When she was a child, my mum got the word ‘absorbed' muddled with ‘dissolved', and the process of being ‘dissolved in a book' has since fallen into our family vocabulary.
The best children's authors enable young minds to experience that same magical feeling. But imagine a whole weekend of inspiration, a place to take children away from their everyday lives and propel them into a wonderland of creativity, where anything and everything was possible.
Armed with a sense that our children's lives were too structured, too sanitised and too formal, in 2010 we set about creating a weekend-long arts festival in a beautiful and dramatic woodland landscape: and so the first ever Just So Festival was born in Barnswood, a breathtaking woodland overlooking Rudyard Lake in North Staffordshire.
Kipling's parents had courted there and named their son after the lake, which was once a weekend getaway from the industrial north. We took our inspiration from the author's ‘Just So Stories' and tried to weave narratives into everything we did; blending the arts together, mixing genres and creating new audiences for what can sometimes be intimidating art forms.
Just under 3,000 people joined us as we sang, danced, climbed, told stories and played in the woods. We laughed with Ben Cort and The Alien in his Underpants, thrilled to the stories of Andy Cope and ‘Spydog', ran rings around The Gruffalo and were enchanted by the mermaid tales from the lovely Liz Kessler.
We plan to make 2011 even bigger and better, with author events this year to include an outlaw boot camp, martial arts training, scary campfire stories and a rollicking midnight feast.
We want children's authors and publishers to see us as a creative playground where they have the freedom to experiment, with all the conventional boundaries removed. They can get closer to their audience than they ever thought was possible; engaging and interacting with them during a weekend when families are at their most receptive to new ideas and willing to take part and indulge their creativity.
I had a lovely conversation with a festival-goer at the 2010 festival when she came to tell me that her seven-year-old son had never picked up a book to read of his own free will and had always perceived reading to be a homework chore. He loved dogs however, and had gone along to see Andy Cope simply because he'd followed the ‘Spydog' and the author through the woods.
From thereon in, he was captivated and after the event he'd bought his first book and sat under a tree all afternoon and read it from cover to cover—dissolved for the very first time.