Books are fun
David Schembri

Doomsayers have been forecasting the death of books for years but St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Valletta is out to prove them wrong with the first international festival for children’s literature.

Bearing the name Ħarba which is a children’s game called Tag, the festival is aimed at showing children what fun books can be.

In one of the interactive sessions led by author Trevor Zahra and musician Alex Vella Gregory, children were bouncing up on their seats, asking questions to the face behind the name who has written so many children’s stories throughout the years.

Questions ranged from whether Trevor Zahra was rich or “normal” – he isn’t rich financially, he says, but doing what he loved made him rich – and what his favourite food was.

The author’s answer to that was: “I’ll eat everything except mice. Does anyone eat mice here?” and the students replied with a thunderous “No”.

Afterwards, Mr Vella Gregory, playing the piano, gave an impassioned rendition of a nonsense poem.

“The point of all this is to break away from the notion that literature has to be didactic, that you have to learn something. Books are fun; it doesn’t matter if you read it all or if you read the end first as long as you enjoy it. Learning then will follow,” Mr Zahra says.

The festival includes other sections, such as a writing workshop led by mother-turned-writer Rita Saliba, whom the children know through her contributions to the Senduq book series.

Bouncing restlessly on the red seats in the centre’s cinema, the writer cooks up a story about an urchin who wanted to organise a party, and then asks the children for suggestions, because as she says, she’s “stuck”.

Shannah, 9, from Mġarr, loves books and her face lights up when asked about them: “I really like books; they’re very interesting and beautiful.” In her bag she carries a copy of folk character Ġaħan, which she has just bought from the bookshop at the centre.

Lee, from Xemxija, is already quite selective about his literary tastes.

“It depends what kind of book it is; my favourite author is Roald Dahl, I like him because he has a lot of imagination.”

He’s still not sure what his favourite Dahl book is, because he still hasn’t read them all, but right now he’s “reading the book about the clever girl with magical powers”.

Whatever that book may be, in the age of mass media, children’s books have not yet lost their capacity to enchant and enthral and entertain children of all ages.

The festival is open today and tomorrow morning, Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and tonight between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.

Entrance is free and open to everyone. For more information visit

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