Preview: Imagine: Children's Literature Festival, Southbank Centre, London

If the rats don't get you, the dragons will
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The Independent Culture

Writers, poets and performers, including John Hegley and Michael Rosen, will congregate for London's sixth annual Imagine: Children's Literature Festival.

"Usually, children's literature events are hidden within broader literature festivals," says Martin Colthorpe, acting head of literature at the Southbank. "It is important to celebrate children's literature and performance in its own right."

The festival line-up is designed for children aged between five and 11. Along with the more traditional book-reading events from authors such as Philip Ardagh and Jeremy Strong, and poetry readings by Val Bloom and John Agard, this year's event incorporates stand-up comedy from James Campbell, plus slam poetry from Corbell and DJing by John Berkavich as part of the Spin! show, produced by Apples and Snakes. "The theme of this festival is comedy. We are trying to take a more light-hearted look at literature for children," Colthorpe says.

The writer and performance poet Francesca Beard will perform her new one-woman show Animal Olympics, created for Imagine. She uses songs, poetry and storytelling to introduce characters from the Chinese horoscope, including Rat, Rooster and Dragon, who compete in their own Chinese Olympics.

Beard, who recently visited Vietnam and the Philippines through the British Council to work with local poets and writers and put on group shows, will wear various animal costumes to bring her show to life.

"Performance poetry is so much about audience. It is a very interactive art form," Beard says. "It always has an improvisational quality to it, and the audience should play a role in every performance.

"There's an X Factor quality to my show as the audience vote for their favourite characters. It explores the nature of competition: winners and losers. This is an issue that children have to learn to deal with."

14 to 22 February (0871 663 2500;