Children’s book authors and illustrators endure a lot of things while touring to support their latest works – noisy children, frigid or sweaty hot auditoriums, a carnival parade of audio or video technical glitches, just to name a few possible issues.
But at the recent SBISD Bookworm Festival, five children’s authors/illustrators took incredible delight in finding their latest books displayed as edible cakes.
A highlight for keynote festival speaker Adam Rex and author Varsha Bajaj were the photos they took with student decorated and frosted cakes. Exclaimed Bajaj, who hugged adults and students involved, “I love this!”
About 50 students in first-year hospitality and tourism classes at Spring Oaks Middle School rose to the occasion after reading the books and then working through ideas and sketches to turn bookish ideas into rich, tasty messages.
“It looks pretty good for eighth-graders. It looks cute, I think,” said Spring Oaks student Kenya Ocampo, after starting out thinking that the cake for Bajaj’s book, This is Our Baby, Born Today, might not be up to par for a big-time writer.
Ocampo was one of about 50 students in two hospitality and tourism classes given the challenge of creating a cake to honor and represent books written by festival writers.
The Jan. 21 book festival included keynote speaker and author-illustrator Adam Rex, who shared his newest picture book, XO, OX. He took many photographs.
The Spring Oaks students read the books, and then selected and designed cake images that they felt could embody the authors’ works. Students worked really hard in the weeks before the book festival to make completely edible and even sculptural works using the skills they had learned. The cakes were fun, too, but also a team and class project challenge.
“We all read the book, then we got ideas on how we wanted the cake to look. In our group, we worked together to sketch it out on a piece of paper and then get the ingredients and equipment we’d need to make it,” Ocampo said.
“I think it’s so amazing that seventh- and eighth-graders created these,” Michele Greenawalt, the hospitality and tourism teacher, said. “Many adults do not have the patience and the problem-solving skills involved to create these cakes. All of the students wanted their cakes to be perfect. I’m really proud of all of them for being so amazing!”
Greenawalt partnered with school librarian Kari Heitman to adopt a cake-making project to support and collaborate with the school’s literacy initiative. The school librarian was as dazzled by the cakes as the authors, parents and volunteers from across the district who visited the library display.
Books were sold nearby in the library by staffers from Blue Willow Bookshop, a festival sponsor and longtime district partner.
“The students did an incredible and amazing thing. In many cases, they captured and illustrated the essence of the book. They all worked hard, and then came up with such creative designs,” Heitman said.
The morning book festival, held for a fourth year, included encouraging remarks from best-selling authors like Rex about reading, writing and illustrating.
Rex, in his keynote talk to students and families at the festival event, noted that at 8 years old, he wrote his first original story, titled The Rat That Ate New York. That story had no outline or early drafts, which he used to illustrate how his early habit never died.
“I still write like I did at age 8,” Rex said. “I don’t plan. I don’t outline. I still make it all up. But the difference now, at 43 years old, is I go back and re-read that story, and I may say, ‘Oh, no! This story is bad.’ So today I go back and write it again and again, and again.”
“Now I rewrite, and I rewrite, and I rewrite, and that is the difference between me being 8 years old and being 43 years old,” he added, before confiding to the young writers that “all your favorite authors don’t know what they are doing either.”
Other children’s writers who spoke during festival panel discussions were Adam Lehrhaupt, Heidi Schulz and Mary Sullivan.
The festival was supported this year with a grant from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, provided by Phillips 66, and by the Spring Branch Education Foundation. Blue Willow Bookshop provided books.