When Shrewsbury Bookfest organised its very first May Festival in 1998, it was the only literature festival in the country exclusively dedicated to children’s authors and illustrators. Twenty-one years on, Shrewsbury Bookfest has brought hundreds of the UK’s best-loved authors and illustrators to Shropshire, and it has grown and developed into one of the most highly respected children’s literary organisations in the country. It gained charitable status in 2007 and in 2009 it won a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the equivalent of an MBE and the highest award that can be given to a voluntary organisation.
Bookfest’s overall aim and ethos have remained unchanged: to inspire, enthuse and entertain children through literature and the arts and to help nurture a love of books and reading. In addition to its annual series of public events held in Shrewsbury over the May Bank Holiday Weekend and responding to the need for genuinely engaging ways of encouraging children to read and develop reading fluency, Bookfest has developed a series of literacy and reading development projects for Shropshire schools that have won praise and enthusiasm from children, teachers and parents alike:
Shrewsbury Bookfest created ‘Schools’ Week’ in 2008: a programme of carefully selected authors and illustrators who spend a week in March visiting primary schools across the county. This year, the Schools’ Week programme is focusing on ‘Creative Writing’ and it has been expanded to include a one-day CPD Conference for primary school teachers, giving nearly 100 delegates the opportunity to work with authors to enhance their own writing skills to take back to the classroom. During a week in March, following World Book Day, 9 children’s authors will criss-cross the county visiting a total of 29 primary schools and delivering between them a total of 73 bespoke creative writing workshops to over 1,600 children. The project will culminate in each pupil writing their own book to enter into a county-wide Creative Writing Competition. Prizes will be awarded to a winner from every school taking part, and the overall top winners will have their stories published in May as audio books on the Shrewsbury Bookfest website, narrated by BBC Radio Shropshire staff. These top winners will be presented with their prizes by Jacqueline Wilson at a special public event in The Square, Shrewsbury on Saturday 4th May.
Bookfest Remembers is a branch of Shrewsbury Bookfest that dedicates itself to remembering key literary events. It has just completed a five year programme commemorating the centenary of the First World War and the artists, poets and writers of that era. Between 2014 and 2018 Primary and secondary schools across the county have taken part in events produced by Bookfest Remembers such as creative writing competitions, author-led workshops and music concerts. Bookfest Remembers will support, during the May Festival, the ‘Bookfest Quest’ on Saturday 4th May – a public trail around Shrewsbury of artwork installations celebrating special birthdays of best-loved children’s books, created by 15 local primary schools.
The jewel in the crown for Shrewsbury Bookfest has to be its biennial Book Award project. This is a child-led reading development initiative delivered into Shropshire primary schools, where children aged 9 – 11 years old choose their favourite book published in the previous two years. The first Book Award project in 2010 was an immediate and overwhelming success, so the project has been run every two years since. 2018 saw the introduction and addition of the ‘Picture Book Award’ for 5-7 year olds.
“We’ve been thrilled with the responses we’ve had from schools telling us how Book Award has engaged the most reluctant and unconfident of readers as well as challenging the bookworms,” says Sophie. “One of the reasons for its success is the fun children have expressing their responses to the books through taking part in art, creative writing and film-making competitions, and sharing their reviews on the Shrewsbury Bookfest website. The Book Award has undoubtedly encouraged a community of young readers across the county.”
To get a real feel for this project, watch this short piece filmed during Book Award 2018:
Preparations for Book Award 2020 are already underway and applications of interest by schools to take part should be made via the Contact Us page