Everyone’s favourite poet: Michael Rosen

It was standing room only in the big tent for the one and only Michael Rosen, and from the moment people started filing in – and Michael started directing the flow of traffic – he was just as warm, funny, brilliant and clever as usual.

Michael started out explaining to the kids that he was born at the end of the Stone Age, 3,071 years ago. (He knows it was the Stone Age because Michael Gove told him so. Don’t get him started!) Back then they watched rocks instead of television. Slept on rocks. Sat on rocks. Went to bed on a rock. You get the idea…

Soon enough a chorus of fans were joining in as he slipped seamlessly into some of his best and boldest poetry.

Michael: “We had a teacher who was so strict,
you weren’t allowed to breathe in her lessons
She used to stand at the front going,

Every child in the tent: “NO BREATHING!”

There were more joys to come from Michael’s Big Book of Bad Things and towards the end he even remembered to talk about his new book, Uncle Gobb and the Green Heads, before signing hundreds of copies – a warm smile and a quick word for everyone who waited patiently in line to meet him.

Images by; @LieselBockl

The magic of Hogwarts

Wands were at the ready for this hilarious one-woman Harry Potter fan show, led by the spectacularly energetic Fleurble Laffalott, super-assistant to the Professor of Potter. “Put two hands and your feet in the air if you’re a Harry Potter fan!” she roared, and every hand (and foot) in the Barnes Book Marquee was up in seconds. (more…)

Lost in time with Adrian Edmondson

ade 2 Not content with being a legendary comedian, actor, television presenter, amateur chef, director, and chart-topping musician, Adrian Edmondson is now trying his hand at children’s literature. Arno Bryant reports. (more…)

Top tips on writing mysteries from Laura Wood

Author and academic Laura Wood came to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival to talk about the third book in her ‘Poppy Pym’ mystery series. Sian Kissock went to pick up some tips.

Poppy was abandoned as a baby at a travelling circus, and in term-time she attends a boarding school. The series is about her rather unconventional life with her new family of circus performers. (more…)

Sit down with Jarvis

He goes by one name. Jarvis. He is the mind behind picture books like Mrs. Mole, I’m Home!, Alan’s Big Scary Teeth and Ready Set, Build!. And his impersonations of the characters he brings to life on paper are so wonderful in person that it’s hard to believe he has only been a picture book maker for three years. Nohely Gedeon meets him. (more…)

Incredible women with Kate Pankhurst

Author and illustrator Kate Pankhurst, a descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, brought history’s most incredible women to life with drawing, doodling, dressing up and inspirational words of encouragement! Bethany Park was there to find out more.

From the fly high tales of Amelia Earhart to the bold and vibrant paintings of Frida Kahlo, Kate  discussed some of her favourite strong female role models. She provided families with an exciting sneak peek into her book, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. (more…)

Make your own animation with Peter Bunzl

IMG_8138 (2)Animator and author Peter Bunzl’s series ‘The Cogheart Adventures’ was inspired by his fascination with automatons, explains Sian Kissock. (more…)

Ben Newman on becoming an illustrator

KidsLit_BNewman-6334The adventures of Professor Astro Cat have been a beloved series since the release of the first book in 2013, as indicated by the sheer number of kids at the workshop led by the books’ illustrator Ben Newman. But Ben’s journey has taken dedication and hard work, says Nohely Gedeon. (more…)

Magical knickers with Nicholas Allan

KidsLit_NAllan-6228 Kids and parents alike were  engrossed during Nicholas Allan’s magical talk on The Queen’s Knickers, says Sian Kissock.

Author of over 30 children’s books, Nicholas talked about magical illusion and his charming new book, all about the Queen’s best kept secret – what underwear she wears on particular occasions. (more…)

Francesca Simon’s sarcastic teenage goddess

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5988Francesca Simon, the author of the incredibly successful Horrid Henry series, talked about the Norse mythology that inspired her first piece of young adult fiction, The Monstrous Child. Arno Bryant reports. (more…)

Floella Benjamin’s words of wisdom

KidsLit_FBenjamin-6259“Childhood? It lasts a lifetime.” Baroness Floella Benjamin certainly knows a thing or two about how childhood shapes us into who we are today, says Bethany Park.

