Children’s and YA authors and readers came together over Labor Day weekend, to celebrate the ninth annual Decatur Book Festival. The event drew roughly 90,000 attendees, up 5% from 2013, and featured 19 stages, 326 events, and more than 600 authors. Among the many YA and children’s authors in attendance: Andrew Smith, Jennifer E. Smith, Ellen Hopkins, Tommy Hays, William Wegman, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Programming on the Children’s Stage spanned picture books through middle grade fiction, while non-author programming included a live trivia game and a theatrical performance of scenes from The Wizard of Oz.
“2014 was another record-setting year for the Decatur Book Festival, and our hundreds of events went off without a hitch,” said programming director Philip Rafshoon. “From our keynote and “Kidnote” events on Friday until the last book was signed on Sunday night, we had larger crowds than ever before and a solid, quality lineup across the entire literary spectrum. Children’s and Teen programming is always at the core of our festival and this year was no exception.”
The teen stage featured a variety of authors, and many of the events were at SRO capacity. If there were a theme for this year’s DBF children’s programming, it would have been connection: for both authors and readers. “Teens came out in record numbers to hear a mix of well-known and new voices,” said bookseller Diane Capriola, manager of children and teen programming at the festival. Capriola related a poignant moment when teen author Maya Van Wagenen (Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek) emboldened teens in attendance to look outside of their own drive to be popular in favor of embracing a “Be Kind” mentality. It was one of many moments at the festival where authors and readers inspired each other.
For the Saturday panel Everybody’s Talking About It: Diversity in Children’s and YA Lit, authors Cece Bell (El Deafo), Carmen Agra Deedy (The Cheshire Cheese Cat), Varian Johnson (The Great Greene Heist), and Andrew Smith (100 Sideways Miles) spoke to a room crowded with young readers. “Their timely discussion addressed the need for all children to see their lives represented in the books they choose to read, but also stressed the importance of great storytelling – regardless of content – to get children and teens excited about reading. It was a thoughtful and honest discussion on a current hot topic with lots of audience commentary and participation,” said Capriola.
Authors didn’t shy away from hot-button issues, choosing instead to explore a dialogue with their teen audience. “I was honored to be a part of [the festival],” said Terra Elan McVoy (In Deep), who interviewed 16-year-old Wagenen for her talk as well as served as a panelist on Saturday. “Even at the early hour of 10 a.m., Len Vlahos, Lauren Myracle and I had a full house of folks armed with smart, engaging questions. Moderator and author Lauren Morrill brought her A-game too, and we covered all kinds of topics from friendship to handling sexy stuff to the wackiest research we’ve done. I think we kicked off a fully loaded weekend of fabulous programming with some pretty awesome fireworks.”
Laurel Snyder (Seven Stories Up) joined Deborah Wiles (Revolution), Megan Jean Sovern (The Meaning of Maggie), and Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish) for an All the Girls in the World panel on Saturday afternoon. “One especially wonderful moment for me came when we were talking about sadness in books,” said Snyder. “I asked the audience, ‘How many of you have ever been sad? How many of you know how to handle sadness?’ And looking out at this sea of girl readers, I didn’t see a single person without a hand in the air. It’s a wonderful thing when you can connect with the actual readers of your books.”
Connectivity and compassion were strongly felt among the authors attending, making the stifling temperatures and humidity tolerable. “Even though it was a bit warm, the teen stage was a great venue for our panel. I had a lot of fun with my fellow Fierce Reads authors – and Emmy Laybourne taught me some keep cool tricks [to battle the heat],” said Mary Pearson (The Kiss of Deception). “Decatur is the perfect place for a book festival, walkable and so pretty. I’ll be back in a heartbeat if they ask me.”
Alison Law of Alison Law Communications echoed Pearson’s sentiments and summed up the DBF experience when she noted, “As someone who has attended every Decatur Book Festival in the last nine years, I keep coming back because of the local authors, booksellers and community members who fuel my love of books.”
For a look at some of the authors and illustrators in attendance at the festival, see below.
Mac Barnett (Telephone, Chronicle) and Jon Scieszka (Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor, Abrams) greet young fans at the Decatur Book Festival Kidnote.
James and Kimberly Dean signing Pete the Cat books after their All in the Family panel.
Stephanie Perkins (Isla and the Happily Ever After, Dutton) at her signing.
William Wegman (r.) posing with a fan's two Weimaraners, Samson and Delilah.
Jude Watson rocking Loot sunglasses along with two fans after her Heists and Heroics panel.
That's (from l.) Jandy Nelson, Ellen Hopkins, and Geoff Herbach, taking a selfie along with festival-goers.