Whether you are a child or a grown up, a teen or a tween, or just a kid at heart, the Children’s Book Festival to be held this Saturday under five large tents on Hinds Plaza will surely make you smile.
The annual festival, sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, has grown so much that it’s now on the radar of children’s book authors, illustrators, and their literary agents across the country. Youth Services Librarian Allison Santos, the festival’s director, is now able to choose from a wish list of authors eager to participate.
“The festival is now one of the largest of its kind in the country,” says Ms. Santos, who has been at the library for 13 years. “We began with local and New Jersey-based authors and now include authors and illustrators from all over. More often than not its publishers who contact us.”
Although the festival is geared toward “tweens,” children aged 10 to 12, who are reading chapter books and not yet into young adult fiction, the event is attended by a broad range of age groups. “We get teens excited to meet authors whose books they grew up with and parents eager to introduce their kids to old favorites and new writers,” said Ms. Santos. “It’s wonderful to see the excitement of teens coming in to talk to authors whose work they love.”
The Princeton Public Library is at the heart of a town that loves books. It’s where children go after school and at weekends. They do their homework there, meet friends, participate in numerous library-sponsored activities, and simply hang out and read in the third floor children’s library. It’s pretty similar to the relationship that author Ann M. Martin had when her parents used to take her to the library when it was located in Bainbridge House on Nassau Street. “My parents took me from a very early age and I remember when the new library was built. I was there all the time, reading and doing homework,” said the author of the popular Baby Sitters Club series.
Ms. Martin grew up on Dodds Lane, the daughter of beloved New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin. Now 58 and living in upstate New York, Ms. Martin is looking forward to her second visit to the festival. “I expect to see some familiar faces,” she said.
After Littlebrook Elementary School, Ms. Martin went to Community Park School for 6th grade and then spent a year at the Valley Road School before going on to Princeton High School. Her many novels for young readers include A Dog’s Life, Everything For a Dog, Belle Teal, and the Newbery Honoree, A Corner of the Universe.
Her latest book is the first of a new four-part series, titled Family Tree, a saga with a large cast of characters set in Maine. The first book introduces the character of Abigail in the 1930s; the second takes place some 25 years later and focuses on Abigail’s daughter. Subsequent titles will be about Abigail’s granddaugher and great granddaughter, said the author.
Like Ms. Martin, award-winning author and illustrator Brian Lies also has fond childhood memories of Princeton’s public library. Mr. Lies, whose mother Betty Bonham Lies is a well-known local poet, has been illustrating children’s books since 1990. Since then, he has written and/or illustrated more than two dozen titles, including his New York Times bestselling bat series, Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, and Bats at the Ballgame. A fourth bat book, Bats at the Concert, will be published next year.
Some 86 of the most acclaimed authors and illustrators in children’s literature will participate in the festival, about 12 of those coming from New Jersey. Their books will be on sale through JaZams, and besides author signings there will be plenty of photo opportunities.
“With so many participants, we had to have a random drawing to select the 30 who will speak about their work, but you are bound to see illustrators doodling and authors reading to children at their tables,” said Ms. Santos.
Local participants include Lawrenceville author Ame Dyckman, an avid reader of picture books. “Sometimes I stop reading them long enough to write one,” she said. Her titles are Boy + Bot, published last year with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino; Tea Party Rules, published this year with illustrations by K.G. Campbell, and her new work, with the working title Wolfie and Dot, which will be out next year with illustrations by Zachariah O’Hora.
Other popular visitors will be the author known simply as Avi, whose books are Things That Sometimes Happen, Crispin: The Cross of Lead, and Sophia’s War; and author John Rocco, best known for creating the book covers for the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. Mr. Rocco created the poster for this year’s festival.
Among those new to the festival is Raina Telgemeier from Queens, New York, who has adapted and illustrated four graphic novel versions of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club series. She’s also authored two popular works of her own, Smile and Drama, both were listed as No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Santos, whose favorite moment usually come half way through the morning when the festival has found its stride. “I walk around and observe, soaking up the excitement of the authors and enjoying the smiles of the kids. There are a lot of special moments.”
The eighth annual Princeton Children’s Book Festival, made possible by a partnership with JaZams of Princeton, Bai5, Terra Momo Restaurant Group, and the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, will take place rain or shine Saturday, September 21, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Hinds Plaza. Admission is free. For a complete list of participating authors and illustrators visit: http://community.princetonlibrary.org/pcbf2013/. For more information, call (609) 924-9529 or visit www.princetonlibrary.org.