Families at this year’s festival were treated to an inspirational and moving talk by the 68-year-old baroness about finding consideration, contentment and confidence – no matter how young you are. (more…)

History galore with Lucy Worsley

IMG_8073 (2)Lucy Worsley has many strings to her bow – TV historian, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author – and she’s mixed them all by delving into the life of a young Queen Victoria, explains Sian Kissock.

Lucy engaged the enthusiastic audience through witty facts and mystery. Did you know being a historian involves reading memoirs which often have pages evidently torn out, or the words ‘burn this’ scrawled on them? (more…)

Robert Winston and the amazing human body

​World-renowned scientist and award-winning author, Robert Winston, gave a lecture on wonders of the human body to a sold-out audience at Barnes Methodist Church ahead of the release of his latest children’s science book, My Amazing Body Machine.

After the talk Professor Winston took some tough questions from children in the audience. (more…)

Lauren St John swaps gorillas for Barnes

_DSC8657LSJ“I spent Monday and Tuesday climbing volcanos with gorillas and it’s taking me a while to get used to being back here,” Lauren St John warned her audience before starting her talk. Arno Bryant reports. (more…)

Clare Balding gallops in

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5943 Clare Balding gave an immensely positive and amusing talk to the crowd on Saturday in the Book Marquee, reports Sian Kissock.

She started by introducing her first children’s book The Horse That Wouldn’t Gallop, enthusiastically discussing meeting the book’s illustrator Tony Ross for the first time earlier in the day. He had free rein with his work, bar the heroine of the novel, who Clare had already envisioned. (more…)

Going Dotty with Clara Vulliamy

KidsLitFest2017Day1-0187Clara Vulliamy talks to Nohely Gedeon about Dotty Detective and working with Shirley Hughes.

With over 30 years’ experience as an illustrator and author, Clara Vulliamy has brought to life many favourite characters and Dot from Dotty Detective is no exception. (more…)

Bid now on a Nicholas Allan original

Nicholas Allan talked to lucky attendees about his hilarious book The Queen’s Knickers this morning. He has kindly donated the picture he drew to be auctioned. It’s your chance to own an exclusive, original souvenir of the festival!

Please send your bid to or text 07909881459 by 5pm on Monday 15 May. The winner will be notified on Tuesday. Good luck!

Proceeds from the auction will be donated to support libraries at local primary schools.

Nicholas Allan auction IMG_3293

Morning tea with Marcia Williams

KidsLitFest2017Day1-0001 Marcia Williams endeared herself to the girls attending her morning tea at Sonny’s Kitchen, says Nohely Gedeon.

The author and illustrator of Lizzie Bennett’s Diary enthralled everyone – from the girls and their mothers to the event organisers – as she spoke of her works and the importance of keeping a diary. (more…)

Sarah Gibb’s top tips to create your fairytale world


Sarah Gibb has a special kind of talent, able to bring a magical mix of classic and contemporary fairytale imagery to live with the stroke of a brush, explains Nohely Gedeon.

She has illustrated work for authors like Jojo Moyes, Catherine Alliot and Holly Webb. Sarah’s illustrations of classic fairytales we grew up with – Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast – pull you in and enchant you with the vivacity and whimsy of the pages. (more…)

A Stick Man comes to life

IMG_2347Axel Scheffler is a multi-awarded winning illustrator best known for his work with author Julian Donaldson, in particular The Gruffalo. But that wasn’t how he was introduced by Sacha Joynathsing (pictured on Axel’s left, above). (more…)

Jamila Gavin’s blend of European and Indian fairy tales

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5913From cackling, wicked witches to blue-scaled snake princesses, some of the most traditional fairy tales have been forgotten over time. Bethany Park spoke to award-winning author Jamila Gavin about the extraordinary nature of fairy tales and their importance in reflecting a modern, multicultural Britain. (more…)

A hip hop journey with Ed Vere


Ed Vere introduced his new character Grumpy Frog to a packed hall, reports Sian Kissock.

