WITH libraries across Essex set to re-open next month following the lockdown hiatus, keen readers will be rushing to borrow books once again.

And one best-selling south Essex author – whose books are checked out more times every year than Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton – believes the lockdown has shown us we need our libraries more than ever.

Figures show that during the first three week of the lockdown, when libraries were closed, there was a titanic 358 per cent increase in the number of people borrowing e-books from online sites.

Claire Freedman, author of the best-selling series of children’s books, Aliens Love Underpants, believes this shows people still love to read and is thrilled that bricks and mortar libraries across Essex will be opening up their doors again from July 6.

“I shall be especially happy and relieved when libraries are allowed to open again,” said the Leigh-based author.

“More than ever we need local access to borrow all types of books. It’s not just a want – it’s an absolute necessity, and not everyone can afford to purchase their own books.”

Claire has penned numerous popular children’s books, including Where’s Your Smile Crocodile?, Spider Sandwiches, Oops-a-Daisy and Snuggle Up, Sleepy Ones, but it’s her Aliens Love Underpants series of books which have flown off the shelves with the most gusto.

She added: “For parents having to home school their children, the closed libraries must have been sorely missed. Lockdown should persuade the Government more than ever that we need to open new libraries – not close them.”

History has shown us reading can quite literally transform young lives. As Dr Seuss put it: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Exactly one- year ago people power won the day when Save Our Libraries Essex triumphed in overturning plans by the county council to scrap a third of the county’s libraries.

The U-turn came after thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the plans in a number of high profile marches.

So with our passion for libraries and reading reignited, have you ever wondered what the most borrowed books are?

Figures from the Public Lending Right website offer an insight into our reading habits as a nation.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thriller, The Midnight Line, was the UK’s most loaned library book of 2018/19, while Catherine Cookson’s novels have been checked out the most over the past two decades – more than 32 million times.

When it comes to the popularity of authors, the 2017-18 ranking (the most up to date data available) saw US author James Patterson topping the list as the most borrowed author, followed by Daisy Meadows and Julia Donaldson. David Walliams makes it in at number 6 and Roald Dahl at number 9.

Claire Freedman is at number 20 - beating Michael Morpurgo at 22, Enid Blyton is at number 28 and Agatha Christie at 34. Despite her literary fame, Claire is happiest living a quiet life at home in Leigh, where she still attends the same weekly local writers’ group she has been going to for years. The married author is so modest about her success, she keeps every fan letter she’s ever received.

She says: “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else but writing. It’s something I absolutely enjoy. Although it’s hard work – probably a lot harder than many people might think, I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”

As for her status as the 20th most borrowed author, Claire said: “I was really surprised and delighted to discover I was the 20th top borrowed author in UK libraries. It’s so heartwarming to know that my books are being enjoyed and read by so many young children and to be a tiny part of that wonderful shared story-time with their parents and family.”

Essex County Council is preparing to re-open 16 libraries from Monday July 6, including Basildon, Billericay, Rayleigh, Rochford and South Benfleet.

Southend libraries will also begin opening on the same date.