Time for my annual Bath (Festival of Children’s Literature)

For the 11th year in a row my September has been highlighted by the BathKidsLitFest.  Every year I get this in the diary and know that I will be stewarding for some fantastic authors and illustrators over the 10 days of the Festival.  this time was no different and I managed to pack my diary with events over both weekends.

Rachel Ward, Fox Benwell and Marie-Louise Jensen

The festival started on the evening of 29th September when I found myself stewarding for a Cressida Cowell event at the Forum in Bath.  There must have been about 6-800 in the audience and as usual Cressida gave an amazing session, talking about both her “How to train your Dragon” series but also about her new book “The Wizards of Once”  The session was highlighted by photos drawings and clips from the latest dragon film.  All in all it was a great event and the audience were delighted.  The signing queue was long and must have lasted nearly 2 hours, which meant that I missed most of the launch party; luckily several of my friends were still there, so we were able to have a catch up chat.

Saturday started with the David Baddiel session, talking about his new book “Birthday Boy” but also about some of his earlier works, like “The Person Controller” and “The Parent Agency”As he is a polished comedian and entertainer I was expecting a funny and well put together performance and I was not disappointed.  He spoke about his inspiration for the stories and really promoted the need for children to read for pleasure.  Once again he had a large and very attentive audience and it was good to see the mix of boys and girls, although especially good to see so many boys.

The next session was one for my grandson, or rather it will be at Christmas!  This event “Star Wars with JAKe” was aimed at a slightly younger age group, but really it was for anyone who loves Star Wars.  Of course with the new film coming out soon this was just the thing to whet people’s appetites.  JAKe is the illustrator of two small books called “How to speak Wookiee” and “How to speak Droid with R2-D2.  They are simple stories explaining about Wookies and Droids and giving insights into their respective languages.  Each page has a number and the book has a keypad, so that you can hear the sounds associated with that page by pressing the correct key.  Very interactive and great fun (but not necessarily for parents or grandparents!).  The children got the chance to draw a variety of characters from the films ans some very lucky people got to take one of JAKe’s illustrations home.  It was a lovely family event that the audience really enjoyed.

Chris Riddell

My next day at the festival was Sunday the 1st October and unusually I did the afternoon session rather than the morning.  this was because I wanted to listen to two exciting and fascinating authors in conversation.  They are Emma Carroll, author of “Letters from the Lighthouse” and Eloise Williams who has just published her first book “Gaslight“.  The Session was described as “The History girls” and both authors have placed their books in the past, although in widely different places and times.  Emma has written about World War II although previously she has set her books in the Victorian period and this has enabled her to bring in a range of dangers and differing characters.  Eloise has set her book in Victorian Cardiff and has centred the story around a theatre and the docks, o there is again plenty of opportunity for mystery and villainy.  A really great time for all of those, especially young girls who love a great historical novel.  I was also lucky enough to meet Chris Riddell in the Green Room as he was preparing for his talk later in the day.  I know that the audience would have had a truly amazing time as he is such a brilliant speaker and artist.  We were so lucky to have him as a Children’s laureate and he is now an ambassador for Booktrust.  The day was further improved by seeing the lovely talented Martin Brown in the Green Room as he had just finished his event on illustrating the “Horrible Histories” series; his covers and ink sketches really are the icing on the cake as far as these books are concerned.  He has also just produced a book about unusual animals that I talked about in my post from the Federation of Children’s Book groups this year, absolutely brilliant.

Having had a few days off, Friday 6th saw me back in action stewarding for the Nadiya Hussain event.  She was promoting a book which mixed food and stories all linked in to the theme of Christmas, called “Bake me a Festive Story”.  She got several children to come on stage to help decorate gingerbread Christmas trees with green coconut and this was put on to large screens behind her.  There were also readings of at least one of the stories and it was a shame that they appeared to have been pre-recorded.  However the audience, both adults and children appeared to enjoy the event and were eager to get their hands on copies of her books.

I stayed on at the Guildhall for the following event, which was the brilliant illustrator/artist Jim Kay, whose illustrated ‘HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ has just been released.  It is truly amazing how he has taken the world created by J K Rowling and has added depth and reality to an already beautifully realized world.  The insight that we were given into the whole process was enlightening and the fact that the illustrations for the first book took him over two years to produce had the audience  gasping.  When he went on to say that he had been given a deadline of eight months for the second book, it made most of us cringe at the concentration and focus that was required.  We were then treated to some amazing drafts for pages  from the current book and Jim talked through the process of how the final images evolved.  It really was a must see event for those who love Harry Potter as well as those who just love high quality illustration and imagination.

My Saturday morning was a mix of very different books, but I enjoyed both events because the speakers were so enthusiastic about their subject. The first event was about the book “Kid Normal“, written by Radio 1 DJs Greg James and Chris Smith.  The book is about a young boy who accidentally finds himself at a school for superheroes, despite having no superpowers.  I must admit that I enjoyed reading the book and am looking forward to the follow up which is coming out in March 2018.  The presenters were fun and very positive about children and reading; it was obvious that the audience really enjoyed the whole session  and that included the suspiciously large number of lone adults who attended.