The award-winning illustrator started by asking children what they love to draw. Answers ranged from big cats, dinosaurs and slugs to flowers, fruit and pirate ships. The audience read Banana together – a picture book about a monkey with a banana and another who wants it, but has to learn to say the magic word first. (more…)

Gareth P Jones’ ways to detect an alien

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5744 Award-winning author of the Pet Defender and Dragon Detective Agency series Gareth P Jones joined us at Barnes for a silly and hilarious song-filled event. He talks to Bethany Park about his love of detective writing, his Pet Defender series and how to detect an alien.

What is your favourite of the books you have written?

For older readers, Death or Ice Cream is definitely my favourite. But for the younger readers, I would definitely choose Beards from Outer Space.

Do you have a favourite character?

A character from my first books, which were about a dragon called Dirk. Your first books and characters are always going to hold a special place in your heart!

What inspired you to write children’s detective and alien novels?

I have always liked making stuff up, and I have always liked using my imagination. With most jobs it is not that good to be somebody who doesn’t necessarily tell the truth… so, I am better at this job than the other jobs I have previously done! With the alien genre, I think reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was probably my biggest influence. And with detective novels, well, I have always had a huge love of that genre. I used to make TV shows about detective writers.

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5748Can you give us three ways to detect an alien, and if we were to catch one, how we can eliminate it?

Firstly, aliens can’t tell jokes. They don’t have the same sense of humour, you see, so you could ask them to tell a joke – that is probably the easiest way. Secondly, the smell will help you detect an alien. They have quite a distinctive smell, but you might need a dog to sniff out whether it is an alien or not. And finally, squirt shaving cream at them because that could kill them!

How did you come up with such unique ideas for the Pet Defenders books?

I am actually allergic to dogs and cats so that did make the books particularly difficult to write. But I like the idea of something happening that we can’t see. We have this idea that our pets are sitting around not doing anything, but in fact they’re doing things that are much more extraordinary.


Images by; @LieselBockl

Radio host Christian O’Connell and his family of editors


Christian O’Connell swapped his 2 million radio listeners for a packed room of parents and children at the OSO Arts Centre to talk about his new book Radio Boy.

The Absolute Radio presenter’s first children’s novel is the story of a boy called Spike who, under the mysterious moniker Radio Boy, becomes a secret superstar radio presenter.

It’s Christian’s first foray into children’s literature and he told us that the book owed a lot to the work of his daughters-come-editors.

“Every chapter I would print off and they would go over with Sharpie pens and just pull apart,” Christian said. “We’d end up having really bad arguments. Sometimes I’d actually be really hurt, because you know you create this thing, and then they kick it to shreds.”

“But bit by bit there were fewer Sharpie notes and then finally there were no scribblings and that was when I knew the book was ready to go to the publisher.”

Not only did Christian’s two daughters help out with the editing, but also the fact checking.

“There’s was one bit where Spike was going to have a Facebook page for his radio show, cos everyone’s on Facebook these days, but they told me that no child his age would have a Facebook page so they took that out.


“If I’d left that in children would have read it and thought ‘yeah, but that would never happen’. Having that realness was really important to me.”

Christian told us that he’d already started work on a sequel to Radio Boy and hopes he’s learnt enough to avoid any more father-daughter editorial bust-ups.

“I’m going through it all again with the second book and luckily there’s a lot fewer Sharpie scribblings this time.”


Images by; @LieselBockl

Bid now on an original Axel Scheffler drawing!

Axel Scheffler drew Stick Man for entranced Festival attendees this morning. He has kindly donated this picture to be auctioned this weekend. It’s your chance to own an exclusive, original Axel Scheffler drawing!

Please send your bid to or text 07909881459 by 6.30pm on Sunday 14 May. The winner will be notified on Monday. Good luck!

Axel will dedicate the drawing to the winner. Proceeds from the auction will be donated to support libraries at local primary schools.



