Amelia Lush, Head of Children’s and YA Programs, shares her highlights from the 2021 Festival. From teenagers moderating remarkable conversations to little ones listening to stories from their favourite writers and drawing along with much-loved illustrators, these are the special moments that will shape young reading lives. 

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From 100 years of Ginger Meggs to 50 years of Judy Blume to the 20th anniversary of Alison Lester’s Magic Beach, this year’s Festival program reminded us that the books we read when we’re young shape us as readers and people for the rest of our lives. And I was thrilled to see thousands of tomorrow’s readers join the Festival to celebrate and discover the stories that will shape them. 

The Family Stage was at the very heart of the Festival this year. The Big Backyard, a specially built stage and Russ the Story Bus took over Carriageworks, bringing to life a Festival playground of storytelling and creativity. 

Children enjoy being read to at Storytime Clubhouse

Bindi illustrator Dub Leffler plucked a wattle branch from a flower arrangement on his way to the stage, wowing audiences by producing an exquisite illustration of the flower while Bindi co-author Kirli Saunders read poetry and shared stories of Country, family and the land. 

Kirli Saunders reads Bindi as Dub Leffler draws a wattle branch 

Families drew dogs with Remy Lai, had their portraits sketched by Mick Elliot, shared stories with Sue Whiting and saw Sami Bayly bring beautiful illustrations to life. 

The day came to a close with the great trivia challenge from Nat Amoore that had kids on their feet – and on the stage – and saw more than 10 kids authors and illustrators going head to head to test the audience’s knowledge of all things books.   

Kids rock out on stage during Nat Amoore's trivia challenge 

Throughout Festival week and beyond, school students from across Sydney and regional NSW attended one of the many events intended to broaden their thinking and inspire a love of creative writing and reading. Paul Kelly shared his love of poetry while Tony Birch shared insights into the art of the short story. A host of exceptional YA authors, Zana Fraillon, Leanne Hall, Michael Pryor, Gary Lonesborough and Garth Nix, invited high school students into their creative process, imparting wisdom accumulated throughout their writing careers.

Primary School Days – the unmatched stadium rock tour of kids literature – entertained more than 6,000 children from Penrith to Chatswood, including two sold-out events at Sydney Town Hall. Jessica Townsend discussed her bestselling Nevermoor series and Emily Rodda spoke of the more than 100 books she has written for children.

Alison Lester signs a book for one of her many young fans 

Teens were front and centre at All-Day YA at the Festival on Saturday, taking a seat in the moderating chair and leading discussions on grief, love, family and identity with guests including Gary Lonesborough, Garth Nix, Zana Fraillon and Jenna Guillaume. 

Youth Curator Neva Mikulic speaks with Zana Fraillon, Leanne Hall and Cath Moore in This Is Going To Hurt

Across the Festival, over 10,000 children and teenagers listened, learnt about and expressed themselves through stories. I hope each of them carries those memories, and those stories, throughout their lives. 

Children explore Russ the Story Bus