The following session was very different and was aimed at those young people who are fascinated by space and the skies above our heads.  Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the well known and very charismatic astronomer, was talking about the new Doring Kindersley  book “Star Finder for beginners”.  She gave a fully illustrated talk, with some amazing images taken from various telescopes and satellites.  Her knowledge and enthusiasm is boundless and it was obvious that her young audience were just as keen on the subject.  I was surprised by the depth of questioning that they provided.  It was a real treat to see how engaged everyone was.  Those were my only sessions of the day but I was lucky enough to meet up with the lovely Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton in the Green Room after they had finished their event about the new “Shifty McGifty” stories.  These are great reads for those who are just gaining confidence in their reading,

On Sunday morning it was difficult to believe that this was the end of the festival.  We spend months looking forward to it and then it just goes in a flash.  My final day was spent at a different venue, the Widcombe Social Club, which although smaller than the Guildhall had a very friendly feel, as well as very good coffee from the bar. I was scheduled to steward on two events and they were ones that I was really looking forward to.  The first session was a discussion between Gill Lewis, author of “Sky Dancer” and Kieran Larwood who has written two books about the eponymous hero rabbit “Podkin One-Ear”  It was  a fascinating look at the difference in their styles of writing.  Gill very much keeps her books grounded in the real world and the creatures are not humanized in any way, yet we are able to make a connection with the animals and their worlds.  Kieran, on the other hand, has created a world that is inhabited by speaking, clothes wearing and almost human rabbits.  There is a mix of magic and fantasy but still they retain their link to the natural world they live in.  It was fascinating to hear both authors explain how they went about creating their stories and I would recommend that readers give both of them a try; they are well worth reading.

My final session was with one of my favourite authors for the MG (Middle Grade) reader.  Robin Stevens has made a name for herself as the author of the “Murder Most Unladylike” series and all her fans are eagerly awaiting the sixth in the series, which will be published in the early spring.  I understand that she has already started writing number seven, so everyone is happy.  However at this event she was talking about something very different.She has been chosen to write the follow up to the “London Eye Mystery”by the late Siobhan Dowd.  Her book “The Guggenheim Mystery” has just been published and it was fascinating for the young readers to find out about the challenges of taking over the characters and plot conceived by such a loved author.  Whilst the main characters are the same as before, the story is set in the United States and this gives problems to the young hero and his friends as they do not understand the culture.  The fans were eager to ask questions and most stayed to have their book collections signed by the author.

The day was rounded off by saying hello to the lovely and brilliant writers Kevin Crossley- Holland and Francesca Simon who were preparing for their discussion about “Norse Myths”; a topic about which they are both very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about.  It is great to see how myths and legends seem to be coming back in to favour and their are so many great versions and variations that you can look out for.

Well that brings me to the end of my Bath for this year.  As always it was stimulating, educational and above all a very friendly festival.  I love the range of events and look forward to volunteering for my twelfth year in 2018.

A Harry Potter themed Chair!

 

Glasgow and YLG

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A very nice room

For the first time in quite a few years YLG has returned to Scotland for its conference.  It was held in Glasgow and the venue was the rather incredible Beardmore Hotel; fantastic rooms for all of us and our own major hospital next door.  Even the bills were made out to the Scottish NHS!  There is a long and fascinating story behind all of this, but I had no worries about what to do if I was taken ill. I was only able to go to the event for the Friday and the first half of Saturday and treated myself to a plane flight from Bristol, much better than 6 hours of trains.  It was great to arrive on the Thursday evening and to meet up with lots of friends, especially Bev Humphries, and to just sit and talk about books.2015-10-23 15.42.28

As usual there was a fantastic exhibition and a big thanks goes to all the publishers who travelled to put on such a good show.  So many good friends and some lovely new friends in the making.

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Amazing Grace, 25 years old

The Friday started out with a fascinating plenary session  by Karen McCluskey, the Director of the Scottish Violence reduction Unit, which reminded all of us of the major issue that we face in areas of deprivation.  This was followed by the first of the workshop sessions.  I attended the one run by Paul Register, who founded and runs the Stan Lee Excelsior Award, which is for comics (of the American variety such as X-Men, Superman, not the Dandy and Beano).  It was a great insight into a very popular and yet poorly understood area of young people’s reading and I am sure that many more schools will want to become involved with this award.  After the coffee break and celebration for the 25th anniversary of “Amazing Grace” I attended a workshop lead by Siobhan Parkinson, a past Irish Children’s Laureate and the publisher at Little Island Books, as she spoke about translating children’s books.

The afternoon provided the publishers with a 3 minute slot to promote their future books.  Some were very slick and others more homespun, but they all whetted our appetites for some really amazing books to come.  The third workshop period of the  day was after lunch and I spent an hour learning many things about my iPad that were new to me, despite having had the machine for several years.  I really must try and use it more effectively than I have done.

