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Packed schedule for bookworms

Edinburgh's International Book Festival offers the chance to meet writers, learn their secrets, hear stories and join workshops. Karen Shead reports

This year's Edinburgh International Book Festival is the biggest it's ever been, says Karen Mountney, the children's programme director. In 2003 there were about 45 schools events; this summer there are 61.

Teachers looking through the programme of schools events, which run on August 23-31, will be hard pushed to decide which to attend with their classes. Do you go for old favourites, such as the Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Horowitz, or do you opt for newcomers to the festival, such as Jennifer Donnelly, G. P. Taylor and Eleanor Updale? Do you pick homegrown talent or international?

They are tough decisions to make. Probably the best idea is to get a healthy balance of new and old and writers from home and away. This is what Ms Mountney recommends.

"In the adults' and children's events there is the strongest Scottish presence ever," she says, "and there is the strongest international presence. It is very deliberate as it is an international festival, but it's important to have a strong Scottish presence. It's a showcase for the best writers in the world and we want it to be a showcase for new writing."

The Scottish writers include Alan Temperley, Catherine MacPhail, Catherine Forde, Joan Lingard (who has been to every book festival in its 21 years) and local writer Nicola Morgan, whose use of language, Ms Mountney says, "is quite exquisite".

The international flavour is provided by such writers as Cornelia Funke, who is as big in Germany as J. K. Rowling is in the UK, and Jennifer Donnelly, whom Ms Mountney is pleased to see coming over from New York just for the book festival. "Her book A Gathering Light is breathtaking," she says.

There are events for children of all ages from P1-S4, with a mixture of fiction, non-fiction and poetry on offer.

As well as the six days of schools events (there are none on August 28-29), there is the Gala Day for primary pupils on August 31. "It is now in its third year and we see it as an important part of the programme," says Ms Mountney. "We have 3,000-4,000 children on that day and it is closed to the public, so is a safe environment for them."

To encourage the older age group to take part in the festival, a series of events called Teenage Kicks, which are part of the public programme, is available. "This is in association with Teen Titles," says Ms Mountney. "We did one session last year and it was very popular. They are all very different writers; they are cutting edge and the sort of writers who push the boundaries. The idea is to encourage teenagers to get involved. We want to know what they think about teenage fiction."

New ideas include an imagination lab (a dedicated area for workshops), ancient writing workshops and there will be special appearances from Maisy the mouse, Spot the dog and the Cat in the Hat.

Various workshops cover writing, book-making and making soundtracks. "We like to think about books in a different way; it's a very interactive programme," says Ms Mountney.

There are also events for teachers on formative assessment, how to tackle literacy and how to help reluctant readers.

One of the main aims of the programme is that it is accessible to all. The week-long outreach programme sees events taken to schools across the country, more sign language events and more free events.

In the bookshop is an activity corner with free events for children aged up to 11 years, daily storytelling events and, as part of the public programme, free sessions for parents and carers to get advice on children's books.

"We want to make the world of books interactive. The programme is family friendly as well as child friendly," says Ms Mountney.

Altogether about 30,000 children will visit the book festival between August 14 and August 31. Ms Mountney is looking forward to it. "We have the authors, we have the events, we have everything. The only thing we can't guarantee is the weather." TES Scotland sponsors the schools programme

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