Monday, September 24, 2012

National Book Festival

Join me on my writing journey each week as I post to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacy and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers

Two years ago when we took my son to Washington DC to begin law school, I first learned about the National Book Festival, an incredible free event on the mall for book lovers.  I planned to go last year and even convinced a colleague (whose daughter was also studying in DC) to join me.  Unfortunately, I backed out on the trip.  September is not an easy time of the year to be out of the classroom.  I let my anxiety about getting everything done get in the way of pursuing this personal dream.

I decided that this year (my son's last year of law school), I definitely should go.  I checked on our curriculum night schedule last spring and was delighted to see that the 6th grade night was the week prior to the festival.  I booked my flight, looked frequently at the Library of Congress web site, and started planning my strategy to see my favorite authors.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that the curriculum nights had been switched and that 6th grade curriculum night was now on the same night that my red eye was booked for DC!  I forged ahead, found a good substitute, wrote sub plans, worked on my curriculum night presentation, and arranged for my son-in-law to pick me up at school and drive me to the airport.  The best part of the evening was when I told the parents that I would talk through the five minute break for the block class so that I could leave a few minutes early for the airport.  When I told them I was leaving to attend the National Book Festival, they applauded!  The Fantastics (my name for this year's students) have fantastic parents.
I started the day with John Green (only because I wanted to be in this tent for the next three speakers).  I haven't read any of his books, so I was astounded to arrive 30 minutes early and discover that every seat was already taken.

I can't describe the energy in that tent filled with young adult readers.  I learned about the acronym DFTBA (Don't Forget To Be Awesome!), was thrilled by the presentation, and awed by the excitement of these young adult readers.  His words of advice to teens, "Listen to adults you trust in your life.  They know something."  I think it's time for me to read a John Green book.

Mike Lupica shared a quote from his wife, "Getting kids to read is going to be the thing you'll be remembered for best."  (I aspire to being remembered by my students for the very same reason.)  He warmed everyone's heart when he agreed to sign a young reader's book, invited him up to the stage, and then sat down beside the young man to sign the book (even though book signings were supposed to be at a different time and place during the event)!
The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and author of more than 105 books, Walter Dean Meyers, spoke of his journey as a writer that began in Harlem with a foster mother with only a 3rd grade education who read to him.  He went on to share stories of teachers who mattered in his life.  He told us that he loved stories and had experiences that other kids in his neighborhood didn't have because of books.  Those experiences with books shaped his life.  A young aspiring author in search of a mentor was astounded when Walter Dean Meyers encouraged him with the words, "Email me!"
Lois Lowry, one of my favorite authors, read from her new book Son which turns the trilogy that began with The Giver into a quartet.  Her advice to budding writers:  "Write, write, write.  Read, read, read!"  I have so many notes from her presentation that I may have to dedicate a future slice to it.  Son was available at the festival, but sold out by the time I stopped in at the book tent.
Those four speakers took us from 10 in the morning until 1:30 that afternoon.  It was hot in the tent. but even hotter outside.  My friend and I were hesitant to walk around much in the heat, but I snapped this picture looking down the mall to the Washington Monument.  Note the free pink book bags given to each participant along with a free poster featuring the art of Rafael Lopez.  This poster formed the backdrop for each speaker's stage.  I love the whimsical animals peering at the children reading and wish they had made t-shirts with this colorful logo.
I stopped by the Pavilion of the States where youngsters were busy visiting tables for each state, the District of Columbia, and the U. S. territories.  Children received a free map of the US that they presented at the table for an appropriate sticker or stamp.  Each state had a table with information about writers, libraries, and book events in their states.  On the back of the map was a reading list, "52 Great Reads about Great Places" with a recommendation from each state. 

Our last two author presentations on Saturday were in the Fiction and Mystery tent with Geraldine Brooks and Sandra Cisneros.  My book club read Year of Wonder and Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks, and I love her novel March, the story of the father in the novel Little Women.  Her newest novel is Caleb's Crossing.  Sandra Cisneros is well known for The House on Mango Street and my 6th graders read her short story, "Eleven," as a mentor text for writer's workshop.  She urged students to read for fun so that when you're called to dinner, you are compelled to reply, "I can't come right now.  I'm reading a great book."   So much of what she said resonated with me, but this was my favorite, "Stories are meant to seep into our hearts and do their work." 

While I had planned to spend Sunday with my son and his wife, I couldn't resist stopping by the festival for the presentation by Patricia Polacco.  Before Patricia's presentation, we heard from actor, director,  and producer, Bob Balaban.  He can now add author of a new middle grade book, The Creature from the Seventh Grade Boy or Beast, to his list of extensive accomplishments.  Many of the attendees had heard Patricia Polacco present before, and it was fun to hear their stories of her warmth and genuine care extended to all who attend her presentations.  I enjoyed visiting with new friends and fellow teachers from Tuscaloosa, Alabama while we waited for Ms. Polacco.  She moved the speaker's stand and shared her stories up close and personal.  Listening to her rich store of family stories makes me want to revive the lost art of storytelling in our world.  When asked which of her many books was her favorite. she responded by saying - "The books that resonate the most with me now are the ones where I've brought back to life people who are no longer with us."  She does that in my favorite Patricia Polacco book, Chicken Sunday.  
I took this parting shot of the tent where I had spent most of the time at my first National Book Festival.    One of the best parts of the festival was visiting with other people before sessions began.  I now have a new list of books to read!  I look forward to returning again to this magnificent free event that celebrates books, the people who write them, and the people who read them.  


  1. Sounds like you had a blast! I'm so glad you made it out there. :)

  2. Wow. What an amazing time you must have had. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that John Green is the go-to author in my classroom. Anytime a student doesn't know what to read, I send them to the Green box. You really should read at least one--I'd recommend The Fault in Our Stars. Beautifully written. So many great lines, I quit writing them down. I also loved Looking for Alaska, as do my students.

    Happy Reading

    1. Thanks for the recommendation for my first John Green book! I'll request it from the library right now.

  3. Sounds just awesome! I could feel the energy surging throughout this piece.

  4. I want to go on vacation next year with you :) Lois Lowery, Walter Dean Myers...would almost have been enough for me, but Patricia- the icing on the cake. Is it always in DC ? xo nanc

  5. Wow! It's not nice, I know, but I'm jealous!

  6. Amazing! I really am bummed that I didn't make the time to go last year. I'm so glad you got to experience John Green.


  7. Sounds like you had an amazing weekend surrounded by people, books, authors, books and more books. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. What an incredible experience. I agree with Mike Lupica about what memories of us will linger the longest.

  9. What an awesome opportunity! I bet you are so happy that you were able to go and hear and see many great things related to books, reading and writing-
    I love the quote about books seeping into our hearts-

  10. Oh my, what a marvelous list of authors, Ramona. I loved your telling of your experience & love each of these authors-just starting reading Mike Lupika this year. John Green, as Deb above says, is awesome-gets adolescents just right. Thanks!

  11. Thanks for the wonderfully detailed, descriptive post, Ramona. I want to go next year!!

  12. I've never heard of this festival. I'm glad you were able to go and give us am armchair visit.

  13. I love the quotes you shared. My favorite: "Getting kids to read is the thing you'll be rememberd for." Wouldn't that be an accomplishment? :-)