February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Gene Luen Yang Rouses the Crowd at DC National Book Festival


Gene Luen Yang addresses the audience at the National Book Festival.

Changes were apparent at this year’s 14th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival compared to prior festivals. In the interest of preserving the lawn of the National Mall in DC, where the event has traditionally taken place, the location was moved to inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Also, the festival was whittled from two days to one, and took place on August 30, over Labor Day weekend, which had organizers worried about attendance, according to the Washington Post.


(L to R) Dave Roman, Rocco Staino, and Raina Telgemeir.

Regardless of the changes, book lovers showed up in droves and packed the festival’s exhibits and programs featuring authors from a variety of genres including children’s, teen, history, and biographies. Presentations on the culinary arts, picture books, and science featured among new additions to the programming.

Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming; Penguin, 2014), illustrator Bryan Collier (Martin’s Big Words; Scholastic, 2014) and Jack Gantos (The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza; Macmillan, 2010) were among the notable names in the world of children’s and teen books present. The world of graphic novels was represented by Raina Telgemeier, (Sisters; Scholastic, 2014), Jeffrey Brown (“Jedi Academy” series; Scholastic), and Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints; Macmillan, 2013).


Click here to read a transcript of Gene Luen Yang’s speech.

On the eve of the festival, Yang addressed the crowd from his podium and set the unofficial theme of diversity in children’s literature, paying tribute to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who created the first black super hero, the Black Panther. In light of the current dialogue about diversity in books for children and teens, he asked the audience of writers to allow themselves “the freedom to make mistakes—including cultural mistakes.” He added that he believes “it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.”

The diversity discussion continued with Meg Medina, Pura Belpré Medal winner for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013), who brought a supply of We Need Diverse Books pins to the festival that resulted in a number of people, including NPR “Morning Edition” anchor and attendee, Cokie Roberts, to don the emblems.

Watch as SLJ talks to Meg Medina in the video below:

Bob Staake, who has illustrated more than 60 books, designed this year’s festival poster. Staake’s latest book, My Pet Book (Random House, 2014), tells the story of a boy who chooses a book to be his pet. Lisa Van Gemert, the youth ambassador for the Mensa Foundation, sat down and spoke to Staake about his poster.

Watch Staake and Van Gemert talk about the poster in the video below:

Click through to view a slideshow of authors, illustrators, and librarians at the festival below:

Slide 1
Click here to read a transcript of Gene Luen Yang's speech.
Slide 2
Bob Staake illustrated this year's poster.
Slide 3
Gene Luen Yang
Slide 4
Gene Luen Yang addresses the audience at the National Book Festival.
Slide 5
(L to R) Dave Roman, Rocco Staino, and Raina Telgemeir.
Slide 6
Bryan Collier
Slide 7
(L to R) Jack Gantos, Dave Roman, and Jeffrey Brown
Slide 8
(L to R) Rebecca Newlands and Rita Williams Garcia
Slide 9
(L to R) Brian Lies and Molly Idle


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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