If you build it, they will come: creating a new online children’s book festival

Award-winning children’s writer Sarah Webb explains the how and why of WonderFest

What happens when you give 12 children’s writers and illustrators too much coffee on a virtual coffee morning? They go and create their own online children’s book festival called WonderFest! With 29 different events for families and schools, tickets are already flying out the door.

In September Children's Books Ireland held a virtual coffee morning for writers and illustrators. The attendees talked about the challenges they were encountering this year – no book launches, no festivals, no school or library visits. No opportunities to meet our readers or to sell any books at events. No trips to sign new books in bookshops.

Rather than focus on all these nos we decided we’d do something positive to support children’s writers and illustrators this season – we’d build our own online book festival, a festival celebrating and promoting Irish children’s books, especially those published in 2020. We put together a festival team and allocated roles.

As a festival programmer with over 20 years' experience I took on the programming role. I contacted about 60 children's writers, illustrators, editors, agents and experts and asked them to get involved. They pretty much all said yes, even extremely busy artists like Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer were happy to get involved.


It’s a festival built by artists for artists, and it has been a learning experience for us all. We are all children’s writers or illustrators, published or emerging and we are all volunteers.

Alan O'Rourke built the website, Eve McDonnell is our spreadsheet queen. Mary Murphy designed the festival's jaunty whale logo and Ashwin Chacko edited the videos for social media. Patricia Forde offered to chair a whopping number of events and Alan Nolan produced design work, including a timetable. Tara McDarby bravely took on all the social media, Muireann Ní Choíbháin helped with digital training, and Una Woods, Dawn Nolan, Alan Nolan, Nicola Pierce and Áine Ní Ghlinn continue to give help and support.

We launched in late October and tickets went on sale in early November via Pavilion Theatre who also stepped in to pay all our artists – a real gesture of solidarity and support. Children’s Books Ireland came on board with advice and administrative help. It truly has been a team effort.

It’s been a huge amount of work but it has also been a positive, life-affirming experience for all of us. We have made new friends and learned new skills through setting up the festival. We have meetings on Zoom every Tuesday night, and there are often phone calls and meetings at other times, and most of them involve a lot of laughing and even some singing. It has kept our spirits up and kept us all connected during an uncertain and difficult time.

We have pooled our skills to create something wonderful and we are all proud of that. Ticket sales are strong, with many of the school events already sold out. But there are plenty of family events still available to attend. We hope to see you there.

Let’s celebrate children’s books together!

WonderFest Highlights as Recommended by Sarah Webb

When Eoin Colfer Met Oliver Jeffers – Sunday , November 22nd

Two creative powerhouses, will talk about their books and their friendship with award-winning children’s writer, Patricia Forde. Eoin and Oliver are terrific speakers, honest, funny and always entertaining. Together they will be dynamite! It’s our closing event and one not to miss.

Discover Books of Wonder – Satur, ay November 21st at 7.30pm

One for the parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles. I've gathered together some of the Ireland's top children's book experts, including Lorraine Levis, children's book columnist for The Irish Times, Sara Keating, children's reviewer for The Irish Times and Trish Hennessy from Half Way Up the Stairs children's bookshop for this extravaganza of recommendations. Expect to leave with a list of great reads the length of your arm!

The Skeleton Detective Talks: Live Book Chat and Q and A with Derek Landy –, Saturday November 21st at 4pm

If you’ve never been at a Derek Landy event you are missing out! I’ve been to hundreds of children’s books events over the past twenty-five years but none of them top his event in the RDS where over five hundred fans listened to him talk about his work and queued patiently for hours to meet the great man himself and get their books signed.

We can't replicate the experience of meeting Derek in person, but we can give his readers a chance to see him live on screen and to ask him questions. He'll be in conversation with David O'Callaghan from Eason, one of the funniest men in the book business. Prepare for an hour of tall tales and laughter!
WonderFest takes place online, November 20th to 22nd. Information and tickets via wonderfest.ie Sarah Webb is an award-winning children's writer, creative writing teacher and festival programmer. Her latest book is The One with the Waggly Tale: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood, with Steve McCarthy.