The North Recommends: The Big Malarkey Festival

I suffer from acute sweetshop syndrome when considering the acres of possibility for programming The Big Malarkey Festival, Hull Libraries’ new children’s literature festival. Like Veruca Salt, I want the world.

There is a head-spinning plethora of rich work out there – far more than can be good for you, and far more than anyone can actually read. Add to this our pledge to create a festival for 0-16 years and the sweetshop becomes a hypermarket – how to find a way through?

Luckily for me, librarians are excellent guides, and so of course are children. Over the years our James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award has cast up many excellent books – discussed and voted on with great passion by local primary and secondary pupils, and an invaluable steer for finding true gems. This year’s KS3 award went to All the things that could go wrong by Stewart Foster, with readers hugely taken by both the narrative structure that alternates the voices of the protagonists and the vivid and poignant exploration of what it means to live with OCD.

Elizabeth Laird’s extraordinary Welcome to Nowhere came a close second – she deftly immerses us in the harrowing events of the Syrian civil war, but the solid reality of her characters anchors us to a sense of humanity in the midst of tragedy. At the awards, students were divided about the ambiguous ending. I think ultimately it is a hopeful book, and certainly one that lends itself to serious examination. During the festival, Northern Ballet will be exploring passages from the book with KS3 students through movement and dance.

We wait with bated breath for the KS2 Book Awards, to be held in the Big Top on the opening day of the festival. A school visit with one of the five finalists Joanne Owen – author of Martha Mayhem and the Witch from the Ditchgenerated wildly enthusiastic responses from Year 5 pupils, charmed by her zany and endearing characters and the off-the-wall fantasy-land they inhabit.

Fantasy is the watchword for KS2 writing and I’m looking forward to Steve Webb and Chris Mould arriving at the festival to present their surreal and slightly macabre Spangles McNasty series, with all its labyrinthine plots and lavish language. Historical fact gives fantasy a run for its money in David Long’s fabulous Pirates Magnified – an intricate picture book, gorgeously illustrated by Harry Bloom, each double-page spread a glorious scene to pore over with the accompanying magnifying glass to find the ten real-life pirates (including the notorious Anne Bonny) and learn about their lives.

The festival is all about reading for pleasure. We hope that these – and other new books for older and for very young readers – will tickle the imagination of children, teachers and families attending The Big Malarkey. There’ll be stories told through theatre, music, illustration, puppetry and animation too – with some ageless classics such as The Moomins, Roald Dahl and a few beloved fairytales.

The Big Malarkey Festival 2018 takes place 20-24 June in Hull.