Almost everyone knows the magic and wonder they felt as a child when their parents would tuck them into bed and open their favorite picture book.
The combination of storytelling and colorful pictures would combine into a fantastical world that you could think about as you drifted off to sleep.
KSC brought that magic to campus in the form of the 41st Annual Children’s Literature Festival, this past Saturday, Oct. 28.
The festival was established on April 1, 1978, by Dr. David E. White, founder and director. The festival as a whole has had in total over 160 recognized speakers from its inception. A children’s literature course White had taken in college while studying at the University of Virginia, ignited his love for children’s literature, planting the seeds that would later bloom as the Annual Children’s Literature Festival.
The first annual festival had about 120 attendees, while at its peak the festival reached over 600 attending. This year’s festival was comfortably attended.
The 41st festival is also tinged with sadness, as it is the last year of the festival. The decision was made to discontinue the festival just a week and a half prior to the festival.
The festival this year featured five acclaimed authors and illustrators speaking, from vastly different backgrounds. The festival also provided attendees the opportunity to buy children’s’ books, accompanied by autographed bookplates, as well as other festival items.
Authors, Sophie Blackall, David Elliot, Grace Lin, Brian Floca and Daniel Salmieri, all offered attendees their stories about their journeys into writing and illustrating children’s literature.
Each author gave about an hour long presentation, highlighting their inspirations, trials and tribulations, and successes as children’s literature authors and illustrators.
Daniel Salmieri, an illustrator from Brooklyn, opened up the floor as the first speaker.
KSC students Colleen Connolly and Jessyca Derby have helped to set-up and coordinate the event for the last two years. Both Derby and Connolly took a Children’s Literature Course with White their sophomore years at KSC, which helped to inspire them to take part in the festival.
“It was really great to see how books affected their [the author’s] lives, even as children, and they’ve always been a part of their [the author’s] lives,” Derby said. “It kind of shows how important children’s books are to a person.”
Derby was also one of the last recipients of the Festival Scholarship, which entailed being Student Director of a Festival, independent study and a research paper.
Speaker Grace Lin, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan and whose work has been displayed in The White House, discussed how her journey as an author and illustrator was also a journey of self discovery into her culture and identity, redefining niches and proving labels don’t set boundaries for success.
“If my work is as true to myself as possible, [then] I have created something that no one else in the world has done. No one else in the world can share you story,” said Lin.
Both Connolly and Derby expressed how Lin was the most impactful speaker for them to listen to.
“I just thought what she had to say was super powerful,” Connolly said. “I was like ‘Oh my God, She is an eloquent speaker,’ and you can tell that she was moved and everyone in the room was moved [by what she was saying].”
Having an artist father and mother who both had been editors for books and magazines, Salmieri was exposed to art and storytelling from an early age.
Salmieri remembered his mother reading children’s stories to him every night. Along with an early love of drawing, Salmieri was drawn to immersing himself into the fantasy worlds that picture books had to offer.
“I loved losing myself in picture books,” Salmieri said.
Keene Resident Alison Franke found out about the festival three years ago and has been attending ever since. As a volunteer librarian and a person with a passion for children’s literature, Franke calls the festival a “treasure” of Keene, and expressed her sadness in its end.
“I find it fascinating to just hear more personal stories from the authors,” Franke said of the festival. “You get to know their backgrounds. I think we all wish we could do what they do, and I think it’s less of a mystery after you sit and listen to them talk.”
Though all the speakers came from such diverse backgrounds and went on vastly different paths to get where they are today, there was an overarching theme through each presentation; stories and storytelling are vital for children, and children’s literature is vastly underrated in today’s day and age.
Jane Yolen, speaker at the 34th Annual Childrens Literature Festival and friend of White, shared a beautiful and aspiring message to people at the festival Saturday, concluding her impromptu speech with a quote from her book “Touch Magic:”
“Just as the child is born with a literal hole in its head, where the bones slowly close underneath the fragile shield of skin, so the child is born with a figurative hole in its heart. Slowly this, too, is filled up. What slips in before it anneals shaped the man or woman into which the child will grow. Story is one of the most serious intruders into the heart.”
Meridith King can be contacted at email@example.com