At Amy’s urging, the girls and I finally made it to the Albany Children’s Book Festival. This annual festival has been growing each year, and today’s event included about 70 children’s authors and illustrators, exhibitors, and kid-friendly entertainment. It’s held at The Albany Academies, which judging only from the Albany Academy for Girls’ athletic center, is quite seriously posh. The event itself is exceptionally well-run, with scads of volunteers pointing us toward a parking place outside and offering assistance hither, thither, and yon inside. Food was available from Bettie’s Cupcake Bus and Dave’s Wood Fired Pizza Truck (sorry: can’t find a link, but it looked & smelled delicious).
We were only able to fit in a quick visit between other obligations, but I could have spent the entire day, easily. The girls might have gotten restless. Before we went, I told the girls that I would buy each of them one book, but any additional purchases would have to come out of their own pockets. We did take notes on a bunch of other tempting books. The Longest Night (by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ted Lewin) looked like an ideal candidate for Grandpa’s annual Christmas-time story book. J was delighted that there’s a new fairy series, Silverlake Fairy School (by Elizabeth Lindsay, illustrated by Anna Currey), and I was pushing The Little Bitty Bakery (by Leslie Muir, illustrated by Betsy Lewin) as a great choice for J, because we’d spent the morning baking and the illustrations were freakishly adorable, like so many of Lewin’s books.
M settled quickly on The School for the Insanely Gifted, the latest children’s novel by Dan Elish. An excellent choice for her, I’m guessing, just based on the entertaining goofball title. M loves books that make her laugh, and the author was having enough fun at the event that I’m hopeful that the book will be fun, too. There’s nothing better than hearing M laugh out loud when she’s alone reading a book, so I’m looking forward to her finishing her current book (which is a bit tween-girl-angsty) and jumping into this one. An added bonus would be if the smarty-pants, gifted-musician girl protagonist would help improve M’s current attitude about cello practice. My fingers are crossed!
J, meanwhile picked Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl. This book is recommended for ages 10 and up, so it’s a bit old for her, with some sophisticated vocabulary words, but we’ll do it as a read-aloud, anyway. Just like with M’s choice, I almost could have predicted this one for J, because she’s a huge fan of fairy tales. We both liked it right away because the description of the protagonist began that she’s “as lovely as the dawn. But that is only one of her problems.” When it came to this author’s table, I kind of wanted all of her books. Her latest is Keeping the Castle, and one of the reviews said that I’d love it if I’m a fan of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and I totally am a fan of I Capture the Castle! In fact, if you need a delightful, light romp of a novel (Jane Austen romp; not 50 Shades of Grey romp) for a vacation, it’s a perfect choice.
Then I couldn’t restrain myself, and I picked a book, too. I bought The Twelfth Stone by Jana Laiz. At the time, I really just chose that one because her entire table tempted me for the girls, but the author recommended this one as an adult/YA crossover book, so I grabbed it, figuring that after I read it, I could leave it on the shelves for them, too. Now that I’ve had a chance to look, though, I think the timing is excellent, because I’m just finishing Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King. That one’s filled with all sorts of Celtic history and magic themes, and The Twelfth Stone is about Celtic and faerie myths and legends. So now I might have to jump into that one first and ignore the two books in my to-read-for-book club-queue.
Once I got a better chance to look over all of our choices , I’m excited to see that everyone went for what look like “girl power” books. That’s because I started out by raising them on Girl Power Picture Books. Score another point for the mama! Whoop, whoop!
After the enormously difficult task of choosing our books was over, the girls went to listen to author Ruth Anne Smalley read Sheila Says We’re Weird (illustrated by Jennifer Emery). I didn’t take a picture of her because after the reading, she was talking about environmentally friendly things that we could all do. And M volunteered that we’d given up composting because it kept attracting a skunk. And then I felt mortified and guilt-ridden, and I couldn’t work up the courage to ask for a pose. I know, I know: why should it take courage to ask an author if you can feature her in your blog? That’s just silly. I know. And I am silly. Which is too bad, because she had a super-adorable mushroom girl puppet that I was going to ask her to include in her portrait.
At this point, the girls were slightly less festive, but I’d spotted one more table that we’d missed, with author/illustrator David Hyde Costello. He was sketching small pictures for kids by request and quickly painting them with a set of watercolors which looked just like the humble little set that you probably have stashed in a drawer at your house. M asked for an elephant, and J wanted a fairy. Tragically, my photography skills are such that you can only sort of make out the elephant under his chin. But he was kind and patient, and I thought it was a lovely little souvenir for, no doubt, scores of kids who visited today. I loved that the girls could see him make such awesome little images with a basic pen, paints & paintbrush, a water cup, and a single tidy little paper towel. So much of the arts and craft stuff that they do at home is just overflowing with all sorts of crazy materials. Maybe I’ll bring a couple of drawing books home from the library, just to see if anybody’s inspired.
So, would I recommend going to the festival next year? Yes, of course! But I think that we would have loved this event even more if we’d checked out the authors who were coming ahead of time and taken a trip to the library to do a little bit of preparation. There were some more well-known authors and illustrators, but many of them (indeed, all the people pictured here) were new to us. And it’s lovely to meet new people, of course, but it’s even more thrilling to meet someone you’ve admired from afar. If I had a very outgoing child, I might suggested that (s)he do some writing or illustrating ahead of the event, then consult with the professionals for advice on their work. The festival folks had provided a special passport as a way to get kids speaking to authors, but my kids roll their eyes at that sort of thing and consider it busywork, so they ignored it. In fact, J reported back to me when some (no doubt friendly and well-meaning) author tried to get her to discuss the passport, and she sounded mildly alarmed and annoyed. Oh, well: good try.
And finally, you know I’m not a shopper, but this is clearly a shopping excursion. And I am generally too cheap to buy many books (I’m a library/friend exchange/Paperback Swap gal), but there are so many awesome books and so many authors and illustrators who’d really like you to buy them. Plus, a carefully chosen, signed copy of a book is an excellent gift. So next year, I think I’ll spend some time ahead pondering about the children, nieces, nephews, and teachers whom I know and the many gift-worthy occasions that will present themselves in the upcoming year, and I’ll just spend freely. Who knows? I could knock out a third of my Christmas list before summer.