Live literary festivals are, of course, off the agenda for 2020. But Bath’s Reading Is Magic events are going online to inspire young readers.

It’s been a tough old year for authors (it’s been a tough old year for everyone, granted, but debut writers especially have been undeniably hard hit). Many of those who were scheduled to publish as the pandemic struck sold a fraction of the anticipated copies as everyone’s attention turned, naturally, elsewhere. Those whose releases were postponed to the autumn are now finding themselves in a scrum of hundreds of books all competing for attention and shelf space. The additional fact that literary festivals have had to close their doors to the avid book buying public has removed a platform usually used to engage or capture the hearts and minds of audiences. And when it comes to children’s books, the necessity for connection and sparking imaginations is all the more imperative; children’s writers and young readers are, then, all the more bereft without literary festivals.

Thank goodness, then, for those festivals with the foresight to have taken their offerings online with a truly absorbing roster of talks and events through which to plug the gap. No, nothing is the same as an in-person live event, but Bath Children’s Literature Festival’s ‘Reading Is Magic’ season (27 Sept – 2 Oct) is packed full of inspiration to fire up young minds. And its stellar line up includes Cressida Cowell, Chris Riddell, Dapo Adeola, Nathan Bryon, Sophy Henn and Robin Stevens.

As its organisers write, ‘We love how each year Bath comes alive with children’s authors and illustrators from far and wide and were particularly disappointed for all the school children who come to the festival that would miss out. So, we decided if they could not come to us, we would create a festival that could come to them. Just like a story our ideas grew, and we thought that if we are going digital then anyone can join in the festival fun. We created a festival collaboration of amazing book festivals from the UK and internationally to bring you an amazing schools and family programme, all free and available for everyone, everywhere. We are excited that the award-winning children’s author and creator of How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once book will play a key role in the festival.’

Here are our must tune into events – but do note, these just scratch the surface. You can find the full list of free events here.

Clean Up With Dapo Adeola and Nathan Bryon
29 Sept, 2 – 3pm
Ages 4 – 7

How we love these Waterstones Prize-winning books. The main character, the brilliantly named Rocket, is a spectacular and lively creation, and in ‘Clean Up!’, she learns all about plastic pollution while visiting her Grammy and Grampa. Join writer Nathan Bryon and illustrator Dapo Adeola, who will be taking your questions from 2.40pm onwards.

Make Your Own Mysteries with Robin Stevens, Sharna Jackson and Serena Patel, chaired by Katherine Woodfine
30 Sept, 1.30pm – 2pm
Ages 7-11, 11- 13

If, like us, you’re a sucker for a whodunnit, don’t miss this event, which features four of the leading mystery writers working in children’s fiction right now. Aspirant authors can expect tips on how to create compelling detectives, while this quartet of doyennes of the genre will also discuss its enduring appeal. Featuring Robin Stevens, whose Murder Most Unladylike series has been dizzyingly popular in the past five years; Sharna Jackson, whose High Rise Mystery scooped the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize; Serena Patel, author of Anisha Accidental Detective, a funny new detective series following a STEM-loving, British Indian girl in Birmingham; and Katherine Woodfine, whose Taylor & Rose Secret Agents follows its heroines the thrilling world of espionage. The ideal way to get those little grey cells ticking over.

Creativity is Magic: The Wizards of Once with Cressida Cowell
28 Sept, 2 – 2.30pm
Ages 7 – 11

Has your child devoured the Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell’s Wizards of Once series? Then they will not want to miss this event, in which the author introduces its finale, Never and Forever and sheds light on the book’s mysterious narrator. As the organisers say, ‘One of the main themes of this series is that the REAL magic is imagination: get Cressida’s creativity tips and inspiration.’ The event will be followed by a live Q&A, so do come armed with your questions.

Write Your Own Letters To Earth
29 September, 9.15 – 9.45
Ages 7- 11, 11-13

As pretty much every school child knows, the earth is facing a massive and human-created emergency. In this event, the award-winning Letters To The Earth invite young people to write their own missives in response to the climate and ecological crisis. There will be a mini workshop with Rakaya Fetuga, one of Letters To The Earth’s contributors and readings from youth activists all with one aim: to encourage children to understand and value the power of their own voice.

Why We Need to Protect Our Planet with Mya-Rose Craig & Dara McAnulty
29 Sept, 1.30pm – 2pm
Ages 11 – 13, 13+

Amidst all the older authors, it is wonderful to see two such impassioned young people leading an event – and not least one that is so vital. These engaged and brilliantly informed young naturalists – Dara McAnulty, author or Diary of a Young Naturalist, and Mya-Rose Craig, president of Black2Nature, which campaigns for equal access to nature for all – share the benefits of connecting with nature, as well as a message of hope. Don’t miss it.

Create Your Own Character With Elle McNicoll
30 Sept, 9.15am – 9.45am
Ages 7 – 14

When Elle McNicoll discovered that a mere 0.05 per cent of lead characters in children’s books are neurodivergent, she was inspired to help redress that glaring oversight. Her novel A Kind of Spark, features protagonist, Addie, an autistic girl living in a small Scottish village, who campaigns for a memorial to the real-life witches once tried and sentenced to death on account of simply being ‘different’ in her local area. Elle will talk about her passion for disability rights and representation, as well as how to create characters by harnessing our own real experiences.

The Black Curriculum with Eunice Olumide and Malizah
30 Sept, 2pm – 3pm
Ages 11- 13, 13+

Eunice Olumide OBE is a Scottish model, actor and writer. Malizah is a writer, poet and creative from Rising Arts Agency in Bristol. Together, for this event, they discuss the stories and histories that don’t get covered in the school curriculum and how we can improve Black History in British schools. There will be a live Q&A after the discussion, so come ready to ask your questions. Important.

Riddell’s Wonders of Wonderland
1 Oct, 1.30pm – 2pm
Ages 7 – 11

There are some stories that are just so magical that they will live forever. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one such, having delighted young readers for some 155 years already. Now acclaimed illustrator, author and political cartoonist Chris Riddell gives us his take on the enduring appeal of the tale, having created a new visual interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s original, strange and beguiling story. During this event, Chris will create drawings of the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the grinning Cheshire-Cat before our very eyes. Magic.

By Nancy Alsop
September 2020


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Nancy Alsop


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