Ditch the slapstick, go for the heart

John Grech, the Manager of the Malta Book Council, speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about the NBC’s upcoming event – the inaugural edition of the Cospicua Book Festival for Children, which coincides directly with World Book Day on April 29

What led to the setting up of the Children’s Book Day?

The decision to have a one-day open-air festival dedicated to children was reached after the Cospicua Local Council offered to cooperate with the National Book Council in order to set up a book festival in Cospicua. Since the dates proposed for the festival – end of April/start of May – coincided with the World Book Day, it was seen as appropriate to dedicate the event to children and children’s literature.

How does this festival differ from other, perhaps related, National Book Council initiatives?

It differs in a number of regards. Firstly, it’s an outdoors event. In a sense, so is the Campus Book Festival but in that festival all events and exhibits are housed within one tent. In this festival each publisher will have a separate stand and tent, which will be located at various points around Gavino Gulia square in Cospicua.

Secondly, this will be a one-day event, taking place on a Sunday (April 29), starting at 10:00 and ending at 19:00. The idea underpinning the choice of location and day is to make the festival accessible to families on their Sunday stroll along the Cospicua waterfront.

Why is it important to target children with these events, and how would you say the local scenario fares in terms of the engagement of children with reading?

“The main problem is to get school teachers and administrators to ditch obsolete slapstick-type children’s books and start using the Terramaxka winning titles in class”

Investing in festivals and book celebrations is a key element of the NBC’s strategy of promoting literature and reading among
local communities. Besides festivals, the Council also invests in book donations to schools and educational institutions. Children are perhaps the most natural focus of such initiatives, which is why weekday mornings at the Malta Book Festival are always dedicated to school children with plenty of fun activities including drama and games. Of course, the Council aims to promote reading in general among the young but the recent flourish in quality Maltese children’s literature makes it imperative that we promote local children’s titles. It should suffice to mention Clare Azzopardi’s Il-Qtates ta’ max-Xatt, Antoinette Borg’s Fittixni, Noel Tanti’s Fil-Kamra ta’ Jonas or John A. Bonello’s Irvin Vella series – all very recent Terramaxka Prize winners - to get an idea of the wealth of current local literature for young readers.

The local scene is still lacking in some regards but not for want of good authors and quality literature. The main problem is to get school teachers and administrators to ditch obsolete slapstick-type children’s books and start using the Terramaxka winning titles in class. Besides being extremely well-written and beautifully illustrated, these books address themes and issues such as death and loss, environmental issues, the realities of fostering and adoption, information technology, etc in a manner that makes children think.

What can children and parents expect from the event?

Fun, and books, mainly. There will also be stands with food and drinks. As in all of our festivals, there will be a cultural programme with a number of literary events, which in this case will focus on children and children’s literature. However, the participants – mainly, local publishers – will not be selling only children’s books. They will be exhibiting and selling books for different age-groups.

Finally, what kind of message would the National Book Council like to convey for World Book Day?

The National Book Council urges all parents, child custodians or tutors/educators to ensure that those under their care have access to a wide selection of high quality reads. Reading helps children learn to be articulate, to acquire a wide range of lexical items and functions.

 

The Cospicua Children’s Book Festival will be taking place on April 29 at  various points around Gavino Gulia Square in Cospicua from 10:00 to 19:00

Programme of Events

09:45 – Official opening

10:30 – Story telling: John A. Bonello

John A. Bonello will be reading excerpts of his work to children and engaging them in the process by asking them to guess details of the plot. (ages 7-12)

11:00 – Reading activity: Aqra Mieghi

A reading activity for children set up in collaboration with the National Literacy Agency (ages 5-6)

11:30 – Story telling: Clare Azzopardi

Clare Azzopardi will be reading excerpts from her book Il-Qtates ta’ max-Xatt (ages 4-5)

12:00 Reading Activity – Aqra Mieghi

A reading activity for children set up in collaboration with the National Literacy Agency (ages 5-6)

14:00 Meet the author – Kirsten Spiteri

Kirsten Spiteri, the author of The Wave and Far From Home, will be talking about his experience as an emerġenti author and will also be reading excerpts from his two novels. The event is set up by Faraxa.

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