At a Children’s Literature industry Christmas Party in December 2012 I received the best Christmas present ever, an invitation to be the chief blogger and manager of the social media accounts for the 2013 StoryArts Children’s Literature Festival at Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. My brief for the Festival was to document what went on in sessions for those who could not attend due to financial or geographical constraints, aspiring authors and illustrators, teachers and librarians, families and other interested industry professionals. I felt honoured and privileged to be able to do this.
Fast forward 9 months and I found myself surrounded by legendary Australian, Kiwi and British authors and illustrators; dedicated teacher librarians; devoted book sellers; unstoppable volunteers; and enthusiastic kids who were blown away by the opportunity to see their favourite authors and illustrators as walking, talking human beings. And all this in the stunning grounds of Woodlands at Marburg, the close-knit cluster of Arts venues in Ipswich City and the delightful rural outpost of Esk.
My days began early, thanks especially to the array of birdlife at Woodlands. I unhooked everything that had been charging overnight, it takes a lot of electronic tools to be a children’s literature journalist, and packed them into my bags for the day. I tell you, working as a one-person media outlet is good for the muscles given everything I had to carry. Breakfast with the Stars was next on the agenda, though there was an unspoken agreement that until everyone had caffeinated, all work conversations were off limits.
I spent the next 2 hours catching up on blog posts, editing photos and researching the authors and illustrators that I would be seeing that day. As I sat typing at break neck speeds, people whirred past ensuring that everything was ready to welcome the kids. Authors and illustrators were whisked away to various venues including local schools, and Andrew the Peacock screeched his encouragement to all. I was amazed at how all this happened seamlessly day in and day out throughout the Festival.
When I was in Ipswich I attended 3 sessions a day, at Esk I attended 3 and at Woodlands I attended 4. Depending on the presenter(s) I was treated to an insight into the book creation process, a frenzy of comic drawing, a tour through ancient China, a ‘how to draw’ lesson, a singing and dancing session, a tantalising tale by one of the world’s best storytellers, and even a magic show. I duly and dutifully documented each session, and took a few pictures to add to each blog post. I was completely inspired by all the presenters and thoroughly enjoyed watching the children discover more about their favourite books, authors and illustrators. Though I am a fully fledged adult, I was often whisked away into another time or world by the creative genius of the presenters. And as someone who is to illustrating as a BBQ skewer is to a blow up castle at a school fete, I was really surprised at how even I learned a thing or two about illustrating.
For every session I attended I attempted to capture the essence of each session, how each author or illustrator communicated with their audience, what the kids were encouraged to do, think and imagine, and the creative process of each presenter. For a number of the presentations I know my efforts fell short. If you have ever seen a children’s author or illustrator at work, you would know how lively and fast-paced these sessions can be. However I did receive a number of compliments from authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians, so I guess I didn’t do too badly.
What I appreciate most about working as a Children’s Literature Journalist at StoryArts Festival Ipswich was the opportunity to network with and learn from the authors and illustrators, as well as seeing the Festival through the eyes of the children in attendance. I was left in no doubt about the importance of Children’s Literature Festivals, and I look forward to being involved in many more in the future, as a journalist and (fingers crossed) an author as well. Thanks must go the Festival organisers – The Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network, all the authors and illustrators, and of course the children whose joy and enthusiasm for reading and books was a pleasure to witness and share.