Renowned children’s author helps to launch a new project at Royal Sussex County Hospital

Julia Donaldson and her husband Malcolm visited the Trevor Mann Baby Unit to help promote the launch of ‘DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) Baby.’ This project promotes the importance of reading to babies and young children.
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Julia is well known for writing childhood favourites such as ‘The Gruffalo’, ‘Zog’ and ‘Tabby McTat’. Her books are cherished by many, and she kindly agreed to read to the babies currently receiving neonatal care in Brighton. Their family and siblings also attended the event and there was a live stream being shown in the Special Care Baby Unit at Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath.

DEAR Baby is a project that has been developed by staff at University Hospitals Sussex with input from parents. The simple task of reading can help a baby’s brain develop and can also improve language and attention skills. Absolutely anything can be read to a baby. In fact, making up your own stories or describing pictures is just as effective. It’s the changes in voices, tone and interaction with the baby which makes a difference.

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In attendance were Kate Ogden, who helped with the leaflet, and her son Jothi. He was born during the first lockdown in June 2020 and was cared for in the Trevor Mann Baby Unit. The DEAR Baby launch is the first time they have returned to the unit. Kate explained that Jothi had a severe bleed on the brain, and his prognosis was poor. Due to the lockdown, only one parent could be with Jothi at a time.

Julia Donaldson (front left), Kate and Jothi (centre) with staffJulia Donaldson (front left), Kate and Jothi (centre) with staff
Julia Donaldson (front left), Kate and Jothi (centre) with staff

Reflecting on her time in the Trevor Mann Baby Unit, Kate said:

“Staff were our extended family when Jothi was born, it was the scariest time in our lives, but the staff kept us going and listened to us.

“The first joint visit with my partner Kittie, Jothi’s other mum, was special. We are so grateful the staff listened to us and advocated for us. We felt very safe and held by the team, we were well looked after.

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“The nurses lined up along the corridor and gave Jothi a standing ovation when he left the hospital. It’s really touching that we were invited to the event today.”

DEAR Baby launch 2024DEAR Baby launch 2024
DEAR Baby launch 2024

Amongst the babies being carefully monitored in the neonatal ward was Amber Tompkins, only three days old. Her older siblings Kai and Summer attended the reading along with their parents. Mr & Mrs Tompkins said:

“We often read many of Julia’s books at home, they’re part of our lives and will be part of Amber’s too, so this was a lovely surprise to be a part of.”

“All the staff have been wonderful and have made us feel comfortable, they help take the stress out of a stressful situation and are always here to answer any questions we have.”

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During the launch Julia signed copies of ‘The Snail And The Whale’ for each of the families to take home, she also read the book in all three of the neonatal units and also read ‘Welcome To The World,’ which is aptly focussed on a baby learning about their surroundings. Malcolm gently strummed his guitar between the readings, setting the scene for a beautifully calm and peaceful environment for the newborns and their families to relax.

Julia Donaldson (front left), Kate and Jothi (centre) with staffJulia Donaldson (front left), Kate and Jothi (centre) with staff
Julia Donaldson (front left), Kate and Jothi (centre) with staff

Julia and Malcolm Donaldson are no strangers to the Trevor Mann Baby Unit, Malcolm was a Registrar and worked with Trevor Mann in the 80’s and two of their children were born at the hospital in Brighton.

Julia said: “We would have happily done the reading, but this does make it more special.”

We would like to say a huge thank you to Julia and Malcolm for taking the time to visit us. And also to Early Birth Association for funding all the books and providing the delicious cupcakes on the day.