Monday, 21 April 2014

Why I love .... Book Fairs

SO WHY DO I LOVE BOOK FAIRS?   This year I was lucky enough to go to Bologna and London and soak up just a tiny amount of the book world.  Book fairs are primarily for publishers to sell rights, but to me they are a sheer delight as I have no expectations and I'm not bound to any targets.  Here are a few thoughts:


Bologna through my eyes is all about illustration and design, from the Cambridge illustrator students' booth to the Japanese book-cum-knitting activity (spinning a yarn), and esoteric artwork from ... gosh, all over, but I noticed especially Taiwan and Korea.  I loved meeting writers and artists at the SCBWI stand, cheering on the illustrators in their 'duel' as they improvised and drew five spreads from an unknown pic book text.  In theory, the event is not for children, but I saw a few wandering round, both they and their parents entranced, dazed, dreaming .... Who could not be stunned by the beautiful work on display?


By contrast, in London I always make a point of attending some of the talks, this year given by authors, illustrators, Julia Eccleshare of the Guardian, Viv Bird of Booktrust, members of Seven Stories...  They really help put the reading world into perspective. Here are some things I picked up:

Parents:  they are both the biggest enablers and the biggest blockers of reading. Why do we stop reading aloud to our kids when they can read independently? Children must get used to hearing their voices as they read aloud - silent reading should not be seen as the norm.

Reading for pleasure: this is the single biggest factor in finding success in life.

Feedback:  reading is like slow cooking - so don't ask kids for feedback, or insist they keep a book diary, let them lose themselves instead.

Libraries and bookshops:  for many they are too daunting, too posh. "Can I wear my trainers to go into a bookshop?"  They are a lifestyle choice and parents must be able to feel comfortable. In some remote areas a book crate in a shop or cafe constitutes the library.

Dyslexia and other needs: changing type size and shape within the story, as if often done in picture books and increasingly in chapter books, makes reading a huge challenge, and is often too daunting.  This really chimed with me.  At the 2012 book fair I heard Polly Dunbar stressing the usefulness of including children's 'other needs' discreetly (not just adding a hearing aids to a child in the illustration  but encompassing a whole range of things).  It's so easy to be inclusive... And also so easy to forget!

For designers:  allow the illustrator plenty of time to develop ideas. Time to think is of paramount importance.  (I quote the wonderfully warm illustrator of the new Harry P jackets, Andrew Davidson)

For writers: create a hit of excitement, do the unexpected and most of all, create an environment in which the child feels comfortable and enjoys the experience. (Author Steve Cole)

And lastly, you can't make a story accountable for improving a child's reading age.  BUT, and forgive me if  I repeat, children who read for pleasure will gain advantages that last their whole lives.

And by reading, of course I mean everything: artwork and text, on phones, screens, and printed.

And finally many heartfelt thanks from me for taking the time to read this.