|Michael Rosen: mixing the Brighton festival cake. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian|
Michael Rosen: 'I'm the yeast in the Brighton festival cake'
As the Brighton festival gets started in the seaside sunshine, guest director Michael Rosen tells Michelle Pauli about his role and what he's most looking forward to in the children's books programme
Thursday 2 May 2013 14.44 BST
The Brighton festival, a three-week-long celebration of books, arts and culture by the sea, starts this weekend and this year it's guest directed by Michael Rosen, former children's laureate and much-loved author of We're Going On a Bear Hunt.
The children's books programme is jam packed with exciting events for kids, so the Guardian children's books site caught up with Michael to find out more about what's coming up and what he's most excited about. But, first of all, what exactly does a "guest director" do?
"We sound off," says Michael, firmly. "Children will be familiar with people who sound off. The Brighton festival team asked me what ideas I had. I talked about authors and events and performers I like and know of and then the children's team talked about the people they like and so it comes out like a cake, it's a mixture of things. I was probably the flour. Or the oil. Anyway, one of the elements. Eggs! No, baking powder – the thing that makes it rise. Bicarbonate of soda? Maybe even yeast! Yes, I was the yeast in the Brighton festival cake."
One of the ingredients Michael stirred into the mix is a theme – Germany in the 1920s, the years before Hitler rose to power, known as the Weimar republic. It was a golden, optimistic time for the country, full of creativity in the arts and culture, in contrast to the dark times that would follow under the Nazis.
"There's so much to celebrate and admire from that time. We forget that the awful period afterwards came out of an immense struggle between, if you like, the good and the bad – and the good was very, very good," explains Michael.
His favourite book, Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner, was first published in 1929, at the height of the Weimar Republic, and it's at the heart of the festival. Set in Berlin, it describes how Emil and his new-found friends foil a bank robber.
It is the Young City Read for the festival, read by children across Brighton (and beyond – anybody can take part in Young City Reads, wherever they live) and there will be an Emil day where Michael will talk about the book with Young City Readers. A 1935 film adaptation of the book is also being shown as part of festival.
"Emil emerged as the theme partly because it was my favourite book as a child and it's carried on being a favourite book of mine. I was delighted to make it a central focus because I think it speaks in many different ways to many different people. I thought it so wonderful that there's this little chap who's a bit of an outsider when he arrives in the Berlin and he's in a terrible state. He's done exactly what his mum told him he mustn't do, which is lose his money, and yet he teams up with these rough and tumble kids and in the end they manage to catch the person who's responsible for the theft. It was a thrill to read that as a child and bit by bit over the years I've realised that it's actually a very special book.
"It was the first time that children were central stage as detectives. Since then we're familiar with the concept – think Enid Blyton, think Anthony Horowitz, think Charlie Higson – and it is a great idea that children unlock the code, they find the badness in society, they find the bad person. And that's a very optimistic way of looking at children - that maybe we're not getting it right as adults and that children will."
But the children's festival is not just about Emil. Tying in with the young detective theme, Lauren Child, author of Charlie and Lola, will be talking about her super smart, super cool, code-breaking, wise-cracking secret agent Ruby Redfort.
Judith Kerr, who escaped Nazi Germany as a child, will also be at the festival, talking about her 40-year career creating children's books, including When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the Tiger Who Came to Tea. She is a living link with Weimar and her appearance is one of Michael's highlights.
"I'm very much looking forward to talking to Judith Kerr. She is someone very special who survived a great deal. She's provided the most wonderful books for children, for adults, for families," he says.
He's also looking forward to Laura Dockrill, a performance poet who has just published her first book about the adventures of Darcy Burdock - "Wow, what a stormer! It's wonderful to have the voice of someone as young and as funny in the children's books world" - Frank Cottrell Boyce, "hotfoot from the Olympics" and the "hysterically funny" picturebook author and illustrator Jon Klassen. Fans of picturebooks might also like events with Polly Dunbar and Chris Haughton, and if you know your snozzcumbers from your frobscottle and a fleshlumpeater from a Gizzardgulper then the BFG tea party quiz is for you.
This Saturday sees the world premiere of The Great Enormo, Michael Rosen's "Grand Festival Overture for three vacuum cleaners, one floor polisher, four rifles and orchestra", when he will be inviting the audience to help compose a theme tune for Mr Enormo Biggins' Great Fun Park, in a show that is both a children's interactive guide to the orchestra and a whirlwind tour of musical history.
There will also be free events, from outdoor theatre and music to exhibitions, throughout the festival.