It feels sometimes these days, like the only limit to events that you can get off the ground in Bedford is your imagination. The past few years have seen empty shop and film festivals, art projects and busking events, not to mention numerous pop-ups appearing all over the town.
So when we first came up with the idea of a childrens’ book festival, it seemed like the obvious next step in a huge adventure for Bedford. It came from the enthusiasm of a few keen readers, all hell bent on getting kids excited about reading books. There are so many other ways for modern children to find their fun – the internet has unlocked an entire world of possibilities, there are more computer games than you can shake a memory stick at, and many children spend a huge amount of time shuttled between school and other activities. All of this is good, but there is a huge danger that reading may get pushed aside by other kinds of fun. That curling up with a good book will not be as natural for this generation as it has been for previous ones. There is a real fear that finding that spark to set alight a lifetime of finding joy in reading stories will become harder and harder.
As BookTastic, we invited local children to come and explore books at workshops that we ran upstairs in a store room at Waterstones. We read, and we talked the books through – asked the children questions and discussed the plots and words and meanings woven together in the books. We did drawing and craft and making, all built around the ideas in the books. And then we did an event in the PopUpShop in town, where so many children turned up that we ran out of space on the reading rug, and ran out of chairs. We saw that the audience was hooked and that we could do something bigger.
A children’s book festival would sit perfectly alongside the other wonderful cultural events put on in the town for young people: childrens’ theatre, the holiday workshops at The Higgins, the events run by Kiosk at the park. With the magnificent backdrop of the shiny new Higgins, we could draw families and visitors right into the heart of the cultural district. And we can read, and talk about reading, and books ALL DAY LONG.