Schools workshop at southbank centre

Southbank Centre Imagine Children’s Festival 2020

Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival returns just in time for half term starting 12 and ending 23 February 2020.

Get ready for 12 days jam-packed with the highest-quality international children’s theatre, music performances, literature events, comedy shows, creativity workshops, family parties, hands-on activities and lots of free family fun for all those aged 0 – 11 and their grownups.

Imagine Children’s Festival takes over the 17-acre cultural quarter on the banks of the River Thames for its nineteenth year, dedicating the February half term to families enjoying and discovering all kinds of art and culture together. 

Literature, storytelling and children’s access to books have always been a prominent theme of the festival and 2020 is no exception with authors including Michael Rosen and Robin Stevens.

Michael Rosen

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and now this timeless classic makes its way to Southbank Centre with the critically-acclaimed stage production of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This year children can also journey through J.K. Rowling’s much loved Harry Potter series with Fleurble Laffalot as they learn fun facts about the Harry Potter books and witness some of the key elements of life at Hogwarts.

Bloomsbury cover art for harry potter and the goblet of fire, illustration by johnny duddle

Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell hosts Creating Magical Ideas, a panel discussion with high profile guests about creativity and as they reveal the secrets behind their own inspiration.

creating magical ideas cressida cowell and friends

Children’s authors Katie Tsang, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Sharna Jackson explain the wonderful things that can happen when you find yourself in a story, in a conversation with writer and former CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, who is also the current BookTrust Writer in Residence.

Cerrie Burnell

One of the UK’s best-loved broadcasters, The X Factor and BBC Radio 2 presenter Dermot O’Leary introduces his third children’s book Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe alongside illustrator Nick East.

Dermot photo_credit Ray Burmiston_Toto and Silver illustrated_credit Nick East
(c) Ray Burmiston + Nick East

Culminating at the festival is the Imagine a Story project, returning for a second year.

The nationwide creative writing project once again invited more than 1,400 primary school children to take part in a giant ‘game of consequences’ led by author Sharna Jackson (High-Rise Mystery, Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week) and illustrator Dapo Adeola (Look Up!; The Last Last Day of Summer), with each class of schoolchildren contributing one chapter to the final book.

The children’s submissions from 33 schools across London and the South East were handed over to Jackson in November 2019 and are now being printed including every child author’s name, and in doing so make them all published authors.

The resulting book will be for sale at the festival.

A wealth of shows and entertainment return to Southbank Centre for the duration of the festival.

Critically-acclaimed cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat presents his first-ever work for children Duckie.

A family-friendly performance of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling – a classic tale of identity and belonging reimagined for our times with a message of tolerance and self-acceptance at its core.

The celebrated Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo comes all the way from Australia to London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with an interactive show featuring an amazing array of puppets, from cute baby dinos to some of the largest carnivores and herbivores that have ever walked our prehistoric planet.

The award-winning children’s show The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean created by Shona Reppereturns to Southbank Centre’s Blue Room.

Page-by-page, a scrapbook slowly becomes a window into the secret world of character Josephine Bean in a performance that has mesmerised audiences since its creation.

The longest-serving female Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq brings comedy fun to Imagine by introducing audiences to her book character Cookie; the funny, science-obsessed adventurer.

Konni Huq
(c) Ed Miller

Music is featured heavily in the 2020 programme with events including award-winning musician and CBeebies’ star YolanDa Brown’s return to Imagine with YolanDA’s Band Jam – her live music show which sees musical guests jam along with her band performing crowd-pleasing songs especially created for a noisy audience of children.

YolanDA’s Band Jam

Chineke! Juniors, made up of majority BME (black and minority ethnic) young players present a fun-filled journey exploring music-making and storytelling.

chineke juniors on stage

Several events this year aim to inspire children to become the next generation of changemakers.

In the Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet talk in the Purcell Room, suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst looks at the invaluable work of notable female leaders and pioneers who have dedicated their lives to studying, conserving and protecting Planet Earth and all its living things.

Remarkable young people have been making the headlines in recent years and You’re Never Too Young To Change the World takes inspiration from young pioneers, both real and fictional, such as Greta Thunberg, Louis Brown and Malala Yousafzai to Pippi Longstocking and Neville Longbottom.

In this daily event to round off the free programme in the Clore Ballroom, children and adults will be given an opportunity to tell stories of their own heroes and how they’re changing the world. 

Throughout this edition of Imagine Children’s Festival, there is programming addressing how humanity is responsible for caring for our planet.

The National Poetry Library has put together a series of events – Poetry For The Planet, Poems Go Green, Green Poetry Workshop and Poems From A Green And Blue Planet – highlighting key themes at the forefront of public interest.

Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize-winning author Sita Brahmachari will be creating environmental pledges as she explains the inspiration behind her latest book Where The River Runs Gold which encourages everyone to be as creative, community-minded and environmentally aware as possible in today’s world. 

A packed free events schedule guarantees that families are kept busy onsite without needing to spend money.

Free activities around Southbank Centre’s site include illustration workshops, a free family sing-along Big Songs for Little People, the popular family jazz show Groove Baby; and a child-friendly exhibition within Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space by Nevin Aladağ.

popular family jazz show Groove Baby

Adults can enjoy the free Imagine’s Wellbeing Zone where parents can take time to relax with hand massages and self-care tips on offer.

Full festival listings including BSL and Relaxed Performance information is available on the Southbank website.