Virtual book festival is a real page turner

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A virtual book festival on Mull and Iona has reached hundreds of schoolchildren.

Thanks to funding from the Scottish Book Trust, matched by Tobermory High School, youngsters of primary and secondary age have been enjoying Zoom sessions with authors, illustrators and storytellers as part of  2020 Book Week celebrations.

Despite Covid, classrooms across the two islands have still been able to take part in a programme of virtual events spread over two weeks, enjoying the love of reading and a good tale.

‘It’s great that we’re still able to hold events to celebrate books and reading, despite Covid, especially as I’m sure reading will have helped a lot of people, young and old, through lockdown,’ said Sue Penny, who was a librarian at Tobermory High School for more than eight years and came up with the idea for the first Mull and Iona Schools Book Festival last year.

Inspired by Tobermory Book Festival, which was cancelled this year because of the virus, Sue and teachers across the islands initially got together in 2019 for a school version to run alongside it and create a buzz about reading.

Applications to the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature funding to help bring authors and illustrators into schools were successful, but the pandemic meant the 2020 programme had to go virtual.

‘Last year when we didn’t have Covid we had authors coming in to run workshops and sessions which was great, but this year after getting the funding in January we had to do it differently and it has worked really well.

‘We’ve not had to worry about ferries and getting our guests from here to there on time and just in one school. Zoom has given us flexibility.

‘We’ll be putting in for funding again for next year and although hopefully we won’t be so strictly under Covid rules, I think we’ll be keeping Zoom for part of it.  There’s been plenty going on – I think we’ve managed to organise something for every pupil on the islands this year.’

Sessions for the 2020 Mull and Iona Schools Book Festival have included workshops with Chief Chebe taking pre-5s on an African storytelling adventure, he has also been working with students at Tobermory High School discussing prejudice and
discrimination.

Illustrator Kate Leiper has also been working with S1 pupils at the High School to create illustrations to the poem Flannan Isle, and discussing working as a professional artist with older students. Younger pupils have also been enjoying the magic by designing their own dragons with her.

Dervaig pupils, who last year studied Lindsay Littleson’s book Guardians of the Wild Unicorns and met her at an event at the 2019 festival, have been writing to her regularly ever since and for the 2020 festival online took part in a writer’s workshop with her.

Older primary pupils in the North of Mull joined a workshop with children’s author Barbara Henderson.

‘Our pupils have been studying and loving her book The Siege of Caerlaverock. It fits in perfectly with their topic on Scottish castles. Using some Historic Scotland resources they have made shields, horses and knights, along with catapults. They have even had catapult competitions to see how good their designs were,’ said Dervaig Primary School head teacher Tricia Evans.

Caption: There be dragons… Dervaig Primary School pupils with their dragon drawings after a virtual workshop with illustrator Kate Leiper
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