A Celebration of Books at the Ford Street Literary Festival

Last week I attended the Ford Street Literary Festival at Scotch College in Hawthorn and I really wanted to blog about this inspiring example of kids having fun with books and their creators.

(Pictured below are Jo Thompson, Meredith Costain and David Miller who got down to the bare bones of writing and illustrating at the Ford Street Literary Festival.)

What better way for an author to spend a day than in the company of other authors and illustrators and 175 enthusiastic kids and their dedicated teachers?

Graham Davey (champion of children’s literature in Australia) was the MC for the day and he kept the kids entertained and the day moving along smoothly.

Students from schools across Victoria from Years 5 to 10 gathered to talk books and writing with Paul Collins, Meredith Costain, Justin D’Ath, Hazel Edwards, George Ivanoff, , Phil Kettle, Doug MacLeod, Felicity Marshall, Foz Meadows, JE Fison, Liz Flaherty, Sean McMullen, David Miller, Michael Salmon, Jo Thompson and me.

It was fantastic to see kids enthralled by books and coming to an event like this prepared with enthusiastic and informed questions for authors and illustrators.

A book quiz challenged the kids to work together and share their book knowledge to win a box full of books for their school – and all competitors attacked the task with enthusiasm.

Then Michael Salmon (pictured right with Phil Kettle) did an illustration demonstration that kept the kids mesmerised until it was time for JE Fison’s launch of her exciting new Hazard River Series.

It was great for me to catch up with fellow Boomerang Books Blogger, George Ivanoff from Literary Clutter – and of course the entire group of inspiring Children’s  authors and illustrators.

After the quiz and author chats with students, we all moved to the auditorium to watch Michael Salmon work his magic.

Then there was the sales and signings where students could buy their favourite Ford Street titles.

The Ford Street Literary Festival was a reminder that there are so many great ways to celebrate books and what they can bring to a child’s life.

The Star and Felicity Marshall

Last Tuesday I went along to the launch of Felicity Marshall’s picture book, The Star, which I reviewed a couple of posts back. Port Melbourne Prints and Framing (276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne) was a terrific location for the launch, which also doubled as the opening of an exhibition of artwork from the book. In my review, I mentioned how beautiful the artwork in the book was… well… seeing the original artwork up close blew me away. It is stunning! The exhibition is open until 27 April. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend popping in to see it.

The launch was packed with people, food and wine – and Felicity spent quite some time trapped at the autograph table. With her successful launch now behind her, Felicity has dropped in at Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about The Star.

What came first, the pictures or the words?

The idea of a story about fame came first – in a mixture of pictures and words. Because I write AND illustrate, I find it quite natural to think in both images and words when developing the genesis of a story. I cannot honestly say one came before the other. I think most author/illustrators do this – jumping back and forth. However I did fine tune the text before the finished illustrations were all done.

What inspired you to tell this story?

It may well have all started in a doctor’s waiting room, looking at one of those magazines full of trivia and trash about the lives of fleeting stars. And yes, I realised I too can be a voyeur when flipping through page after page of articles about who has been dumped, who has bad dress sense, who is too fat, too thin, too old, or is now on the scrap heap. The celebrity culture is in our face – on radio, television, and in print. It affects young people profoundly. In many school visits I have done, and conversations I have had with young people (from age 3 to adolescents) I was struck by how often the question “What do you want to be when you grow up/leave school?” received the response “I want to be famous” or less often “I want to be rich”. Not even “I want to be a famous movie star / footballer / ballerina / astronaut / detective / fireman”. Fame, in their minds, was no longer attached to excellence in performance or human endeavour, but was now an entity in itself. Then I thought a lot about the famous Andy Warhol quote,  “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. I looked at those trashy magazines again. I decided we had a new phenomenon that I call pseudo-fame. The story of The Star grew from there.

What has been your biggest brush with fame?

My biggest brush with fame was when I shook the hand of Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut who walked on the moon.

My biggest brush with pseudo fame occurred when I (unknowingly) was in the presence of someone from Big Brother. I can’t remember his name…

I think that The Star really has the potential to appeal to grown-ups as well as kids. Did you deliberately aim to do this?

I don’t think I consciously have done that. But I do believe that any good story for children will also appeal to adults, who may see a deeper layer of meaning. Not just in my books, but in all children’s books/stories, and for centuries.  There are many “children’s” books that are much loved by adults, and often adults overlook how profound children’s books can be.

Tell us about your favourite picture book?

Oh dear, I have so, so, many favourites, I can’t narrow it down to one. I will go for three – and this is a hard task you understand.

For very young children, I think The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one of my all time favourites. Simple illustrations and a beautiful story about the change from caterpillar to butterfly.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is another favourite for all the fun and naughty rebellion that Babette does so well. Quirky, expressive drawings and a deliciously satisfying story. Especially appeals to my inner girl defying adult constraints!

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a truly beautiful masterpiece of fine drawing and a universal tale told without any words.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about The Star?

Lots! But I would rather they read the book themselves. I will say, however, that there will be more about the story of Marion, Harley and Polka in the future.

Many thanks to Felicity for taking the time to visit Literary Clutter.

Tune in next time for the first in a series of posts about vampires.

Catch ya later, George

The Star

The StarPicture books are not just for kids. Yes, there are some books, like those about Maisy the Mouse and Spot the Dog, which are simplistic and one-levelled and unlikely to appeal to anyone over the age of five. (I should add that there’s nothing wrong with books like these. My daughter loved them when she was younger.) But then there are books like Felicity Marshall’s The Star.

The Star is a story about a doll named Marion and her two friends Harley and Polka the dog. Harley and Polka are content in who they, but Marion longs for fame and adventure. She gets it. But it’s not all that she hoped it would be.

“And so, Marion became a star. A bridge was named after her. A perfume was named after her. A factory made little dolls that looked just like her.”

This is a timely story for today’s world of instant celebrities, where ‘reality’ television throws ordinary people into the limelight, then just as swiftly rips their celebrity status away. It’s a story about superficiality, about expectations and about friendship. It’s also about how fame can change a person. That’s a lot to cram into a picture book, but Marshall pulls it off.

“Sometimes Marion wondered what had happened to Harley and Polka, but mostly she was dazzled by the bright lights and thrilled by the roar of her cheering fans.”

Although wordy for a picture book, it’s not overly wordy (like, for example, Madonna’s English Roses). Marshall has managed a good balance of text and pictures to convey the story. And what lovely pictures they are. I’m not an artist, so I can’t explain the style or guess at the technique. All I can say is that they are beautiful.

The book is recommended for children 10+. But I think younger kids can enjoy it as well. My 7-year-old daughter liked it. Although missing the nuances, she followed the basic story and got the point that Harley and Polka were Marion’s true friends.

To get a feel for the book and sample the illustrations, check out the trailer:

The Star will be officially launched next Tuesday. The launch will include an exhibition of original artwork from the book.

When: 6:30pm Tuesday 13th of April

Where: Port Melbourne Prints and Framing, 276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne

RSVP: [email protected] or ph: (03) 9481 1120

If you’ve never been to a book launch, come along a give it a try! There’s usually free drinks and nibblies and, of course, the opportunity to meet the author/illustrator and get an autograph.

Well, that’s it for this post. Tune in next time when I’ll be taking you on a little trip through time.

Catch ya later,  George