November 17, 2017

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Children’s Book Creators and Librarians Flock to 2015 National Book Festival

National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Kate DiCamillo, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander were among the 170 authors at the National Book Festival held on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend (September 5) at the District of Columbia’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The festival, now in its 15th year, celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the Library of Congress’s acquisition of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library; this year’s festival theme was the famous Jefferson quotation, “I cannot live without books.”

The event kicked off with a pre-festival Gala Author Program in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, the festival’s sponsor. In welcoming the guests, David M. Rubenstein, the event’s cochairman and major benefactor, joked that “There is a special place in heaven for those who attend a book festival on Labor Day weekend.” Alexander, who received this year’s Newbery Medal for The Crossover (HMH, 2014), was a speaker at the Gala. Explaining why he writes for children, Alexander told the crowd, “Poets are dreamers. I want to dream a world that is worthy of them.”

More than 40 children and teen authors/illustrators presented and autographed during the 12 hours of programming. DiCamillo’s presentation, in which she celebrated the 10th anniversary of her “Mercy Watson” series (Candlewick), proved so popular that many attendees were turned away when the room hit capacity.

Kwame Alexander signing festival posters

Kwame Alexander signing festival posters

Rae Anne Locke, library media specialist at Saugatuck Elementary School in Westport, CT, was one of the lucky attendees who got to hear DiCamillo speak. She and friend Barbara Eilertsen have been attending the book festival for seven years. This year, they and a district parent faced a flight delay, flying at a low altitude, and a pilot who had to figure out if they had enough fuel to get to the festival. It was worth it, said the librarian, to hear Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson  share insights about the choices they made in their new book Leo: A Ghost Story (Chronicle, 2015). Locke’s most memorable moment from the festival was “hearing Buzz Aldrin personally speak of what it was like to be on the moon looking back and seeing Earth. He spoke with emotion and conviction about the children in the audience inhabiting Mars around 20 years from now.” Aldrin autographed a copy of his Welcome to Mars: Making A Home on the Red Planet (National Geographic, 2015) for Locke’s school.

Authors were not only presenting at the festival, but also attending it as well. David Lubar, author of

Mac Barnett getting ready to read <em>Count the Monkeys</em> to kids at the National Book Festival

Mac Barnett getting ready to read to kids at the National Book Festival

Sophomores and Other Oxymorons (2015), the sequel to Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (2005, both Dutton), traveled in a bus filled with 50 librarians and other book lovers from Lower Macungie Library in Pennsylvania. Lubar’s festival highlight was found in the Pavilion of States. At the North Carolina booth, he was delighted by that state’s selection for this year’s Great Reads book. Each year, each state and two territories select a children’s book to represent them at the festival. Talkin’ Guitar: A Story of a Young Doc Watson (Clarion, 2015) by Robbin Gourley was North Carolina’s choice. “Not only had I been listening to him since I was 12, but his music plays a crucial role in my next novel, Character, Driven (Tor Teen; March 2016),” Lubar told School Library Journal.

Other titles on the Great Reads list included Rain, Reign (Macmillan, 2014) by Ann M. Martin for New York, and Amelia Bedelia (HarperCollins,1963) by Peggy Parish for South Carolina.

Both Lubar and this reporter ran into author Tom Angleberger, who was presenting at the festival along with his wife, author/illustrator Cece Bell. SLJ asked Angleberger about his new picture book, McToad Mows Tiny Island (Abrams, Sept. 2015) and his contribution to the rebooted “Star Wars” series, Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (Disney, September 2015):

Despite the heat and humidity, the energy was high throughout the festival, with book creators and book lovers alike delighting in the rich variety of panels and author presentations. For more first-person accounts of the day, check out the Twitter hashtag #NatBookFest15, where attendees posted highlights and fun photos.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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