first book launch of its kind, Peter J Murray gave a live presentation to both schools and read extracts from his books with the help of a wireless microphone linked to a video camera and a 42-inch plasma screen.
Deputy head Mark Penney then led his class in a discussion of the book, with the Americans interacting from a studio at Hunter College in New York.
The school used a static camera and three auxiliary cameras for long shots, close-ups and views from above so that it could show the New York students Solihull Junior School’s facilities as well as the facial expressions of the speakers.
The Yorkshire author, a former steelworker who returned to school at the age of 21 to gain a place at university and then worked in industry and teaching before giving it up to concentrate on writing, is a regular visitor to the Solihull school.
Peter J Murray said: “Solihull Junior School has been my favourite ever since its pupils supported me so immensely when I self-published my first book and then nominated me for the John Lewis Book Award for my novel Bonebreaker. I have never known a school with a greater enthusiasm for reading.
“My mission is to inspire children throughout the world to read and to use their imagination which is 10 times more powerful than anything they will find in computer entertainment.”
Mr Penney said: “Our boys and girls were thrilled to take part in this pioneering use of video conferencing. Being able to use four cameras instead of just the one static camera that most videoconferences have was a major factor in the event’s success.
“It created a vibrant atmosphere with a much-improved human dynamic that enabled the New York students to talk with Peter J Murray and our own pupils face to face as if they were in the same room.
“Linking up with pupils in the US was an horizon-widening experience that has made everyone even keener to read a novel and share it with friends.
“Our facilities and technical capability continue to open up opportunities for our pupils’ learning to excel.”
The school’s video-conferencing programme has included the use of video links by pupils to make virtual tours of educational establishments such as the Imperial War Museum and National Art Gallery, and to take part in Cambridge University’s competitive Motivate Maths programme with other schools.