FESTIVAL OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: An interview with organiser Zoe Toft
Something really exciting is afoot …
Here is she is telling you a little bit more about what it is all about:
Tell us a little bit about the Festival of Children’s Literature taking place on November 9th in Birmingham
What a party it’s going to be! The Federation of Children’s Book Groups, a UK-wide kids’ reading-for-pleasure charity is celebrating its 45th birthday with some very special guests: David Almond (winner of the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Carnegie Medal, and two Whitbread Awards), Michael Morpurgo (former Children’s Laureate and twice winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award, including for Shadow), Emma Chichester Clark (creator of the much loved Blue Kangaroo and illustrator of several collaborations with Michael Morpurgo, including Hansel & Gretel), James Mayhew (think Katie – who herself is nearly 25 years old), and Ella Bella Ballerina) and Clara Vulliamy (illustrator of the fabulous Dixie O’Day and more than 30 other books). The party is very much for children and their families, with a chance to hear the authors talk about their work, to meet them, to take part in workshops, and all in all, to celebrate books and the joy of reading. There’s also going to be free storytelling using the picture books shortlisted for the Red House Children’s Book Award – and the chance for children to vote for the winner!
In 2011 the Federation won the Eleanor Farjeon Award, and the charity is using its award to seed-fund the festival.
What is the Eleanor Farjeon Award and how did FCBG win it?
The Eleanor Farjeon Award is an annual prize given in recognition of “an outstanding contribution to the world of children’s books by an individual or organisation.” This was a wonderful acknowledgement of everything the Federation has done over the years, from supporting a wide range of local book groups around the country, to running the Children’s Book Award (the only national award for children’s books that is voted for entirely by children themselves), to setting up National Non Fiction Day and National Share a Story Month, as well as running an annual conference for anyone with a passion for children’s books.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the guest authors and illustrators?
Taking its lead from the venue, the Birmingham Conservatoire the theme of the day is stories across the arts, exploring how children’s literature has fed into and off music, theatre, film and even puppetry!
– James Mayhew will be running a fascinating workshop aimed at children 10-14 years old, all about illustrating to live music (performed by musicians from the Birmingham Conservatoire), using Benjamin Britten’s music for T. H. White’s King Arthur book, The Sword in the Stone.
Later in the day there will be a unique and magical concert celebrating Benjamin Britten’s centenary with a performance of his The Sword in the Stone, featuring live illustration and readings by James, musicians from the Conservatoire and workshop participants.
– David Almond will be celebrating 15 years of Skellig, including exploring its adaptation for opera, theatre and film.
– Clara Vulliamy will be hosting an exciting mini puppet toy theatre workshop based on Bubble and Squeak, a book specially written for her to illustrate, by James Mayhew.
– Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark will ensure the day ends on a high note, with an engaging insight into their new collaboration, a retelling of Pinocchio.
How did you get involved in the running of the festival?
In February 2012 I started volunteering with the Federation of Children’s Book Groups – a natural extension of my enthusiasm for children’s books (mostly expressed on my blog Playing by the book). As it happens I had been a child member of the Federation and so it was a great honour to join the Executive and be involved again, this time as an adult. The charity is entirely run by volunteers and it’s amazing what it achieves!
When early discussions took place about how best to use the Eleanor Farjeon award money, I felt like a kid whose Christmas had come early: When I left school I had hoped to get a job in arts administration and I spent several summers volunteering with various arts festivals and theatres doing everything from dressing up as Pingu to sweeping the stage, setting lights to selling tickets. So now I’m here organising a festival myself (although of course as part of a bigger team), all about that which makes me most excited (children’s book) – I just feel so lucky!
This must have been a steep learning curve, what have you learnt from this experience?
I’ve really experienced how generous people can be if only you ask for help! I’ve had great support from so many people; for a start, the FCBG Executive have been a super team to work with and the staff at the venue, the Birmingham Conservatoire, have been amazingly supportive.