The Present

Within just a few hours of arriving back in the UK last week I was off to the annual conference organised by The Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG). The FCBG is a UK charity which works both locally and nationally to promote reading for pleasure amongst children.

Local groups run meetings for both adults and children interested in children’s books, author visits, and book themed activities. On a national level, the FCBG organises the Red House Children’s Book Award, promotes National Share a Story Month, and National Non-Fiction Day, and hosts an annual conference packed with author, illustrator and publisher talks amongst other things.

Having recently joined the National Executive of the FCBG this was my first time at conference. I had a tremendous, inspirational time, and here’s a flavour of who I saw and what I got up to:

Friday night saw a special party to celebrate 25 years of Winnie the Witch. Winnie’s illustrator, Korky Paul, gave a great talk about his work (revealing the reason behind Winnie’s crumpled hat). He also showed us his stripy socks which was a particular delight to me as last time I met him we talked about underpants.

Saturday morning kicked off in the most fantastic fashion, with Eileen Browne (author and illustrator of Handa’s Hen amongst many others) interviewing Axel Scheffler. Axel was quiet, unassuming and charming.

Axel revealed that the Gruffalo we now know and love started life as something rather more menacing – I hope you can see the grumpier, meaner Gruffalo in the photo below. Later he also revealed that the BBC are currently working on an animation of Room on the Broom for Christmas 2012.

First thing Sunday morning Sally Gardner gave an passionate talk about her background and her life with dyslexia. Sally did not learn to read until she was 14, and by this time she had been labelled as “unteachable”. Her’s is a remarkable life story, almost impossible to believe if you have read I, Coriander, a book set partly in 17th-century London and partly in a magical fairy world, which is both beautiful and lyrical, and a book I think many 8-12 year old (girls) would adore as much as I do.

After Sally, Eileen Browne talked about her background and about her research into illustrations of non-white children in children’s books. Her talk was both fascinating and depressing; still so few picture books are published which include non-white children, especially when the story is nothing to do with race.

I hope lots of you will check out this list of multicultural picture books Eileen has curated.

After Eileen spoke, Wendy Cooling, the founder of Bookstart, interviewed Helen Oxenbury. Helen was graceful, charming and lovely. She had all the poise and elegance of a ballet dancer as she spoke about her life and books.

There were many, many other wonderful talks but I didn’t have my camera with me. Guy Bass was really funny and full of energy, the Book Bus spoke about the work they do and made me want to volunteer straight away, Matt Dickinson took us all up Everest with an astonishing, quite literally breathtaking talk (I suspect this book of his will be the next one I spend my own money on), Candy Gourlay was a bundle of enthusiasm and inspiration, Charlie Higson revelled in being able to use words he can’t use when talking to an audience of children, Piet Grobler literally lit up one afternoon with his rainbow hued illustrations and Jason Wallace was fascinating (his multiple award winning book, Out of Shadows is the most recent book I’ve finished and I highly recommend it). Really, what a jam packed 40 hours it was!

Apart from authors and illustrators, publishers and publicists, I also got to meet several bloggers and tweeters in the flesh for the first time. @babbleaboutbks, @chaletfan, @sarastanleypc4 and @Alib68 were there as well as @librarymice, a fellow member of the FCBG executive. My one regret from the weekend is that we didn’t have more time to chat with each other!

You do not need to be a member of the FCBG to attend the conference, nor do you need to live in the UK if you wish to become a member. If you’d like to find out more, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

So my Present is all about following up friends and contacts made at the conference. I met lots of great people, discovered some very exciting authors and illustrators, and can’t wait to go again next year!

Next up… The Future…

5 Responses

  1. choxbox

    Oh My God! Zoe because it is *you* I am very very happy, anyone else and I’d have died of jealousy! All those authors seem like old friends, though this far we’ve only known them through their books. Sigh. What a treat!!!

  2. Rosalind Kirby

    Wow, it sounds like an AMAZING conference! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for your offer of getting in touch if we’d like to know more. I contacted the FCBG a few months ago to enquire about joining, as well as potentially setting up my own group as I couldn’t find any near where I live. I have a lifelong obsession with children’s books and worked as a primary school teacher prior to stopping work for a bit to bring up mt two small children. I am now contemplating a slight change in career direction and looking at ways I could work to share my love of children’s literature to promote reading for pleasure as an invaluable life skill from birth onwards.
    I have heard nothing back from the FCBG, so your most recent post has prompted me to enquire once again and find out whether you know how I could join? Many thanks in advance for reading this lengthy post and for any advice you are able to give!

  3. Elli

    Me, me, me! For going next year, that is. I sent a membership enquiry a week or so back but I think it might have got lost in the ether/general excitement of the conference. Meanwhile, I’m just going to sit here oozing jealousy.
    Elli recently posted..Platform

  4. Zoe

    Choxbox, I think you would have found the conference fascinating… perhaps one year you’ll be able to make it…

    Rosalind and Elli – I have emailed you…. but great to hear you are interested in becoming members/ setting up a local group – YIPPEE!
    Zoe recently posted..The Present

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