Chrissie Gittins: A Thoughtful Children’s Literature Festival, and a Thought

A Thoughtful Children’s Literature Festival, and a Thought

At a time when schools are struggling with budgets and ever more pressures it can be too much of a stretch to organise and pay for an author visit. A week-long festival in Oundle near Peterborough invites children to take part and engage with poets and writers.

I received an invitation to appear at the Kid Lit arm of the Oundle Festival of Literature from Helen Shair, the Festival Manager. The email informed me that coach costs would be subsidised so that children from all backgrounds and from a wide area would be able to attend.

Local schools are sent a programme of the authors on offer in good time for them to opt to attend. All the schools involved contribute towards the costs of the festival. I was pleased that Year 3 pupils from 8 schools (including 6 state schools) were expected for my morning event. In the afternoon I would perform at a second event held at a state school which could not afford the transport costs.

Helen sent out a list of my books to each school with a detailed description she had written about each one. This meant that children could decide well in advance which book they wanted to buy. It also meant that after I arrived to stay overnight with Helen, we spent some time attending to a series of cardboard boxes. The boxes were from each of the schools coming to the morning event and contained the children’s book orders. I set to and signed the ordered copies.

As I went up to bed I left Helen pondering on how to ice a coffee cake she’d made.

‘Who’s it for?’ I asked.

‘You,’ came the reply.

The excitement was palpable in the panelled Great Hall of Oundle School the next morning as the schools began to arrive. Helen has a band of volunteers who were on hand to help, and the local bookshop had set up a table at the back of the hall with additional copies of my books. The schools were allotted spaces which were drawn out with Helen’s chunky chalk. These spaces rotate year on year so that the same schools are not always at the front.

As promised in the programme we went on a tour of my poems. The audience joined in with sounds, actions, refrains and when I asked questions they contributed their own stories. When it came to the poem ‘My Dad’s More Embarrassing Than Your Dad’ the children had many suggestions for lines to contribute to a group poem. I wrote these on two adjacent flip charts. Apparently as the children left the hall some were chanting a line from the last poem I’d read. When the hall was empty and we could take a breath Helen served the coffee cake.

I read to KS2 in the afternoon school and this was just as well organised as the morning. Helen had driven to the school beforehand so that she knew just where it was. It was this forward planning and careful attention to detail which made visiting this festival such a gratifying experience. The schools in the area then enjoyed another four days of author visits.

In Scotland author visits are supported by the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature programme. They part-fund 1,200 events a year (funded by Creative Scotland) and fully fund a number of school residencies annually (privately funded). Author visits encourage reading for pleasure and inspire creative writing; they spark imaginations and encourage reluctant readers and writers; they make the link between a book and how it came into being. Perhaps if there was a similar initiative to Live Literature here in England, these valuable outcomes could be harnessed to benefit a great number of children.

Meanwhile happy reading and writing – with or without an author!

Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie writes poetry for children and adults, short stories and radio drama. Of her five children’s poetry collections three were Choices for the Poetry Book Society Children’s Poetry Bookshelf, and two were shortlisted for the CLiPPA Poetry Award. Her new and collected children’s poems Stars in Jars (Bloomsbury, 2014) is a Scottish Poetry Library Recommendation. She won the Belmont Poetry prize and was a finalist in the Manchester Children’s Literature Prize 2014. Her poems have been animated for Cbeebies TV and she appeared on BBC Countryfile with her fifth children’s poetry collection Adder, Bluebell, Lobster (Otter-Barry Books, 2016). She visits schools, libraries and festivals, she has recorded her poems for the Children’s Poetry Archive, and she is a National Poetry Day Ambassador.

Chrissie Gittins’ Website.

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