HE has captivated millions of children with his fantasy novels — and now best-selling author Philip Pullman has branded Bolton’s library closures “very sad”.

The 65-year-old — best known for his trilogy of novels His Dark Materials — believes public libraries are vital to help children unlock their imaginations.

Five libraries in Bolton have closed this year — Astley Bridge, Oxford Grove, Heaton, Highfield and Castle Hill — as part of council cuts.

The grandfather-of-four has sold more than 15 million copies of His Dark Materials series, beginning with Northern Lights in 1995 — made into 2007 film The Golden Compass starring Nicole Kidman — followed by The Subtle Knife in 1997 and The Amber Spyglass in 2000.

Mr Pullman said: “It’s dreadfully sad when you hear about libraries closing down.

“One more way of children accessing their imagination closing down is such a pity. I’m partly concerned with young mothers. The library is the only place they can get out to — it’s safe and it’s comfortable. They can go for poetry hour and story hour.

“It’s very sad.”

Earlier this year, Mr Pullman spoke out against plans to close 20 out of 43 public libraries in his home county of Oxfordshire.

He said: “Reading gives children an experience they just can’t get in any other way. It’s a private experience. It belongs to you and only you.

“Opening a book is like opening a door into another world.

“You can decide what speed you read it. When you are watching a film or TV programme, you have to go at the speed the director goes.

“There’s more at stake, it’s more important to you.

“It’s very important children should have the experience of reading for pleasure.”

Mr Pullman said he would urge the Government to encourage reading for pleasure rather than classes at school rushing through books at the same speed.

And he would like to see more libraries, with more choice of books, in schools.

l Philip Pullman will be at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival tomorrow.

See tomorrow’s 24/7 in The Bolton News for a full interview with the author.