The sun was streaming down when I arrived at Harrogate library, and I feared all my punters would have decamped to the Valley Gardens. But no: every seat was taken in the lovely events room.
I was there to talk about my latest book, and I was welcomed by a very keen group of child readers. Some of them had already researched the book; others asked penetrating questions about my own childhood reading: “Which Narnia book is your second favourite in the series?” They all did extremely well on my Rascals and Tearaways In Children’s Literature Quiz (sample question: Who was it that sailed away to where the wild things live?) We shared writing tips, the parents chuckled amiably, the powerpoint worked, my tea was hot and sweet...
This lovely event was part-hosted by the Harrogate Children’s Book Group – part of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG). This in itself gave me a warm feeling – for when I was an unpublished writer, and knew no other writers, and very few adults interested in children’s books, the FCBG was very important to me.
The FCBG is, as its name suggests, a federation of local groups. Some run author events, others discussion groups for adults: all of them foster a love of children’s books. They come together at their Annual Conference, publish a magazine Carousel , and also run the Red House Children’s Book Award, the first Book Prize to be awarded on the basis of what children themselves actually think about the books. Its child judges early recognised the quality of authors like Anthony Horowitz and JK Rowling, who went on to become household names.
The FCBG was founded 40 years ago by Anne Wood, whose deep interest in children’s later led to ground-breaking children’s TV, like Teletubbies. (To learn more of her story, listen to her recent appearance on Desert Island Discs). At that time, her main interest was as a parent – and I suspect parents still make up the bulk of the FCBG’s members.
I initially joined FCBG as an individual member, because there were no local groups close by – which at least meant I could get Carousel magazine, read the interviews and the reviews, and feel in some small way part of the world of children’s books. Later a group started close enough for me to get involved. We hosted events with authors such as Chris de Lacey and Jonathan Stroud, and I even helped out at a Jacqueline Wilson event: she wasn’t yet Laureate but she was already Royalty in the Children’s Literature world, with a stunning frock and feather boa, oodles of charm, and a whole team of minders to manage her queues of fans.
Through the FCBG I met other aspiring writers, and I got to attend the Annual Conference: three days of talks and workshops, of sitting up too late, and eating too much, while endlessly discussing our favourite topics: books, books and more books!
Life moved on, and for a while I was no longer directly involved in the FCBG. But that is something I have now put right. I have renewed my membership, and will be going along to events as and when I can. With libraries and independent bookshops under threat (as the last two ABBA posts point out) a network of people eager to sustain and nurture a deep interest in children’s books, and to find and celebrate the very best of them, is more important than ever before.
Long live the FCBG!
- On the 2nd December the FCBG was awarded an Eleanor Farjeon Award for its “outstanding contribution to the world of children's books”. Congratulations FCBG!
- check out Emma Barnes’s web-site
- Emma’s latest book for children is How Not To Make Bad Children Good