Libby Greenhill: our youngest author

Is Libby Greenhill the youngest author to appear at a literature festival? We had such fun listening to the eight-year-old today! She read fantastic fun stories from her book The Lost Bunny and the Worried Kitten to lots of families and eager kids.

Libby wrote her book to raise money for the RSPCA, and is already planning another one.




My Life in Books: Judith Kerr comes to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Judith Kerr - 2

It was a full house at The Olympic Cinema as legendary author and illustrator Judith Kerr took to her seat on the stage to reminisce about her remarkable life and books. Missed it? Arno Bryant brings you her memories of fleeing Nazi Germany, her love of Google and her stand for feline feminism.

Judith Kerr is one of Barnes’ most prestigious residents, having enjoyed a long career creating some of the most loved characters in children’s literature. Her book The Tiger Who Came To Tea is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time alongside her famous series of Mog the Cat stories.

Daughter of influential German theater critic and outspoken detractor of Hitler Alfred Kerr, Judith grew up amid the rising anti-Semitism of 1930’s Berlin and fled with her family just before the election of Hitler.

“We got to Zurich the day before the election and the morning after the election we heard that they had come to our house and demanded all our passports… My nearly 93 years are due to those two days,” Judith said. It’s a period in her life that would later inspire her novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

Judith Kerr - 1

Judith Kerr in conversation with Nicolette Jones, Children’s Book Editor of The Sunday Times.

She spent much of her time drawing while living in Switzerland and then France. She showed the audience a series of her childhood sketches, one of which showed a windmill on top of a Dutch mountain. “I was never good at geography,” she laughed, “it would be a good place for a windmill if they had a mountain.”

She later moved to London for Art School where she “learned to draw properly,” but she states that she now gets inspiration from an unlikely source, namely Google. “You can google ‘open mouth tigers’ and it comes up and shows you where the teeth are which you could never do before. You could wait for hours at the zoo and never see that.”

She then won a scholarship at London’s Central School of Art and Design where she officially studied illustration, but actually spent her time doing life drawing. “For nearly three years I’d sign on in the illustration room then go and do whatever I liked… but then one day some idiot bureaucrat decided we needed a diploma and must write a thesis which naturally I was expected to do in illustration, and I hadn’t done any. It’s the only exam I’ve ever failed in my life.”

Judith Kerr 3

She took a job at the BBC, where her husband Nigel Kneale was a screenwriter, later leaving to have her two children. It was when making up stories for her daughter Tacy that the idea for The Tiger Who Came To Tea was formulated. “She used to say ‘talk the tiger’ quite menacingly, which I found quite annoying cos’ I thought my other stories were perfectly decent as well.”

It would be five years later, when both her children were at school, that she found time to make the story into a picture book. Her next foray into picture books was the hugely popular Mog serious inspired by her own cat of the same name. “When Mog was translated into German they made her a tom-cat, and I said, ‘no she’s female’, but they said ‘such an energetic enterprising cat must be a tom cat’… so I thought, ‘I’ll show them’, so in the next book she had kittens,” Judith grinned.

Now 93, Judith hasn’t stopped writing or illustrating and her latest book Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, a story of a man and his friendly seal, is incredibly based on a true story. It’s testament to her extraordinary life that the revelation that her father once adopted an orphaned seal before taking him on a train to his home in Berlin, comes as little surprise to the audience.


Judith is currently working on a new book which, although she is yet to reveal the story, she confirmed she’s completed a number of pages for. Watch this space.



Images by; @LieselBockl



Abi Elphinstone takes us on a trip to Mongolia


Faraway places and beautiful landscapes… Malika Kingston joined the Festival audience for a photographic adventure as the author of The Dreamsnatcher and The Shadow Keeper shared her inspirations.

Energetic and inspiring, that’s Abi Elphinstone. Before becoming an author of magical adventure books she was a teacher. It took seven years and being told ‘no’ by over 90 publishers before her first book, The Dreamsnatcher, was published.

But persistence is key and sequel The Shadow Keeper followed.

