Family & Parenting

Cinemagic brings screen time for all ages

Jenny Lee looks ahead to the Cinemagic festival and speaks to Laura Henry-Allain whose books, Jo-Jo and Gran-Gran have been brought to life in a popular CBeebies series

Christmas at Cattle Hill will offer some pre-festive viewing at Cinemagic

AMONG those taking part in this year's Cinemagic Festival in Belfast, which starts later this week, is Laura Henry-Allain, a writer, producer and speaker.

Laura is the author of the original children's picture books Jo-Jo and Gran-Gran, the characters of which formed the basis of a brand new television series created by BBC Children's In-House Production.

The original stories are based upon the relationship she had with her grandmother, who came from the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

In the TV series, JoJo is a curious four-year-old who learns the world through discovery with her gran as she guides her through many activities, from visiting the museum, library, post office and petting farm to posting pictures to great Gran Gran in St Lucia.

The series is broken down to represent the seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter - and introduces children to a diverse world.

Laura's grandmother passed away 12 years ago at the grand age of 101 and she believes she would have been "super proud" to see the success of JoJo & Gran Gran, since it first screened on CBeebies last March.

"She would have been absolutely delighted that I created the original books based on the love that she gave all of her family and community. I am equally delighted how CBeebies production team and A Productions have created an awesome show," she says.

Grandparents are an integral part of families today, with many providing childcare for their grandchildren, and Laura believes JoJo & Gran Gran can be enjoyed by "all generations".

"Grandparents have such a special role and I feel the reason why this show has been so popular is because it's relatable on so many different levels," adds Laura, who is an associate producer on the TV show.

During her visit to Cinemagic on Saturday October 9, Laura will be reading from the new TV tie-in JoJo & Gran Gran books before introducing three episodes from the BBC series at the Cinemagic Tales at Twilight series at the Ulster Museum.

Laura, who is currently developing a number of children's television ideas, will also be hosting a workshop with eight to 16-year-olds about the creative journey of book-to-programme making.

As well as the 44 JoJo & Gran Gran episodes currently available on the BBC iPlayer, a further two series have been commissioned, so fans can look forward to 88 further adventures.

Within each animated 11-minute long episode, there is a live-action moment which features children talking about the themes covered, and inspiring viewers to take part in real world discovery and play themselves.

Having worked in early years education for nearly 35 years, Laura is delighted by the educational content available for children through channels like CBeebies.

Whilst she warns parents to be mindful of not damaging children's eyes through prolonged screen time, Laura says parents "shouldn't feel guilty" of occasionally using the television whilst they prepare dinner or make a phone call.

And she encourages parents to use the opportunities television programmes present to "sit down with your children and have conversations about what they have seen and do extension activities".

In the case of JoJo & Gran Gran, this could be making banana bread, doing craft or finding out about a different culture.

"It's a case of everything in moderation, but television can be a very positive medium for young children," she says.

There are a number of JoJo & Gran Gran games and activities available online, as well as some radio episodes which many parents play to their children during car journeys.

"My gran always had the radio on. It's a wonderful alternative to screen time and it encourages children to use their imagination and listen, which is a key skill and a precursor to developing language skills," adds Laura.

Passionate about helping raise a generation of children who are anti-racist, Laura's latest book My Skin, Your Skin will be released on October 14.

Published by Ladybird, the book, for children aged four-plus, is aimed at getting children talking about race, racism and empowerment.

"I want to help children to celebrate each other's cultures and feel positive about themselves irrespective of their skin colour or background," she says.


FAMILIES can enjoy a month-long celebration of film as the 32nd Cinemagic International Film Festival for Young People returns with a hybrid programme this October.

The in-person line-up includes Aardman Animations, BBC Writersroom, three-time Emmy award winning casting director Carla Stronge, CBeebies presenters Gyasi Sheppy, Katy Ashworth and Joanna Adeyinka-Burford, and director Jeroen Jaspaert, whose work includes the Julia Donaldson animations Stick Man and The Highway Rat.

A trio of film critic events come to Queen's Film Theatre on October 30 featuring Mark Kermode (BBC Radio 5 Live), Anna Smith (Girls on Film Podcast), Rhianna Dhillon (BBC6 Music) and Ali Pumb (BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra).

Industry figures presenting online Talent Lab Masterclasses include art director Mary Florence Brown (Don't Worry Darling) and director Thaddeus O'Sullivan (December Bride, Stella Days, Citizen Lane).

Queen's Film Theatre will screen brand new animations from around the world, whilst other film highlights include a special early festive-themed movie, Christmas at Cattle Hill, and classic screenings of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and The Goonies.

Cinemagic's streaming platform will play a significant part in screening the festival's world cinema programme, with a catalogue of films released weekly and special recorded online tutorials.

:: The Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People begins Friday October 1. Full programme details and tickets at

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Family & Parenting