Thousands of Kids, 150 Volunteers, and 45 Authors and Artists

Elizabeth Bluemle - November 11, 2015

I’ve blogged before about the Rochester Children’s Book Festival and its splendors, but I can’t help writing about it again. It is a splendiferous occasion, full of funny moments with kids and parents, staffed by the most well-trained team of enthusiastic, helpful volunteers you could ever hope to meet. And at the end of it all is a dinner with colleagues and a writing-themed, sing-along musical penned by one of the festival organizers, Elizabeth “Sibby” Falk.
To give you an idea of what the day is like, here’s a representative moment:

Photo ©2015 Rochester Children’s Book Festival

I’m not sure how many people attend, but it’s in the thousands. The doors open, people pour in, and it’s packed from 10 am to 4 pm.Families, teachers, librarians, and tons of children (from ages 0 to around 13) flood Monroe Community College, and roam around looking at books, collecting autographs, doing incredibly creative crafts set up by the volunteer team, and attending readings and presentations given by dozens of authors and illustrators. It’s overwhelming — and fantastic!
The team of 150 volunteers help out in the Liftbridge Bookstore sales room, lead the crafts and activities, check in with the authors to make sure we have pens, water, food, and that we make it to our presentations on time. Every year, I am wildly impressed by their organization and calm attentiveness. There were also sign language interpreters for every single presentation.
In the week leading up to the festival, one of its founders, author Vivian Vande Velde, organizes Festival to Go, which brings authors and artists into the most budget-strapped Rochester schools, so that even kids who aren’t able to attend the Saturday event get to meet some of their literary heroes.
The Rochester Book Festival is an awe-inspiring collaboration, led by Elizabeth “Sibby” Falk and Kathleen Blasi, Sarah Mead, Barbara Underhill, Vicki Dodds Schultz, MJ and Herm Auch, Vivian Vande Velde, and many, many other phenomenal people. They work together like precision pieces of a Swiss watch — but with a lot more laughter.
The indomitable duo, Kathi Blasi and Sibby Falk! Note the Apollo 13-esque festival vest Sibby's wearing.

The indomitable duo, Kathi Blasi and Sibby Falk! Note the Apollo 13-esque festival vest Sibby’s wearing. Photo ©2015 Rochester Children’s Book Festival

Here are a few snapshots:

Larry Tuxbury and Matt McElligott, looking deceptively mild-mannered. Photo ©2015 Stephanie May Sussman


A great sign at the entrance to the main festival room. Photo ©2015 Stephanie May Sussman

Sure, some authors had toys and fun doodads at their tables for kids to play with. I had … drum roll … teachers’ guides. Sigh. But they did come in handy.

After the festival, a group of happily exhausted authors, illustrators, organizers, and volunteers pile into a terrific Italian restaurant and have a party. Every year, Sibby writes a musical (last year, to songs from The Sound of Music, this year to a Beatles-and-beyond medley of songs), with original lyrics about the writing and publishing process. It’s hysterical, it’s a sing-along, and it’s a chance to discover that most writers really shouldn’t quit their day jobs for Broadway.
However, the two leads were fab: Bruce Coville played the part of a struggling writer searching for his Muse, and Jane Yolen was the elusive, stern muse who reminded him that it’s all about the magical words, BIC (which stands for “butt in chair,” the best advice for any writer).
By 7:30 or 8:00, it was a wrap, and four dozen authors and illustrators headed out, nourished and invigorated not only by the countless happy interactions with families and teachers, but by the camaraderie of colleagues in the best field imaginable, and by a job so impeccably done by the Rochester team.
Every city should be so lucky as to have a festival like this one.
And now I need to sign off, so I can work on having a new book for next year and maybe be invited back!