Book It! the children's section of the Cheltenham Literary Festival, promises a huge range of often surprising delights this year. For the first time the Town Hall will hear the patter of four feet as well as two, as the stars - animal as well as human - of Animal Ark put in an appearance. Later in the week, a canine refugee from TV's Animal Hospital, Dolly the Dog, will be arriving with her owner, the writer and illustrator Lisa Kopper, to judge a competition of pet photos. For children wanting a deeper understanding of animal behaviour, Richard Brassey will be teaching his audience How to Speak Chimpanzee.

Many sessions feature children's favourite characters. Some of the naughtiest will be there - Dilly the Dinosaur with his supersonic scream, the charmingly wayward Pingu and that reconstructed urchin of the 1950s now turned superstar, Dennis the Menace. For those wanting a (marginally) quieter time, now is the moment to meet Spot, Massy and Kipper. Nick Butterworth will be there telling stories about Percy the Park Keeper. And as 1997 is the centenary of Enid Blyton's birth, Noddy has agreed to come to the Festival. With Big Ears, naturally.

Children who want to hear and meet their favourite authors - whether it be Jacqueline Wilson, Paula Danzigeror Andrew Matthews - can do so. Those who want to share the excitement of creating a story can help Sandi Toksvig, TV star, comedienne and children's writer to develop what will undoubtedly be an unusual and funny story.

Participation is a key ingredient of the children's festival, whether it's having tea with Charlie (of Chocolate Factory fame), joining the Flower Fairies in a magic dance or jumping about with Zita Newcome in her Toddlerobics sessions. Zita, by the way, is just one of the authors appearing in a new range of events for under-5s.

There will be poetry too. Roger McGough will be reading from his new book and the irrepressible Guyanese poets John Agard and Grace Nichols will be performiig their stuff too.

Perhaps the deepest mark will be left by hearing about Anne Frank. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of her Diary. Her cousin, Buddy Elias, and Gillian Waines of the Anne Frank Educational Trust will talk about her life and work.

With over 50 events to choose from this year, whether your taste is for Horrible Histories, contemporary writers or nursery gentleness, there is something to intrigue, entertain and stimulate.

Rosemary Canter