Last month, eleven Irish children’s writers and illustrators jetted off to Cologne to take part in the city’s annual children’s book festival. Each year the International Book Weeks team, consisting of the SK Stiftung Kultur, the Cultural Office of the city of Cologne, the Public Libraries and the Catholic Libraries of Cologne and the JFC media centre, choose a country to focus on for the festival, and this year was Ireland’s turn.

“Enchanted Ireland” ran from 2nd to 17th June and celebrated the very best of Irish literature for children. Some of Ireland’s finest children’s authors and illustrators took part in the festival, including current and past laureates Niamh Sharkey and Siobhán Parkinson, PJ Lynch, John Boyne, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, John Connolly, Oisín McGann, Judi Curtin, Sheena Wilkinson, Terry McDonagh and Malachy Doyle.

The festival opened with an exhibition of artwork from the invited illustrators and a performance by the puppet theatre group Branar. Over the two weeks, the authors and illustrators ran workshops and, with the help of a skilled team of interpreters, bilingual readings in schools and libraries across the city. As German children start to learn English in primary school, language barriers were not an issue. The kids seized the opportunity to practise their English and needed very little help from the translators. They even got a taste of the Irish language, with Malachy Doyle and Siobhán Parkinson reading to them as Gaeilge! Ten classes of schoolkids attended screenings of Irish films which were shown parallel to the readings and workshops, and on the last day Caroline Schreiber, a well known German author, read from Gulliver’s Travels.

By all accounts the festival was a wonderful celebration of Irish children’s literature – well done to all involved, and best of luck for next year’s festival, which will focus on children’s literature from Brazil!

Read what some of the authors had to say about this year’s festival on their blogs:

Niamh Sharkey

PJ Lynch

Oisín McGann

Terry Mc Donagh

Children’s Literature expert Robert Dunbar was also invited, here’s what he had to say about the festival:

“An invitation to spend four April days/nights in Cologne and to participate in the city’s 2012 Children’s and Young People’s Book Festival was not something to be turned down. Chances of a refusal diminished even further when it became clear that the main purpose of my journey would be to talk to a group of some sixty teachers, librarians and children’s publishers about Irish children’s literature (the focus of this year’s Festival) and, in particular, about the work of the eleven Irish writers and illustrators who would be visiting the city in June. It is very difficult to imagine any children’s literature event which, in both its formal and informal aspects, could have been better organised or more enjoyable. Energy and enthusiasm on the part of our hosts were visible everywhere and special mention must be made of the indefatigable Ursula (Uschi) Schroter and her intern assistant, Monica Hennecke, whose good humour, patience and attention to detail were unending. It was wonderful to meet so many people from the Cologne children’s literature world who matched their passion for books with such generosity of spirit: my thanks to them and to CBI for including me in the line-up.”


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