Move Over, Bonnaroo, Children’s Book Festivals Are Here!

Children's Book FestivalAmazing resources for children, families, librarians and educators are just around the corner and across the country. Children’s Book Festivals sponsored by schools, libraries, colleges and universities give young people a chance to interact with every aspect of the written word. Drawing from local talent as well as authors on tour, these festivals provide kids with face-to-face experiences with the creators who bring stories to life.

Imagine the preparation and planning that goes into juggling multiple venues, authors, hosts, audiences and more. Some coordinate with local school systems, others operate on an even larger scale. Some festivals, like the Hudson Children’s Book Festival (HCBF) in Hudson, New York, start in a classroom and continue to grow until even the school gymnasium is unable to host all the attendees. Others, like Children’s Day at the Brooklyn Book Festival, begin with a handful of local authors and illustrators invited to interact with the community that has steadily grown in both popularity and renown.

The Orange County Children’s Book Festival (OCCBF) in Tustin, California has a different origin story. Pat Burns, co-founder and executive director and her business partner, Barry Ackerman, got their festival up and running with the help of their community: “Orange Coast College has been on board since day one, and we are so blessed to have them as a partner.”

But it was more than just the college. Pat explains that “We’ve had tremendous support from many community publications, securing the Orange County public libraries and the Orange County Department of Education was a game-changer.” The key was access to every teacher in every K-5 public school and making them true partners in the promotion of the OCCBF. Festival wannabes should steal this from Pat’s playbook: “The local PBS station gave us a spot on their channel before all their children’s programming.”

Though everyone may pitch in to encourage attendance at the festivals, it’s really up to the kids to make a festival successful. Without children eagerly anticipating the annual occasion, there would be no reason for booklovers to organize the festivities.

Back in New York, HCBF gets students excited about visiting authors and illustrators by providing books to Hudson’s schools months before the festival. OCCBF volunteers print and send out thousands of attractive bookmarks featuring visiting authors’ books to each classroom in the fifteen surrounding school districts.

On festival day, organizations often bus kids to the events. Jen of HCBF says, “Our main goal is to get good books in the hands of kids and allow them to meet their favorite rock star authors.”

Every rock star needs an arena and stages are set up for authors, illustrators, singing, dancing, and puppet shows. The creative atmosphere gives attendees, especially children, the opportunity to learn alongside each other without judgement or criticism. Imagination is given free rein.

Pat relates her favorite part of each OCCBF. “I enjoy seeing children of all ethnicities, races, and religions, sitting and laughing and learning together side-by-side.” Pat adds, “They’re learning together and sharing their work with each other, interacting together in a festival that is not about anything but reading, education, and the arts.”

Children’s book festivals spark something more lasting than simply a love for books and an appreciation of the arts. They strengthen communities, reaching out to diverse populations and connects them through something pure, innocent, and timeless. They encourage everyone, especially children, to pursue the love of reading and learning, and to share that with the world.

Many festivals also have year-round programming that continues to share the love of reading with people who do not have as much access to books. The OCCBF has a book donation program that delivers books to Title I schools, families in need, and disaster areas, according to Pat. “We don’t do just the book festival. We have a year-long program bringing books to kids. Our mission is to inspire the joy of reading and the love of books.”

In addition to those highlighted above, other influential book festivals children’s book enthusiasts should keep on their radar include:

  • The Library of Congress National Book Festival
    • Coming up on its 16th year, this annual book festival boasts more than 120 visiting authors, illustrators, and poets.
  • The LA Times Book Festival
    • Held every April in Los Angeles, this is two days of nothing but authors, illustrators, and books hosted by the LA Times.
  • Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival
    • More than 90 authors and illustrators attend this September festival, hosted by Bell Middle School in Chappaqua, NY.
  • Bay Area Book Festival
    • Located in downtown Berkeley’s art district, this California book fest welcomes readers of all ages to join in the fun every June.
  • The Southern Festival of Books
    • Now in its 27th year, this three-day festival in downtown Nashville hosts dozens of children’s book creators among its 200 authors and illustrators.
  • The Texas Book Festival
    • Celebrating 20 years in Austin, Texas, this year’s Festival in November is expected to draw over 40,000 booklovers and over 275 authors.
  • The Youth Literature Festival
    • Co-sponsored by the University Library and the College of Education at the University of Illinois, this Festival held in Champaign/Urbana Illinois every other October helps authors reach over 14,000 students in schools in east central Illinois.