By Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Festivals are an opportunity to connect with well-known authors who win awards and are on best-selling lists. Plenty of those authors are coming to the Tucson Festival of Books this year, such as Kate DiCamillo, Donna Barba Higuera, Roshani Chokshi, John Parra, Sayantani DasGupta, Jennifer Nielson, Kazu Kibuishi, R.L. Stine, Marissa Meyer, Shelby Mahurin, and Gene Luen Yang. They will appear on panels, solo sessions, and workshops, giving readers a chance to talk with the authors they admire and love to read.
What is often overlooked is that festivals are also an opportunity to meet new authors and illustrators who are making their mark on the field, adding their books as new favorites. Recent illustrators who have published picturebooks will appear on panels and give illustrator studios this year. Jonathan Nelson is the Diné illustrator of Forever Cousins (2022) and A Letter for Bob (2023), demonstrating his commitment to illustrating Native stories by Native authors. A Letter for Bob celebrates the treasured family car that has taken a young girl’s family through happy and sad times. In Lian Cho’s new picturebook, Oh, Olive! (2023), Olive loves to smear, spatter, and splash with a brush in each hand, but faces the displeasure of her parents who are serious artists, painting proper perfect shapes.
A major trend in middle grade fantasy are action adventures where a character moves between reality and fantasy, based on the mythology and folklore of a particular culture–a genre called contemporary fantasy popularized by Rick Riordan. Roseanne Brown’s new Serwa Boateng series is part of the imprint Rick Riordan Presents, and begins in Ghana where Serwa Boateng is an aspiring vampire hunter. She is sent to Maryland for safety by her parents and discovers that middle school is a dangerous place, especially when invaded by vampires. Misa Sugiura is a new author, writing the Momo Arashima series in which an ordinary Japanese girl, Momo, goes to school and cares for her mother. When her mother falls gravely ill, Momo is suddenly forced into a fantasy world on a quest to save her Shinto goddess mother from demons intent on causing chaos in the world.
In young adult fiction, thrillers and horror have become very popular. One new author, Jumata Emill, combines social justice issues with horror as his Black characters face great danger. In his recent book, Wander in the Dark (2024), a Black teen boy is seen fleeing the scene of a rich white girl’s murder. He must delve into her dark secrets or face a murder conviction. Jumata is offering a YA workshop on writing thrillers about murderous teens. Another example of a horror thriller is the Beasts of Prey series by Ayana Gray, a pan-African fantasy filled with monsters and mythos as teens form a partnership to catch a demon that terrorizes their land. Marc J. Gregson’s debut fantasy, Sky’s End (2024) is a dystopian thriller in which a teen is forced into a kill-or-be-killed competition to save the only family he has left. Jasmine Skye’s debut novel, Daughter of the Bone Forest (2024), is a gothic thriller in which humans can shapeshift into animals.
Several debut authors appearing at the festival have close connections to the Tucson community. Arya Shahi’s An Impossible Thing to Say (2023) is a YA novel-in-verse about an Iranian-American teen in Tucson who faces prejudice after 9-11 as he searches for words to connect with his Iranian grandfather. Shahi grew up in Tucson and is a rapper, poet, and playwright who now lives in Los Angeles. The festival brings him back to Tucson, where his family still lives. Ann Broyes also grew up in Tucson and is returning from Oregon to celebrate her picturebook biography, I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasnaella, Artist of the People (2023) about a folk artist and labor organizer. Meghan P. Brown from Austin, Texas, is a University of Arizona graduate who published a nonfiction picturebook, The Bees of Notre-Dame (2023), about a bee colony on the burning roof of the Notre-Dame cathedral. Jonathan Nelson is another University of Arizona graduate who is returning from Colorado to celebrate his work as an illustrator. Callie C. Miller also grew up in Tucson and now lives in Los Angeles, writing for animated television shows and video game companies. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Hunt for the Hollower (2023), is based in an Arthurian world in which Merlynda goes on a quest to save her talented twin brother Percy.
Finally, the award for coming the most distance to the festival goes to Rebecca Bach-Lauritsen and Anna Margrethe Kjærgaard, an author and an illustrator from Denmark. Both are well-published in Denmark, but Out of the Blue (2024) marks their picturebook debut in the U.S. In a carefully ordered house, a young boy who lives a life of routines suddenly encounters a bear, forcing him to step outside his comfort zone of control and open himself to new experiences.
Make your plans now to attend the Tucson Festival of Books to interact with favorite authors and illustrators and hear the stories behind their books, but also add to your reading enjoyment by exploring new books and their creators. The authors appearing at the festival and the schedule of their sessions is available on the festival website.
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.