The wise and witty Groucho Marx once observed that “outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
Though our furry companions provide unconditional love, those who have spent hours wandering the halls of Hogwarts or the moors with Jane Eyre know that books are buddies that stimulate the mind and heart without chewing up your shoes. Books open up the whole wide world for anyone, no power cord or password required. Nurturing and celebrating this relationship is the polestar of the Savannah Children’s Book Festival, taking place Saturday, Nov. 10.
In its ninth year of collating a colorful array of children’s book authors speak about their craft and sign books (even if they contain peanut butter smears or grape juice stains,) the enthusiastic staff of Live Oak Public Libraries has once again drafted a dazzling line–up:
Tad Hills, bestselling author of How Rocket Learned to Read (hint: he sounds it out) and its follow–up, Rocket Writes a Story; Victoria Kann, co–author and illustrator of Pinkalicious and Purplicious, those iconic fashion tomes for the preschool set; and Carmen Agra Deedy, creator of the seminal book appreciation classic The Library Dragon and its fiery sequel.
Also represented are Blue Balliet’s young adult mysteries (Chasing Vermeer, the Danger Box), graphic novels and other books about civil rights, exceptional student athletes and those eternally fascinating dinosaurs. Many are written by Lowcountry authors or have a local angle, like John Harris’ Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be and Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey.
Born in Savannah and raised in Charlotte, NC, Corey chooses strong female characters for her children’s stories, seen in the bestselling Mermaid Queen and Players in Pigtails. Following that track, Here Come the Girl Scouts! The Amazing, All–True Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure is a gung–ho take on Savannah’s revolutionary social organizer, just in time for the Girl Scouts 100th anniversary.
“I grew up hearing my mother’s stories about being a Savannah Girl Scout in the early 1960s,” remembers Corey, who now lives in Brooklyn, NY. “When I started researching Juliette Gordon Low as an adult, I was blown away by how ahead of her time she was. I loved that even a hundred years ago, the Girl Scouts were encouraging girls to get outside and exercise, explore careers and make a difference in the world and they’re still doing exactly that!”
Also the creator of the space–age series First Graders from Mars, Corey chose to write children’s books because of the impact they have on growing brains. But she knows better than to let her readers know that.
“You also don’t ever want to be didactic—kids don’t want to be lectured to any more than grownups do,” she warns budding children’s authors. “Your job as a writer isn’t to teach kids a lesson, your job is to tell a story that’s so good that when they turn the last page, they can’t wait to pick up the next book—and the next and the next!”
A love of books hopefully translates into a curiosity about the world, the reason why the Children’s Book Festival will feature its International Tent once again this year. Hosted by ebullient storyteller J’Miah Nabawi of the historic walking tour company Savannah Storyfest, the tent will include tales from around the world imbued with multicultural music, drums and theater.
“This is a wonderful collaboration of educators and health professionals,” explains J’miah, who also engages local children in afterschool and community programs with his high–spirited performances. “Reading on grade level is one of the important children’s health initiatives.”
Stone games from India, traditional drum poems from West Africa and jungle stories from Vietnam will keep this tent pulsing throughout the day, with every word interpreted in American Sign Language by Dr. Dana L. Taylor of the Elijah Agency. Kevin and Beverly Barker will read a “silly poem” by their son, Ivan, and encourage other parents to quote their own kids’ funny stories.
The children of Haiti figure prominently in this year’s International program in the form of Creole–to–English book Mwen We Koule Yo (I See Colors) by Joan Kornblatt. A simple pictorial essay of simple phrases, colors and landscapes, the book has brought much joy to children still living in the aftereffects of 2010’s destructive earthquake.
“Even the poorest children have access to hundreds of books in this country, but in rural Haiti, they don’t have a single book in their entire home,” says Kornblatt, who has made eleven trips to the tiny island of La Gonave to bring books and food supplies to 400 children there.
Kornblatt enlisted native Haitian Belinda Baptiste for the translation of Mwen We Koule Yo (I See Colors), forging a powerful relationship through the book.
“We have made improvements for these children since the earthquake with this book,” says Baptiste, who serves up traditional Caribbean fare at her Unforgettable Bakery on Eisenhower and has accompanied Kornblatt back to Haiti several times. “We are investing in their future.”
The importance of reading is not lost on Vickie Agyekum, a registered nurse who co–owns job training center Dominion Healthcare Solutions. Originally from Ghana, Agyekum came to the U.S. in her 20s to earn her Master’s in Medical Education and regrets what happens when children aren’t exposed to books and stories at an early age.
“Some of my students still have issues with literacy,” she rues. “We must begin to educate our children early on to interpret language, even if begins by being read to or hearing a story told.
“That’s how our grandparents taught us.”
The Savannah Children’s Book Festival
When: Saturday, Nov. 10, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Where: Forsyth Park