A weekend full of stories at the Just So Festival

We’ve been very lucky this summer holiday to have collected many stories that will become part of our family folklore. New places we’ve fallen in love with (our allotment!), new things we’ve tried (hooray! M now eats those exotic food items known as toast and cheese), time spent together as a family doing even crazier stuff than normal. But, oh my! our trip to the Just So Festival in the middle of August has to be the source of our most magical stories that we’ll be telling and re-telling to each other for the months to come.

Regular blog followers will know that in the run up to the festival I enjoyed being the Just So Kidlit Correspondent, interviewing and reviewing the books of several children’s book authors and illustrators who appeared at the festival. I featured interviews with David Lucas, Mini Grey, Ellie Sandall and Frances Hardinge with my Kidlit Correspondent hat on, but this was just an appetizer for the real thing – meeting them and several more authors at the festival.

First up was Adele Geras, who read from The Ballet Class, one of a series of books she has written about young Tutu Tilly who loves ballet. The books are beautifully illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas.

Adele’s reading was preceded by a dance class packed with little ones dreaming of becoming dancers.

Whilst Polly Dunbar herself wasn’t present at the festival, a puppet show of her gorgeous book Flyaway Katie (which we reviewed here) was one of the highlights of the festival for me.

Produced by Long Nose Puppets, Flyaway Katie was a beautiful, enchanting production – if it comes anywhere near you, treat yourself and book tickets as it’s a very clever production that will have you oohing and aahing and being transported!

Later in the weekend, M and J loved their session with Ellie Sandall. Ellie read from her book Daisy Plays Hide and Seek (which I reviewed here).

Ellie then drew a large version of Daisy which all the children enjoyed colouring in together cooperatively.

Next up was a hunt for Daisys hiding around the site. I particularly liked these bird houses made out of books.

Finally everyone got their own Daisy to decorate, either with collage or crayons. It was a great session!

A revalation for us was Steve Cole, perhaps best known for his Astrosaurs books.

Steve did a sort of stand up comedy routine about all sorts of things from fruit to Latin – he was brilliant! Very funny, very engaging and totally off the wall. He reminded me a little of Ricky Gervais at times, and at others of Eddie Izzard.

Little did I realise what impact seeing Steve would have on our home. I wrote about it yesterday. It’s made me realise what an enormous impact it can have on children (and their parents) when they get to see, meet and interact with authors and illustrators.

Mini Grey was who M and J were most keen to see at the festival and they were not disappointed. Her session was brimming with energy as she enthusiastically read from Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey (which I reviewed here).

I think every heart in the audience beat a little more tenderly when one young boy got up and showed Mini Grey his own Traction man, complete with green knitted suit (just as in the Traction man stories) which his Grandma had made for him.

Mini brought along her own Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush much to everyone’s delight.

Quite a lot of Mini’s session was packed with ideas for making your own books with your kids. She showed us lots of dummy copies she’d made, including a sneak preview of a book of her’s she’s currently working on about toys in space.

Mini generously gave every child who attended her session a gorgeous blank book of their own to write a story – can you imagine how inspiring that was for all the kids there? The girls were so proud to get a cuddle from Mini at the end of her session!

Personally, I had been really looking forward to meeting David Lucas at the festival.

David read both Halibut Jackson (which I reviewed here) and The Robot and the Bluebird, as well as drawing several of his characters and encouraging us all to have a go at drawing our own characters.

To inspire us, he handed out adjective+noun combinations – M got “hairy mermaid” whilst my husband got “spooky rabbit”, and these were the basis for us all to come up with our own picture book characters.

On the last night of the festival I enjoyed sitting round a camp fire with Frances Hardinge.

She read from Twilight Robbery (Fly Trap in the US) and answered questions from an enthusiastic audience! It was very atmospheric.

There were even more children’s authors at the festival but there was so much to do we unfortunately didn’t manage to see them all. Those we missed included The Etherington Brothers (click here for their thoughts on the festival), Chris Bradford, Mark Brake, Steve Hartley, and the team behind Stripy Horse, Jim Helmore & Karen Wall.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the Just So Festival was a children’s literature festival, and whilst there were riches aplenty when it came to great authors and illustrators there was so much more going on too. Secret paths to visit the fairy queen, donkey rides, circus skills sessions, Punch and Judy, an outdoor beach, lots and lots of creative sessions making everything from lanterns to learning how to crochet as well as plenty of live music. It was a jam packed weekend, a weekend to remember for a long time to come.

Disclosure: I received a free weekend pass to the festival in return for my interview and reviews. I’m most grateful for the pass, but it hasn’t influenced my reviews. The festival was tremendous fun, full of creativity and inspiration. Well done to the team behind the Just So Festival!

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14 Responses

  1. Can you smell something burning?!

  2. I certainly smelt of smoke when I returned to my sleeping bag that night, choxbox!

  3. Wow sounds an amazing event… I never knew such festivals existed.

  4. Hi Elaine, this year was the Just So Festival’s 2nd year – so it’s quite a new festival. But tickets for next year are already on sale…http://www.justsofestival.org.uk/tickets/

  5. What a lovely festival! Thanks for all your posts!I am really looking forward to going and experiencing all these when mine are a bit older.

  6. I do hope you get the chance to go in the future Isil!

  7. That is wonderful! What an amazing festival! Your girls look like they’re having so much fun :o) and I bet you were too…

  8. It was a great deal of fun Ali, I’d love to go again!

  9. Becky from babybudgeting

    OOh it looks magical I am definately going to take the kids next year!

  10. It sounds fantastic! Do you know of any similar festivals in the U.S.?

  11. Hi Even in Australia, no, but I shall do some research and get back to you!

  12. I’m definitely considering going next year. We’re not going on a “proper” holiday next summer so might just be the year of festivals for us, as I quite fancy Wychwood Festival too, which is very close for us :0)

  13. A quick search turned up this:
    http://www.princeton.lib.nj.us/children/festival/index.html. Anyone know anything about it? It does not look as involved as yours. I love how the Just So festival really had the kids participating.

    There also used to be an event right near me, at Columbia University, but I can’t find any information about it for this year. I found it a bit disappointing anyway – like many events in NY it was so crowded it was hard to do the activities, but now that my kids are getting older…

  14. Lucky you. This looks like it was an amazing event! With some of my favorite authors too… I am very jealous.

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