Katie Bond is Publisher at the National Trust and previously worked as Publicity and Marketing Director at Bloomsbury. Ahead of the first National Trust Children's Book Festival in March, she explains the importance of bringing books alive for children to encourage and inspire them as the next generation of writers.
My Dad worked in publishing, pricing children’s books as luck would have it, so raiding his briefcase after work almost always yielded books. I read my way through everything Collins published for children in the 1970s & 80s and am thrilled to have reissued ‘Apple Pigs’ by Ruth Orbach, my favourite picture book of that era, and finally met the author. I don’t remember ever meeting an author until I met William Boyd on my first day working in publishing at Sinclair-Stevenson. His charm and eloquence brought his work even more vividly to life. Last year I was struck afresh by the disconnect between books and authors in children’s minds when my 8 year-old daughter Ivy stared at me in amazement: “What, Jacqueline Wilson is alive? Now? A real person.”
When I joined the National Trust as publisher in 2014, my top priority was launching a list of children’s books (which we are now doing this spring with Nosy Crow) and starting a Children’s Book Festival – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kidsbookfest The National Trust has half a million family members and looks after 350 houses. Books and authors can play a powerful role in connecting children to British nature, wildlife, conservation and history – the core purpose of the Trust.
In 2016 we are celebrating 150 years of Beatrix Potter with the first ever National Trust Children’s Book Festival at Wray Castle in the Lake District (4-6 March). We are hugely grateful to the children’s authors and illustrators - Axel Scheffler, Cressida Cowell, Philip Ardagh, Benji Davies, Sophy Henn, Steve Antony, Jo Empson, Christopher Lloyd, Malcolm Judge, Phoenix Comics, Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton– who are taking part. What I hope is that many more National Trust properties will join in next year so that by 2018, children can follow up World Book Day at school with a nationwide National Trust Children’s Festival Weekend. That connection with schools is at the heart of what we want to do. Our first children’s book festival at Wray Castle begins on Friday 4th March with a schools day. None of the local primary schools has ever had an author visit so this will introduce every child to two authors, not to mention some fantastic Squirrel Nutkin raft-building and running around with our Rangers in the grounds of Wray Castle on the banks of Lake Windermere.
Why does it matter? Because talking about books brings reading alive and stimulates more reading. Adults flock to book groups, literary festivals, online chats and author Q&As. Meeting an author and asking a question creates a personal connection. I soon lost count of the number of people on Joanna Trollope’s book tours who thanked her for understanding their predicament and felt that she was writing the book especially for them. For a child who is struggling to read, the charisma and humour of an author event and the power of a book personally dedicated and signed, can be the vital catalyst for enjoying that first book. For bookworms, meeting an author and realizing that people write books and talk about writing books for a job could be the lightbulb that heralds a new generation of writers.