• 32 years of BookFest


Thora Howell is one of the original volunteers who pioneered the festival

Thora Howell is one of the original founding volunteers who pioneered the festival and has been involved in every aspect of the festival during it’s 30+ years.

The Vancouver Island Children’s Book Festival (BookFest) has a long history on Vancouver Island. In 1986, a group of local teachers from School District 68, booksellers, and librarians organized the first BookFest in Nanaimo, BC. “Seeds for the festival were sown in 1986 when Darlene Forest worked with the Parksville-Qualicum School District to co-ordinate a Canada Council reading program to bring eight writers from across the country,” says Thora Howell, one of the festivals founding volunteers. “That first program enabled every child in the district to meet an author.” When it was over, Sharon Luttrell, the festival’s first co-ordinator, said “We can make it bigger and better. I believe we could have a marvellous annual festival.”

Malaspina College joined as a sponsor the following year, providing a central site, advertising and registration for the festival – all free of charge. Storytellers Bill Richardson and Sarah Ellis, authors Janet Munsil and H.J. Hutchins, and puppeteer Michele Carrier were part of that first festival. Hundreds of children were able to listen and talk to authors one-on-one. They lined up to have their books signed, and enjoyed such festival events as bubble blowing, bookmark-making and musical acts. This very first festival set the tone for the many years to come.

Since then, BookFest has hosted over 150 of the most esteemed authors and illustrators from every part of Canada, including Quebec and the North. Over the years, festival attendance on the day of the event has varied from 450 – 1000. In addition, our outreach program reaches 6000- 9500 children in schools across Vancouver Island each year.

For our 25th anniversary in 2011, BookFest decided to make the move to downtown Nanaimo. Centered in the Diana Krall Plaza, and directly in front of the Harbourfront Branch of Vancouver Island Regional Library, the festival has thrived. We are looking forward to continuing this great tradition, inspiring children to read, write, draw, and develop their creativity, and continuing to show children how great our Canadian authors and illustrators are!

30th Anniversary – 2016

We would like to develop an online archive of images, articles, and other interesting things from BookFest’s long history. Please contact us with the subject line “Archive” if you have anything you would like to contribute!