This Year's Kansas Book Festival Will Place a Special Emphasis on Children
on Sep 22, 2022
Alastair Heim's love of children's books began with "Bar Wars," a little-known book parody of the hit film series "Star Wars."
Who can forget characters like Charleston Chewy, Darth Nougat, and Master Soda as they raced through the stars in their candy-themed adventures?
Heim wasn't going to forget, mainly because he wrote the book as a sixth-grade homework assignment.
However, it was through this class assignment that Heim realized books could be more than just pictures and prose on paper — they could be children's first forays into creativity and new possibilities, especially at a young age.
"I truly believe that immersing children in visual imagery and storytelling, especially with rhyme and meter — where they hear the cadence that can almost be lyrical — sets children on a creative path, which you can see come to life once they get to school."
Heim, now an adult and a published Kansas City-based picture book author, will be among 60-plus authors at Washburn University's Mabee Library and campus lawn this weekend for the Kansas Book Festival.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Tim Bascom, the festival's executive director. "We hope that families and children will attend the festival. There will be presentations on a wide variety of topics and genres."
Bascom, who previously worked as a literary academic in Iowa for more than two decades, believes Kansas' book festival stands out from others due to its emphasis on books and literature about and by Kansans.
A celebration of such books, he says, becomes a celebration of Kansas and its people's slowed-down, thoughtful approach to life.
"When we read, we are engaged in thought, and thought is what distinguishes us as humans," said Bascom. "We need to nurture that, and reading is a wonderful way to do that — to think about what matters in life in a more focused and deeper way."
The state book festival, now in its 11th year, will focus on children and encouraging them to read, according to Bascom. Several of the festival's invited authors, including Heim, will give children's literature-focused talks.
Heim, who has written new Dr. Seuss books for Random House, will speak about picture books and how they fit into classroom settings with author and illustrator John Hare.
Discussions with Kansas children who have published books, a discussion on young adults' fascination with sci-fi and fantasy literature, and a poetry slam by students from Topeka High, Topeka West, and Highland Park are among the other presentations.
Under an outdoor tent, the Kansas Children's Discovery Center and Paper June Bookstore will also offer hands-on activities, and storyteller Kyler Carpenter and puppeteer Priscilla Howe will perform at noon Saturday.
Too many children begin with a strong love of books as toddlers and preschoolers, reading alongside parents and teachers, but lose that passion as support systems fade or they become distracted by other activities as they grow older, Heim said.
But, he says, fostering a love of reading is critical because it fosters not only a well-informed society but also one that loves to dream and create.
"All of the adults who are writing the kids' favorite books, performing or designing their favorite music — one day, those adults won't be here to do that, and we'll need our children, who are the most creative people on the planet, to shape our world," Heim said.
One of the festival's exciting programs this year, according to Bascom, will be assisting the Liberate Books Project, a Hays-based initiative that collects new and used books to donate to Kansas jails.
The project, led by Fort Hays State professor Sarah Broman Miller and Hays First United Methodist Church Pastor Troy Miller, collaborates with Kansas jail and prison librarians to add donated and purchased books to their collections.
Since its inception in the fall of 2021, the Liberate Books Project has collected and donated approximately 10,000 books. Organizers of the project hope to eventually deliver books to every Kansas jail and prison.
The project will have a donation booth at the festival all day Saturday.
The free Kansas Book Festival begins at 4 p.m. Friday and runs through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Washburn University.
Bascom hopes to see more than 1,000 attendees in 2022, up from more than 800 in his first year as executive director.
On Friday afternoon, Michael Kleber-Diggs, the 2022 Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award winner, will read from his book "Worldly Things" in the university's Mabee Library. The Kansas native, who now lives in Minnesota, delves into "worldly things" in his poems, such as his father's death and police killings of Black men across the country.
The festival will feature about 60 authors, including headliner K.J. Dell'Antonia, author of the New York Times bestseller "The Chicken Sisters." Her new book, "In Her Boots," is about a middle-aged author who returns to her family's farm after her grandmother dies.
The festival will also include honors and recognition for the most recent books written by or about Kansans. Among them are the 2022 Kansas Notable Books, as chosen by the Kansas State Library. The awards will be presented by State Librarian Ray Walling and Ted Daughety, Gov. Laura Kelly's husband.
The festival also includes vendors, food trucks, a book art exhibit, and a children's activity area.