A celebrated children's author visited a hospital baby unit to promote the importance of reading.

Julia Donaldson, whose popular books include The Gruffalo and Zog, went to the Trevor Mann Baby Unit at Brighton's Royal Sussex County Hospital to launch DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) Baby

The project, set up by staff at the University of Sussex Hospitals Trust, highlights the significance of reading to infants and toddlers. It can help a baby's brain development, language and attention skills.

Julia read to the babies currently undergoing neonatal care in the unit. The youngsters' families were also invited to attend.

The Argus: She also signed books for families to take home

Among those at the event was Kate Ogden and her son Jothi, who was cared for at the unit after his birth during the first Covid lockdown in June 2020 when he had a severe bleed on the brain.

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 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.”

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Mark and Abi Tompkins were also at the event. Their new baby Amber Tompkins is in the Trevor Mann.

Mark 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."

The Argus: Julia Donaldson read to babies at the unit currently receiving care

During the day, 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 along with Welcome To The World, which is focused on a baby learning about their surroundings.

Julia was accompanied by her husband Malcolm, who was a registrar and worked with Trevor Mann, who the ward is named after. Malcolm strummed his guitar between the readings to create a calm and peaceful environment for the newborns and their families.

Julia said the hospital was special to them as two of their children were born there.

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