OXFORD children’s author Philip Pullman praised the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign and said talking to children was the key to reading success.

The writer penned his award-winning fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials in the shed of his North Oxford home, before moving outside the city.

He said: “Books and stories are wonderful.

“I am very glad to hear about the reading campaign success.

“Any attention you pay to children’s language is valuable and worthwhile.

“Sitting on a loved grandparent’s lap looking at books and pictures is so precious to a child.

“But books and stories come second. Even more important than the story, than reading, is talk — real conversation — between parents or carers and children.

“Even ‘let’s go and look at the ducks, where are your shoes? Oh, there they are’.

“Talking, talking, all the time — that’s the most important thing there is.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s new national curriculum to be brought in next year says primary school children must be able to spell 250 advanced words.

Mr Pullman said too much importance was being placed on spelling and grammar.

He added: “Spelling and grammar are often called the basics. “But actually what is really basic is the appetite you get for words from your parents from your very earliest years — even before you can talk.”