t. s. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month,” but after six years in Beijing I am disposed to believe that March is not on our side either. Winter’s cold persists, city parks have long closed their outdoor skating rinks, and spring sports have not yet begun. The days run together as we are stuck in the apartment with unending schoolwork.
And yet, the kids and I look forward to March in Beijing like it brings a unique holiday. In a way, it does; every March, the Bookworm mounts its Literary Festival. Over two weeks, it hosts an international roster of authors, illustrators, and journalists. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience in our regular Western Pennsylvania lives, but it happens every year in Beijing!
We try to attend as many events as possible, even during the day. We are able to carve out so much time because of the flexibility homeschooling gives us. I can rearrange Myles’ and Brigid’s work over the course of the month to make attendance at the festival a priority.
But logistics are bit of a challenge for us. On a good day, the journey to Sanlitun from Changping takes 90 minutes by car or public transportation. Some evening programs push up against our time limits; the last subway to Nanshao, the closest station to us, leaves Xi’erqi at 11.05pm. Making this trip several times over the course of two weeks – with kids, no less – is exhausting, but once it is all said and done we are happy we made the effort.
Over the last few years, Myles and Brigid have collected memorable experiences. They have had the chance to meet the creators of some of their favorite books, such as Emily Gravett, the author/illustrator of the utterly charming Orange Pear Apple Bear and Monkey and Me, and Peter Brown, who unleashed upon the world Lucille Beatrice Bear, the pushy but well-intentioned protagonist of You Will Be My Friend.
The Literary Festival has also been a chance to encounter new favorite books. Myles first learned about Eoin McNamee’s The Navigator trilogy and Nick Earls’ linguistic adventure series Word Hunters at the Bookworm when both authors were in town. Our copies of these books are now as well-worn as Myles’ copy of The Hobbit.
Some of the authors and illustrators have left lasting impressions, too, when they have discussed their craft. While Myles was already a little older than the target audience for It’s a Miroocool, he was attentive when the illustrator, Ann James, shared tips on composing pictures for a story. In a similar vein, Brigid was too young to have read Alison Lloyd’s historical fiction but she listened so intently to her workshop that she was able to write a short story set in the Qin dynasty based on the author’s prompts. Months later, Brigid still quotes Lloyd when she works on stories. “Who are your characters and what do they want?” Brigid asks, echoing the workshop.
Last year was a particularly exciting Literary Festival for us. One of our oldest friends in China, Adam Minter, spoke at two events for his book Junkyard Planet. The kids were thrilled that we actually knew one of the festival authors before his Bookworm appearance.
Once again this month, we will be easily spotted at the Bookworm Literary Festival. It is our best antidote to what would otherwise be a difficult March.
About the Illustrator
Ella Malibiran (age 16) is in Year 12 at the British School of Beijing, Shunyi (BSB). Originally from the Philippines, she has been living in Beijing for four years. Ella is currently taking standard-level IB Visual Arts. For university, she plans to combine her main interests: graphic design, photography and film, and business.