You couldn't but argue that the Edinburgh Book Festival is a valuable educational resource. According to a recent survey, funded by the Scottish Arts Council, it actively encourages reading for pleasure and positively affects children's attitudes to books and writers by making authors more accessible and reading more fun. It also enables children to recognise their own potential as writers.
Encouraged by such positive feedback across the entire reading spectrum and age range, the festival, "sponsorship forthcoming", is to become an annual event from next year (August 9-25). The downside to this welcome development is that the celebrated autumn literature sessions, held in the "off year" of the previously biennial festival, will probably have to go.
So, it seems highly likely that this year's Writing November series of "Meet the Author" events taking place at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh (November 2-10) will be the last. All the more reason, perhaps, not to miss it: especially when a new strand of family events includes readings from Babar, Ferdinand the Bull and The Animal Alphabet accompanied by music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (this Sunday) and a visit to Katie Morag's World, courtesy of author Mairi Hedderwick and the multi-talented musician Martyn Bennet aided by giant slides (Sunday, November 10).
Scottish poets treading the boards include Douglas Dunn and Valerie Gillies with various readings from the great and the good, including David Lodge, Margaret Drabble, Fay Weldon, Whitbread winner Kate Atkinson, poet-comedian John Hegley and former bad dude James Ellroy.
But the organisers are already more than busy at work on the 1997 Edinburgh Book Festival, which will see at least three more tented venues going up on the already busy Charlotte Square site. One of the new tents will be an electronic publishing site for "hands on" multimedia experience which, according to the festival's assistant director Alison Plackitt, will help interest young people in the written word.
"Some people have argued that multimedia will kill the book," she says. "But it's really not a question of eitheror. Working on the Net is a professional pursuit now in many work places and these professionals obviously still read. Just as television didn't kill the book, neither will CD-Rom. It's a growth area we have to engage with."
The two other new tents are a Native American Lodge Teepee which will be used for story-telling and poetry events, and a Demonstration Tent which will house book-sessions on everything from cookery, massage and aroma-therapy to mountain climbing and feng shui (the Chinese science of arranging one's personal environment).
Festival director Jan Fairley is also promoting the development of sessions where famous parents give their favourite choices for reading to their children.
Around half of the 400 events at the last festival in 1995 were free and many of these were aimed at young readers. The organisers are also aiming to take writers out to libraries to meet pupils with the help of the Book Bus (courtesy of Book Trust Scotland) The EBF is also committed to performance poetry. "The Festival is about live experience," says Ms Plackitt.
The EBF Schools Programme will be available from Easter. Schools should book (on a preference basis) before the end of summer term.
Tickets for Writing November from the Traverse on 0131 228 1404. Further information on the Edinburgh Book Festival and Writing November from EBF on 0131 228 5444.