February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Rain Fails To Deter Fans at the 2017 National Book Festival

From left: Marie Lu, Melissa de la Cruz, Rocco Staino, Nicola Yoon, Sabaa Tahir

A rainy Labor Day weekend in Washington, DC, didn’t seem to affect the turnout at the 17th annual National Book Festival, where booklovers of all ages gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to rub elbows with literary legends.

The political climate was evident from the remarks of some of the authors. Diana Gabaldon reflected on the recent demonstration in Charlottesville, VA, at the Friday night opening gala, hosted by Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress.

R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder (Knopf, 2012) said that being in Washington made her go “off-script” and added that “kindness has become politicized.” Palacio, the daughter of immigrants who grew up in Flushing, Queens in New York City, and whose native language is Spanish, reminded the audience that “class is not based on income but outcome.” She told the story of Nathaniel, a real-life Augie (the main character in Wonder), who also suffers from the mandibulofacial dysostosis. The recent health care debates have Nathaniel’s family worried that they will exhaust their benefits.

Jack Gantos entertains at the 17th annual National Book Festival in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, Jack Gantos, Newbery Award–winning author of Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, 2011), used his stage time to share some writing techniques for young people, which can be found in his latest book, Writing Radar (Farrar, 2017).  He encouraged “putting yourself into your writing life” by keeping a journal that also includes the “dumb stuff.”

He described the use of action and emotion words, saying that the two together equal literature. Some authors donned costumes to advertise their books to festival goers. Johnette Downing dressed in Cajun Mardi Gras garb at the Louisiana table to garner attention for her book, Mumbo Jumbo, Stay out of the Gumbo (Pelican, 2017).

Librarians were out in full force gathering autographs and materials for their students and patrons. Faith Swick, a library assistant at the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA, was thrilled to get a book autographed by Mike Curato. “I get to meet the people that I read all the time,” she said.

Illustrator John Rocco and author Sherri Duskey Rinker.

Juli Moore, a librarian at the Iredell County Public Library traveled from Statesville, NC, with her mother, retired librarian Aleta Embrey. They were both looking forward to seeing big-name headliners, such as David Baldacci and J.D. Vance. For Eric VanRaepenbusch, the festival was a family affair. He and his wife brought their four children to the book festival from Ohio. VanRaepenbusch is the creator of Happy Birthday Author, a website that encourages family reading through the celebration of authors’ and illustrators’ birthdays. The book festival visit, he said, will enable him to gather more information for his website.

This year’s festival featured over 100 authors and was expected to attract roughly 100,000 attendees.

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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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