National Book Festival 2011

Here is my annual post on the DC National Book Festival!  Best FREE book event in the country!

Authors I saw speak (in order of appearance):

Sarah Dessen

Teen author, Sarah Dessen

I knew she was popular and has been writing for awhile, but I haven’t read anything by her.  I’ve never been a big reader of teen girl realistic fiction.  She was so charming that I downloaded one of her books on my Kindle while sitting in the audience.  She joked about how she was a very ordinary person and how when she came to events like this, she wanted to bottle up all the wonderful love and adoration from her fans.  Then, when she was home, doing laundry or dealing with crying children, she could be like, “See!  People think I’m amazing!”  She also jokingly said that she owes all her sales success to Mandy Moore.  Once Mandy Moore was on the cover of her movie edition, her books sold like hotcakes.  She joked that her family thanks Mandy Moore for everything in their house.  “We thank Mandy Moore for our refrigerator.”  One other cool thing that she does in her books that was a completely new concept to me, is instead of writing the sequels that her fans beg for, she has some of her characters from past books make guest appearances in new novels.  I thought this was such a cool idea!

Katherine Paterson and John Rocco

Illustrator Jon Rocco and author Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson is a living legend and John Rocco did the cover art for the Percy Jackson series.  The two of them teamed up to create a gorgeous book with 60 color illustrations.  The Flint Heart is a 1910 fantasy story by Eden Phillpotts retold by Paterson in more modern friendly language with more reader friendly pacing.  I bought this book after hearing them speak, and it is a gorgeous piece of book art!  Katherine Paterson and John Rocco were so cute together, as seen here in this picture:

Jack Gantos
Jack Gantos is quite a character.  Very lively, humorous, and full of outrageous stories.  I think several members of the audience were quite shocked to hear about how he went to jail for drug smuggling (I already knew this bit of back story).  I probably wouldn’t have chosen to bring it up at a national event in front of hundreds of people… but that’s just me.  Everything came with a dose of humor, and he got quite the round of applause.

Gordon Korman

Middle Grade author, Gordon Korman

Very cool guy.  One of the better speakers of the day.  And this guy’s book output is off the charts.  I loved how enthusiastic he was about the research process when writing books.  He said how research brings in some of the best plot ideas because sometimes the real stuff is too good for even the most creative brain to make up.  And he REALLY made me want to read all of the 39 Clues books.  The way they connect adventure to history and artifacts is too cool.  His advice to writers was to write about what makes you excited.  (I agree!)  Gordon Korman had one of the highest kid audiences of the day  šŸ™‚

Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare was probably the biggest disappointment for me of the weekend.  Her books are great fun if you are looking for an action-packed paranormal read with hints of romance.  I was hoping she’d be great fun, too.  She read from a script in a tired, flat voice that suggested she didn’t want to be there.  When teen girls flocked to the microphones for the Q&A portion and were showering her with praise… she didn’t seem grateful, and didn’t thank the readers for the compliments.  And then there was one off-color comment.  One girl asked if there was anything that was taken out of the books that Clare had wished had stayed in.  And Clare responded that there were several scenes detailing the villain, Valentine, killing masses of children.  And she thought that part was pretty cool and wished her editors hadn’t made her take it out.  Her editors didn’t think people would want to read about children being murdered.  I quite agree with her editors on this one.

Brian Selznick

Author and illustrator, Brian Selznick

Selznick was definitely one of the best speakers of the day.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his IQ is in the genius range.  He mostly spoke about how he’s trying to do new things with text and pictures through first Hugo Cabret and now with his new book Wonderstruck.  (You should run out and buy Wonderstruck.  It will win awards.)  He spoke of his love of museums and his love of E.L. Konigsburg, which inspired Wonderstruck.  His enthusiasm and innovation really shone through when he spoke about how and why he chose to tell two stories in Wonderstruck.  Two stories are interwoven from two different time periods in Wonderstruck; one story is told through pictures and one story is told through text.  But he thought about WHY a story would or should be told in just pictures and he was inspired by the deaf community who rely so heavily on images.  His speech really blew my mind and I wish it had been recorded (he requested no video recording).  A Hugo Cabret movie by Martin Scorsese is coming out this coming holiday season 2011, and Selznick said Scorsese was diligent in following the book and carried it around on set.  The trailer looks fantastic!

Rita Williams-Garcia
I was really looking forward to hearing Rita Williams-Garcia after reading One Crazy Summer this past weekend, and she did not disappoint!  (I was disappointed at the small crowd, but she was the last speaker of the day and many people were likely tired and hungry.)  Rita was so excited to be at the Book Festival speaking that she literally began by hopping up and down whilst giggling and grinning ear to ear.  She was so full of energy and absolutely adorable.  She said that one thing she loves about storytelling is you don’t need anything to tell a story.  Just your brain and your voice.  She described herself as a character driven writer (which doesn’t surprise me because her characters were so vivid in OCS).  She said she’s asking questions about her characters all the time and constantly thinking about them.  Rita believes that it’s the strengths and failings that make real characters.  She spoke about her own mother and how her mother wasn’t like other mothers (echoing themes from OCS), and did a hilarious impersonation of her bombshell mother walking into a concert at her school.  She was scared to write middle grade because she always wrote for teens.  And when asked about her writing process, she said she writes the moments of greatest impact first, and then fills in the rest.  I thought this was a really interesting method of writing, but it makes sense.  By writing critical scenes and seeing how your characters react, you get to know your characters on higher level, which would make writing the less crucial scenes easier having established your character’s inner workings.

Kazu Kibuishi
This young Asian graphic novelist, creator of Scholastic’s Amulet graphic novels, was such a cool speaker.  I want to show his speech to my students.  He spoke of how difficult it was for him to figure out what he wanted to do for a living.  His parents wanted him to be a doctor.  He thought he wanted to be a writer.  He went to film school.  Was hired by Disney, left Disney.  He always denied his love of drawing.  He wanted to tell stories.  But when he finally discovered he could meld his love of storytelling with the love of drawing he’d been suppressing, he discovered his career as a graphic novelist.  I love seeing young, positive male role models for young people, and he definitely was one!

Graphic novelist, Kazu Kibuishi
Kazu drawing characters from Amulet

Rachel Renee Russell
What I didn’t realize was that the Dork Diaries series (essentially the Wimpy Kid series but for girls) is done by a mother/daughter team.  Mom does the writing and daughter does the drawing.  The presentation was very cute and kid-friendly.  While mom talked, the daughter was drawing people in the audience in the cartoony style of the books.  Kids were so thrilled to see themselves drawn as cartoons.

Author, Rachel Renee Russell
Russell’s daughter, Nikki, drawing a member of the audience

As soon as the book festival was over, I started wondering who I would get to see next year!  Such a great experience!  I’m so lucky to live near DC!

Who do you hope to see next year?  My number one hope for next year’s festival: Scott Westerfeld.  Fingers crossed!

2 comments on “National Book Festival 2011

  1. Hillary says:

    Did I ever tell you that Gordon Korman came to our school a few years ago to do a workshop with the kids? He was awesome; I even got to have dinner with him!

  2. CWhitney says:

    Hmm… That's interesting about Cassandra Clare. I don't know, ever since you told me her backstory and all that I haven't been itching to read her stuff. And now this? I mean, I need actually give her stuff a chance — but still… Maybe she was just nervous and having word vomit. You know? There are so many times I'm talking and the words that are coming out of my mouth are awful and my brain is thinking "STOP TALKING! WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?!?!?"

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