A little Northwest rain couldn’t deter eager readers, young and old, from attending Wordstock, Portland, Ore.’s annual literary festival, which took place on November 5, primarily in the Portland Art Museum and at several satellite venues. Wordstock, known as Portland’s Book Festival, is a combination of on-stage author conversations, panel events, pop-up readings, and an extensive book fair for all ages (and don’t forget the food and beverage trucks, since this is Portland).
“It’s rewarding to see so many kids sitting enraptured by a story time, teens meeting their literary heroes, and lifelong adult readers leaving events buzzing in conversation,” said Andrew Proctor, executive director of the nonprofit group Literary Arts, which is in its second year of coordinating Wordstock. For the first time this year, there were two official booksellers at the festival: Powell’s Books handled primarily adult titles and Green Been Books focused on children’s and young adult books, in addition to running the always hopping Kids’ Room.
As Jennifer Green, owner of Green Bean Books, described it, “A full line-up of creative authors and illustrators presented their books in the bright balloon-festooned stage area with musical introductions and interactive activities lead by the talented and bubbly musician Emily Arrow. The authors signed at the Green Bean booth, making meaningful and personal literary connections convenient and easy for everyone. There was a diverse range of beautiful books to peruse, a diorama to discover, plenty of plushies, and even a penguin stand-up in which kids could poke their heads through and pretend to be a penguin from Jory John’s hilarious Penguin Problems!”
Here’s a mini-tour of Wordstock, through the eyes of its smallest literary connoisseurs.
“I want my own name. I want a name that sounds like me,” said Sherman Alexie, reading from his new picture book, Thunder Boy Jr., illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little Brown), to a packed crowd of rapt listeners at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Thunder Boy Jr. tells the story of a Native boy who struggles with identity issues as he shares his name with his father, Thunder Boy Sr. Alexie explained to the crowd, in between cracking everybody up with his trademark biting wit, “Here is one of the most political images in Native American literature: a loving, Indigenous father holding his loving, Indigenous son on his shoulders.”
Author Heidi Schulz, donning a pair of giraffe horns, read her picture book Giraffes Ruin Everything, illustrated by Chris Robinson (Bloomsbury), to a group of young readers in the Green Bean Kids’ Room.
Green Bean Books offered books by many of the children's, middle grade, and young adult authors who read in their Green Bean-sponsored Kids Room, making it easy for young fans to stock up directly after story time or a panel.
One young penguin fan tries out the Penguin Problems display.
Kate Berube, author-illustrator of Hannah and Sugar (Abrams), signed her latest picture book for a fan after a reading.
(From l.): Kathleen Lane, Jason Reynolds, and moderator/author Rosanne Parry after their panel on middle grade fiction, where they discussed the pitfalls and joys of writing young characters, and what advice they’d give their younger selves. Kathleen Lane summed it up best when she told the audience, and herself, to “be more brave,” a sentiment that the rest of the panel echoed.
(From l.): Authors Kate Ristau, Bart King, and moderator Diana Armstrong of Multnomah County Library after their middle grade fiction panel, where King and Ristau discussed what made their particular hero and heroines unique and why it’s important to represent a diverse range of kids in fiction. Ristau, whose main character is in a wheelchair, pointed to her four-year-old neighbor as an inspiration to her when she was writing, wondering, “Where will she be able to find her experience in books?” She added that she wrote Clockbreakers with her neighbor in mind, as well as her own five-year-old son.
Bart King took time after his panel to autograph for a fan.
Kate Ristau signing her new book, Clockbreakers (Indigo Sea Press). All photos by Jordan Foster.