Saturday, March 30, 2013

Children's Literature Festival

Over Spring break, I spent 2 glorious days, with my children and mother, in Warrensburg, Missouri. We had the opportunity again to attend the 45th Annual Children's Literature Festival.

The literature festival is two days long with the chance each day of sitting in on 6 different one hour sessions. There are over 40 authors and illustrators who attend each year. This can make it really difficult to choose who to see. We fell in love with a few authors last year that we decided it was necessary to see again. But for the most part, our time was filled with new authors. It was very exciting and enlightening!

children's literature festival

I have spent the last week working my way through the books suggested by each author, 10 books total. This was an even bigger adventure than the festival. These authors, most of them hailing from the Midwest, are seriously talented individuals. I didn't pick up a book that I didn't love. They all were superb!

The klipfish code by Mary Casanova Mary Casanova was the first author on our schedule, and was a repeat from last year. She writes picture books, and early elementary chapter books, along with some young adult fiction.

The Klipfish Code was the first book I chose to read. It sounded very intriguing and I was not disappointed. I could hardly put the book down once I began.

This is a historical fiction book which takes place in Norway during WWII. When the main character, a 10 year old girl, Marit, survives having her home bombed by the Germans, she is sent along with her younger brother, Lars, to live with a grandfather and aunt on a coastal island. Marit is very disappointed with how willing her grandfather cooperates with the Nazi's and eventually is faced with her own life-altering decision. Will she cooperate too? Or will she be brave enough to take a stand for what she believes is right, even if it means danger for her own family?

The man who loved clowns by June Rae Wood June Rae Wood was another favorite author from last year. Since this was a first time experience for my daughter and mother, Gabe and I decided they must hear her speak.

The Man Who Loved Clowns is about a young girl, Delrita, with an uncle, Punky, who has Down's syndrome. She struggles throughout the book with feelings of love for Punky, but at the same time she is ashamed and hides him from the watchful, sometimes judging eyes of the world. The book is based on the author herself as a young girl. June Rae Wood grew up in a family of 12, one of them being her brother, Richard, who she modeled the character Punky after.

One of the benefits, June shared, from writing her books is that children have been sending letters letting her know they are no longer afraid of people who appear different. Kids have been approached by someone with Down's syndrome and they remember Punky and how special he was. Several times during her session I was moved to tears. The book will deliver the same experience. It is a beautiful story.

June Rae Wood
The real "Punky", June Rae Wood's brother, Richard
June Rae Wood
Our first day was full of authors from the previous year. The second day was for the new. The festival takes place in the small, friendly town of Warrensburg, MO. This is home to the University of Central Missouri, the location of the festival. My favorite part of staying overnight was the fact we chose the right hotel! What do I mean by that?

Almost all attendees are elementary and middle school students from the Missouri area. The schools will chose one day or the other to attend the festival. They go home at night. They have a schedule pre-made and follow it perfectly. Since we come by ourselves, we have the freedom of attending whenever we want, and to whatever session we want. We also spend the night at a hotel. Remember how small the town is?

University of Central Missouri


All the authors stayed at our hotel with us. They were constantly filling the lobby with their conversations and meetings. It was so much fun to eat breakfast surrounded by so many talented individuals. Every author we choose to see stayed at Comfort Inn with us. We were privileged to see them on a more personal level. None of the other students at the festival got to experience this.

Mary Jane Auch along with her husband Herm was our first session of the second day. They are a husband/wife team of illustrator/author. It made for an entertaining time. Every time Herm would start to tell us something "And now I'm going to talk to you about ..." Mary Jane would interrupt him and finish his thoughts. Authors appear to be very wordy individuals and you could tell who did the writing in this couple. Herm was front and center, but hardly got to say a word.

mary jane and herm auch

guitar boy by mj auch Guitar Boy is the story of a 14 year old boy, who is thrown out of his home. The mother has just been in a very serious car accident, and it is expected she will live her life in a nursing home, completely unaware of her surroundings. This throws some chaos into the life of her husband who is left with 5 children to raise himself.

Travis, the boy, has nothing to his name but a few dollars, bread and peanut butter, along with a can of beans he can't open, some shoes that don't even fit, and a guitar that's been in his family for generations.

The part of the story that had me hooked was during the session at the literature festival when MJ began to tell us of this story from her own past. Years ago she served as an occupational therapist. While there, she encountered a teenage boy with a traumatic head injury that reduced him to the capabilities of an infant, with no speech whatsoever. The boy had been a big fan of folk music. After repeated sessions of listening to others play the guitar, the boy sang out strong and clearly the words to the song. It was then that his recovery began. Music unlocked him. A miracle for sure! I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book!

one handed catch by mj auch
One-Handed Catch is the story of Mary Jane's husband, Herm. You may not have been able to tell from my earlier picture, but Herm is missing his left hand. When he was an 11 year old boy, he lost his hand to a meat grinder. His father left him to work in the family store. Herm was rushing through things, trying to finish his chores so he could make it to his older sister's birthday party.

The book is written for children, and is not at all overwhelming or graphic. It's kept very lighthearted. You will be impressed by the strength, Norm (the character in the book), shows. He has the dream of being a baseball player, and teaches himself to play against all odds. His mother is very supportive of him and gives no special treatment. She requires everyone to treat him like any normal healthy boy. The day he comes home from the hospital he is expected to take out the trash himself. It's a very inspiring story, and uses humor to get the message across.

wing nut by mj auch Wing Nut was not a book that Mary Jane discussed with us, but I wanted to read it just the same. For all the bird lovers out there, this is the book for you.

Grady and his mom have been moving around since his father died. They've lived in some crummy places which cause embarrassment for Grady, and leaves him lonely without hope of a friend. As they are moving once again, the car, held together by duct tape, breaks down outside a small town in Pennsylvania. With no money, and no place to go, Grady's mom finds a job with a cranky old man, Charlie. Through an unlikely friendship, Grady learns about birds, cars, and forgiveness.

All of the books I have recommended here will leave you with a satisfying sensation. They are written for children, but they can be received by adults. The messages are clear and to the point. A book always has the potential to change you. I believe these live up to that potential and leave you with a fresh perspective. I was inspired!

If you ever have the opportunity to sit with an author, take the chance. You might learn something. They have a fresh way of seeing the world.

"You don't have to read every day;
just on the days that you eat!"

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