Page-turners every one of them

8th August 2008 at 01:00

As another August leisurely rolls in, another book festival is about to unfold in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square Gardens. Central to the story, of course, are children.

The children's programme has grown in 25 years from 50 to more than 200 talks and events. This year, thousands of children, from those who have not yet celebrated their first birthday to teenagers, are expected to attend the festival to see, hear, laugh with, learn from and enjoy talks, workshops and events delivered by many of their favourite authors and illustrators.

Highlights include Goodnight Mister Tom author Michelle Magorian's first novel for 10 years, as well as exclusive looks at new books from Michael Morpurgo, Eoin Colfer, Andy Stanton, Jonathan Stroud, Anthony Browne and picture-book duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

James Jauncey, whose first children's book, The Witness, has been nominated for this year's Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book of the Year, will be giving fans a preview of his second thriller, The Reckoning, due out in November, while Francesca Simon will be joined by actress Miranda Richardson, better known to many as the voice of Horrid Henry.

Another major name, Terry Pratchett, is giving a one-off event in the main theatre, presenting 25 years of his fantasy series Discworld, while spirited mouse Angelina Ballerina, the creation of author Katharine Holabird, will be donning her tutu to celebrate her 25th.

An interactive puppet show starring Beatrix Potter characters will mark the centenary of Jemima Puddleduck, while Charlie Higson will launch the fifth - and possibly final - Young James Bond adventure, By Royal Command, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bond creator Ian Fleming. Other birthday celebrations include The Beano's 70th and Kipper's 18th.

Director of the children's programme, Sara Grady, who came to the post last year from heading children's events at Blackwell's bookshops, has had her first year in charge of programming. "I'm so excited to have been able to see it through from beginning to end," she says. "Last year I came halfway through, but this year I have been able to sculpt it. There were thousands of children's authors we wanted to invite. The festival isn't about anything other than children having a wonderful experience."

Big ideas that traverse different authors and age ranges are a thematic focus this year. "Stories from Around the World" brings an international flavour to Grady's programme, with more than 20 authors from every continent sharing the fables, myths and folklore of cultures past and present, while an inaugural art and design strand features top illustrators, animators, graphic novelists and filmmakers.

Following the success of the events suitable for older teenagers and younger adults last year, the series has been expanded to include events on graphic novels featuring Posy Simmonds, Dave McKean and Paul Gravett.

Paul Kieve, physical magical consultant on the Harry Potter films, will take his audience on a tour of great magicians past and present and Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble will present the first live performance of his new folk album. And in a new addition to the programme, Paisley-born comic book artist Gary Erskine, who has worked on Star Wars, Terminator and The Mask, will present a comic drawing masterclass.

Illustrators Axel Scheffler, Debi Gliori and Jessica Souhami will present We Are All Born Free, a picture-book collaboration from Amnesty International to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN declaration of human rights. "Every page-spread condenses a statement about a fundamental human right with an illustration from the world's premier illustrators," says Ms Grady.

"It's important that the festival has something for everyone. A huge number of kids are not interested in fiction but that doesn't mean that books and stories aren't relevant to them. We have non-fiction events about history, science, maths, magic and outer space."

Ultimately, she says, the festival is all about "books, stories, words and ideas that lift the spirit and open the mind".

Edinburgh International Book Festival, Charlotte Square Gardens, August 9- 25. T 0845 373 5888. Entry to the gardens is free.

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