The Children’s Book Festival is aptly named, being a celebration of children’s books and in the tradition of all good festivals, having so much on offer as to make it impossible to do justice to it all.
I was happy about that, being a Sally Rippin fan myself. Given some of the inane, poorly written fiction targeted at young girls, Billie B Brown is a breath of fresh air: well written stories with a feisty heroine at the centre who might well be my daughter’s peer.
Perhaps it was no surprise then to hear Sally Rippin describe how Billie B was inspired by her own childhood as a ‘bossy older sister’. Billie B Brown – The Beautiful Haircut, for example, was based on Sally’s own experience of cutting off her younger sister’s pigtails. The moral of the story, she told her audience was, ‘when you play hairdressers, don’t use real scissors.’
We saw Sally as part of a Meet the Author session in Queen’s Hall at the State Library of Victoria (where I last visited for a very fun photo shoot). Sally talked about how the character of Billie B developed as a combination of her experience and the imagination of illustrator Aki Fukuoka, who has been known to look and dress like Billie. I like that Billie is named in part for Billie Holiday.
Sally read Billie B Brown and the Copycat Kid to her rapt audience, before adjourning to the Readings Signing Tent, at which point I realised what a rock star welcome awaited the children’s authors. I lined up (willingly) for 35 minutes in front of the State Library to get some Billie B books signed, while my daughter and her best friend, accompanied by the latter’s father, had their faces painted and visited the petting zoo around the corner in Little Lonsdale Street. As luck would have it, I reached the top of the queue at the right time for the girls to be free to meet Sally — a highlight of the day.
Meanwhile, the signing queue for Andy Griffiths had grown like Jack’s beanstalk before the author had even left the building. As writer Fran Cusworth tweeted, ‘Anyone who thinks kids aren’t reading hasn’t seen the 5,889,556m queue to get Andy Griffiths’ autograph at kids’ book fest.’
I gave our girls a choice between another author talk and an illustrator’s workshop and they chose the latter, which found us in Anna Pignataro‘s wonderful world of fairies, rabbits and glitter. Again I was impressed with how much respect and patience children’s authors and illustrators show their fans as we crafted up a storm of bunnies, wands and tiaras.
As Anna’s workshop was coming to an end, Bernard Caleo arrived for a story telling session using his amazing kamishibai story box; and although my six-year-old and her friend were shattered by then, both were intrigued enough to stay for the opening and might’ve stayed for the duration if not for their flagging energy levels.
A word to the organisers for next year: load the morning sessions with stuff for 3-6 year olds, because that’s when they peak. Advertise cool stuff — like Bernard Caleo’s comic strip workshops — expressly for older kids in the afternoon.
I would’ve loved to have seen/met Graeme Base and Alison Lester, two of my favourite Australian author/illustrators. But clearly the 1:1 ratio of adults to children we had this year for the Children’s Book Festival was not enough. Next year I’ll aim for a 2:1 ratio in the adults’ favour and see if I can get to more author events.