For the shorties

By Bill Castanier

Book Fest aims to inspire love of reading in youngsters

Pouting fish, mermaid princesses, sheep in jeeps and pesky raccoons will join a runaway garden, errant vowels, a copper turtle and a passel of young adult heroes and heroines at the first-ever Young Folk Book Fest in East Lansing.

This weekend is the time to pull kids away from video games, computers and TVs in exchange for the old-school passtime of reading and a peek at the work of 20 children’s and young adult authors and illustrators taking part in the BookFest.

Gabriel Dotto, director of Michigan State University Press, said the idea is for The Young Folk BookFest to become an annual event to promote literacy and a love of reading.

“It all comes down to literacy,” Dotto said. “The BookFest is not only a lot of fun, but it is enticing for educators.”

But his goal the first year is simple. “I want to see people picking up a book, looking at it and smiling,” Dotto said.

Dotto said MSU Press will use the BookFest to highlight the African Book Collective, which the Press represents in the United States. It features more than 1,000 African children’s and young adult books published in English.

“The writers all have distinctive ways of approaching children’s tales,” Dotto said. “The colors are rich and vibrant and tell distinctive stories.”

The inaugural event will exclusively feature Michigan authors and illustrators, including National Book Award winner Gloria Whelan, author of 47 children and young adult books. Her 2000 book, “Homeless Bird,” won the National Book Award in the category for young adults. In 2006, her “Mackinac Bridge: The Story of the Five-Mile Poem” was selected as a Michigan Notable Book.

The Library of Michigan will use the BookFest event to announce its selection of a children’s book for the annual Target Michigan Reads! Program, which is “The Pout Pout Fish,” by Grand Ledge author Debbie Diesen. “Pout Pout” is Diesen’s first book, and it has spent time on The New York Times Best Seller List and was selected as a Time Magazine Top 10 Children’s Book of 2008.

Diesen’s inspiration for the book came from her young son and a pouty face he would make that looked like a fish. The book encourages readers to get in the “swim” with the pout-pout fish and chase away the “dreary wearies.”

“I was blown away by the news,” said Diesen, who has been keeping the secret since late last year. “I try to keep it in perspective. There are so many wonderful children’s authors in Michigan. A lot of it is timing, luck and momentum.”

Diesen, who has made more than 50 appearances since her book was published, said the success of her first book, although exhilarating, has been stressful.

“I happen to be an introvert,” she said.

The Target Michigan Reads! program provides more than 5,000 reading kits to public libraries, elementary schools, Head Start and Michigan School Readiness Programs. In addition to a hardcover copy of the book, the kit includes programming ideas and reader’s guides. Diesen will visit 12 libraries in Michigan as part of the program.

Nancy Robertson, state librarian of Michigan, called the selection of “The Pout Pout Fish” a “no brainer.”

“It sounds good when read aloud, it has great graphics and, of course, it was written by a Michigan author,” she said.

In addition to author and illustrator sessions, which begin every half hour starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, and continue beginning at noon on Sunday, Aug. 9, MSU’s Literacy Achievement Research Center will present three, one-hour sessions on multi-cultural literature, poetry and humor and graphic novels. In addition to giving readings, all authors will answer questions and sign books. Barnes & Noble, Curious Book Shop, Archives Book Shop, Riley Books and Everybody Reads Books & Stuff will have books available for sale.

Three illustrators will also hold interactive drawing events for children of all ages. Lansing illustrators Jef Mallet and Ruth McNally Barshaw will be joined by Ann Arbor artist and cartoonist David Coverly. Mallet’s comic strip “Frazz” is especially loved by teachers and middle school students, who identify with his character, a middle-school janitor.
Barshaw writes and illustrates a book series featuring a middle-school girl. Coverly recently teamed up with fellow Ann Arbor resident Jim Tobin to illustrate their first children’s book, “Sue MacDonald Had a Book.”

Lansing area writer Jim Hines will read from his fantasy books for young adults and discuss his latest book, “The Mermaid’s Madness,” which puts a little darker spin on the classic princess stories. Hines is one of the hottest fantasy writers in the country.

The Young Folk BookFest blends authors who write children’s picture books with authors of books appealing to middle schoolers.

Included in the lineup are: Michigan Radio staff member Charity Nebbe (“A Walk in the Woods”); Grand Rapids Press book editor Sue Thoms (“Cesar Takes a Break”), previous Michigan Reads! author Nancy Shaw (“Sheep in a Jeep” and “Racoon Tunes”); Michigan Notable Book Award winner Cynthia Furlong Reynolds (“Rascal Makes Mischief on Mackinac Island”); Doris Holik Kelly (“Mystery of the Copper Turtle”) and more.

(Full disclosure: Bill Castanier helped organize and raise funds for the Young Folks BookFest.)

Young Folks BookFest

8 & 9 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday Noon – 6 p.m. Sunday Abbot Road at
Albert Avenue, downtown East Lansing FREE