Kinderboekenweek (or children’s book week, in English) is a Dutch book event which started in 1955 and continues successfully to this day. The event happens annually, over 10 days, starting at the end of September and continuing into October. What makes Kinderboekenweek different from similar events is that the festival is celebrated throughout the Netherlands, not just in one city. This means that book outlets all over the country welcome young readers, inviting them to read more, to meet new authors, and to develop an enriched passion for stories and books. The bookstores provide special programs, refreshments and entertainment, to create a welcoming atmosphere for youngsters. Also, if a child spends more than €10 on a book, they receive a gift from the bookstore. The evening before Kinderboekenweek begins, a book ball is held at the music venue, Aan Het Ij (Amsterdam), and many famous writers attend.
The Kinderboekenweek celebration venues range from bookstores to book deposits (organized by the Dutch National Railway, or “NS”) at the Utrecht and Amsterdam train stations, where you can swap one children’s book for another at the station. Plus, this year, five fantastic children’s book authors read from their own books at the stations. In schools, children often dress up in character costumes, for example, as Willy Wonka or Alice in Wonderland, to name only a few. And libraries all participate in the week with storytimes, readings, etc. A few years ago, the Dutch National Railway even ran a special train dedicated to Kinderboekenweek.
Boekhandel van Rossum, a Dutch-English community bookstore that is at the heart of the literary community, and located in the leafy urban suburb of the Old South (or “Oud Zuid”), opened its doors and invited children at all ages and stages of childhood in. Babies, toddlers, and school-age children all gathered in van Rossum’s garden, or within the children’s section of the bookstore. It was a hive of literary readings and storytelling!
A canopy was set up in the garden and author, Mina Witteman, read from her children’s book, Boreas and the Seven Seas (or, Boreas en de zeven zeeën). The story is about a young boy (Boreas) whose parents decide to sail around the world. At the start, Boreas is totally against going, but after some convincing, he does agree to join his parents. At the start of the trip he is totally bored onboard, but as the story unfolds, he gets into all sorts of mischief. His best friend, Merel, even joins in and sails with him during the summer holidays. At the end of the holiday, Boreas’ parents ask him to choose between returning to the Netherlands to live with his grandparents, or to continue sailing with them... There is plenty of action and suspense throughout the book.
The next storyteller at van Rossum was the renowned children’s writer, Edward van de Vendel, author of A Dog Like Sam Sam in Winter (or, Toen Kwam Sam & De Raadsels van Sam). The first story is about a young boy who finds a dog and wants to keep it, but his father wants to find out where the dog came from. Father and son embark on a journey, and they finally locate the original owners, who don’t care much for the dog – they were only keeping him because he was a working dog, able to herd their sheep. So, they give their permission to transfer ownership of the dog to the boy and his father. But, the neighbours of the dog’s original owners are jealous, because the dog is very good at sheep herding and they wanted the dog for themselves. So, one evening the neighbours set out to kidnap the dog from the new family, but their young son hears a noise, then follows, rescues and returns the dog. And so, the tale continues... It is a lovely story for young and old, and quite moving; I felt myself getting emotional about the dog, as I listened to the tale.
Dear reader, I know you might be wondering why I would include a Dutch event in an English blog post. I did so because there are so many things about this festival that are special, but what is truly palpable is the deep community spirit that it generates; there is just so much passion and enthusiasm from the children who experience it. Not to mention the huge amount of work that volunteers, booksellers, writers and even teachers do to keep the Kinderboekenweek tradition going. This is one Dutch autumn festival which continues to be supported and loved by those who get involved.