Federation of Children’s Book Groups 2017

The FCBG annual conference is organized by local groups and this year it was the turn of Reading to host the event.  The venue was the Oratory School, a rather amazing old boarding school near Reading, set in beautifully manicured grounds.  The downside was that, like most schools, we had to share loos and showers, but the communal areas in each block were great places to sit and chat about books.

We all arrived on Friday afternoon and over tea and cakes we had the opening of the exhibition and then short talks from Claire Barker (author of Knitbone Pepper) and Andrew Beasley, who was introducing  his new series called S.C.R.E.A.M.


We were also tempted by the first of the cakes, something that is of vital importance at all book conferences.

As always there was a fantastic turnout by the publishers with lots of goodies to pick up and some really amazing new titles to drool over.  The stands were full of books, posters, cards and Bloomsbury even had mugs for their book “Kid Normal”





Pre-dinner drinks were hosted by Bounce Marketing who are celebrating their 15th anniversary this year.  This was held in the school library and I can’t be the only person who wanted to start an audit of the school’s stock; I think it is part of being a librarian.

The highlights of the evening were to follow and we really were spoilt.  The first after dinner speaker was the historian Lucy Worsley who was talking about the two books she has written Eliza Rose” and “I am Victoria”.  She linked these to her job at the Historic Royal Palaces and showed some beautiful slides of the buildings.  She also spoke about how she had been enthused by writers such as Jean Plaidy and hoped that her book would have a similar effect today. Lucy was a charming, articulate and very knowledgeable speaker with a great sense of humour.  The second speaker was the poet A.F.Harrold who had us in stitches with some of his poetry, but also had something to say about children and reading.  His rendition of this poem http://childrenspoetryarchive.org/poem/minister-exams had many of us nodding in agreement with the words that Brian Patten has written.

Saturday was a packed schedule and started with Jon Walter, an author whose work I have not read.  He was an excellent speaker and really engaged with the audience.  He writes for a teen audience and I think I will have to give his work a try.  We then had a panel event with D.J. Brazier (“Alone”)and Caighlan Smith (“Children of Icarus”) in conversation with Daniel Hahn.  They discussed how they had become writers and what the influences were on their stories.  The next session, following a much needed coffee break, was one about books in translation, which again was led by Daniel Hahn.  It was a fascinating insight in to the problems facing publishers and translators and it also highlighted the new guide from the SLA which has been written by Daniel and his co-author Joy Court (also on the panel). The morning’s events were concluded by a session by G.R.Gremin, the author of “Cowgirl” and the lovely “Sweet Pizza”, which reflects his experience of being Welsh with an Italian heritage.

The afternoon started off with a set of workshop sessions.  Unfortunately we were only able to attend one, so I chose the entertaining and knowledgeable Bev Humphries who was discussing “Digital Storytelling”.  As always she challenged us to think in different ways and showed us resources that we had not come across before.  She also very helpfully gave us links to all of her presentation.  We then had a session with the super talented Martin Brown who talked about his work, especially his new book “Lesser Spotted Animals”.  This covered some amazing, but relatively unknown animals and we all fell in love with the ‘black hooded ferret’.  The final session was the wonderful Wendy Cooling in conversation with Kes Gray (“Oi Dog”) and Rachel Bright (“Love Monster”), two of our outstanding crop of picture book writers at the moment.  The evening was outstanding with pre-dinner entertainment from Jo Cotterill (“A library of lemons”); this took the form of a quiz and revolved around the theme of strawberries in reference to her next book “A storm of strawberries”, which comes out at the end of June.  The score was kept by Chris Riddell and the finale was dressing up someone (from each team)as a strawberry, so it was a great fun event.  The after dinner speech was from Chris and he spoke about his time as Laureate and the importance of reading, books, libraries and librarians.

Saturday was also special because it was my 65th birthday.  I don’t usually make a big fuss about birthdays but I must have mentioned it to the wonderful Bev Humphrey in the past.  So at breakfast I was presented with a sash and badge, a lovely “Elder wand” pendant and a tiara (to be worn in the evening).  It was so totally lovely and unexpected and really made my day.  For the rest of the day people kept coming up and wishing me a “Happy Birthday” and in the evening I got a mention from the fabulous Chris Riddell.  All of this made me realize what an amazing community I belong to in the children’s book world. So thank you to all my friends who made it such a memorable day and especially to Bev for all her hard work.

Sunday morning came around too quickly but the standard of session was just as high as on previous days.  We started with a panel event, with publishers from Alanna Books, Book Island and Tiny Owl talking about the difficulties but also the opportunities that they found in setting up a small company.  We then had Emma Shoard talking about the new edition of “The Pavee and the Buffer Girl” by Siobhan Dowd, for which she has provided the stunning illustrations.  Cas Lester then spoke about her books for younger readers (“Nixie, the bad, bad fairy”)and how her previous life as a BBC producer of programmes such as Jackanory had strengthened her conviction on how important storytelling and books are to children.  It was fascinating to hear about the TV life, but also to see how that has been translated into writing her own books.  The final offering was a joint session by Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek speaking about their work “A first book of Animals”. Petr produced some spectacular art work whilst Nicola gave us the expert’s view of the animals.

What an excellent conference and a big thank you has to go to the organizers and also the publishers and other delegates for making this such an enjoyable experience.  It really is perfect for all of us who love children’s books and want to promote them to their intended audience and yes, there was CAKE, in abundance.