Hundreds of young, early readers and families joined five children’s authors and illustrators at Spring Oaks Middle School on Jan. 31 for the district’s Bookworm Festival. Several Spring Branch ISD elementary schools helped their students and parents attend with Saturday bus transportation.
Children's author Dan Santat speaks to young readers at
the Bookworm Festival.
Festival keynote speaker Dan Santat learned only two days after the event that he had been awarded the Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book artistry for The Adventures of Beekle: The Imaginary Friend. The American Library Association issued the award, considered one of the top national prizes in children’s literature.
Santat talked about his most recent book, A Crankenstein Valentine, and his love for writing and illustrating to several hundred SBISD students and parents. Santat found his calling in creating picture books after switching from microbiology and a future career in dentistry to art school and uncertain future. A supportive father gave him permission to “be happy.”
“Being a writer and an illustrator is like being a wizard. If you become a writer or illustrator, you can take simple tools – a pencil, pad and paintbrush – and you can make absolutely anything from nothing,” he told students and parents gathered in the middle school cafeteria.
This year’s Bookworm Festival was designed as a fun event celebrating emerging readers, and those who write for them. Hundreds of students from three schools – Hollibrook, Shadow Oaks and Woodview – rode buses to the school event. The children’s authors attracted students and families from across Houston, too.
SBISD teachers and librarians read authors’ books to students ahead of the festival to familiarize students with book characters.
Bookworm Festival authors included:
- Deborah Freedman. Author and illustrator Freedman has written three books, including Scribble, Blue Chicken and The Story of Fish & Snail (2013). Her newest book, By Mouse & Frog, will be released in April.
- Tad Hills. American writer and illustrator Hills has published nine books in the Duck & Goose series and several more in the Rocket Learns to Read series, including How Rocket Learned to Read, and Rocket Writes a Story.
- Dan Santat. In addition to his new book, A Crankenstein Valentine, this children’s author may be best known for The Guild of Geniuses, and for creating the Disney Channel animated series, The Replacements. He was awarded the Caldecott Medal literary prize for best picture book.
- Jennifer Hamburg. Houston-based Hamburg has written A Moose That Says Moo, Monkey, and Duck Quack Up. She has written for television shows on Disney Junior, PBS and Nick Jr. She won two Emmy Awards as a writing team member for Between the Lions.
- Dan Hanna. He illustrated the many “Pout-Pout Fish” series books. He has more than 10 years of experience in the animation industry, and his works and illustrations have appeared on BBC, America and the Cartoon Network.
Blue Willow Books, a generous district partner, supported the special author event.
Festival attendance increased in one year from 300 to 500 students and adults, said teacher and librarian Melanie Scales of Spring Shadows Elementary School.
“All of our authors and illustrators expressed their gratitude and pleasure at being included in an event that was created for children and authors. They enjoyed the opportunity to interact with readers in our community. I saw so many happy kids, parents, educators and book people,” Scales said. “It was a magical morning!”
The Saturday event included two separate sessions with authors and then a closing children’s puppet show.
During breakout sessions, authors Tad Hills and Deborah Freedman talked openly about the personal joys and headaches involved in writing and illustrating as a job.
Their advice for young writers was simple – read, read, read, and then write, write, write. “The best way to write a lot of stories is to read a lot of stories. Read a lot of books, as many and as many types as you can,” Tad Hills said.
“All the writers I know are big readers. They write and they read a lot, and the best advice I have for young writers is to just write. Write something, and then write the next something. Just keep writing and reading,” Deborah Freedman said.