Our school recently played host to a week that will surely leave an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of all our students and staff. From the moment the doors of the school swung open to the world of literature, creativity, and imagination, The British School of Brussels Book Festival 2023 – “Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds” – transported our school into the realm of stories, words, and illustrations.
For an entire week, in a celebration of our One School ethos, the whole campus buzzed with excitement, as famous children’s authors and illustrators graced our halls, corridors, classrooms and outdoor spaces. The event brought the pages of beloved stories to life and filled the air with the whispers of creativity and the rustle of turning pages. It was a festival that celebrated the power of storytelling and the magic of imagination. There was also a great opportunity for fancy dress fun on Dress Up Day as students, staff and esteemed guests fully embraced the chance to come to school as their favourite literary character, adding even more colour and creativity to the proceedings.
Some of the most cherished names in children’s literature made their way to our school, and they did not just come to sign books; they came to inspire. The words of these esteemed authors resonated throughout the school. From Tom Palmer’s tales of courage on the sports field to Tom Percival’s heartwarming stories that teach us about empathy and kindness, our students had the privilege of engaging with authors whose words have touched countless lives.
Emma Carroll, known for her historical fiction that transports readers to different eras, shared her experiences of researching and writing. Olivier Award winning playwright, Jon Brittain, helped our post-16 students to write their own characters and settings, while Tom Schamp and Rob Biddulph brought their illustrations to life, showing our students how to give flight to their imaginations through art.
“It has been an absolute joy to be a small part of this wonderful festival,” said Emma. “Everyone has been so welcoming, and everything has been so well organised. All the authors I have talked with agree it is like attending one of the big literary festivals in the UK, such as Hay or Cheltenham.”
Author and illustrator Rob Biddulph, who held workshops and readings across the whole week, spoke in glowing terms of his interactions with the BSB students. “I have been blown away by the eloquence, confidence and level of interest I experienced during the festival,” he said. “Even the youngest students have been hugely engaging and have asked very interesting questions which have challenged me. It has been a truly inspirational experience.”
The festival also welcomed Taran Matharu, Sarah McIntyre, and Philip Reeve, who created worlds of fantasy and adventure, introducing our students to the wonders of creativity beyond the boundaries of the everyday. They spoke of the journeys that led them to become the authors and illustrators they are today, inspiring our young minds to dream big and to chase their passions. “BSB is one of my favourite places and one of the best festivals,” Sarah said. “Where else can you come and be greeted with walls adorned with drawings of yourself, and flattering ones at that!”
Elsewhere, the poetry slam, a standout event at the British School of Brussels Book Festival 2023, was a captivating spectacle, imbued with the infectious energy and enthusiasm of its host, the multi-talented poet, hip-hop artist, and author, Karl Nova. The Glade served as our poetic battleground, where brave and courageous students took the stage to share their heartfelt verses. Their words resonated through the audience, evoking rapturous applause that reverberated through the open air. The assembled judges faced a Herculean task, for each performance was a testament to the depth of talent within our school. Ultimately, they had the daunting responsibility of selecting a winner who embodied the very essence of the event: that honour went to Irene – a true poetic champion.
“What bravery, what courage and what talent beyond their ages,” enthused Karl. “I didn’t know what to expect when I was invited to this festival but whatever ideas I had have been eclipsed by what I have seen and experienced.”
In addition to all those mentioned previously, we were also fortunate to have the authors Sarah Crossan, Jean Luc Englebert, Marie Pavlenko, Leo Timmers, Momoko Abe, and Julian Sedgwick with us. Their unique voices and perspectives encouraged our students to explore the diverse realms of literature, opening doors to understanding and appreciation of different cultures and experiences.
Momoko Abe said that she felt extremely honoured be invited to the festival. “I want to say thank you very much for everything,” she said. “I have had a fantastic time. Having talked to my more experienced, fellow guests, I realise how lucky I am to get invited to this festival as my first international, multiple day festival. Everything has been so well organised, and I have been so welcomed and looked after.”
All our guests, along with students, parents and staff, came together on the Thursday evening to celebrate the Book Festival at our Author’s Night when many recited works, spoke about their craft and fielded questions from the audience. We were treated to a preview of the Secondary production ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and recitals from outgoing BSB Poet Laureate Bhargav and his successor Mihika.
For many the highlight of the week was the opportunity to meet and interact with these literary heroes, whether that was over breakfast in the libraries or during breaktimes when the authors generously made themselves available and our students confidently and eloquently approached their favourite authors and artists, asking questions, seeking advice, and leaving with autographed copies of cherished books.
“I have had so many stimulating conversations and I am genuinely sad to leave,” Julian Sedgewick said. “Your students are so bright, interested, informed and a joy to meet. I visit a lot of schools, as you know, but you have something very special here. It has been a wonderful experience that has really given me a lift and one which I will remember very fondly.”
This year’s British School of Brussels Book Festival 2023 was a testament to the power of stories to shape minds and hearts. It was a celebration of the written word and the images that accompany it, a journey through worlds both real and imagined. Most importantly, it was an inspiration for our students to read, to write, to draw, to create, and to imagine.
As we bid farewell to this unforgettable week, we were left with a treasure trove of memories and inspiration. The stories we heard and the wisdom we gained will continue to fuel our students’ creative pursuits for years to come and will provide our staff with the energy and insight to help them to further develop their skills.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to all the authors and illustrators who shared their time and talents with us. Their contributions have filled us with a renewed love for literature and a deeper understanding of the creative process. Their energy and enthusiasm helped the latest edition of the long-running Festival, introduced by our first principal Alan Humphries and continued by the much-missed Barry Sayer, to be yet another resounding success.
Here’s to many more years of nurturing the imaginations of our students and fostering a lifelong love of reading.