Sometimes there’s just too much going on downtown. Saturday marked not only the International Biscuit Festival, but the tenth anniversary of the Children’s Festival of Reading. Celebrating all the arts from illustrators to children’s entertainment, magic and dance, the festival hosts a world of fun for children and their parents. I really hate that they fall the same Saturday because attention to children’s literacy sometimes loses in the competition with the south’s favorite culinary delight.
A wide range of organizations offer activities and experiences many children aren’t typically offered the opportunity to experience. And it’s all free thanks to the Knox Country Public Library. Magicians, stilt-walkers, scientists doing simple experiments, Knoxville Zoo employees and others join to offer a wide range of fun with a little education slipped in when the children aren’t looking.
The centerpiece of the entire affair is everything literary. Authors, illustrators and storytellers read from their books or tell their stories to groups of children spread out among the various tents. The list of artists each year features some of the very best known names in children’s and young adult literature. This year Michael Buckley, author of the Sister’s Grimm series, was the headliner of the festival. Not only did he offer an entertaining stage show, he was kind and generous with his young fans as they secured his autograph and requested photographs.
One of my favorite young adult authors, Shelley Pearsall, also made an appearance at this year’s festival. She read from her book All Shook Up, a literary imagining of what it would be like to have an Elvis impersonator as a parent. Also highly recommended are her books Trouble Don’t Last, Crooked River, and All of the Above. Her most recent book, Jump Into the Sky, focuses on the post World War II south.
The footprint of the festival has expanded over the years and this year included a science area sponsored by MUSE Knoxville situated at the foot of the Sunsphere. I’ll have more on that another day. The amphitheater was also included for dance, song and karate demonstrations. This is all in addition to the main stage and the music tent.
One thing that caught my eye was the line of tables and chairs with umbrellas beside the water feature. Don’t they look like they belong? I’m thinking back to yesterday’s post with the tables and chairs inside the small courtyard off Market Street and picturing both these as permanent features. Even if it was simply at set times with the food trucks parked nearby. Wouldn’t that hold some appeal? It seems like a great place to eat lunch, to me. I also think the tables beside the water with the viaduct behind them look somehow European.
Friends of the Library offered books for sale and Union Avenue Books provided the books by the gathered authors and illustrators for their book signings. And, in a way, they were the heart of the festival, the center of all the commotion. In the end the festival is about kicking of the summer reading season for children, but in a bigger sense, it is about nourishing the literary connection for our children. Reading really matters and this festival is a testament to that idea. The festival reinforces the idea that reading is important in the lives of children.
If you’ve missed it the first ten years, try to catch it next year. It’s OK to mix your biscuits and your books. It’s really critical to do so if you have small ones.