A group of four middle-grade authors has organized an annual book festival for middle-grade readers; the first OMG (Oh Middle Grade) BookFest will be held in Columbus, Ohio on May 16 and 17. Billed as a “traveling circus of books,” the festival is intended to move around the country each year, with the ultimate goal of it being held in a different city every six months.
Author Michael Buckley, who along with Julia DeVillers, Adele Griffin, and Sarah Mlynowski, conceived of OMG, explains that the four were talking this past New Year’s Day about the lack of book festivals targeting middle grade and reluctant readers, despite the 7–12 age range being “a precarious time” for children, because “they are deciding whether they want to be readers or not. We lose a lot of readers [at the middle grade level].” Griffin added that while the festival’s core mission is to bolster literacy, the organizers also want readers to consider that reading is not just a solitary pastime; it can also be “a shared social activity.”
Rather than offering the conventional slate of speakers and panels, OMG will kick off on May 16 with interactive events featuring the organizers and eight other authors: Stuart Gibbs, Leslie Margolis, Varian Johnson, Elizabeth Eulberg, C. Alexander London, Benny Zelkowicz, Christina Soontornvat, and Ronald L. Smith. The day will include writing workshops, a magical creatures room, and scavenger hunts. Gramercy Books, a new indie bookstore in Columbus, and the official bookstore sponsor of OMG, will host a public reading with the authors at the end of the day. There’s even an event just for adults: the Columbus Public Library will host a cocktail reception that evening in honor of the visiting authors.
“We planned on having some fun with the authors—like having the cocktail reception—because we’re authors hosting authors and we want to give them the care that we ourselves would want,” Griffin said.
“We’re trying to show people that authors are not these shut-ins, or all introverts,” Buckley said. “People who write books are fun and dynamic.” The organizers also cited Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon’s practice of playing games with his guests instead of simply conducting traditional interviews as inspiring them to include activities and games in the schedule of events to better engage participants.
On May 17, events will be held in partnership with the six Columbus Performance Academy schools in an underserved part of the city. The school visit is open only to the academy’s 900 students. Thanks to a $5,000 donation from an anonymous donor, every child will receive a book that day; the authors will be on hand to sign them.
Sourcebooks is one of several publishers sending authors to OMG this year. Publicity manager Heather Moore noted that because “there are very few book festivals that exclusively target middle-grade readers, we thought it was important to support this event, which is creating an exciting experience for young readers and children’s book authors.”
While the second OMG BookFest is still in the planning stages, the organizers reported that they are already in discussions with an indie bookstore and with authors in a city that will most likely host the next OMG. “I think this thing will be sweeping the country in no time,” Buckley said.