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Bookniks: A festival of football, treasure and adventures

Angela Kiverstein previews the annual Bookniks festival of children's books at JW3 on Sunday.

    Knowledge is power, even at the age of ten,” says Alex Bellos, co-author with Ben Lyttleton of the Football School series. At Football School, every lesson is about the beautiful game. There is drama (mimes); chants (history of folk music); chemistry (of the paint on the pitch); biology (ever wondered about footballers’ wee?); geography (apparently it explains why Brazilian players play differently); physics (of the ball); media (how to write a match report); modern languages and more.

    “There’s nothing in the world that can’t be explained through football,” says Bellos, who will deliver four humorous football-linked lessons with Lyttleton at Bookniks, the one-day children’s book festival at JW3 on January 28, preceding the grown-up litfest of Jewish Book Week.

    “We are passionate about getting children reading,” says Bellos, “so it’s great for us to be part of a festival that shares the same beliefs. Reading can make you more confident, happier, more successful. Football School is that book Ben and I would have wanted to read when we were eight to 12 years old — what we’re doing is telling kids all the stuff your parents didn’t know.”

    This Bookniks will have a Tu Bishvat theme, as the new year for trees is a few days after the festival and organiser Susannah Okret says she is thrilled to be involved in “doing our bit to help to plant the seed of enthusiasm for books”. The event will include a Tu Bishvat storytelling session from PJ Library and Tiger Boat Theatre.

    Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton
    Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton
    Also reflecting the tree theme is a Session of Silliness, celebrating the late Shel Silverstein, poet, composer, cartoonist and screenwriter. Claire Berliner, arts and culture programmer at JW3, developed the show many years ago. “We decided to revive it for Bookniks, particularly because The Giving Tree is Shel’s most famous story.” She promises “lots of poems and stories and songs and silliness”.

    Other author events feature Judith Kerr, creator of the tea-devouring Tiger, introducing her latest book, Katinka’s Tail and Emma Carroll, talking about her Second World War novel, Letters from the Lighthouse, in which an evacuee becomes involved in the rescue of Jewish refugees. The book was in part inspired by online clips of Holocaust survivors talking about the Syrian refugee crisis.

    “Their humanity and compassion was incredible. It got me thinking about how we need to learn from the past and understand that refugees aren’t opportunists but people often fleeing for their lives.

    Stories, says Carroll, have an important role to play in this. “Fiction helps children connect with the human, personal side of the situation in a non-threatening way. It helps create empathy and understanding for another person’s plight.”

    She researched the book through online interviews, books, archive material and first-hand accounts from evacuees. “I’ve always loved the type of story where children get sent away from their parents — it gives them more freedom in the plot. When I started considering a wartime book I found so many intriguing little bits of social history that I hoped children would love. I was writing it during the year of Brexit and Trump’s election and was very concerned about the consequences of bigotry and hate. Sometimes the past feels a safer, clearer place to use as a mirror for the modern day.”

    Also at Bookniks are Irving Finkel, author of The Lifeboat that Saved the World, a Noah-like tale from Mesopotamia and Raphael Honigstein, whose Big Book of Treasures casts light on items from Aztec gold to the lost Jerusalem Temple menorah.

    Drop-in sessions include crafting bookmarks (for age two up) and comic books (age five up), as well as musical creativity for under-fives with Jungle Jam’s Louise and Noam Lederman.

     

    For Bookniks tickets, www. jw3.org.uk

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