Celebrating a Decade of Literary Wonder: Barnes Children’s Literature Festival Launches Largest Free Schools Programme in England

In a world where the magic of books often competes with the allure of digital entertainment, the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival stands as a beacon of inspiration and literary wonder. This year, the festival not only celebrates its illustrious ten-year anniversary but also marks this milestone with a significant leap forward. The introduction of England’s largest free schools program is set to ignite the imaginations of over 15,000 primary school children across London, offering them an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the world of stories and illustrations.

Barnes Children's Literature Festival

The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival celebrates its ten-year anniversary by launching its largest ever London Primary Schools Programme, which will offer over 15,000 places this year, completely free, to state-maintained primary school children all over London, making it England’s largest free schools’ programme. 

Celebrating a Decade of Literary Wonder: Barnes Children's Literature Festival Launches Largest Free Schools Programme in England 1

This extraordinary initiative showcases 27 free events over nine days, featuring a stellar lineup of authors and illustrators, including UK Children’s Laureate, Joseph Coelho. The program begins its journey at The Rose Theatre in Kingston and weaves through iconic venues like The Lyric Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre, culminating in a grand finale on Barnes’ Green. It’s a literary odyssey that connects young minds to the heart of storytelling.

This will be followed by the Genesis Cinema in Tower Hamlets (23 May), The Lyric Theatre Hammersmith (11 June), Battersea Arts Centre (12 June), Wandsworth Civic Centre (13 June), Twickenham Stadium (14 & 17 June), and finally on Barnes’ Green on 20 and 21 June. For the first time, the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith will open its doors for the festival’s school programme, and the Battersea Arts Centre will also provide 1,800 new free places for primary schools in Battersea, Brixton and Lambeth borough.

The ever-popular school’s programme will launch its booking link to teachers on Thursday, 22 February and features the superstar creator of the How To Train Your Dragon series, Cressida Cowell, Carnegie Medallist, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the Blue Peter Children’s Book Prize winner, Vashti Hardy, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winners Dapo Adeola and Sharna Jackson and the British Book Award winners S F Said and M. G. Leonard, among many, many others. 

Celebrating a Decade of Literary Wonder: Barnes Children's Literature Festival Launches Largest Free Schools Programme in England 2

For over 90% of the children that attend these events, it is their first experience of live literature; over 30% of them are eligible for Free School Meals, and sadly, over 20% do not own a book of their own.  

Barnes is the UK’s only national literature festival that is entirely organised and delivered by over 150 unpaid volunteers. Festival Director Amanda Brettargh says ‘great pride’ comes from delivering what has become England’s largest free literature festival Schools Programme.  The Festival was honoured to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2021, the highest award for volunteering in the UK, with a special citation for their ‘At Home’ online edition during the pandemic.

At Barnes, we believe in the magic that happens when children meet the authors and illustrators they love and the lasting impact that this can have. Because we believe that every child should have this opportunity, we provide our Primary Schools Programme free to every state-maintained school in London.  It’s what keeps us going and growing: every year, we want to reach more schools than ever before, and one day, we hope to be able to offer our Programme free to every state school pupil in London.

Amanda Brettargh:

The Festival is presented in partnership with St Paul’s School, the University of Roehampton and Waterstones, who will act as booksellers. 

The London Primary Schools Programme will be followed by the Festival’s public weekend beside beautiful Barnes Pond on Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23, with over 100 family-friendly author events, workshops, performances, and free activities. The full programme will be announced before tickets go on sale in April.

More information on The London Primary Schools Programme 2024 can be found here: https://www.barneskidslitfest.org/schools/

Highlights of The London Primary Schools Programme 2023 can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WicSjbgrZds 

We’re so lucky to have the Festival as part of our community. We look forward to it every year and the children – and teachers too! – leave inspired by what they’ve seen and heard. One of my fondest memories of the festival was when I brought my Y4 class along to see Lucy Strange. They were entranced watching a living, breathing author talk about reading and the writing process, and completely starstruck when they got to have their books signed. Then, to cap off a glorious afternoon, when we returned to school, all they wanted to do was read! Some sat at their desks while others laid on their tummies on the carpet, and we proceeded to have a blissful 45 minutes where everyone was lost in a book – including the teacher!

Barnes Primary School, SW13

The children have been so inspired by Onjali Rauf’s talk on the refugee crisis that they are planning to do something in school to raise money. This was such a relevant talk for our children as we do have refugee families in our school and community and it is timely to have raised awareness of their situation. On top of this, they are all keen to read her book!

Lionel Primary School, Brentford TW8
Celebrating a Decade of Literary Wonder: Barnes Children's Literature Festival Launches Largest Free Schools Programme in England 3

The children were very excited about seeing themselves represented with a South Asian Muslim author (Zanib Mian). It made them want to read the series, that is, read for pleasure. We shared the author and her books in assembly with the school to encourage others to read them too.

Stepney Park Primary School, E1

I wanted to express my heartfelt gratitude to you! It was a fantastic occasion, and the kids completely enjoyed themselves! You have provided our children with an unforgettable experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Thank you very much!

Clara Grant Primary School, E3 

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