The Children’s Bookshow is a national tour of some of the best writers, illustrators and storytellers of children’s literature, from the UK and abroad. It takes place each autumn during Children’s Book Week and beyond, and visits theatres nationwide, from the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre to the People’s Theatre in Newcastle.
Alongside the tour in theatres, the Children’s Bookshow runs a series of schools workshops in the same towns and cities, where the writers on the tour work with children taking part. Each child in a workshop gets a free signed copy of one of the writer’s books to take home.
The Children’s Bookshow is a non-profit organisation funded by Arts Council England, charities such as the Unwin Trust and the Marsh Christian Trust, publishers ranging from Penguin to Quercus, and cultural institutions and embassies such as the Embassy of Sweden and box office income.
Here founder and organiser Sian Williams describes the work and excitement of The Children’s Bookshow for Books for Keeps, and highlights the impact that taking part has on children.
This year The Children’s Bookshow is celebrating its tenth birthday, a remarkable achievement. Talking to children and teachers I’ve met on the current tour demonstrates over and over the impact attending the events has on children. One teacher I spoke to in Bexhill – her school has been coming to Bookshow performances for the last three years – described the Bookshow’s value as ‘inestimable’. Not only does having a workshop or attending a performance stimulate writing and reading in the classes, there’s a ripple effect throughout the entire school, as the excitement generated by the experience of meeting a real writer or illustrator sets all the children talking about it.
‘Carll Cneut Rocks!’
These words were written on an enormous placard made at home by pupil Daisy Scudder of Battle and Langton Primary School, Battle after she attended a workshop with Cneut last year. I watched as Daisy presented the banner, complete with sturdy pole, to Carll at his performance this year!
Contact with authors from overseas.
I firmly believe that it’s vital for children to have experience of other cultures: it broadens their horizons; extends their reading; and, we hope, leads to greater understanding and acceptance of other people’s customs, religions and traditions.But most of all, it gives the gift of great literature from all around the world to the children.
Ten years of memorable moments
After ten years of The Children’s Roadshow I have many special memories! Here are some particularly memorable moments. We paired Quentin Blake and Matthew Sweeney at the Southbank Centre in London, where Matthew read his poems and Quentin then illustrated them on a doc-cam. After a while, Quentin asked Matthew if he’d like to do it the other way round. Matthew agreed, and Quentin sketched an old woman, fishbone for a feather in her hat. Matthew stood deep in thought for a moment or two, and then came out with a complete, perfect poem. The audience roared their applause and stamped their feet!
At the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last year, Alexis Deacon – playing a sort of version of Anthony Browne’s Shape Game – began to draw what the children immediately recognised would be Alexis’ most popular character, Beegu. The 750 children in the audience began murmuring ‘Beegu, Beegu’, a chant which grew in intensity, like fans cheering on their team at a football match, until the appearance of the title page on the screen on stage drew instant silence and Alexis began to tell the story.
Each year we have increased our audiences and now achieve capacity audiences in almost every venue, in theatres ranging in size from 400 at the New Wolsey in Ipswich to 900 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
Equally important has been our success in achieving these audiences for writers and illustrators totally unfamiliar to the teachers attending, whether it’s Anushka Ravishankar from India, Grégoire Solotareff from France, Kazumi Yumoto from Japan or Carll Cneut from Belgium, to name just a few artists celebrated internationally, but virtually unknown here.
Most of all, however, we’re proud of the fact that we give all the children in a schools workshop a free signed copy of one of the writer’s or illustrator’s books to take home. For some children, this might be the only book they’ll ever own. We hope then that the combination of schools workshop, performance, and free book will have an importance in the child’s life long after the Bookshow has left town.
Plans for next year, and the decade after that
Plans for next year include championing a new poet Rachel Rooney, winner of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education Poetry Prize 2012; and a brilliant writer from Italy, Fabio Geda, whose book In the Sea There Are Crocodiles has recently been published in paperback by David Fickling. We’re also planning a project in libraries in the Spring in North Devon and Somerset, in addition to the autumn tour.
And for the decade after that, we’d like to raise sufficient funds so that every child attending a Bookshow performance also has the chance to attend a free schools workshop and take home their own signed copy of the writer or illustrator’s book.
I’d also like to repeat our model of two tours which centred entirely on literature in translation, and entirely on poetry…
I’m very proud of the fact that we’re championing only the best. Some of the writers and illustrators we work with are instantly recognised, whilst others are not known in this country at all. Over the years the teachers we have worked with have grown to trust our judgement and are now happy to book for events with authors or illustrators they have not heard of before. This year almost all of our shows were sold out, most of them by the end of the summer term. By the end of the tour we shall have reached approximately 7000 children.
Working with artists in the UK ranging from storyteller Daniel Morden to Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and Judith Kerr, and from abroad from Tomi Ungerer to Ulf Stark and Gunilla Bergström, we’ve always sought out the best of children’s literature in the last ten years, and we’ll continue to maintain this standard for the next.
Read Daniel Morden’s verdict on The Children’s Bookshow here.
For more information visit www.thechildrensbookshow.com