I’m no stranger to the Decatur Book Festival. This Labor Day weekend tradition always has a prime spot on my calendar each year. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to connect with so many profound adult, teen, and children’s authors in one location. Each year, the festival seems to take on new life and I gain something for myself, for my own children, and for my students every time I attend.
This year, the children’s stage featured panels of authors and illustrators rather than single speakers. Panels were organized around themes and were facilitated by a children’s author or literature-loving moderator. I loved this revision to how the festival worked in the past because the facilitators of each panel made sure that the audience learned about each author/illustrator, each book, the process behind how it was created, as well as exploring the theme of the panel.
Here are a few of the sessions I attended.
Bugs, Birds, and Birthday Cake!
This panel was all about the fun of animals and humor in stories. Mac Barnett shared his upcoming book Telephone. LeUyen Pham shared her book A Piece of Cake. Angela DiTerlizzi shared Some Bugs. One of the quirkiest things about this panel was when each author/illustrator shared 2 truths and shenanigan about themselves. Each author/illustrator shared some pretty off the wall examples, so it was really hard to decide which of the 3 examples was truth and which was made up. This brought about so much audience participation and engagement, but it also revealed to us each speaker’s personality which in turn revealed something about their work as an author/illustrator.
This panel explored the power of imagination in children’s books and kids’ lives and featured Matt Phelan (Druthers), Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Uni the Unicorn), and Kelly Light (Louise Loves Art). This panel reminded us all of the importance of taking time to imagine and dream even as an adult. Panelists also emphasized the importance of play and tinkering without judgement. We each hold within us the power to dream and imagine and have to give ourselves permission to let the ability continue to shine through even in constraints that we face.
All in the Family
This panel featured family teams of author/illustrators including Frank Morrison & Connie Schofield-Morrison (I Got the Rhythm) and James & Kimberly Dean (Pete the Cat and the New Guy). It was interesting to hear how married couples collaborate with one another on a project. The speakers revealed that it can definitely be a challenge and a blessing to work with someone that you are so close to. Each collaborative partnership seemed to have developed strategies to push one another while at the same time respecting one another’s creative talents. Author Elizabeth Dulemba moderated this panel, and I loved how she highlighted each creative duo equally well. She also took time to bring up the conversation of diversity by specifically pointing to I Got the Rhythm and it’s pages where so many people can find themselves within the illustrations. The Decatur Book Festival had many aspects of diversity represented this year. I will nudge that racial diversity wasn’t at the top of the list. I hope that diversity will continue to be explored at this festival along with many other kinds of diversity so that readers will continue to find themselves in the books and in the authors and illustrators in attendance.
Great Books for New Readers
This panel focused on newly released books to hook a variety of readers including Jon Scieszka (Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor), Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish), Tom Watson (Stick Dog Chases a Pizza), and Mike Lane (The Vanishing Coin). This was a really interesting panel full of fun and laughs. Each author had a unique way of presenting his or her work. Mike Lane performed a magic trick with the audience. Jenni Holm shared stories of how her father kept bacteria cultures in the fridge. Jon Scieszka performed his own magic trick by growing hair on his head right before our eyes. It was easy to see why new readers would gravitate toward these authors. They write stories that connect with readers, especially readers who want to read about magic, fun, experimenting, and just plain silliness.
This Really Happened: Graphic Memoirs for Kids
This panel explored how real life events can be relived in a graphic novel format and featured CeCe Bell (El Deafo) and Jimmy Gownley (The Dumbest Idea Ever). I had already heard lots of buzz about El Deafo, but when I watched CeCe Bell stand up and share the very personal story of where her graphic novel came from, I was inspired. To take a life changing event that some people might look at as tragic or confining and turn that story into a graphic novel superhero story is a true artistic gift to readers. So many students will find themselves in this character and feel strength in their own disabilities. I can’t wait to put this book in students’ hands to read for enjoyment but also as a strong example of how our life experiences become the stories we tell.
All the Girls in the World
This was a panel of women authors who write about strong girl characters and featured Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish), Laurel Snyder (Seven Stories Up), and Megan Jean Sovern (The Meaning of Maggie). The always-profound Deborah Wiles moderated this panel with carefully crafted questions. Her wonderings explored the true stories behind the fictional novels as well as the hard topics that each author chose to explore in her writing. This panel was the perfect way to end my festival experience because it left me with so many wonderings as well as so much wisdom. Multiple times kids in the audience raised their hands to express that they experience sadness in their lives and survive that sadness, which reinforced the idea that authors need to include sadness in books. We can’t shield our young readers from a world where sadness and heartache exists. Books can show readers how they might persevere through these trials just as the characters in these 3 novels do.
