4th August 2006 at 01:00
Julia Donaldson, Shirley Hughes, Jacqueline Wilson, Joan Lingard, Michael Morpurgo, Debi Gliori ... it is hard to think of a children's author who will not be at this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival, apart, perhaps, from J. K. Rowling.

The children's programme continues to grow each year, with an ever wider range of events. Over 16 days, 150 authors, storytellers and illustrators will host a plethora of activities, from character creation, performance poetry and ballet dancing to workshops with bookbinders, artists and cartoonists.

Nearly 300 events will cover everything from action rhymes and songs for babies and toddlers to special events for teenagers, the hardest audience to attract. At one moment, you can find 7- and 8-year-olds rollicking with laughter at Roger McGough, the "saint of poetry", in one marquee, while next door friends participate in a session by Amnesty International asking how would you feel if you were taken away from your family and friends, or if someone you know suddenly disappeared?

The best of Scottish children's literature is represented, with more than half the shortlisted contenders for this year's Scottish Children's Book Award appearing: Julia Donaldson (Charlie Cook's Favourite Book), Simon Puttock (Little Lost Cowboy), Kenneth Steven (The Sea Mice and the Stars), Joan Lingard (The Sign of the Black Dagger) and Debi Gliori (Deep Water).

Top writers come to Charlotte Square Gardens from all over Britain, Ireland and further afield, names such as Nick Butterworth, Tony Ross, Eoin Colfer, Meg Rosoff, Ian Whybrow, Philip Ardagh and Julie Hearn. Tony Robinson, best known as Baldrick from the Blackadder television series and as a Time Team presenter, is making his debut at the festival with The Worst Children's Jobs in History (ages 9-11).

Adult authors crossing over into children's fiction seems to be something of a theme this year. Jeanette Winterson's first foray into novel writing for children has resulted in Tanglewreck, a sophisticated adventure exploring time travel and quantum physics, about an evil, power-hungry woman who steals time and wants to rule the world (ages 8-12).

Alexander McCall Smith, better known on the adult's circuit, is back with his first children's book for 10 years, Akimbo and the Snakes (ages 7-9), about a boy who lives on an African game reserve.

Parents, too, can soak up that carefree joy of children's books and reminisce about their youthful years spent reading Enid Blyton. The author's daughter, Gillian Baverstock, will be talking about growing up with one of the literary world's most famous mothers and the real life inspirations behind her characters and adventures, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the publication of Malory Towers.

Another family event that bridges the generations is the doyenne of children's literature, Shirley Hughes, talking about her best loved characters, including the enduringly popular Alfie, who is 25 this year.

Also for all the family is an event hosted by Francesca Simon, former children's laureate Anne Fine and First Minister Jack McConnell. The three will discuss their most admired heroes and villains from their favourite children's books and explore the allure of goodies and baddies.

For older children, Fine has her own event talking about her latest novel, The Road of Bones, a bold drama set in the oppressive regime of Stalinist Russia (10 plus).

A debate on climate change, a teen reading discussion and a workshop with musicians Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy from Franz Ferdinand talking about how they write lyrics, are three of the events designed to appeal to teenagers.

Meanwhile, in the schools programme, 60 events will cater for pupils of all levels, and dozens of primary schools will attend the annual gala day on August 29.

"We're trying to cater for a diverse range of interests and ages and to keep the programme fresh and vibrant," says the programme director, Karen Mountney, Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 12-28, tel 0845 373

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