April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Authors Celebrated at National Book Festival

Torrential downpours did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm for the more than one hundred authors and illustrators who participated in the Library of Congress’s 13th annual National Book Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this weekend. The event proves that writers are also “rock stars,” as hundreds of attendees jammed the festival tents to see and hear such longtime favorite authors as Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, and Phyllis Naylor Reynolds speak. Newer names such as Oliver Jeffers, Veronica Roth, and Jon Klassen also drew overflow crowds.

Kid lit author/illustrators Jon Klassen and Oliver Jeffers enjoy the festival’s opening gala.

Klassen—who was awarded the Caldecott Medal this year for his picture book This is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012) and was a Caldecott Honoree for his illustrations for Mac Barnett’s picture book Extra Yarn (HarperCollins, 2012)—spoke to a star-studded audience that included Chuck Robb, former Virginia governor and senator,  and his wife and former first daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, at the Friday evening gala opening ceremony.

“I’m intimated speaking to a group of people who write books that a longer than 200 words,” Klassen told the crowd. However, he was not intimidated the next day when he spoke and entertained the festival tent filled with more than 800 children and their parents.

Jeffers, whose picture book The Day the Crayons Quit (Penguin, 2013) is currently number one on the New York Times Best Seller list, also drew similarly enormous crowds for his talk. During his presentation, he told stories, brought kids up onto the stage, and drew pictures which later became collector items as many kids clamored to have one.

Two young fans proudly display their Veronica Roth-autographed books.

Fans were also in abundance seeking out their favorite YA authors, such as Holly Black and Veronica Roth. April Dunnigan and her mother April from Manassas, VA, waited hours in the rain to get a book autographed by Roth, who was promoting her debut dystopian trilogy from HarperCollins, which includes Divergent (2011), Insurgent (2012), and Allegiant, which debuts next month.

As expected, children’s and teen librarians were well represented among the festival’s crowds on both Saturday and Sunday. Paula Nespeca Deal, a school librarian from Ohio, tweeted that Richard Peck gave “an inspirational and entertaining talk.” For example, when asked which of his books was the most difficult to write, he answered, “The current one.”

Judy Polak, a children’s librarian from West Virginia, also tweeted from the event, noting that a reading by Christopher Meyers—the festival’s tallest author at six feet seven inches tall—of his book H.O.R.S.E. “inspires giggles and verbal games between kids and parents.”

Kid lit authors Matt Holm, Jenni Holm, and Kirby Larson enjoying the festival.

Some authors were star struck right along with kids and adult literature fans. Matthew Kirby—who won the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Fiction for his novel Icefall (Scholastic, 2011)—told School Library Journal that he was a bit overwhelmed when he finally met the children literature icon Susan Cooper in the author’s tent.  He described the moment as “magical.”

Beyond the printed word, the latest in book technology was evident at the festival with the presence of the Overdrive’s Digital Bookmobile, where attendees learned how they can use their handheld devices to download books from their local libraries.

A dog, too, took the spotlight at the Library of Congress tent. Hooper, a rescue dog turned therapy dog, was featured in a session in how animals help kids to read.

Jill Elkins, librarian at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, enjoying the National Book Festival. For a slideshow of more librarians in attendance, click on the photo.

A number of special activities and announcements took place during the festival, including the new class of National Student Poets. The program names five students who spend the year promoting poetry in their region. This year’s National Student Poets are Sojourner Ahebee (Michigan), Michaela Coplen (Pennsylvania), Aline Dolinh (Virginia), and Louis Lafair (Texas).

In addition,  Reach Out and Read was awarded $150,000 as the first recipient of the David M. Rubinstein Prize for its book distribution program that partners with medical providers  to promote early literacy. 826 National and Planet Read were each awarded $50,000 for the literacy work.

This may be the last time that the two day event is held on the National Mall, which will be undergoing renovation; the new ground covering will not permit for the festival’s heavy foot traffic and tent structures. The Washington Convention Center is one possible site for the 2014 festival.

Hundreds of adults and children gathered on the National Mall to hear their favorite authors speak at the National Book Festival. For a slideshow of more images, click on the photo.


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.