How did the festival inform my library goals?
My library goals for this year really are proving to be something that I carry with me wherever I go. To me, this means that they really are goals that matter. In the past, I can’t recall writing goals that I could recite with memory or goals that I could connect to so many experiences throughout the school year.
As I experienced the Decatur Book Festival, I couldn’t help but think about my goals.
1. To provide students, teachers, and families opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share
Dreaming. Tinkering. Imagining. These words kept surfacing throughout the whole festival. Kelly Light talked about how she let her daughter pick 2 books at bedtime as well as share one story. She believed in the power of using the imagination to create soemthing new as well as be inspired by the stories created by others. LeUyen Pham created individualized illustrations in each book that she signed in her autograph line. I heard her ask one person if she had a picture of a baby that a book was being signed for. She drew an image of the baby in the book by looking at a cellphone picture. She made my own daughter feel like a rockstar while signing her copy of Vampirina Ballerina and drew Alora as a ballerina in the book. Throughout the festival, there were opportunities for families to spend time together dreaming, tinkering, and making from booth with cardboard boxes and art supplies promoting the new film The Boxtrolls to the Decatur Makers booth where a variety of maker opportunities existed for families.
2. To engage in global thinking and global collaboration
The panels organized by themes really pushed my thinking. As I listened, I started to think…..what if global collaboration revolved around themes? When I think about connecting around a particiular book, I mostly think about American-published books. I honestly have no idea about books, authors, etc from other countries. What if we concentrated on a theme, connected with other schools around the world, and read books and created content around that theme? I imagine that we would experience new authors, new books, and new perspectives that we never dreamed of before. I really don’t have a definite path because of this, but it has sparked something in me that is listening and watching for opportunities for global collaboration and thinking.
3. To empower student voice
During the “All the Girls in the World” panel, a girl stood up and talked about The Fourteenth Goldfish and Seven Stories Up. She shared how reading those stories shows her and other girls that it is ok to feel they way that they feel and that there are other people in the world struggling with those same topics. I wish I had captured her exact words so that I could carry them with me because she reminded me of how much wisdom our students are carrying. That panel gave her an opportunit to stand up and make her voice be heard and she reminded me that I need to continue to think about the opportunties that I’m providing students to stand up and make their own voices be heard. So many students need so many different kinds of experiences to find their moment to speak up. My hope is that I can maximize those opportunities for the students of our school.
4. To support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families
Visitng this festival always exposes me to authors and books that haven’t been on my radar before. By listening carefully to each author/illustator’s story, I have a personal experience to share with readers as they make decisions about the next book that they will explore. Listening to each author/illustratore share they journey they have made to publishing the works that we hold in our hands makes me even more aware that every book on our library shelves holds a story of how it came to be and makes me want to know that story to share with readers. I wish that more authors would use blogs and social media to share their stories of their journey to publication so that we could connect these backstories to readers. Hearing these stories makes me want to dig a little more to connect readers with the stories of the authors that are hiding on our library shelves.
Andy, how lucky to have such a diverse and meaningful literacy event close to home! Just finished J. Holm’s 14th Goldfish and fell head over heels! What a delightful story with so many what I call “Golden Lines” – words that make the reader wonder, imagine, think, dream … And believe in the possible!
Looking forward to reading your inspirational blog this year as I look for the miracles and try to believe in the possible. (We have some challenges to face this year at our school.)
Wow! Tremendously good post, Andy! I love the way you’ve reflected on your professional career even when out at a book festival. Always a learner! Also, sounds lie the Decatur book festival is STACKED with awesome talent! What a great experience! So cool that you got to meet some kidlit heavy hitters along side up-and-comers like Kelly Light and Meagan Jean Sovern! Thanks for sharing with all of us!
Thanks for taking the time to read and share! The Decatur Book Festival is awesome. Little Shop of Stories is a powerhouse independent bookstore that is instrumental in the kid lit portion of the festival. It always seems that they have some up and coming authors right before they make waves during the current school year. I’m sure that Kelly Light and Meagan Jean Sovern will be the topic of many conversations and lessons this year in kid lit.