Like most bookish folks, I’ve been missing literature festivals terribly this year. There is nothing quite like seeing familiar faces brought together for the love of books. The catch-ups over coffee, the scribbling of notes during a panel, soaking in every word of your favourite author as they sign your book, the in-depth conversations with pals at the end of the evening, that exhausted but elated bus ride home; it feels like a lifetime ago. We’ve witnessed a lot of festivals make the incredible shift to virtual events. It’s been such a delight to be surrounded by book enthusiasts again through these online festivals. An unexpected but truly lovely joy within it all is those moments of connection as festival audiences talk to each other and comment on the event live in the chat rooms. The sense of connection that the Irish literary community offers is precious and so important to keep alive, and nowhere is it more prominent than in the children’s literature community.
What better way to celebrate this than with an online children’s book festival?
This year was a hugely significant one for children’s books in Ireland. Not only is it the year of publication for the latest books by many beloved children’s writers and illustrators, but it also marked the debut titles of many writers and illustrators at the beginning of their career. From picture books to non-fiction titles that will help you raise your own little bookworm, the children’s literature community in Ireland is thriving. The team behind WonderFest wanted to reflect that.
Founded by Sarah Webb and in association with Pavillion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, WonderFest is a brand new digital book festival taking place this weekend, the 20th-22nd November, boasting 28 events with over 60 artists – a wealth of Irish talent, including Eoin Colfer, Oliver Jeffers, Laureate na nÓg Áine Ní Ghlinn, Derek Landy, Paul Howard & Gordon D’Arcy, Judi Curtin, Chris Judge, Chris Haughton, Mary Murphy and many more.
All events are live (with some pre-recorded elements) – giving children all over Ireland (and the world!) the chance to interact with their favourite writers and illustrators, and in particular to engage with new Irish children’s books published during 2020.
This innovative event will be Ireland’s first fully digital children’s book festival, and is being run by a crack team of children’s writers and illustrators, hand in hand with Irish publishers and bookshops and with the support of Children’s Books Ireland. A true team effort!
It’s been such a – dare I say – wonderful experience being involved with this festival. There are some incredibly talented and diligent people behind this festival, determined to make it great and enjoyable for all. Children’s author Eve McDonnell has, rightly, earned the title of Spreadsheet Queen for all the fantastic organising she has done scheduling and liaising with a dozen people at any given time. Writer/illustrator Mary Murphy has gifted us with the most adorable logo that expertly captures the sense of excitement and wonder that this festival is all about. Illustrator and technical wizard Alan O’Rourke has crafted a beautiful website in the blink of an eye (and has been so helpful to the rest of us who haven’t quite adapted to Zoom culture just yet). There are so many more brilliant children’s literature enthusiasts behind this festival that you can read about on the website but there is one person who is at the heart of WonderFest.
Sarah Webb is a pillar within the children’s literature community in Ireland. At a virtual coffee morning hosted by Children’s Books Ireland, it was noted that so many excellent children’s books that were published this year didn’t quite get the spotlight they deserved; no school visits, no signings at bookshops, no in-person launches. While most people, myself included, would concur and move on, Sarah took the initiative to instigate, develop, and deliver the festival that is so desperately needed. She rallied writers, illustrators, booksellers, and all-round enthusiasts together and has been a constant source of encouragement for all involved in the festival. She has always been a champion for children’s books, a never-ending source of support for writers and illustrators, emerging and established alike. The creation of WonderFest is no less than an inspirational reflection of her work ethic, generosity with her time, and her passion for children’s books. We are so lucky to have Sarah Webb in this community and to experience this dedication she has for it through WonderFest.
There has been so much excitement in the lead up to this festival. The authors and illustrators leading the events have gone to great lengths to decorate their rooms with WonderFest posters and bunting, there has been so much exciting engagement on social media, and there has been heart-warming news that the festival will be welcoming a number of international readers who otherwise would never be able to attend an event with their favourite Irish writers and artists. It has honestly been an honour to have had a small part in making this festival and I’m so excited for everyone to enjoy it.
WonderFest will kick off with a full day of school events and workshops on Friday 20th November, followed by a fun-filled weekend for story-loving children aged 0-12 and their families Saturday 21st-Sunday 22nd November, packed with all kinds of creative events for the whole family to enjoy together from the comfort of their own homes.
(c) Ruth Ennis
Photos of kids (c) Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
WonderFest Logo (c) Mary Murphy