Carol Ann Duffy, UK Poet Laureate and Creative Director of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, marked the official opening of the 2014 Festival yesterday with a touching address which included a recital of a poem written for her daughter.
In an eloquent yet concise speech, Carol Ann indebted her love of reading to “…a good local library which has now closed” and “…good teachers who would lend [her] their books to take home after school.” She expressed her gratitude to Manchester Metropolitan University for supporting her efforts in organising the Festival, saying: “I’m so proud to be associated with this University. It does seem possible at this University that you can achieve anything.”
These words were echoed by Professor John Brooks, Vice Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, who praised Carol Ann and the Festival’s organisers:
“Manchester Metropolitan University is very proud of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. It’s absolutely important to us that we maintain a balance between the arts, humanities and sciences. In particular, it’s important that we reach out to young people and stimulate in them the same love of books that we have. We’re so proud to work with Carol Ann Duffy on this project and I think it’s a wonderful success…The work that this Festival does absolutely exemplifies everything that a modern, outreach University should be doing.”
Professor Brooks alluded to the joy he experienced when attending previous Festivals with his own granddaughters. He highlighted the importance of capturing and nurturing young people’s enthusiasm towards literature at the earliest possible opportunity.
Other speakers at the official gala launch event, which took place in the Atrium Café of the Geoffrey Manton Building at Manchester Metropolitan University, were Dr Jesse Edwards, Head of the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Kaye Tew and James Draper, the Festival’s Co-Directors.
Jesse celebrated the student employment opportunities created by the Festival and praised the ways it benefits the wider community. Of the opening gala event, he said: “It’s really good to have a celebration event that brings everyone together and marks the Festival. It’s great for all the different stakeholders in the Festival to get a chance to meet each other.”
Kaye and James proudly announced that press office figures indicate the Festival has already reached over six million people through its physical and online presence. Despite this, James was keen to point out that,“…tonight is really just the beginning.” Kaye emphasised the importance of reaching as many children as possible, “…whether they can get here or not, it doesn’t make any difference to us.” One way the Festival is reaching out to children involves working with ReadWell, a charity which provides new books to children in hospitals who are seriously ill and cannot read used books because they are at risk of picking up infection.
The Co-Directors gave thanks to all the sponsors, partners, authors, performers and friends of the Festival. There was also pause to remember Suzy Boardman, a valued colleague and ardent supporter of the Festival, who passed away earlier this year.
Attendees included the incoming Lord Mayor of Manchester, Susan Cooley, and representatives from the Festival’s charity and corporate partners. One surprise guest was Cerrie Burnell, CBeebies presenter, author and former Manchester Metropolitan University student. Cerrie, who will be at Saturday’s Festival Family Fun Day, described the Festival as “unspeakably brilliant” and said: “I love that they’re trying to get books out there and make them accessible to everyone. I’m really thrilled and delighted to be part of it.”
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, creators of Oliver and the Seawigs, we also among the evening’s guests. Their infamous Sea Monkeys have become the Festival’s official mascots, so both were delighted to meet Ann Lam who, along with her daughter, Yasmin, knitted a collection of handmade sea monkeys especially for the Festival. These very special creatures were the star prizes in a raffle, held to raise money for charity.
Supporters were also treated to steel drumming courtesy of One Education Music and Bhangra dancing from the Punjabi Roots Academy. With around fifty public events set to take place in venues across Manchester over the next eleven days, this thoroughly enjoyable evening of music and mingling ensured the 2014 Festival started off on the right note.
To view the full list of events taking place during the Festival, check out the What’s On section of our website.