That reading is an essential skill to be encouraged in our culture, I hope is a point on which we all agree. Unfortunately, I fear it is an endangered practice. I’m afraid, frequently, most adults read a few articles, but more likely read captions and look at photographs or video for information and enjoyment. If watching cat videos produced a literate nation, we’d be in good shape.
Against that backdrop, it is critical that we encourage children to read and to love books. If we fail in that regard then the future of books, reading and readers is bleak. It’s the doing of it that can be complicated. Enter the Friends of the Library and the Knox County Public Library’s Summer Reading Club. Designed to keep children throughout the country reading all summer long, the Children’s Festival of Reading serves as the kick-off to the effort.
And a great kick-off it is. The center-piece of the event is the opportunity for children to hear, meet and talk with some of the preeminent authors in children’s and young adult literature. This year’s festival was highlighted by 2015 Caldecott Award winning illustrator Dan Santat. The authors sign books, talk to children and generally get them excited about the written word. As a group they are warm, accessible and encouraging. An important factor for children is that they are real. In the flesh. Children sometimes think authors are fictitious characters themselves.
But there was much more than authors on stage reading from great works like, The Unimaginary Friend. The theme was superheros: “Every Hero Has a Story.” As a result, the theme ran throughout and superheros mingled with the crowd, including a number I knew and more than a few of which eluded me. My favorite superhero photo is the one with the not-so-sure boy. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. Urban Girl wanted none of that.
But not to fear, there were activities and attractions sure to pull in every child. Performances on the amphitheater stage anchored the southern end of the festival with dance performances and more. Also on that end was a great science stage that captivated large crowds all day and presented science in a way even I could understand and enjoy. No small feat.
Intense chess games ensued just feet away from the science and Fulton High’s Comic Club talked with children about the comic book their club wrote and illustrated. As the park opens up beside the fountains, families ate lunch at tables covered with large umbrellas as children dangled their feet over the small waterfall.
This same set up last year prompted me to ask why we couldn’t have tables and umbrellas there year round. A year has passed and we still don’t have them. It’s like the chairs that made a brief Dogwood Arts appearance under the trees on Market Square. Both were heavily used, so why not year-round? Would the World’s Fair Park not be hopping with those tables and regularly-scheduled food trucks? I think so.
The field was filled with authors, books and activities. One tent offered musical entertainment. I caught my friend and Kidstuff host Sean McCollough and my friends Jodie Manross and Laith Kielany all of whom had the children engaged, clapping, dancing and calling out responses to the songs.
Some of the finest story-tellers also plied their craft. Sparky Rucker held court at one point and gave his usual unforgettable performance. Story-telling is another skill that I’d hate to see disappear with the younger generation. I’m not sure they hear their grandparents telling stories on the front porch like I did when I was a child. This is one way of preserving the art, though I hope you all are passing down the stories of your own families. Story is so important in understanding who we are and from whence we came.
Another tent offered a cook-off with child chefs and judges in chef hats. Beth Haynes kept the event moving and celebrity judge Dr. Bob added his characteristic humor. The same tent hosted other activities such as a kick-boxing demonstration by Terry Bullman who will soon be opening his gym on Gay Street. The children had a blast, got a little exercise and learned about responsibility. I’d never seen Terry work with children and it’s obvious he’s very good at it.
Friends of the Knox County Library had thousands of used books for sale and animals were on hand for the children to pet. Urban Girl balked at the iguana, but stepped right up to the rat. I’d have a hard time choosing my poison on that one. Bones and skulls were also available for exploration. Children’s crafts, building blocks and games spread out across the lawn beside the playground – which was as full and lively as I’ve ever seen it. The fountains also contained dozens of children. Urban Girl’s favorite booth offered dental activities of all things – and the Tooth Fairy, which is pretty impressive.
It’s a great event for families and children and it’s an important event in many respects. If you have little ones and haven’t made it before, please make plans to attend next year. I understand something may be worked out to have the International Biscuit Festival and the Children’s Festival of Books not scheduled on the same weekend in 2016. In the meantime, sign your children up for the Summer Reading Club at that link.