Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Book and reading events at the Imagine Festival

What a great – and illuminating – time I had at the Imagine Festival. I’ve already blogged about the launch of the Young Minds report. There were two other events with a looked-after children theme, both excellent. ‘Lyrical Letterboxes’ was the brainchild of Letterbox Club. Jackie Kay and Roger McGough captivated everyone with accounts of the reading they loved as children, and with superbly participative renditions of their poems. Anne of Green Gables was Kay’s favourite book. She totally identified with Anne, who was adopted, like her, and was just as much of a chatterbox. She even named her son after Anne’s father. Kay also adored Greyfriars Bobby, about, as she put it, ‘the most loyal dog in history’. (This was one of my absolutely favourite reads too. I still have the copy my dad gave me.) McGough’s literary hero was Alf Tupper in the Rover comic. Despite having no home and no money for proper clothes or shoes, Alf ran for England and won. McGough’s childhood ambition, he told us, was to grow up to be a fictitious comic book character. This has to be the most interesting ambition I have ever encountered. Letterbox Club had a big bag of books, one for each Club member in the audience. A lovely touch.

‘From Pip to Potter’ on Sunday was a fascinating panel discussion organised by Letterbox Club and the Reader Organisation, which I am proud to be a group facilitator for. It was about literary characters with a care background – what a lot there are, not least Superman – and how they, and indeed reading itself, can inspire children in care. Lemn Sissay told us looked-after children (LAC) are celebrated in art, but are not, and should be, in real life. He and poet Caroline Bird spoke about their Superhero poetry workshops, which have provided LAC with new and important means of expression. We heard about the fantastic differences the Letterbox Club makes to the lives of children in care, and the excellent support the Reader project with LAC is giving, again through the medium of books. All these schemes give children and young people more ways to think about themselves and their situations, and also to understand other people better: books as mirrors or windows or both. The speakers talked about how helpful it is for looked-after children to discover through  reading that they are not the only ones with problems. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is amazing for this, as is Jacqueline Wilson’s Worry Website. Questions from the floor raised important points, including the reasons for LAC’s often low reading levels and the need for training for carers, something very dear to my heart. An excellent event.

For anyone who is interested, you can find all my blog posts about looked-after children here, including several about Letterbox.

I was also lucky enough to attend the Red House Children’s Book Award ceremony on Saturday. Queen Elizabeth Hall was packed with hundreds of excited children. The very best thing about the award is that it is judged solely by children, and it was delightful that the winners were announced by children. The afternoon was a wonderful celebration of books and reading, with lots of brilliant authors, this year’s shortlisted ones, and previous title-holders like Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman too. All were great. I especially enjoyed Mick Inkpen’s tale about one particular critical reaction to Blue Balloon, a book I love and use time and time again in activities with children. ‘It’s not your best, is it?’, said his seven year-old son. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was the worthy overall award winner. I took the photo before the event, as children queued to add their suggestions for good reads to the reading tree set up in Hall foyer.

There are still lots of Festival events to come, though unfortunately my involvement is at an end.