The Federation at 45

On November 9, in just a few days time, The Federation of Children’s Book Groups will be holding a Festival of Children’s Literature.

But why?

Because we wanted an appropriate way to celebrate the Federation’s 45th birthday!

And what more wonderful way than with a day where children and their families can meet some of the best authors and illustrators working today?

Julia Miller

Julia Miller

I asked our current chair, Julia Miller, to share with us her reflections on the Federation reaching 45, and here’s what she had to say.

In 1969, the Federation’s founder, Anne Wood, (later producer of the Teletubbies), was awarded the 4th prestigious Eleanor Farjeon Award for setting up the Federation of Children’s Book Groups one year earlier. And here we are, 45 years later, once more celebrating receipt of the same award in 2011, at our fantastic Festival of Children’s Literature on Saturday 9th November at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

Anne’s acceptance speech described the need in all of us, but particularly in our children, for stories. The Federation evolved from a desire from Anne and others to simply promote the enjoyment of stories – not just for those children for whom books were an inevitable part of life but for all children – by working with librarians and teachers so that a child’s pleasure in reading and stories would not be spoiled by a focus just on reading skills and literacy. Stories, she said, foster the dreams of childhood; to be involved with books for children is to be at the heartbeat of civilisation itself. Our first author of the day, David Almond, echoed this as Guest Artistic Director of the 2013 Bath Children’s Literature Festival:

“Children’s literature”, he said, “rather than being a marginal, hardly important thing, is at the beating heart of our culture”.

The Federation was set up to be run by parents for parents. A group could be five ‘housewives’ (well it was 1968) getting together just twice a year to do something about improving the local provision of books for children or it could be a full-blown committee with ambitious programmes of speakers and exhibitions and this lack of proscription still characterises the Federation today.

Over the past 45 years this loose confederation of parents has introduced highly innovative events, all with children, books and stories at their heart:

  • From 1976 National Share-A-Story Week (soon expanded from a week to a month) has celebrated stories at an amazing variety of venues – from the National Theatre to narrowboats, horse drawn caravans to steam trains, castles to the Royal Armoury

  • In 1981 the Children’s Book Award was set up to celebrate the books that children themselves love reading. It remains the only national children’s book award voted from start to finish solely by children. Currently the Red House Children’s Book Award, visit our free storytelling sessions based on this year’s shortlist during the Festival.

  • And this creativity continues to this day, with our most recent innovation: National Non-Fiction Day which was first held in 2010 and this year with a tremendous competition we’ll shortly be announcing with Chris Lloyd.

  • 45 years ago Anne called us ‘courageous souls’, carrying the beacon for reading into places where there were not enough public libraries, or school libraries or bookshops, for all children, regardless of background. At the inaugural meeting in October 1968 people raged against poor library and bookshop provision. Since then we have been lucky enough to live through a Golden Age of children’s books, but have we become complacent? Yet again we are seeing reduced library provision (except for the wonderful new library in Birmingham) and the wholesale closure of bookshops. We still need to rage.

    So what of the future? Everyone still needs stories to foster their dreams. Anne believed passionately that we cannot afford that the dreams of childhood should be crowded out by the workaday. In 1969, she called on all members of the Federation to stand together and share their belief in the liberated power of the imagination – the key to all achievements. As a celebration of our 45 years and in anticipation of many more years to come, all of us – parents, readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, bloggers… should stand together once more and share our belief in the power of the story.

    Books can change people’s lives.

    We hope lots of you will join us in celebrating our 45th birthday – we’re looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible on November 9.

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