Mystery, intrigue, adventure ... dinosaurs?
Yep, we’re talking about the children’s area at this year’s Tucson Festival of Books.
Not only will the family be able to listen to and meet some of their favorite authors, but they’ll also be able to participate in hands-on workshops, games, storytelling, art and let’s not forget about the circus.
The schedule is chock full of big-name authors, as well as debut authors in all genres. In fact, the range of authors is one of the most notable things about this year’s festival, said Kathy Short, chair of the children’s and teen author committee.
“They’re writing everything from fun, funny adventures to very serious books dealing with major life issues,” Short said. “We also have people who are new, debut authors and people who are famous and have a long history. We also have a really strong focus on the importance of cultural diversity in children’s and young adult. So we have authors who are writing books that highlight children of color, but we also have sessions where they’re addressing the need for diversity and why it’s important.”
One of the most well-known names on the roster is R.L. Stine, who’s famous for his “Goosebumps” series, which was recently made into a movie.
“His (Stine’s) books have been popular amongst generations, and that’s one of the interesting things when he comes to the festival — there are sons, fathers and grandfathers that have read his books,” Short said. “Also, with the release of his movie, I think there’s also another audience of people who know his work.”
Other big names include Sonia Manzano of “Sesame Street” fame and Tucson’s Chris Gall, whose Dinotrux series has landed him screen time on Netflix.
Here are some highlights of what families can expect to see and do at the festival.
The author panels taking place in the Education Kiva will be ticketed for the first time ever, with half the tickets available through reservation and the other half at the door.
“It’s happening because those are the sessions we really want to highlight ... and those are the ones that we expect to draw the largest audiences, so we wanted people to have the opportunity to sign up ahead,” Short said.
The “Adventures of Mystery and Intrigue” panel includes authors who write for middle-grade kids (fourth through eighth), which is a particularly important age group to reach, Short said.
“Research shows we often lose them as readers,” Short said. “They start to get more textbooks in school, and reading that’s less interesting, and having to read disciplinary content that isn’t as compelling reading, so maintaining and exciting kids in that age is so important. These authors write exciting adventure books that’s exciting for that age group.”
Families attending this panel will be able to hear from Stephan Pastis, who created the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip and writes the “Timmy Failure” series; Nicholas Gannon, who wrote “The Doldrums”; Peter Lerangis, author of the “Seven Wonders” series and Gordon Korman, writer of the “Masterminds” trilogy.
Sit in on the “Adventures of Mystery and Intrigue” panel at 11:30 a.m. on March 12 in the Education Kiva.
Dinosaur fans won’t want to miss the “Dinos Galore: Dinosaur Train and Dinotrux Meet Rex” panel.
Dino superstars include Scott Sampson of “Dinosaur Train”; Chris Gall, author and illustrator of “Dinotrux” and Molly Idle, former Dreamworks animator who wrote and illustrated “Tea Rex.”
“They’re three different kinds of connections to dinosaurs,” Short said. “Hers are more playful fantasy, Scott is based on real dinosaurs, and Chris is using the transformer idea combining truck and dinosaurs ... I think it’s gonna be a really interesting interaction because they all have a background in animation ... Dinosaurs has been and remains a highly popular kid interest.”
Chris Gall says dinosaurs are so appealing because of how many there are.
“It’s not like just pandas,” Gall said. “There are so many different size and shapes. Some are nice. Some are mean. I think there’s always new dinosaurs to discover, and that’s what makes it a never-ending fun genre.”
The Dinos Galore panel is at 2:30 p.m. on March 12.
During the “Mystery, Intrigue and Fear: Close Encounters With Poe” panel, authors will talk about how they have drawn inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe in their writing.
Panelists include Stine, Polly Shulman and Avi.
The panel takes place at 11:30 a.m. March 13.
Winners of the young authors and young artists contests will be announced at the festival during a ceremony hosted by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons.
The quality of this year’s art contest entries was so high, the judges ended up picking an extra six winners, said Cindy Clayberg, contest organizer.
“The artwork we are seeing is just amazing,” Clayberg said. “I can’t wait for people to see them this year. It’s incredible.”
The art contest, in its fourth year, was started because of illustration’s importance to early literacy, Clayberg said.
“We were getting these stories and they would want to illustrate them and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, we are missing something here...a huge piece,’” Clayberg recalled.
Each winner will receive a $100 gift card to Sarnoff Artist Materials, Clayberg said. And they each get posters featuring their art.
Though there were fewer entries than expected, the writing contest saw its share of high quality works, said Mary Jo Schwartz, contest organizer.
“I think it was a little better than last year,” Schwartz said. “There are some astonishingly good entries...When kids write something that is important to them or they come up with it on their own, the quality of writing can be outstanding.”
An anthology of the winning entries will be printed by the UA BookStore Express Press. Some stories will be read aloud at the ceremony by the authors.
The contest ceremony is at 10 a.m. March 12.
OTHER FUN EVENTS
The LindleyLopez Circus, based in San Diego, has created a Shakespeare-themed act “A Midsummer Night’s Circus” to perform at the festival.
The audience will see a wide range of circus arts including aerial chiffon, trapeze, juggling, contortion, live music and singing.
“What we’re doing is taking the idea that Shakespeare was the original rapper,” said Cheryl Lindley, co-owner of the circus. Actual lines from Shakespeare’s original work “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be reenacted in a theatrical way, Lindley added.
“Our performances are always based on literary works,” Lindley said. “Come see our show and you’ll be smiling for a week.”
The circus will perform three shows on each day of the festival.
Illustrators will have their skills put to the test during a “draw-off” moderated by Adam Rex, who will take suggestions from the audience for different things like character and situation. The artists will then have to draw the things the audience came up with in just a couple of minutes, Short said.
The draw-off will take place at 11:30 a.m. March 13.
Workshops on writing and illustrating are also on the schedule, Short said.
“We have a lot of good workshops for children that are writing and illustrating where an author or illustrator will engage kids in drawing or writing something,” Short said.
Adults will have their share of workshops, too.
“Then we have workshops for adults where authors and adults will talk about how to write a particular genre for children or how to do a certain illustration technique,” Short said. “I think having both are so important, engaging adults as well as children and teens.”
Most sessions and panels are inside, but there are also two outside venues, Short said.
“One is a story blanket, where authors and illustrators read to children,” Short said. “Literally, it’s an area with two huge quilts where they can stop and hear a story.”
A teen and author meeting place will be in a tent out on the center mall area, Short said. Two authors with new books on similar topics will be scheduled at any given time to talk about their books, read a couple pages and answer questions.
“So, it’s meant for a much more interactive session for teens,” Short said. “And they sign books. It’s not a panel discussion they listen to, but they engage in conversation with teens.”