When I moved to Charlottesville, I had no idea that it was home to the Virginia Festival of the Book, an annual celebration of all things literature. Through my years here I have attended sessions by authors and illustrators, discussed childrens’ books and non-fiction texts, heard authors read their own work and watched graphic novel artists create magic before a crowd. The Festival of the Book is a treasure trove for book lovers of all ages and types, and (astoundingly!), many of the events are free to the public.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, the Festival of the Book also works closely with Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools to bring the magic of the Festival of the Book to our students. This year, hard working Festival organizers began the planning process back in November, working to provide schools with one-of-a-kind author experiences. And their hard work paid off!
First, we had a visit from Kevin Sherry, author of the hilarious and quirky favorites I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and The Yeti Files, among others. I love sharing Mr. Sherry’s books with students because they get to laugh, learn, and participate in the story with me. They were thrilled as he hopped onto the stage, guitar in hand, wearing a giant bear head – and only got more excited when he started sharing bear knock-knock jokes!
With an intro like that, the auditorium was hanging on his every word. Mr. Sherry talked to us about why he writes, how he became an author, and some of his favorite things growing up that helped him to create his hilarious and quirky stories.
After we learned more about him, Mr. Sherry read some of his stories to us. These included a Johnson favorite, and the one that got the most audience participation – I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean!
We even got a sneak peek into his notebook, which included funny thoughts, ideas for new books, sketches, and all sorts of exciting author things.
Next, Mr. Sherry talked us through the writing and editing process for his awesome graphic novel, The Yeti Files. Leading yeti Blizz Richards didn’t start out as a vest wearing, exploring yeti hero – in fact, in the beginning, he was Betty the Yeti! But through the process of being edited and published, Mr. Sherry reinvented and reimagined the character until he became the Bliz we know and love. To celebrate all things Yeti, Mr. Sherry donned a yeti costume ended the presentation with a show-stopping yeti song.
We wrapped things up with some student questions. The group was curious about Mr. Sherry’s books, his inspiration, and, of course, his guitar! The group was so engaged and excited about his visit. They’re still buzzing about the yeti that sang them songs. I’m dying over the mesmerized little faces in the photo below.
Later that day it was time to greet our next visiting author, the wonderful Timothy Young. Mr. Young’s books seem to me like the perfect foray into a child’s mind – complete with mystery boxes, picture book tantrums, and penguin facts. Between his fun, silly stories and his beautiful illustrations, the students loved Timothy Young and his stories right away.
Mr. Young shared some of his favorites with us, including Do Not Open the Box, I Hate Picture Books, and zombie-loving crowd favorite They’re Coming. (The photo below was snapped during They’re Coming – only a spooky but hilarious zombie and creepy crawly story could get faces like that!)
Students and teachers both loved Mr. Young’s presentation because of his mix of stories, jokes, fun details, and information about what it’s like to be an author and an illustrator. The students were so impressed when they learned that the intricate drawings were done by Mr. Young himself, and he inspired many budding artists.
In case that wasn’t enough, Mr. Young left us with a beautiful, personalized piece of artwork to hang in our library! I was a little bit excited about it, in case you can’t tell.
On Friday morning, we had one last visitor – or, should I say, two. Author Juliana Morgan came to speak and brought the star of many of her stories, her rescue dog, Sashi.
Juliana was so inspired by Sashi that she became an author to share her story. Now, Juliana and Sashi visit schools to talk about the special relationships between dogs and their humans, how humans can make animals feel comfortable and loved, and all of the wonderful things that can come along when you choose to rescue an animal.
As an animal lover, I was so excited to see Ms. Morgan and meet Sashi in person. And I wasn’t the only one! When word spread that a dog was visiting, the auditorium filled up – some students had to pull up chairs behind the back row. Ms. Morgan helped us to sit quietly and explained the importance of using self control to help Sashi to feel safe. Despite the large number of students in the audiorium, Sashi sat perched happily on Ms. Morgan’s lap for the whole hour – Ms. Morgan told me later that that was because our crowd was so respectful during her presentation.
Students had lots of questions for Ms. Morgan and Sashi, wondering about her eating and sleeping habits, their school visits, and about how they found each other. My favorite question came from a first grader – “Does your dog lick?” Spoiler alert – she does!
Thank you so much to the hard working crew that puts together the Virginia Festival of the Book each year – you knocked it out the park again for 2016! These events are so special to our students, and they leave feeling so inspired and excited.
And thank you to Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Juliana Morgan for traveling to Johnson to share your talents with us. You’ve always got fans in Charlottesville!