Kids Do Read, After All

Every year at the National Book Festival, I am struck with the same realization: Some kids are just mad about books. I mean, quavering voice mad, tears in eyes mad, please, oh, please, oh, please sign my book, you are my FAVORITE author mad.

You expect this sort of adoration for movie stars, so it is especially gratifying -- no, thrilling -- to see it directed at children's book authors. I introduced several kids' authors at the festival, and watched an awkward boy -- glasses, a little overweight, bag laden with books -- screw up his courage to ask each author to autograph the festival poster. Each time, he was clearly terrified, and each time he managed to pull it off. His mother was in the background just beaming with pride. Of course, I felt just as nervous asking Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda to autograph my 4-year-old's battered copy of Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters. (Reinhart drew a shark inside; my son was thrilled.)

Reinhart and Sabuda -- pop-up book geniuses, both of them -- treated the overflowing audience to a step-by-step lesson in making pop-ups (go here if you'd like to make your own). From my perch on the stage behind them, I couldn't see the pop-ups very well, but I could see the audience's eye-popping reaction to the castle, the birthday cake, the flamingo, the dragon....

For the next presentation, Sharon M. Draper rushed in and ordered all the third, fourth and fifth graders to come sit on the ground in front of the stage because she had something for them. Much to her surprise, more than 50 kids settled themselves in front of her so she had to resort to questions to determine who got a book: Who has a birthday in September? A tow-headed boy received a copy of one of her Ziggy books. Who carries a purse? A girl brandished hers triumphantly and recieved a galley from Draper's forthcoming Sassy series. Once time was up, Draper promised her avid audience of kids, parents, teachers and librarians that she would meet them outside the tent if she could only find a place that wasn't muddy.

And then came R.L. Stine, author of more than 300 books, all of them creepy. Stine, who looks like he's lived for far too long in a haunted house, got the kids in the audience to write a ghost story with him. For instance, he asked them whether the fearless hero, a boy named Joel, should start paddling when he saw a boatful of zombies coming toward him or jump in the water? Should he use his guitar pick to get a monster out of his canoe or consult a book he has just discovered at the bottom of the canoe called, conveniently, "How to Get a Monster Out of Your Canoe"? The kids yelled check the book; Stine claimed the book told the boy to use the guitar pick .....

Stine had asked me to tell the audience that he couldn't sign autographs after his talk because he had to catch a plane. I told them, twice, but Stine's young fans swarmed him anyway.

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  September 29, 2008; 9:39 AM ET Rachel Hartigan Shea
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I thought your comments were great --- and it is SO wonderful to see kids who are that excited about authors!!! I know that as an adult, hearing an author speak (or better yet, getting to meet them) is just like meeting a movie star. I was able to meet Jane Yolen at an ALA conference, and got completely choked up when I asked her to sign an old book of mine. Authors rule!!

Posted by: Maalik | October 1, 2008 9:54 PM

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