Taking children to literary festivals is fodder for their imaginations

It's good for young people to feel inspired and see dreams that could shape their future

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Young children take part in the interactive session with NASAÕs youngest astronaut candidate Dana Sulaiman Al Beloushi at opening day of the Hay Festival in Manarat, Al Saadiyat. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
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Imagine a place where stories spring to life, characters step out of pages, and your child’s favourite authors become their heroes.

Picture children clutching their treasured books, eyes sparkling with anticipation, faces glowing with excitement as they immerse themselves in this universe of imagination. This is pure joy for parents – witnessing their little ones stepping into a world that nurtures their confidence, hones their conversational skills, and connects them through the magical thread of stories.

I got to see this first-hand last week at the Hay Festival, one of the UK’s most prominent annual literary events, where my children’s delight took me by surprise. I was there for my debut appearance as an author, and my daughters, who I’ve always taken along with me to any kind of public event I do since they were babies, tagged along.

The sparkle in their eyes and their fierce, exuberant enjoyment were beyond what I expected. The impact more than a week later is still palpable, as they share their joy with their friends whose own interest has been ignited.

More people should know about this world and encourage children to step away from screens and theme parks into its loving, inspiring, creative embrace.

Imagine meeting the people who created those stories and the worlds that shape your imagination and adventures as a child. Your heroes are real just like you. Which means you can talk to them. Which means maybe as a child, it dawns on you for the first time that you, too, could be one.

Even as adults, there’s a magic to meeting your favourite authors. Imagine you’re a child, where imagination and play shape your life. That kind of magic is priceless.

My children were beyond themselves to meet and talk to authors such as Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo and Tim Rice. To them, it was like meeting superheroes. The first few times, they hesitated, waiting for me to broker an introduction. And then, as their confidence grew, they were able to hold conversations on their own. It was a huge moment of development for them.

These authors become real people, not just names on a book cover. Such encounters inspire children to envision themselves as potential authors, sparking dreams that could shape their future. I still remember the thrill my children experienced when they learned about Rice’s work on The Lion King, making the connection between stories they love and the creators behind them.

In today’s digital age, where screens often dominate our lives and those of our children, literary festivals offer a refreshing escape.

They provide an opportunity for children to step away from the virtual world and immerse themselves in the tangible, tactile experience of books. Study after study shows the dangers and damage of excessive screen time and social media on children’s mental health. In contrast, reading books has been shown to have numerous mental health as well as social and developmental benefits, including a sense of belonging, academic achievement and improved sleep.

Literary festivals are like a smorgasbord for the imagination. They offer exposure to new genres, ideas and workshops that encourage children to envision alternative realities and future possibilities through stories.

The excitement children feel can be contagious. It sparks an interest in their peers and creates a ripple effect of creativity – just like how TikTok influencers inspire their followers. Seeing people passionate about books fosters a culture of reading. It’s an ecosystem where everyone speaks the language of stories.

At literary festivals, there’s a chance to meet and interact with other children, including of different ages, as well as adults. It is a shared experience to unite generations. Workshops on cartooning, writing and other literary skills offer practical learning experiences.

Books are not just sources of entertainment. They improve literacy and equip children with essential life skills. Reading is like a superpower that enables children to understand the world better, empathise with others and express themselves effectively. At a literary festival, they are seeing others flexing their superpowers, and it encourages them to flex their own, and build their reading muscles for life.

Are you worried that your children will be less convinced? Or that they might choose a water park, video game or arcade instead? It’s just about sharing your own feelings of the exciting adventure that it is; the thrill of meeting authors, the fun of participating in workshops, and the joy of discovering new books.

You can even share with them the stories of other children who’ve attended and had fun, like mine. The younger one is a celebrity among her classmates for having met Morpurgo. And she’s done her own part in sprinkling the magic dust of the festival by connecting names of books with the names of the authors she’s met. The older one has realised she has the confidence to talk to author celebrities.

As for me, I’m still a bit overwhelmed having been in the green room with incredible authors. There’s still a child in me hoping I’ll grow up one day to be an author beloved by adults and children alike, and that the books I’m writing for children will change lives and beautify them.

If none of that works, just tell the children that a literary festival is a time when they are not just allowed, but positively encouraged, to let their imaginations run riot – and that they’ll be surrounded by authors and readers who believe daydreaming is a must and for whom telling stories is a way of life. What could be more child-like than that? I think as adults we could do with that, too.

Published: June 07, 2024, 9:00 AM