Sunday was Youth Day at the festival and everywhere I looked there were kids clutching books. I remember how much I loved reading when I was a kid and how much books meant to me: they offered me a secret world of my own, taught me about life and how other people thought and, more than anything, how to imagine. I decided to talk to some kids about reading and why they’ve come to the festival.
I meet Quinn, age nine, in the autograph line for ABC3’s Amberley Lobo and Kayne Tremills. I confess to Quinn that I’d never heard of them until about 20 minutes ago when Festival Director Candida Baker informed me that the duo are a big deal; a huge deal even. Quinn agrees: “They’re really funny! They’re good at presenting and keeping the kid’s attention – and they’re energetic.” I had just seen them bouncing across the stage impersonating butterflies so I understood what he meant.
According to his Dad, Quinn “devours books”. Quinn breaks it down for me: he read a 600-page book over the last school holidays and on average can finish about one and a half Deltora Quest novels in a month. I tell Quinn that I’m a bit out of touch so he explains the world of Deltora to me and that the characters go looking for gems, namely Diamond, Emerald, Lapis Lazuli, Topaz, Opal, Ruby and Amethyst. He likes fantasy and is currently reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I nod in recognition and he looks relieved that at least I’ve heard of that.
Six-year-old Camille also just got an autograph. She’s holding a copy of Very, Very Pearlie, signed by the author Wendy Harmer. She hasn’t read it yet since she just bought it but her grip and grin show excitement. Camille tells me that her favourite book is The Audrey of the Outback. She says it’s about “a girl named Audrey that wanted to do something because something was scaring her little brother”. I ask her what happens next but she’s not sure. “It’s a thick book,” she says.
Standing next to Camille in line to meet Alison Lester, is Kate, age nine. She reads “every night and every morning” but doesn’t have a favourite book because it changes all the time, although she’s a big fan of Enid Blyton – especially The Naughtiest Girl series.
Brother and sister Finn, nine, and Freya, seven, love reading. Finn says, “It’s entertaining and fun.” He’s into fantasy and adventure and his favourite is “probably Percy Jackson”, who, he explains, writes about “Greek gods and stuff.” Today he’s really looking forward to seeing Kayne and Ambo and Alison Lester because “they’re funny”.
Freya says she reads “lots and lots”. She’s looking forward to reading all the Harry Potter books one day but at the moment is reading a story called The Talking Fish. I ask her what the fish says. “The big fish are bullying it,” she explains, “and it gets bigger and bigger so it can bully them”. I ask Freya what her view on poetry is. She says she likes it, a bit, and then tells me about a “poetry song” she wrote about her brother Finn. It goes like this: “Finn, Finn, quite a bin, he likes to be a pin. He pins stuff on the wall, he pins stuff on the floor, he puts stuff in the bin cause his name is Finn.” Freya smiles up at me proudly and says: “I made it up”.
I see a group of children reading books to two beautiful dogs. A woman called Lenna explains to me that they are part of a group called Story Dogs, which helps kids with reading difficulties improve their skills by reading books to dogs. I actually feel tears brewing as she passionately tells me about the organisation and how the loving and non-judgmental nature of dogs helps the children. I sit down with the kids and Simba and Sooti the dogs for a while and I start to like the world again.
My last stop for Youth Day is Wendy Harmer’s session. She’s talking about her book Very, Very Pearlie, which is all about fairies and obviously a huge hit. Little girls of various shapes and sizes, dressed in pinks, florals and rainbows, are draped all over the stage, gazing at Harmer in rapture as she talks fairies. The girls have questions: what do fairies eat? “They’re vegetarians, or flowertarians,” says Harmer. “You wouldn’t see a fairy sit down and eat a chop”. Do they eat fairy floss and fairy bread? “No because it’s bad for their teeth and bad for yours as well.” Do they drink coffee? “No! It causes them to hyperventilate and move their wings too fast.” Do fairies get along with animals? “They’re not very fond of birds because they eat them,” says Harmer. “Especially seagulls because they tend to think fairies look a little bit like hot chips”.
The session runs over time and Harmer explains that she’s got to go and catch a plane but the girls refuse to let this fairy forum end. A little girl, maybe three or four years old, rolls onto the stage. In a tiny voice she tells Harmer that she’s seen a fairy. It was in her garden, wearing orange and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The audience, including Harmer, melts. Obviously, the plane can wait.