Author highlights of the weekend included Sarah Crossan talking about “One”  A lovely panel session with illustrators Catherine Rayner, Emily McKenzie, Holly Sterling and Ross Colin, celebrating the launch of a new book 2015-10-23 15.42.19by Andersen Press, “The Prince and the Porker” by David Robert and based on the story “The Prince and the Pauper”  by Mark Twain.

The Saturday morning was taken up by a Graphics novel panel consisting of the stars that are Mel Gibson and Paul Register, together with Liz Payton from the Phoenix magazine, as well as a talk by the very popular Sita Brahmachari.  This was closely followed by discussions with Barbara Band about boys reading and the gender gap and then Barry Cunningham talking to some of his  Chicken House authors, Sam Hepburn and Emma Shevah.  It was a shame that I had to leave at lunchtime and I missed several sessions that I know will have been great as they involved Gill Lewis, Jenny valentine Janetta Otter-Barry and Anna McQuinn.

One of the real joys of going to any conference is the opportunity to meet and talk to like minded people.  Over the years these become friends and you are constantly reminded what a truly friendly and dedicated bunch of people are involved in children’s literature.  I really want to say thank you to all the people involved in organizing the conference, I have that t-shirt and know how much hard work they put in, even though it is so worth while. A big thank you to the publishers for the exhibition, the authors and of course THE CAKE!

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A Simply Super Summer

Well we are now midway through the summer break and according to the papers have just passed the worst day of the holiday for parents.  One of the mainstays of the summer break is the “Summer reading Challenge” and this year they have linked with the Guinness book of records to promote the theme of Record Breakers; this is bound to be a really popular theme and it would be great if they could break the million participants barrier.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857634795

 

Some of the books that could prove popular over the coming weeks are”My brother is a Superhero” by David Solomons, which follows the adventures of Luke and his brother Zak.  Luke is a mad comic fan and totally in to superheros, whereas his brother is more into homework.  Due to an urgent need to go to the loo, Luke misses out on getting superpowers and has to help his brother come to terms with becoming “Star Lad”.  When an asteroid heads on a collision course with Earth it is up to the two boys, together with friends Serge and Lara to save the day;despite the machinations of a crazed Comic Empire owner.

Rampage

Piccadilly Press, 978-1848124776

“Rampage” by Julia Wills is the second in a series of books about Aries, the ram from the legend of the Golden Fleece and it is set in the Amazon jungle.  This story continues the adventures of Aries and his friend Alex, together with the ‘Hero’ Jason, as they try and save their friend Rose from the  grip of the evil Medea.  One again we have a story full of humour and adventure thanks to the ram with attitude.

 

In darkling Wood

Faber & Faber, 978-0571317578

 

 

“In Darkling Wood” by Emma Carroll is yet another brilliant book by this author.  It is the tale of Alice, who is sent to live with her grandmother when her young brother is taken into hospital.  When she arrives she finds that there is a local campaign to stop her grandmother cutting down the Darkling wood that surrounds the house.  This is a story full of magic and mystery and has links to the tale of the Cottingley fairies which was a public sensation just after the First World War.  Alice does not want to leave her family and the bleak atmosphere at Darkling Cottage does nothing to help.  This is the third book I have read by this author and they just keep getting better and better.  Of course I might be slightly biased as Emma Carroll is a graduate of the amazing writing course at Bath Spa University.

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Chicken House, 978-1909489004,

There has been a real surge in the number of books with school setting, especially boarding schools.  The actual stories range from mystery and magic to murder and mayhem and they seem to cover from 7 to 17, so something for everyone.  “Mischief at Midnight” by Esme Kerr is the second in a series about Edie and her friend Anastasia who attend  Knight’s Haddon and this year they have to cope with new girl Janet, a mystery at a local tower and environmental protesters.  It is a great story about friendship and is full of excitement and adventure, so we hope for more to come.

 

August brings a new title from Louis Sacher, author of “Holes” and this one is called “Fuzzy Mud”.  It is about bullying at school and also the issues surrounding genetic modification of food.  This is a great read with a very serious message underlying it.  Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this.

For younger readers there are lots of great reads.   Michael Rosen has got a new character who makes his first appearance in “Uncle Gobb and the dread shed”.  It is a totally whacky story about Malcolm and the frightening Uncle Gobb who lives with the family and is  very strict about homework etc.Neal Layton’s illustrations are dramatic and atmospheric and add so much to the story.  While Gill Lewis has brought out another title in the Puppy Academy series, this one is called “Scout and the Sausage thief” and is about a puppy who wants to follow in her parents’ paw prints and become a police dog, a lovely school based tale.  Kjartan Poskitt has a new tale about his barbarian hero called “Borgon the Axeboy and the Prince’s shadow”, this is full of action and humour with great illustrations by Philip Reeve.  Finally we have “Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody” by Roland Chambers, a story of lost explorers, daring young heroines and dastardly postman pirates.

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