Chapters and verse;Arts

7th May 1999 at 01:00
If you want to do something out of the ordinary for the National Year of Reading, why not start the school year with a trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival, writes Gillian Macdonald.

Where can you meet Mairi Hedderwick and Katie Morag, J K Rowling and Harry Potter or poets such as Brian Moses and Michael Rosen under one awning? The Edinburgh Book Festival is where, and this year's schools' programme, inserted in today's TES Scotland, has a host of well-loved names to appeal to teachers and children this August.

Parents from outside Edinburgh must find it exasperating to note so many events that would more than merit a trip to the capital, then discover they all take place during the working week. But as festival director Faith Liddell points out - schools are encouraged to bring groups of children whose families couldn't or wouldn't dream of coming. And, of course, there are weekend events.

So what will teachers find this year that could justify a lengthy coach-ride with 30-60 over-excited children? There are almost 40 sessions at Charlotte Square between August 23 and 30 , running Monday to Friday at 10am, 11.30am and 1.45pm, each lasting about 55 minutes.

This is the first year under the festival's new sponsor,Lloyds TSB Scotland, which is guaranteeing the event's future by providing pound;20,000 a year for the next three years. As the schools' guide, sponsored by The TESS, stresses, authors and illustrators are happy to talk to children informally after their events, and to sign copies of their books in the enormous children's book tent - one of the largest children's bookshops in Scotland.

So, as well as meeting Hedderwick, Rowling and Rosen, children can talk to Joan Lingard, Julie Bertagna, Theresa Breslin, Benjamin Zephaniah, Gillian Cross and Michael Morpurgo. Primary 1-3s can play Ready, Get Set, Alphabet games with Anna Nilsen, who gives teachers ideas to take back to the classroom, or find out about the everyday life and games of a Nigerian child with Ifeoma Onyefulu, author of A is for Africa.

P4-7s can "chase the dream" with Tim Bowler, winner of last year's Carnegie Medal with River Boy, learn the importance of measurement to science with Jack Challoner, author of the Start-up Science books, or write their own poems with poet and short story writer Chrissie Gittins. "If you can talk, tell lies or make it up, you can write," she insists.

Older classes can learn how to create their own comic characters with comedy-writer turned children's author Catherine McPhail or attend an Amnesty International workshop on 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Secondary teachers should watch out for the main programme, published in June, which will include names such as Iain Banks, Liz Lochhead and Janice Galloway, and will this year introduce special offers for secondary school groups.

The festival atmosphere, with tents and tepees, ice creams and fizzy drinks, and performances by skilled communicators can help entice any child into the world of literary delights. It could also bring teachers and pupils up to date with contemporary writers and serve as an appropriate treat for the National Year of Reading.

Booking forms in the school guide must be in by May 31 and will be dealt with on a first-come, first-served basis. Further details from Jen Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival, tel 0131 228 5444


"When the chance came to write and illustrate my own stories I knew they would be about the child that I always wanted to be.

She would have red hair, wear wellie boots ... and live on an island surrounded by the excitement of the sea. There would be no buses or trains and the timetables that go with them; only a boat, weather permitting, to bring letters and parcels and occasional visitors from the mainland.

I would know everyone on the island - there would not be many people - and they would know me. I would have endless adventures exploring the island always knowing that the island looked after me.

I found the island one day. Every child knows exactly where it is."

Mairi Hedderwick "Katie Morag Comes to Edinburgh" (6-9 years), Monday August 23 "What lessons have you had, Megan?" Mum asked as we sat down to tea. "What have you found out today?" I hesitated and the two little blue lines on the pregnancy testing kit seemed to dance in front of my eyes. I wanted to say: "I found out that it's possible to be pregnant yet still have periods. How about that for finding something out?" "Oh, nothing much," I said instead. "Quite boring really."

Mary Hooper "Megan's Secret" (12-15 years), Thursday August 26

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