Doin’ a Reading Festival Up Right …

h1 May 22nd, 2012 by jules

Pictured left to right:
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.

This blogger managed to get photos of others speakers, which I failed to get — such as, Jennifer and Matthew Holm and Gail Carson Levine.

The festival is every May in Knoxville. Won’t you join us here in Tennessee next year?

(This photo officially belongs to Dianne de Las Casas, for the record…)

13 comments to “Doin’ a Reading Festival Up Right …”

  1. Well, that just looks like Party on the Books Day which is very cool indeed!!! Any festival which encourages people to wear yellow trousers is A Good Thing.

    Also: really like Dianne de Las Casas’ dress.

    I really would love to come to this thing someday.

  2. This festival looks wonderful but I have to say that not only does Knoxville do it up right. Maybe the whole state of Tennessee does…I have attended several storytelling workshops and festivals in Jonesborough over the years. Hurray for the world of story! Thanks for sharing, Jules.

  3. Who is on your tshirt?

  4. Tanita: Yes. I’ll be your guide.

    Margie: YES. And we have the Southern Festival of Books, too. … I feel like the major star of the Children’s Festival of Reading is Knoxville. It’s more amazing than it’s ever been. We will not even discuss how the revitalization of downtown occurred AFTER I moved away from there. (And one reason I moved is ’cause it felt like downtown was neglected, and you had to drive West down the interstate or a major, busy road to get to anything.) … Maybe one day I’ll just have to move back there.

    Moira: It’s an Amy Correia shirt.

  5. It’s a great festival–sorry to miss it this year! I wish something similar could be done for young-adult readers and books, although teens are notoriously hard to draw to events like this.

  6. Good point, Tracy. I thought of that, as I read Tanita’s comment. We could always start something in Nashville? Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh.

  7. Also, if anyone in Tennessee did something like that one day, it seems to me that Rochester’s teen book festival would be a good model. Did I just get that link right, Adrienne?

  8. Well this just looks like the place to be!!! Thanks Jules for sharing. I’m kinda turning green over here that I didn’t make it up there. I soooo want to hear that panel discussion you headed up. Thanks for posting.

  9. “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 —”

    YES! That captures the essence of the whole thing perfectly.

    And yes to what Jack Gantos said this city does care about literacy in ways other cities I have lived in haven’t. It’s part of why I enjoy living here. (And thanks for the link to my blog.)

  10. Wow! I think a trip to TN might be in my future. What an amazing day! Thanks for helping us feel like we were there!

  11. You hit the nail on the head as usual, Julie! I was super bummed to have missed this year’s but the bride and groom weren’t too keen on changing their plans so I could attend the festival instead of their nuptials. Such is life, I suppose. SOME people need to get their priorities straight :-).

    I’ll have to content myself to waiting for a whole ‘nother long year to pass. Plus side: my kids should be at peak enjoyment age next year!!

  12. That sounds so fun, Jules! Also, I’ve never seen Alyssa Capucilli speak, but I must hand one of her Biscuit books to a kid or a parent every single day. They are big favorites around here.

  13. […] year (as I did last year) I moderated a picture book panel. 2013’s visitors included—as pictured left to right […]

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