Footie in the Town Hall, and other crazy stuff

OK, so the ball was only foam, but my heart was in my throat during the penalty shoot-out in the Banqueting Room. Wonder what those old gents adorning the walls thought of it? (I’m guessing: ‘Finally something fun to watch!’) The children enjoying some impromptu football after Tom Palmer’s event certainly seemed to think so.

Footie at Manchester Town Hall

It was the Manchester Literature Festival Family Reading Day yesterday, and everything happened at the Town Hall. Very successful format for children’s books, I thought. Nice and central, refined (apart from the inflatable goal Tom brought), and well laid out with one room as the market hall with tables, and space for making Viking longships out of wrapping paper, and the Banqueting Room for the events.

Craft table

Well worth getting up early for, even on a Sunday. But maybe – just maybe – I have attended too many of these if I recognise people’s piercings before the rest of them?

Manchester Children's Book Festival table

First out was Juliet Clare Bell (call her Clare) with her Kite Princess story. Clare made little girls balance books on their heads for better deportment, learning to glide. After which they blew bubbles. Ideas for books are like bubbles. Write them down before they pop. Clare also read Don’t Panic Annika (great name, that), and she talked about toys who brush their teeth. Of course they do…

Juliet Clare Bell blows bubbles

I chatted to Clare afterwards, but forgot to compliment her on her princess-style floaty dress. Would you believe it was her first visit to Manchester? Good thing the city was on its best behaviour, almost meriting that sundress. Not a single fire alarm, thankfully.

Juliet Clare Bell

Clare’s into reading for boys. Getting them to do it. Someone who knows how, is Tom Palmer, who was on later in the day. As with last year’s rugby event, this was great and absolutely perfect for boys. They read, you know. Football magazines and footballer’s biographies and such like. If it’s about sport, they know the answer, which was handy for the quiz Tom did with them.

Penalty shoot-out

And then they put MLF boss Cathy in goal and started the penalty shoot-out. She’s good. So were they. As is Tom when he talks to children. He is less condescending than most adults tend to be. He has a Russian billionnaire who murders football players in his new book series. And he travels to gather new ideas, because he likes writing about other countries, and getting it right. (Tom, about that Norwegian cathedral?)

Tom Palmer

No billionnaire himself, Tom was open with the children and told them how much he gets paid, and that he can’t support his family on what he makes on writing.

White Witch with The Servant

Earlier in the day we had a group of actors tell us about Narnia. The White Witch was there in all her splendour, but she’s not a terribly nice person, is she? Three actors and a wolfhund (might not have been real, actually) covered both the Witch and the Wardrobe, with help from audience volunteers. Not much of a Lion, however. Very popular, with a full room, and people sitting on the floor.

Alex Winters

The day’s highlight for most of the children, and their parents, was Dinnertime Stories with Cerrie Burnell and Alex Winters. And before you ask ‘who?’ I will say CBeebies. These television presenters read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and two more stories. Famous people and well known books are a winning concept.

Cerrie Burnell - The Wheels on the Bus

We sang The Wheels on the Bus, and discussed how many of us had arrived by camel. Or submarine. And we ran out of time.

So did Sita Brahmachari, who came to talk about her new book Jasmine Skies, but talked a lot about her award-winning first book Artichoke Hearts, as well. Due to some technical hitch (I can so identify with that) she borrowed Clare’s laptop for a while, before Clare had to rush home to Birmingham. But by then we had seen all the lovely family photos of Sita’s inspirational family.

I’m not quite sure how she did it, but before we knew where we were, her hour suddenly came to an end. Sita had some good volunteer strategies, and she read from both books, and then she spent a very long time folding and unfolding a sari. Interesting. Diaries and doodles have a lot to answer for. So does wearing orange. It could have been a trick. Or not.

Sita Brahmachari

Sita is off to Calcutta, to the bookshop where her late father used to sit and study, before he became a doctor. It’s rather nice to think of a bookshop allowing itself to be used as a library.

And then, I have to admit it; I went home. The day was not yet over, but the Bookwitch was very over. And five events out of seven is almost acceptable. I’m sure the Viking event with V Campbell was great. Especially for those who had built their own longships earlier in the day. (I wonder if the V stands for Viking?) The final event was Stanley’s Stick, an Oldham Coliseum Theatre production.


I am of the opinion that the MLF have got it just right. If they could just sell some energy for old ones, it’d be even better.

One response to “Footie in the Town Hall, and other crazy stuff

  1. It was great to meet you at last. I had a wonderful time in Manchester and at the festival. Lots of excited children, lots of chats with parents and some great resources/ideas for getting children into reading and writing from the groups of people representing different reading organisations. I’d really like to have seen Tom Palmer but I couldn’t make it. Cerrie and Alex were great and it was especially exciting for me as Don’t Panic, Annika! is going to be a CBeebies Bedtime Story. I hope to be back in Manchester within the year.

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