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A Child-Friendly Book Festival

By Mary Embree

If you have attended book festivals, you might have noticed that there were very few children there. When I produced the first Ventura Book Festival in March of last year I tried to remedy that by having a "children’s corner" where there were books for all ages of children and adult readers to read to them. Even though we promoted it, only a few children showed up. Since that didn’t work, I had to think of something else for this year’s festival in Ventura, California, on August 25th. If we could get children to book festivals, it would seem to follow that they’d see the value of reading and writing.

Book festivals promote books and help keep the joy of reading alive—an antidote for too much TV. However, unless there is something to entice children, only adults will attend. Books cover every imaginable subject and are written for a wide age range. Since books have something for everyone, why don’t book festivals? How can we get children to celebrate books and reading along with adults? One way is to get children interested in writing.

Anyone who learns how to write a sentence can write a story. Telling children that they will go farther in life if they learn to write well doesn’t do much to persuade them. They want immediate gratification (don’t we all?). We have to make writing more appealing, show them how they can benefit immediately. So I thought, why not tell them that if they spend a few weeks in a writing group that meets once a week and produce a story, we will publish their stories in a book and they will become published authors—quite an honor for a writer of any age. Not only will they receive a book that contains their own writing, we will promote and sell it at the next Ventura Book Festival. That idea appealed to quite a few children.

Our first writing program was with third- to fifth-grade children at the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura, in a low socio-economic area of the city. Our second program was with teenage girls at the H.P. Wright Library in Ventura. The Literary Arts Society published their books professionally and gave each participant a copy. Both of these writing groups will have booths at the book festival to display and sell their books, with the proceeds going toward other young authors’ programs. The children will also be on a panel to talk about writing and illustrating their stories. All of the children are excited about getting recognition for their work and telling an audience about the process—just as adult authors do.

There WILL be children at the next book festival—that’s guaranteed! These young authors will be a draw for other children to come and see what can be accomplished no matter how young and inexperienced they are. We believe the result will be an increased interest not only in writing but in reading and researching, which is part and parcel to being a good writer.

Not everyone can give children this particular opportunity, but every parent can get their child interested in writing by giving them a pencil and piece of paper and asking them to write a story—any story. If the only reward is typing it up for them and putting it into a greeting card to send to relatives, that may be enough recognition to spur them on to bigger things.

–Mary Embree is an author, literary consultant, editor, book doctor and writers’ workshop leader. She is the founder of the Small Publishers, Artists & Writers Network.



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