By Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
As a long-time attendee and presenter at professional conferences for educators, book festivals were a new genre for me when I first started working with the Tucson Festival of Books 14 years ago. I quickly realized that the audience was much broader for a festival, many of whom are parents, children and teens with different preferences than educators. A festival needs to balance authors who have popular appeal and write series books with authors who are critically acclaimed, and well-known authors with emerging authors. The sessions also need to offer laughter and playfulness as well as discussions of critical issues.
Over time, we have developed different types of sessions for the children/teen section of the festival to appeal to the different audiences. The overall festival has over 300 authors and 130,000 attendees. 65 of those authors are picturebook authors/illustrators, middle grade authors, graphic novel creators, and young adult authors, who present over 100 sessions. One strength of our program for children and teens is that many of the sessions are in rooms that seat 40-50 people to allow for more intimate interactions with authors, instead of only large auditoriums where authors are at a distance. This WOW Currents highlights the types of sessions and a few of the authors who are coming this March. Go to the festival website for a full list of authors and sessions for the entire festival.
Many sessions with children’s authors and illustrators occur in the College of Education. In the Kiva auditorium, the 2024 sessions highlight authors with strong popular appeal who pull large audiences, including R.L. Stine, Kate DiCamillo, Kazu Kibuishi, Judd Winick, Marissa Meyer and Roshani Chokshi. In addition, we have two carousels in the Kiva with middle grade and young adult authors that are a favorite of children and teens. Authors move every 8 minutes to a new table to interact with small groups and share their newest book in our version of speed dating. The final session on Sunday is the very popular Illustrator Draw-Off, moderated by Adam Rex, where participants use small whiteboards to draw along as the illustrators compete against each other drawing on easels at the front.
One room hosts panels of middle grade authors that this year include Donna Barba Higuera, Sayantani DasGupta, Rajani La Rocca, Kekla Magoon, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Elana K. Arnold, Jennifer Nielsen, Dan Gemeinhart, David Robertson, Cherie Dimaline, Veera Hiranandani and Misa Suguira. The panels focus on topics such as challenging power, fantasy portals, the power of truth, saving the world, tales of courage and resistance, and Indigenous stories by Indigenous voices. Picturebook author/illustrators include Vashti Harrison, Brendan Wenzel, Rebecca Bach-Lauritsen, Laurel Goodluck, Phuc Tran, Meghan Browne and Lori Alexander on panels about family connections, changing perspectives and making a difference.
Another room hosts Book Biz sessions for adults in which authors and illustrators share their insights on getting your book published, writing a graphic novel, authoring a picturebook, writing about anxiety, and finding an agent. For adults who are interested in illustration, we offer Illustrator Studios where illustrators provide a demonstration of how they use a medium like acrylics or watercolor or techniques like color and perspective. An overhead camera allows attendees to view each step of the illustrator’s process and often to draw along with the illustrator. Illustrators providing these studios include Brendan Wenzel, Joe Cepeda, John Parra, Vashti Harrison, S. D. Nelson, Jonathan Nelson, Anna Margrethe Kjærgaard and Lian Cho.
Another strand of sessions focuses on parents and educators as an audience about new book recommendations and strategies to engage children as readers. Sessions this year focus on award-winning nonfiction books, global books, Latinx biographies, language arts and middle grade books. In addition, there are sessions on supporting young readers, dealing with banned books and resources from We Need Diverse Books.
Authors and illustrators also offer writing and drawing workshops for children, such as a Beautiful Oops drawing workshop with Barney Saltzberg, a comics workshop with Nidhi Chanani, a writing workshop with Rajani LaRocca and a cartooning workshop Chris Eliopoulos. There are also many activities for children in the children’s area outside the College of Education in the Tent for Tots and Creativity Corner. The Children’s Stage offers entertainment by musicians, theatre groups and storytellers. Authors and illustrators read aloud their books and interact with children at the Story Blanket Tent.
The Teen Area is located at the University of Arizona Library. The YA Author Stage is an outside stage with panels of YA authors, such as Marissa Meyer, Gene Luen Yang, Shelby Mahurin, Hafsah Faisal, Cherie Dimaline, Ellen Oh, Krystal Marquis, Ayana Gray, David Bowles and Jumata Emill. The panels focus on vampires, horror, resilience, mysteries, dark fantasies, rom-coms, voice and identity, and danger. Inside the library are YA Workshops on topics such as writing thrillers, writing remixes and retellings, writing rap and poetry, writing science fiction, and becoming a teen reviewer on social media. Besides a Teen Activity Tent, small groups of teens also meet with an author to record an audio interview that they later edit into a podcast to post online.
And then, of course, there is the bookstore with many, many books by the authors appearing at the festival and the book signing booths to add to your book collections. If that’s not enough, another 200 authors and sessions can be found in adult genres of current events, literary fiction, nonfiction, sports, romance, mystery, poetry and more.
The problem that the festival poses is not finding something to attend, but selecting from a wide range of great options and deciding which authors to spend time with. Later this month, we will post the children/teen schedule of sessions for those who want to make their selections ahead of time. What I love about the festival is the opportunity to interact with authors whose books have been my favorites and gain insights into the stories behind their books and their writing/illustrating processes, while also being introduced to emerging authors and adding to my list of favorites. Authors and illustrators become people I know rather than just a name on a book cover, and I read their books with greater insight and connection. Make plans to join us on March 9-10, 2024!
WOW Currents is a space to talk about forward-thinking trends in global children’s and adolescent literature and how we use that literature with students. “Currents” is a play on words for trends and timeliness and the way we talk about social media. We encourage you to participate by leaving comments and sharing this post with your peers. To view our complete offerings of WOW Currents, please visit its archival stream.