Much like method acting, Abi could be described as a method writer – her research taking her to some of the most remote locations in the world. A Mongolian Eagle Huntress inspired a main character in one of the books she is researching. “It all started when I saw this photo,” she said clicking to a slide in her presentation that showed a 13-year-old girl sitting high up on a rock formation in tribal clothing and a big fur hat, beautiful mountains stretching out behind her. The girl had a big smile on her face as she released a golden eagle to hunt. “I remember seeing this photo online and thinking, ‘there’s a story behind this’.”


Not content to simply continue her research online, Abi decided she was going to look for the girl and find out exactly what that story was. This adventure took her all the way to Mongolia where she spent time with the Kazakh eagle hunters.

Her vivid descriptions, props and photographs of her travels had both the children and their parents hanging on her every word. “I’ve seen the northern lights ripping across the sky. And killer whales jump out of the water,” she told the audience.


As she continued to speak about her adventures abseiling into caves in Brazil and being circled by wild wolves, she made sure to bring it back to home. She reminded the children that although we live in a big world with many far away places to explore, there are also adventures to be had right in our back yards. “Look up and look out. Be curious and go on your own adventures,” she said, adding: “Although our world is quite broken, and lots of things go wrong and there’s a lot of sadness, it’s also beautiful. You have to just take that and not expect it to be perfect.”

It was a truly inspirational hour, and afterwards Abi posed for photographs with her fans, signed books and spoke to everyone she could.


Holly Webb’s return to the Secret Garden



She’s been named one of the most borrowed authors in the library. Now Holly Webb returns with a sequel to one of the most famous children’s books of all time. And brings another hit event at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, says Sagal Mohammed.

Best-selling children’s author and self-proclaimed reading addict, Holly Webb was welcomed to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival by an excited crowd as she discussed her latest release, Return to the Secret Garden, before creating colourful flower pots with her enthusiastic audience.

“The idea for the book came about five years ago,” she said of her follow-up to The Secret Garden, the much-loved 1911 classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett. “My editor and I were talking about our favourite childhood books and we both loved The Secret Garden…so she suggested I should write a sequel.”


However, being the creative genius that she is, Holly decided to add a special twist to her version of the story, setting it in 1939 – 28 years later than the original book. “I didn’t want it to be just another copy of the original – I needed to have something that made it my own, I needed new characters. What gave me the idea for the new characters was realising how old the children from the original book would be,” she said before reading aloud extracts from the book.

When asked what the most difficult part of penning a sequel had been, the editor turned writer – who’s written over 100 books and has been crowned one of the most borrowed authors in the library – admitted that she struggled to visualise the actual garden in the first book in order to write about it in her own. “The descriptions are very beautiful but they’re not very accurate in terms of what is actually in the garden, so I had to keep flicking through to pick out things she had said.”

Nevertheless, she described the process as “exciting and different” – just like the flower pot decorating extravaganza that followed.



Want to be the next Axel Scheffler or Garry Parsons? Top children’s illustrators share their tips

Illustrating children’s books is a notoriously competitive industry to get into. Given Barnes spent the weekend heaving with artistic talent it seemed only fair to garner some advice for anyone starting out. So we asked four seriously renowned illustrators for their golden rules for any aspiring artists.

“My Golden Rule is that anything that happens within the story should always be moving the story along. Characters should never have a conversation that doesn’t actually impact what is happening to them. Everything that happens and everywhere they go should always be furthering the adventure.” Lorenzo Etherington, of comic book duo The Etherington Brothers.


“If I’m not enjoying it, then the reader won’t enjoy it. So have enthusiasm and passion.” Marcia Williams, the illustrator behind Comic Strip Classics.


“I don’t have a magic formula, but I always tell people to look at a lot of art, go to museums and stay curious.” Axel Scheffler, creator of The Gruffalo.

Axel 3

“Just do it all the time or as much as you can. All you need is a pencil and your imagination.” Garry Parsons, whose latest works include Are You The Pirate Captain?


Compiled by Arno Bryant, Malika Kingston and Juliet Vandensteen