Wallowing in my Bath (Kids Lit Festival) again

I am currently having a calm and relaxing day after a 10 day session helping out at Bath.  I can only be in awe of John and Gill McLay and all the amazing work they put into putting the programme together and then being so totally hands on during the festival  I hope they are having a well deserved break, together with all the others who were there every day.  This year I managed to pace myself, although this meant that I occasionally missed out on events and despite my best attempts my ‘time turner’ does not actually function, so I cannot be in two places at the same time.

Lauren Child and Gill McLay

Events started off  on Friday 28th September with an event by the current Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, in which she combined a general discussion about her books with talking about her new work “Hubert Horatio”.  It is based a round a character she created several years ago in a picture book, but now he is appearing in a work for ‘middle grade’ readers.  Hubert Horatio is a very serious and extremely intelligent little boy; unfortunately he has two very frivolous and spendthrift parents, so it is lucky that they are millionaires and they have their son to keep them out of trouble.  This book is published on 18th October, so I look forward to reading it and then talking about it; it sounds as if it is going to be great fun. The evening was finished off with a launch party at Waterstones, where it was lovely to meet up with friends and authors.

Sebastien de Castell

The festival began in earnest on the Saturday morning but because of other commitments, namely  a trip to London to hear Sebastien de Castell and Alexandra Christo and I was not able to start my stewarding until the Monday, but what a fantastic way to start.  The first event was with the so talented and charming Joseph Coelho, who is known for both his poetry and his picture books.  He focused on reading  “Luna Loves Library Day” and had the book on a large screen, so that the children could fully participate in the reading.  This is an absolute must for all parents to read to their children and for nurseries and schools to use as an introduction to visiting the library. It was also very appropriate as we have just had Libraries Week, where we hopefully celebrate the importance of these places in our lives.  The second event was the ever fabulous Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve  wowing the audience with the “Adventures of Kevin”, the story of a custard cream loving flying pony.  The duo are famous for their songs about the characters in their books and this was no exception.  we all came away with the ear-worm chorus going around our brains – “He’s the one, the one and only, roly poly flying pony”

M G Leonard

Tuesday saw me back in Bath for another round of sessions.  The first one was the delightful Chitra Soundar who I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time.  She is a writer and storyteller who captivated her audience with several of her stories.  the first was “Pattan’s Pumpkin“, an Indian version of a Flood story; she used slides of the pages to reinforce the images.  After this she told the story “You’re safe with me” which is about overcoming fear of the unknown, in the garb of a torrential tropical storm.  Although she did not read from the book, we were also able to see and purchase her new book “You’re snug with me”, the story of a polar bear and her two cubs as they survive winter.  I really have to mention her illustrator Poonam Mistry who has produced the most stunning illustrations for the last two titles.  The complexity of the style is really magical and I think that anyone, child or adult, could spend hours just looking at these wonderful pictures.  My morning was completed by the lovely M G Leonard talking about her trilogy “Battle of the Beetles“.  I was lucky enough to be able to take her out to a couple of schools when the first book “Beetle Boy” was issued, so I have always had a special interest in seeing her success.  Her audience of over 200 pupils were absolutely fascinated by her pictures of beetles and understanding the importance of these creatures to our world.  Whilst I am not sure I will ever want to get ‘up close and personal’ with beetles, I do have a greater understanding of their importance.  However the most important thing about these books is that they are really great adventures with a truly evil villain and some fantastic heroes, both human and animal, so I thoroughly recommend them for KS2 pupils and beyond.

Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

I actually managed to take a break on Wednesday and Thursday but on Friday I once again found myself driving over to Bath for an early start.  the first event was one that my grandson would have absolutely loved as it was about some of his favourite books.  The adventures of “Supertato” are loved by millions of small people and the 340+ who were in the Guildhall were certainly very vocal in their appreciation of the creators, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.  It was totally amazing how these youngsters became so involved in the adventures of vegetables in a supermarket but it also shows the power of the imagination and the pleasure that children get from listening to stories.  The final session of the morning was for a slightly older audience and  was about “The Nothing to see here Hotel” and its follow up “You ain’t see nothing Yeti!”  These are written and illustrated by Steven Butler and Steve Lenton and are hysterically funny adventures in a hotel for non-human guests.  So you are likely to meet ogres, trolls, elves, goblins and all sorts of wonderful creatures, but it is never quiet and adventures are always waiting to happen.  The two ‘Steves’ (not the original version, that was Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore) are also great entertainers, so we had a truly funny and fascinating event.  They worked brilliantly with their audience and would be an excellent choice to invite into schools.

