Yesterday, my daughter (who is four) and I drove up to the Telling Tales Festival which was held at Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton, Ontario. This is a festival of books, readings, meet-the-author, and other entertainments (puppet shows, musical performances) for children.
I generally dislike attending festivals in the vicinity because they are mostly the same: food trucks (always the same food trucks), junk you can purchase at varying tents (always the same junk), live music (usually cover bands, nothing I personally would actively seek out) and banks and other institutions pushing themselves on you while they paint your child’s face.
The Telling Tales Festival, concentrating on literature and the performance of words, stands out. Yes, there were food trucks and junk, but there was much else, i.e. books overflowing for purchase and exchange, to far outweigh the redundancy of the typical just-something-to-do festival. Also, being held at Westfield Heritage Village, there was a historical learning experience always readily available. The staff, in full costume, were kept busy explaining settler customs and habits (at least the quotidian and inoffensive ones) by the constant stream of attendees.
Usually I wouldn’t write about such an excursion as I tend to focus on poetic events more closely related to my own writing practice. There were, I noticed, the Hamilton Youth Poets performing, which I unfortunately didn’t get to hear–but it was something else which I noticed as I listened to a few different authors speaking which prompted me to write this.
While my daughter and I were able to make it to four different readings/literary performances, it was the talks/readings of Andrew Larson who read A Squiggly Story (Kids Can Press 2016) and Ted Staunton who read Harry and Clare’s Amazing Staycation (Tundra Books 2017) which encouraged me to comment here.
Both authors, as I mentioned, read one of their recently published books to a group of children and their parents, but it was the talks they gave beforehand which I found most interesting. Each author had brought along an artifact from their youth: their first book.
Both, I believe, created in school, one in elementary, and the other, if I remember correctly, later on. Both authors, promoting reading, writing, and the accessibility of the possible, presented their DIY books of youth and spoke of how they lead and related to their current careers as authors. I easily related–I also have my first book among a huge box of old journals. Stranded, by Sacha Archer (I got a B+). What I appreciated most was when Larson showed a simple way to make a DIY book out of a single sheet of paper, passing on the knowledge/tools to the children (and parents) to set them on their way–and the legitimization of created works which do not enter an institution, in this case, publishing.
One of my immediate thoughts was the relation to the small press communities, zine culture, and the doors such avenues open when we realize that we don’t have to rely on the acceptance of institutions to create and share important work. How many of those children who sat right before me will grow up to write? One or two might eventually build their own small presses. Sowing the seeds. Yes, this festival was different (and no banks harangued me!).