The GeoDome was filled with the excited chatter of Christchurch school children this morning as The Press Christchurch Writer’s Festival kicked off with the Read Aloud Schools Programme. Children from around the city got the chance to come along and listen to stories from three of our best local writers, Gavin Bishop, Kate De Goldi, and Rachael King.

Kate De Goldi was up first and she told us all about her new book, that’s coming out in October, called The ACB with Honara Lee. Like her other novels, her latest story is set in Christchurch, and the Beckenham Loop in particular. She describes it as an ABC book within a story, that’s set in an old people’s home (hence why the title is slightly mixed up). Kate came up with the idea after our earthquakes left cracks, not just in our roads and homes, but also in our community. This got her thinking about the cracks in the memories of old people. Kate found the idea of setting an alphabet book in an old people’s home interesting, because it’s putting something that is very orderly in a place that certainly isn’t. The main character in the ACB with Honara Lee, Perry, is a girl who wants to have younger people to hand out with (rather than just her boring parents) and less to do after school, but she ends up making friends with the old people at her grandmother’s rest home.  Most can’t remember her name or the ABCs, but they know she always brings good baking.  I love Kate’s books, especially The 10pm Question, and I can’t wait to read this interesting new story.

Local legend, Gavin Bishop, talked about how he finds himself looking back into the past more and returning to his childhood when writing and illustrating his stories. Gavin grew up in Kingston in the 1950s, where there were only a few houses, a school (with only 12 students) and a pub. He has captured some of his memories of his childhood in Kingston in his wonderful book, Piano Rock. He read one of the stories from Piano Rock, the only story in the book that he ‘made up’ and told a funny story about his younger brother, who his parents found in the cabbage patch.  Gavin also brought along his tattered old teddy bear, who used to follow him everywhere when he was growing up.

Rachael King is used to talking to large groups of adults at book festivals, but this was her first time talking to a whole audience of children. After asking that the children laugh at all her jokes, Rachael told us about her wonderful new book, Red Rocks. She mentioned that she dedicated the book to her two young boys, and when she excitedly showed them the dedication, they were more interested in getting back to Cartoon Network. Rachael is fascinated by the myths of the selkie (seals that shed their skin on land and become human) and so she decided to write a selkie story set in New Zealand. Red Rocks is one of my favourite books of 2012 and you can read my review on the Christchurch Kids Blog.

The children who came along for the session really enjoyed meeting the authors and hearing all about their stories.  My favourite part of the morning was seeing crowds of children queuing up to get their autographs at the end, and hearing several children begging their teachers, librarians and parents to get copies of the books that were talked about.  Thanks to the organizers for a great event!