One of Roland Gulliver’s goals in taking the helm of the Toronto International Festival of Authors was to develop a bigger children’s literature presence. He’s off to an ambitious start.
This year, TIFA is partnering with eight festivals including the prestigious Bath Children’s Literature Festival for the 2020 Reading is Magic Festival – which includes six days of robust, international programming. The events will be virtual and live-streamed Sept. 27 – Oct. 2, and will remain online for schools to access and incorporate into their lessons.
“In this new digital space, a lot of us are trying to work together and build,” says Gulliver, who was previously with the Edinburgh International Book Festival for 12 years. “It’s really a lot of collaboration, developing communities, sharing knowledge, and sharing ideas. Also, we’re getting creative and making the most of the fact that we don’t have to put an author on a plane.”
The Reading is Magic Festival is inspired by Cressida Cowell’s “giant to-do list.” The bestselling children’s author and Waterstones Children’s Laureate believes in every child’s rights to “read for the joy of it,” “own their own book,” “see themselves reflected in a book,” “see an author event at least once,” and “have a planet to read on.”
David A. Robertson, the headlining Canadian author at the festival with two kidlit books and a memoir out this fall, says Cowell’s list resonates with him. “Reading for the joy of it is vital,” he says. “If we don’t find joy in books, they won’t teach us all that they can teach us. A kid seeing themselves reflected in a book is probably what resonates most with me. That’s so empowering. It helps kids feel validated, seen, and important. Like they can be heroes, too. And that they aren’t alone or forgotten in any way. I never had that when I was a kid, and I love that an Indigenous kid, for example, can see an Indigenous protagonist, and feel strong in their own identity because of it.”
Robertson will do a pre-recorded presentation and reading, and then take part in an online Q&A. “There’s definitely a difference with these virtual events,” says the author. “I love giving kids high-fives after doing a reading or presentation. I love signing books, and arms, and hats, and ripped-up pieces of paper. But we need to find ways to come together now, in whatever capacity. I’ve been enjoying the virtual readings, presentations, panels, because it helps me to connect with readers in a time when that’s more difficult. It’s not the same, but it’s not bad either. I think the one thing that’s hard is most of the time people can see my face, but I can’t see theirs. I miss that.”
Other Canadian authors will be included in the festival’s panels and presentations, which Gulliver hopes will be used in Canadian schools and classrooms, as well as being seen by international audiences. “I’ve been struck since coming into this role by how engaged and articulate Canadian writers are about different issues, whether its protests, the environment, or representation and diversity,” he says. “The engagement and the conversation is quite dynamic and quite sophisticated, and I want to bring in these Canadian writers and have them discovered internationally.”
The full schedule of festival events will be available Thurs. Aug. 27 at the Reading is Magic Festival website.