Scribblers is a new annual festival celebrating children’s literature. It has been developed as part of FORM’s Creative Learning Program, which aims to equip children and young adults with the skills and confidence to approach the challenges of our changing world. The festival spans five days – a three day schools program followed by the weekend family program – and features author talks, writing and illustration workshops, a podcast series, and hands-on activities to foster learning through creativity.

Pelican was lucky enough to speak with Scribblers Festival Director Katherine Dorrington about children’s literature, the magic of storytelling, golden feathers and the upcoming festival. 

What are you trying to create with Scribblers Festival?

We are celebrating a love of storytelling and the magic that can be found in a book. We wholeheartedly believe that sharing stories with one another is one of the most important elements of a healthy society and we want to inspire young people to find the stories that matter to them.

Why is Junior Fiction and YA so important?

Books are SO important for young people and junior fiction and YA fiction is particularly important as it provides a space where young people can explore who they are, find stories that resonate with them and help them understand their place in the world. There are so many pressures put on young people these days and books offer freedom – a place of escapism, a place to find people similar to them, and a place where magic still exists!

What inspired you to create this kind of festival?

This festival is the natural evolution of a project that FORM is currently working on, Creative Learning, which aims to equip young people with the skills they need to approach the challenges of a changing word. Through the Creative Learning program, FORM have been working with artists to put them in a series of schools to measure the impact creativity has in building resilience, lateral thinking ability, agency, literacy and many more things. Scribblers Festival is the public celebration of the ideas represented in this program, providing a moment where families and young people can celebrate books, art and creativity.

I’ve had the opportunity over the years to see firsthand the way children’s eyes light up when they listen to a masterful storyteller share their work or get to meet their literary hero. It is incredibly rewarding being able to facilitate these experiences and to introduce kids to a vast range of exciting creators.

Events like these are important nowadays, when it seems near impossible to get children excited about reading books. What are your thoughts on this and how do we continue to inspire children to read? How do we help teachers, parents and caregivers to promote reading over the use of new technologies?

We’ve talked about this a lot at Festival HQ and we’ve come up with an idea that we think sprinkles a bit of magic across the state and encourages kids to connect with books. As our Festival mascot is a fabulous owl (designed by brilliant local illustrator Andrew Frazer) we’ve gone a bit mad creating feather bookmarks that our owl has sent to libraries across WA. We’ve sent out 10,000 plain feather bookmarks to be hidden in children’s and YA titles in libraries and among these thousands of feathers there are a few special silver and gold feathers that will win their finders a prize. Basically it’s a state wide treasure hunt that encourages kids to visit their local library!

Technology can also be helpful for literacy and inspiring imaginations. What is a good balance? Are there any new technologies surrounding children’s literacy and literature that you would recommend?

I definitely think we have to be mindful of having a balance between technology and reading and to remember that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We would hope that the storytelling techniques that kids learn from reading are then transposed to their interaction with technology – for example this might be creating comics or graphic novels using apps. Many of the sophisticated online games have strong narratives and this is an area that I think we will see even further development.

Can you talk about some of the activities that are planned for Scribblers Festival?

Scribblers Festival is a place for young people to meet some of their literary heroes and listen to them give readings, talk about their inspiration or watch them bring their illustrations to life. Alongside this series of talks we will have a number of hands on activities that kids and their parents can do together, from creating haiku poetry from cut up words taken from old books, to contributing to a collective cartography artwork that is being created over the Festival. There will be workshops to create beaded brooches, make a comic or create poetry with a slam poet. We will have a podcast series run by young people, they will be interviewing authors and illustrators in the program from our Conversation Caravan and we will have room for an intimate audience to listen to those conversations as they happen.

You’ve mentioned that your festival is accessible to many – How so?

We are very lucky that we are situated right next to Claremont train station which allows easy access to the festival for families from across Perth. We’ve also kept our Family Program predominantly free which I hope encourages as many families as possible to attend. Because we are located in a metropolitan area we are spreading our influence across the state so that children and young people across WA can engage with the Festival through our Golden Feather competition and we will also have a podcast series that will feature some of the conversations that take place during the Festival that will be available for people across Australia to access.

How important is storytelling in our current culture?

In my opinion it is vitally important, storytelling helps us connect with each other, it helps us see life from a different perspective and encourages empathy. All things that are essential for a healthy society.

Scribblers Festival runs May 9-13, and the Family Program will be held at The Goods Shed in Claremont. For more information visit: https://www.scribblersfestival.com.au

Vanessa Karas
Literature Editor