Behind the Scenes at Barnes Children’s Literature Festival
By Rosie Burgoyne
Now entering its sixth year, Barnes Children’s Literature Festival was first dreamt up by a group of local parents chatting at the school gates as a 'literature festival for families and their friends, curated entirely by the families'. This year’s festival was put together by a dedicated team of organisers, masterminding the festival alongside their normal day jobs and school runs, along with over 100 volunteers, playfully known as the 'red apron army' due to their trademark bright red festival-branded aprons.
Last month, as a festival volunteer, I was lucky enough to help out at events across the programme, including this year’s schools programme, 'the largest free literature festival schools programme in the UK.' Behind the scenes, so much work by the festival’s organisers went into making sure the festival could return in person running smoothly and safely, including COVID-19-safe protocols. As a new volunteer, there was something so heartwarming about getting to see children so excited and engaged in live literature for the first time since the pandemic.
Here are just a few highlights from this year’s festival:
Schools Programme, Bethnal Green
For the school programme’s inaugural events east of the river, the festival took over the Genesis Cinema in Bethnal Green to host a packed line-up of interactive literary events for local school children. Stood outside the doors to the cinema, the stomping and cheering could probably be heard from miles away, as the festival stage was taken over by authors and illustrators from across the children’s book world. On day one, Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers, author and illustrator of the Luna Loves... books respectively enthralled audiences with creepy crawlies and dinosaurs escaping from magical books, with Fiona treating them to lessons on how to draw their very own Luna and Troll King.
Later in the programme, former Blue Peter presenter-turned-author Konnie Huq delighted the schoolchildren with her session about her latest book Cookie and the Most Annoying Girl in the World, talking all things environmentally friendly and even teaching the children how to make a bird feeder from an old juice carton.
Schools Programme, Barnes
Moving locations to the Barnes Wetlands Centre for the first time, the festival welcomed even more school groups to join the festival fun, with groups coming from nearby schools and further afield. Walking past the friendly faces of the apron-clad volunteers towards the festival marquee, one child remarked that it 'felt like walking down a red carpet' and there were audible gasps and exclamations of 'WOW' all round as the children were led into the venue.
Inside, authors to take the stage included Jenny Pearson, author of The Incredible Record Smashers, who sent energy levels inside the marquee sky-rocketing as she invited volunteers from the audience to attempt breaking the world record for the 'most socks to be put on one foot in 30 seconds' and kept the children in raptures with her fun Guinness World Record-themed facts and anecdotes.
Later on, the school groups were introduced to the charismatic Mr Bobby Seagull and his mission to make Britain fall in love with maths. In his talk, Bobby used analogies from football, dance and architecture to demonstrate to the children how maths can appear in everyday life and shouldn’t be something to be afraid of, even treating them to a very special maths rap.
And finally, on the last day of the programme, Caroline Lawrence, author of The Thieves of Ostia, a bestselling Roman mystery for children, kept the crowd entertained with her facts about Greek mythology and Roman toilet habits. For any budding writers in the crowd, Caroline also shared her golden advice from her book How to Write a Great Story and revealed her seven “plot beats” to making a good hero story.
At the time of reading, the festival will have already wrapped up for another year with its public events weekend, featuring literary events from authors and illustrators such as Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Sir Michael Morpurgo and Lauren Child MBE, plus plenty of fun to be had at LEGO workshops, Roald Dahl's Marvellous Medicine Science Show and more.
Fear not though if you missed out on this year’s festival as planning will already have commenced for next year and there are plenty of ways that you can get involved, whether as a visitor or a volunteer. For more information about next year’s festival as it's announced and details on how you can get involved, visit the festival’s website here.