Dan Yaccarino, Yours Truly, David Ezra Stein,
Dianne de Las Casas, and Alyssa Capucilli;
Knoxville, Tennessee; May 19, 2012
I have a presence over in the hypo-hyper world of Facebook, primarily so that I can share children’s literature links — and keep up with children’s lit news and links from colleagues in the field. I already posted the above image over there at my profile page, but I post it again here this morning all in the name of a really wonderful children’s reading festival that I’d like to yawp about. (And it’s about time, since every year I come back from the festival intending to blog more about it.) You can imagine me doing both jazz hands and cheerleader spirit fingers on this one, ’cause it’s that great. (Even if you were standing in front of me right now, you’d still have to just imagine me doing this, since I can only manage to grunt monosyllabically before breakfast/coffee, much less engage in such enthusiastic hand gestures. Post-coffee, I’m good to go, though.)
Knoxville, Tennessee, which positively drips with charm and personality (particularly since it’s revitalization of the downtown area within the last several years), annually holds a children’s reading festival, sponsored by Knox County Public Library. I not only drive over there from middle Tennessee every May to experience it, but I also volunteer. This year, I moderated a picture book panel with author Alyssa Capucilli, storyteller Dianne de Las Casas, author/illustrator David Ezra Stein, and author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino. It was good fun. I asked them about Sendak, digital apps and e-picture books, the value of picture books and what draws them (lousy pun not intended) to creating them, issues of audience in children’s lit, and their childhoods and whether or not they knew they wanted to be picture book creators when they grew up.
And here’s what’s great about the festival: It truly celebrates reading in all the right ways. We all hear more and more these days about teachers and parents reading less to and with their children (less of this “genuine interest and active engagement”), and we hear even more about very awards-based reading programs. (Think: take this test after reading that book and get an eraser or a fast food restaurant coupon.)
This children’s reading festival just does it up all right. It’s outdoors (at the beautiful World’s Fair Park, and fellow Simpsons geeks know of what I speak); smart, talented authors are invited to talk about their craft and talk to children and adults alike; there are such wondrous festival foods as funnel cakes; storytellers, musicians, and dancers are there to entertain as well; oftentimes, a zoo employee shows up with creatures for the children; there are librarians all over the place, volunteering, nerding out (I say that lovingly and oh-so respectfully) over books, and just generally basking in the joy; and … well, I could go on and on. And it’s all free, drawing in all kinds of folks from all kinds of communities. Oh, and there are things like this:
Essentially, there aren’t any goofy tricks up anyone’s sleeves to trick children into reading. Instead, it unabashedly celebrates reading and storytelling as the joy it is in life — with authors reading and sharing and storytellers on hand to spin tales. As this write-up at Tennessee’s Chapter 16 notes: “Founded eight years ago as a way to rally interest in the library’s summer-reading clubs, the festival combats the too-common notion among kids that reading is a chore, something they do only when a teacher makes them.”
And I think the world could always use a bit more of that.
I remember a few years ago Jack Gantos standing up on the mainstage at that year’s festival and saying—and I paraphrase—“this is a city that cares about literacy.” Indeed.
The festival is every May in Knoxville. Won’t you join us here in Tennessee next year?