David Roberts and Julian Clary

David Roberts and Jo Nadin

The final day of the festival was the Sunday and I had a double whammy of David Roberts,  but the morning started out with a show dedicated to the hero that is “The Gruffalo”.  This consisted of a partial retelling of the story, using musical instruments to represent the different animals and the forest was created with children, holding  small branches with leaves.  As a finale the Gruffalo made a visit and it was wonderful to see how many wanted their photos taken with this icon of children’s literature.  The first David Robert’s event was about the amazing “Suffragette”, which has really caused quite a stir in this centenary year since the first women in the UK got the vote.  The information is well researched and accurate as David has been fascinated by the subject since he was a child.  The illustrations are superb and use the palette of colours that we often associate with the suffrage movements.  This was an event that attracted a wide audience, many of them adults, which was great to see, but there were also numbers of younger readers who are fascinated by the history that this depicts.  Later that day I went down to another venue called Komedia, where David and Julian Clary were talking about “The Bolds in Trouble“,  the latest of their books featuring the incredible Bold family, a family of hyenas living as humans in suburban Teddington. I am a complete fan of these books because the whole concept is so ridiculous,  The characters are a sublime combination of animal and human traits and the books are full of subversive humour.

Looking back on this wonderful week I can only be thankful for having the opportunity to be involved with some amazing people.  The children who attended with their schools during the week have an incredible experience and their enthusiasm for books and reading will have benefited from seeing the artists at work.  I can’t believe that next year will be the 13th festival, but I am really looking forward to seeing what is in store for all of us.

 

Federation of Children’s book groups conference

My first big gathering of this year and so many friends to catch up with.  I have now been back from the conference for two weeks and I am just coming down from the clouds.  It really was an amazing event.  As always the exhibition was full of children’s publishers showing us their latest wares and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm.  It is always such a pleasure to meet up with these wonderful people and to come away with such goodies to read.

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One of the things we love about children’s book conferences is the opportunity to meet and listen to so many stimulating and exciting speakers, both writers  and illustrators, as well as the amazing Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow books.  As always we were treated to a generous amount of cake over the weekend, washed down by cups of tea and coffee.

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The weekend started with a truly inspirational talk about poetry by Sarah Crossan, the author of  “Weight of Water” and “Apple and rain”.  As small children we are totally surrounded by rhyme, from nursery rhymes to the work  of people such as Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd,but as we get older poetry is moved within a fence that many find difficult to overcome.  There are some authors who use rhyme in their novels but it is a concept that we need to get back to.  If we look at the history of storytelling we find that many of the major cultural tales are told in a poetic form; just like song lyrics,  which we find easier to remember.

Saturday morning started with a session on writing non-fiction, with a panel of Nicola Davies, Nicola Morgan and Marcia Williams in conversation with Zoe Toft.  All three authors have carved out a niche for themselves in this area and although they have very differing styles, they all appeal to their intended audiences.  Nicola Davies writes narrative non-fiction and approaches the task in the same way as writing fiction.  Nicola Morgan on the other hand feels that the two disciplines are very different and that over the years she has “lost the fiction muscles in her brain”.  Marcia Williams was enthused by a teacher who would read out loud to the class.  All three described how they had gradually developed their writing style and what influences had affected them.

The next session was with Tom Moorhouse who has written “The River Singers” and “The Rising”, about a family of water voles. Tom is a naturalist by profession and spoke about the reality of life for these animals as opposed to the images from books such as “Wind in the Willows”.  It was a fascinating talk and I know it will have made many new converts to his books.

The afternoon was taken up by the larger than life characters of Kjartan Poskitt, Philip Ardagh and Simon Mayle.  All three authors write humourous novels for primary age children, although Kjartan is renowned for the way that he brings maths alive to his audiences.  Our speaker at dinner was the amazing Frank Cottrell Boyce who was celebrating the launch of his latest book “The Astounding Broccoli  Boy”

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Sunday morning was another action packed session with a talk by Kate Wilson about Nosy Crow and how they have developed both their apps and the hard copy versions of the books.  It was great to hear that books are still a top priority, not least because they are such a variable size and format, whereas with technology you are limited by the size of the screen.  The other two sessions were an Illustrators’ panel with Rob Biddulph (Blown Away), Sophy Henn (Pom Pom gets the grumps) and David Shelton (A boy and a bear in a boat) and then a young adult panel with Non Pratt (Trouble),  Alice Oseman (Soliaire) and Lisa Williamson (The Art of being Normal).  We then finished off with discussions with Steven Butler and the really great Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood and Co.).

By this point were were all totally exhausted but very happy at having attended such a stimulating and very friendly conference.  I have  still only looked at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the books I brought home, but I look forward to many hours of great reading.