The Barnes Children’s Literary Festival is back this month with heaps of new workshops, authors and shows. Steph Siegle gets the lowdown from festival founder and director Amanda Brettargh.


Hugless Dougless

12 & 13 May 2018

The festival is in its fourth year and is London’s largest dedicated children’s literature festival – when do you start planning the programme?

It takes the best part of the year to organise and we’re a carefully curated festival. We’re always reading books and about books and talking to teachers, children and librarians, finding out what the most borrowed books across all age groups are, and from that we put together a programme that’s interesting and exciting.

What are the ‘firsts’ for this year?

We’ve grown from 60 to 80 events and you’ll always see something here that you won’t anywhere else. We’re hosting the London premiere of the stage adaptation of Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort, the Royal Academy of Dance’s Matilda Musical Theatre Workshops, Nick Cope will also be bringing his Family Song Book to London for the first time. And we also have an event with author Ross Montgomery; the main character of Ross’ new book Max and the Millions is deaf and a sign-language interpreter will be at this event, a first for the festival. We also have special programming for children requiring more relaxed performances in smaller venues. We understand that families all have different needs so we’re also running eight events at the Castelnau Community Centre in north Barnes, as we know not everyone can get to Barnes Green. Inclusivity is at the heart of what we do.

The festival takes place on 12 & 13 May, but opens with a new Education and Community Outreach programme on 10 & 11 May – what is this?

We want to ensure every child has the festival experience; if they can’t come with their families we hope teachers bring them to these events, they’re free to every state primary school in London. We look to give them the experience of live literature and hope it stays with them all their lives. We did a one-day trial of it last year, so have launched it as two days for 2018, next year it will be
three days and by 2020 we will have five days of this programme.

How can people get involved in the volunteer programme?

The festival is solely run by more than 100 volunteers, and we have people volunteering from all over Barnes, including the local charities. But we always need more volunteers; more hands mean we can do more and reach more families – people can approach us via the website. We’re proud it’s such a community event.

The festival is a who’s who of children’s authors; why do you think it attracts so many big names?

We’ve built ourselves as a credible addition to the festival circuit; part of that is down to research, knowing that author care is important, such as offering a green room and author chaperones. Plus, we pay the authors and illustrators according to Society of Authors guidelines, which not all festivals do.

MP Zac Goldsmith is the festival’s spokesman – how did he get involved?

To us, he’s a local dad and he and his family have always attended the festival. He came to our educational trial in the middle of election campaigning last year and said, after the election, he would help us.

What’s the dream for the festival?

Our dream is to look out onto Barnes Green and just see canvas all across it! My dream guests? They’d be JK Rowling and David Walliams – all I can say is, watch this space!

Where can people buy tickets?

Online at, at Barnes Book shop and the OSO Arts Centre. All profits from tickets sales go to local school libraries.

Programme snapshot

Confirmed authors and illustrators include Judith Kerr, Cressida Cowell (pictured), Frances Hardinge, Axel Scheffler, Andy Stanton, Tony Ross, Sophie Kinsella, Harry Hill, Dan and Peter Snow, Emma Chichester-Clarke and many more. Other events include Mischief & Mystery in Moominvalley Moomins show, Aardman Animations workshops and the Really Big Pants Theatre Company.