Guest Post: Bournville BookFest

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One of the best things about going to the Federation of Children's Book Groups Conference is meeting lots of lovely, like-minded people. Discussions about books and bookish things take place constantly- breakfast, tea breaks, lunch, afternoon tea... all the time! So, imagine my delight when I found myself chatting to the lady behind the Bournville BookFest- an event I have been very keen to attend. It was fascinating to hear how Sarah came up with the idea and makes it all happen! Next year, I am happy to say that not only am I visiting, I will be part of the team of volunteers who make it all happen!

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In this article, Sala Davies, one of Sarah's team, tells us more about the festival.

How BookFest came from a good idea and a £2,000 grant – and is now one of Britain’s fastest-growing children’s book festivals.

ROARS of laughter and hilarity roll out of the packed marquee where families are watching five well-known illustrators compete to draw the best beat-boxing squirrel. Nearby in the school auditorium, TV historian Lucy Worsley is dressed up as the future Mary I and reading from her new children’s novel Lady Mary to a rapt audience. Pop-up dinosaurs are being made at the paper-engineering workshops, and at the mask-making workshops youngsters are creating fabulously original and ambitious headgear fit for any theatrical stage. Another classroom has been transformed into a storytelling grotto with streamers and dream-catchers, which toddlers gaze up at in delight.

This is the penultimate day of Bournville BookFest – 150 storytelling events for 0- to12-year-olds, over ten days at 22 different venues across Birmingham.  It’s been going just five years, but the sheer breadth and ambition of the programme, the household names, and the affordable prices, make Bournville BookFest something quite special.

The festival was the brainchild of Sarah Mullen, mother-of-three and former solicitor, who had never even been to a book festival when she applied for a modest £2,000 Vision grant from Bournville Village Trust – which the estate founded by chocolate magnate and philanthropist George Cadbury in 1900.

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“It was just me, 4 venues and 8 events,” said Sarah. “That first year I had to explain to people what a book festival was and why it might be fun to come along. But incredibly 1,000 people turned up! And people said I must do it again. Looking back it was a crazy undertaking for just one person, but I’d never even been to a literary festival before. I just started with a blank sheet of paper and a passion for good children’s stories.”

This year the programme had something for everyone. From Ben Faulks (CBeebies’ Mr Bloom) and Lego Animation (which sold out 15 minutes after the tickets went on sale), to comic songs for toddlers and Horrible Science illustration, there are interactive and creative opportunities for every youngster. For many, it’s a fantastic chance to meet real authors and artists. Families queued around the block for the opportunity to have a selfie with Fantastically Great Women who made History writer Kate Pankhurst.

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It’s not just about selling books – although the pop-up festival bookshops do a roaring trade. There’s storytelling around campfires, storywalks around the park, and reading books with real animals and drama workshops. And finding new ways to fire up young imaginations. I spend countless hours trying to get the balance just right,” Sarah said. “I love seeing children’ poring over the programme and pointing out what they’d like to go to. It still gives me a thrill when people in my local community who’d never normally think the arts are for them, see something they like the look of and - because it’s on their doorstep – come along. Seeing those lightbulb moments is fantastic."

Every year BookFest has grown exponentially. The homemade paper tickets have been replaced by a colourful website. Corporate sponsors have joined Arts Council England to help fund it. Awards have been won (Fantastic for Families Best Welcome 2017 and Hoop’s Best Family Event in Birmingham 2018). And author-illustrator Nick Sharratt has just agreed to be BookFest’s new patron, and will be working with Sarah to develop the programme in future years.

“Bournville Bookfest is just fantastic,” he said. “Each year it comes up with an amazingly exciting and vibrant programme, involving a dazzling array of authors and illustrators, artists and performers. It runs sessions and workshops of every possible kind, to stimulate, inspire and entertain young minds. It's a truly inclusive festival, with a strong focus on events for children with special needs, and its spectacular schools programme, growing annually, is now available to children all across Birmingham. It takes the most incredible team to put together a festival as good as this. It also takes wonderful sponsors to make it happen. I must say that I've enjoyed myself enormously as a participant. I just can't wait to see what the next brilliant Bournville Bookfest will bring!”

Bournville BookFest will take place from 14th to 24th March 2019.  In 2019, a sister festival is being launched for the first time – Solihull BookFest, featuring Nick Sharratt and Pirates Next Door author Jonny Duddle. Tickets will go on sale in January.  Find out more: www.bournvillebookfest.com. If you’d like to get in touch about next year’s festival contact sarah@busyparentsnetwork.com.