Youth literature festival brings joy of reading, art to local students, writers

Storytellers, musicians, puppeteers and even the Cat in the Hat interacted with the local community as part of the Youth Literature Festival at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday.

Fourteen authors spent two days in the local middle and high schools talking to students about their books and spreading the joy of reading and writing, said Cindy Reiter, who helped coordinate the event.

“It is important for us to connect to the community and not only bring the joy of reading and literature into the schools but to bring authors here to interact with children,” said Joan Tousey, event co-chair an associate dean for the College of Education, who sponsored the event.

Debbi Chocolate, an author of over 20 picture books, said these kinds of festivals help build that connection between the author and his or her young readers. She added that exposure to writers is a great way to help children realize that the process of storytelling is going on everywhere around them.

“Hopefully we can get to connect enough, so that they can be part of a generation that continues storytelling in the future on paper,” Chocolate said.

All authors gave presentations about their work which included activities, such as reading aloud, singing and entertaining children, said local author Alice McGinty.

However, not all presentations were geared toward kids. Some presentations outlined how to publish a story, said Janice Del Negro, educator and author.

Del Negro talked to adults about the process from writing a story to getting it published, including her experiences with her editor and illustrator. She also commented on how being a storyteller differs from writing.

“When you are a storyteller, you can change the story each time you say it, but when you write it down you get locked onto the page,” Del Negro said.

Chocolate talked about the multicultural aspects of her picture books and even described her processes of making them, advising both parents and children that anyone can put in the effort to make a picture book.

“I teach all the classrooms I visit how to make picture books, and it is easy for any child to make one,” Chocolate said. “Picture books should be very simple with more pictures than words and there are so many things that you can do inside a picture book.”

The festival also had a puppet show presented by the Central Illinois Puppetry Guild, bookmaking presented by Soybean Press, a ventriloquist act and a coloring station done by Anjali Forber-Pratt, graduate student.

Forber-Pratt, a Paralympian, handed out her coloring book about four of the sports disabled children can participate in.

“When I was a kid there really were no books that spoke to me as a young child with a disability, so I felt that I really wanted to fill that void and put something out there to teach kids,” Forber-Pratt said about her book. “Sometimes a disability sport is just so foreign that (disabled) kids just don’t understand the opportunities that exist for them.”

The festival is a great way to show the importance of reading in the lives of children, said Jim Aylesworth, children’s book author.

“(The festival) is about authors coming to get kids more interested in books and do more reading and even more writing,” Aylesworth said. “I began my work with children as a teacher, and I continue it now as an author. But I still have the same objectives, to be a good example to them and to have them find joy in books.”