I must confess, being relatively new to the librarian world, I wasn’t fully aware what the Federation of Children’s Book Group Conference involved. My manager told me it was one of the ‘nicest conferences to go to’, so that sold it to me!
My expectations were that there would be lots of authors and publishers milling around at the conference, some presenting and some there for the pure enjoyment and wanting to listen to fellow authors. I wasn’t disappointed.
The conference was set in the beautiful grounds of Queenswood Boarding school for girls and the sun came out all weekend. On arrival, we were all given tea and biscuits and filled in on the events of the upcoming weekend. At this point, I still had no idea what the Federation of Children’s Book Groups was. Gradually, over the weekend I met and chatted with lots of fellow librarians, bloggers, authors, publishers but most were either volunteers or retired librarians, giving up their time to run book groups in their area. This was a community of volunteers, parents and retired librarians who all shared a passion for books and a desire to pass this on to children in their own home communities.
‘How exactly did these book groups work?’ I wondered to myself. They didn’t sound like the adult book groups I was familiar with. A volunteer parent I met from Dundee explained that she would be sent hundreds of pre-published books by the federation, for her to test and loan out to schools in the area or to set up groups in local schools. The idea that children would have access to new and wonderful books and be able to score them, based on how much they enjoyed them. They gave publishers insight into how well received a book would be. The reward for being a ‘tester’ is that these children would receive a copy of the book at the end. Volunteers also arrange for visiting authors and various book events in their communities and I was amazed at the passion these volunteers had for books and passing a joy of reading onto children in their communities.
The conference itself was a 50th anniversary celebration of the Federation, and this reflected in the line-up of speakers.
I had the pleasure of listening to Jacqueline Wilson and be inspired by her journey to becoming a successful children’s author. I was given a fantastic illustration lesson and presentation by Tony De Saulles, Horrible Science illustrator. (I normally witness similar illustration presentations in schools but never get to take part, so it was wonderful to experience this and be a part of the fun).
The most enjoyable part was listening to Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew talk about the story behind their new picture book, Gaspard the Fox. So often as a librarian I read these beautiful picture books, never really knowing that there is a real story behind the creation. Listening to Zeb and James explain in detail what inspired the story and how carefully they had considered colour and tone within the illustrations, really brought the book alive for me. This proves useful as a librarian in passing on this passion to children, getting them to consider the work and meaning behind a book rather than reading it once and putting it aside.
The conference was an eye opener into the world of publishing, listening to each publisher sell their newest publications with passion, made me feel valued as a librarian; they valued our opinion. It was interesting and inspiring to hear from Heather Crossley from Pat-a-cake books, explain the research behind each pre-school board book they created, understanding the developmental stages that are carefully considered for each book to enable a baby or toddler to have their developmental needs met in a single book.
Being surrounded by people from the book industry, truly inspired me within my School Librarian role to think about each story and the background behind it when working with the children in my allocated schools. To pass on this inspiration and passion will hopefully create a joy of reading to the children I meet.
The highlight of the weekend by far for me was chatting over lunch with a lovely lady whose name tag said, Pippa Goodhart. The name sounded familiar to me and after a time I decided to ask what she did for a living. Pippa told me she was an author and she named a few of her book titles. None were familiar to me until she mentioned that her most well-known book was a book she had written with Nick Sharatt, called You Choose. This was probably one of the most read picture books that I used to read to my son at bedtime, a true favourite of my sons, as it always provided a new experience each night. You Choose held such a special place in my heart, to meet the lady that wrote it was a pleasure. Sadly, before I could tell her this another fan intercepted the conversation and the moment was lost! To return home and see the amazement on my son’s face when I told him was a true joy, and it is these moments that inspire children and create passion in books and reading for life.
At the final Gala Dinner of the conference, we were treated to talks from Michael Morpurgo and Sarah Crossan, again revealing inspirations that helped to be successful writers. Listening to all these inspiring stories gives me the opportunity to pass them on to the children I work with and hopefully inspire them to believe that one day they could also be successful writers if they wish to be, but more importantly lead them to have a passion and joy for books!
Written by Catherine