Last weekend was the weekend of many literary premieres. Along with, but not related to, the Kicka** Writers’ Festival in Saranac Lake was the Adirondack Family Book Festival, a first dedicated to children’s literature in Lake Placid.
Twelve nationally recognized children’s book authors, including Jason Chin, Tracey Baptiste and Kate Messner, read excerpts from their works at the festival. Their audience exceeded them by the hundreds.
“By any estimate, I think there were definitely around 700 people there,” Sarah Galvin, who co-owns The Bookstore Plus and Blue Line Book Exchange with her husband, Marc, said. “John Brown Farm had at one time I think 335 cars. They were literally cutting fields to make more parking while the event was going on.
For John Brown Lives! Founder and Executive Director, Martha Swan, this festival started with a wish. However, since the organization received funding from North Elba’s Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund – which is funded by occupancy taxes collected on all hotel, motel and vacation rental stays – this wish has finally could come true.
“It was the green light for us”, said Swan. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but getting the LEAF grant, it really gave us not only the seed money, but also the means to contact Kate Messner first and tell her that we’re planning a book festival.
A former television journalist and college English teacher, Kate Messner is also the author of New York Times bestselling children’s books like “Above and Under the Pond”, and “Up in the garden and down in the earth.”
Swan had contacted her early in their planning process in January. Messner responded by volunteering his time and his connections in the world of children’s literature.
“I’ve been to book festivals all over the place – from annual events in Chappaqua and Rochester, to a festival in Sharjah, UAE – so I got an idea of what tends to do well and how it works. ‘to go about setting up a list of participating authors’, Messner said.
While Messner lined up the group of authors who would be part of the festivities, staff members from the Lake Placid Public Library organized the youth-focused activities. Staff members such as Bambi Pedu, Linda Blair and Karen Armstrong worked with children from high school through college so that local students and youth could take on leadership roles on festival day.
“I was involved in the youth committee because our goal was really to involve young people in any way possible,” said assistant librarian and director of the children’s program, Karen Armstrong. “They animate the presentations of the authors. So they introduced them (and) they concluded the events.
Towards the end of the festival, the youth group organized their own panel, called “A new generation of readers and creators”, to discuss the role that storytelling has played in their lives.
Every member of the planning committee took note of how the festival not only provided a connection in stories for children, but also for adults.
“What caught the attention of many members of the planning committee was how the festival seemed to connect with each family,” Armstrong said. “I think this festival was really multi-generational.”
She said that adults often think that reading children’s literature is specifically for children and that “they are beyond that.” However, the festival proved that this broad genre of writing is for everyone.
Many members of the planning committee said the festival exceeded their expectations and was a huge success. They measured their success not only by the number of participants, but also by the reactions of the participants and the participants.
“We wanted to put on an event that we hoped people would, at the end of the day, say, ‘That was amazing. What an amazing place to come,’ and ‘We want to come back’” said Galvin. “And every author and illustrator was eager to come back, so for me, that’s definitely an achievement.”
Swan said she also hopes the children who attended “Leave seeing yourself as one in the stories, but also maybe the chance to see yourself as storytellers on the road or a greater appreciation for history.”
The committee has already scheduled next year’s festival for August 18-19.
“We have already started talking about planning for next year and hope to once again feature a great and inclusive roster of authors and illustrators,” Messner said. “I think if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years of uncertainty and relative isolation through the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that the arts matter. We all need stories and poetry to give hope when the world around us seems scary and uncertain. Stories sustain us. They inspire us to question ourselves, show us that we are not alone and make us discover worlds beyond our own.