Virginia Festival of the Book 2018

VaBookFest2018-Horiz-Dates-Color-3Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at the Virginia Festival of the Book’s big kickoff event, the Read & Lead Lunch. I shared my experiences with the Festival of the Book in the classroom, and the impact that I have seen the festival have on my students. As this was a closed event, I wanted to share my remarks with you. Interspersed, you will find a few photos from Leland Melvin’s visit to St. Anne’s-Belfield School on Tuesday, March 20. Enjoy, and happy Festival of the Book week! I hope to see you at many events this weekend!


My name is Sarah FitzHenry, and I’m kind of obsessed with the Virginia Festival of the Book.

It all started in 2015. In March, as a librarian in the Charlottesville City School district, I got to listen from the audience as Kate DiCamillo proudly stated that the Newbery Honor book Because of Winn Dixie was rejected by 473 publishers. The rejections, she said, just made her want to write even more.

DSC03708.jpgI was hooked. So in 2016, I came back for more when Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg talked about humor, friendship, and creativity. They shared how amazing it is to write, imagine, and laugh for a living, and showed us all that while aging is mandatory, growing up is optional.

By the 2017 festival, as the new librarian at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, I had a front row seat to the assemblies where Kwame Alexander and Ekua Holmes took poetry – something that, for young readers, can feel boring or intimidating – and brought it to life with rhythm, color, and pride.

And that brings us to yesterday. When Leland Melvin brought the house down by DSC03744.jpggrinning as he shared some of the most difficult and vulnerable moments of his life. “I failed in a spectacular way,” he declared at one point. “But this isn’t about failing. It’s about picking yourself up. Keep going. Don’t give up. You can do it.

The Virginia Festival of the Book brings incredible authors and illustrators directly into children’s lives at a critical time in their development as readers, writers, and learners. The opportunities created by the Festival of the Book show students that anything is possible with hard work and determination; that superheroes of literacy come in all colors, shapes, and sizes; and that their stories are important and worthy of being shared.

DSC03661.jpgIf you’re sitting in this room today, then you already know the secret: stories change lives. The powerful experiences provided by the Festival of the Book teach our children that in every single one of them lies an author, a poet, an artist, an astronaut; just waiting to be awakened. The next generation of great, life-changing stories is beginning now. And thanks to the Virginia Festival of the Book, we have so much to look forward to.

See footage from Leland Melvin’s out-of-this-world visit on NBC29. You can also see all of the action on my Instagram and Twitter feeds.

This isn’t my first letter to the Virginia Festival of the book! Follow this link to see my FOB archives – including posts about former Youth Headliners Kate DiCamillo and Kwame Alexander and Ekua Holmes.

To learn more about the Virginia Festival of the Book, including a full schedule of this year’s events, check out their website. Events will take place throughout Charlottesville and Albemarle County March 21-25, 2018.


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