I told you last week there were two world-class festivals in town for the weekend and I really meant what I said. The International Biscuit Festival gets great press, as it should, and twenty thousand people attended. But there was another reason those parking garages filled so quickly and completely last Saturday morning: an estimated twelve thousand people flooded the World’s Fair Park for the Children’s Festival of Reading.
It started with a reception Friday night on Market Square in a room above Earth to Old City. There authors, librarians and friends of books in general gathered to relax with great food and a great view of the center city. I’m not generally much on events in which I try to juggle food, a drink and conversation with people I don’t know well, but it turned out to be quite comfortable and I believe the authors gathered had to come away with a good impression of the city.
The festival itself started Saturday morning just after the rain stopped, seemingly on cue. The crowd seemed to have stayed away until the last minute, in order to make a decision. With children involved, it makes sense. The sun never actually broke all the way through, but very little rain fell until the event was beginning to fold up the tents.
I’d agreed to keep a check on Jim Gill, as one of many volunteers assigned to an author. It turned out to be a perfect assignment, as Jim is a low-key, all-around nice guy who needs very little. Additionally, Jim is a musician whose songs are designed to get families playing together, which meant we spent most of the day in the Music Tent. Throw me in the brier patch, right?
I got to listen to Sean McCollough’s first live remote broadcast for KidStuff and I also enjoyed getting to know him a little better. Jim Gill, with his friend Don Stille on accordion, had children reaching, pointing, spinning and doing every manner of crazy dance. They performed in the music tent and on the main stage. He even attracted two fans sporting “Jim Gill” t-shirts.
Authors circulated doing readings and signings. Faces freshly painted, children cavorted about from the fountains and playground at one end of the World’s Fair Park, to the stage on the other end. Dancers, singers and artists entertained from stages or simply as they walked about. Young girls dressed as story-book characters posed for photographs and danced with passersby.
The very best authors attend this event. This year that included two of my favorite YA authors, Kerry Madden and Sharon Draper. Children’s authors and illustrators Bob Shea, Jarrett Krosoczka, Deborah Diesen and many others made appearances and shared their work with the children.
A parade wended its way through the tents led by Mayor Burchett. Curious George and the 97 Bee circulated giving hugs and posing for photographs. Friends of the Library offered books for sale as did Union Avenue Books. Food vendors lined one end of the event and numerous groups manned booths with information about every conceivable child and book related topic.
But throughout the entire event, the theme that defined the day was that children need books, that reading changes lives and that it is imperative that we give them the opportunity to enjoy books year-round, not just during the school year. If you agree, you definitely need to attend this great event next year and see to it that every child you love is there, as well. You might even consider volunteering. I had a great time getting to know Jim Gill and it would have never happened if I hadn’t been will to give a little time.