Starting a new festival is exciting. Yes, it’s also nerve-wracking, but mostly exciting! I’ve been involved in launching a festival before, but it’s been 10 years since the Texas Teen Book Festival got off the ground. So it has been a lot of fun to dive back into the heady whirlwind of possibility and collaboration that marks the birth of a big community event. We are just a few months out from launching a brand-new summer reading kick-off event in partnership with the Austin Independent School District, and it’s starting to take shape.
We’ve been working with a team of dedicated librarians over the last year and a half to help build out and amplify the district’s new summer reading initiative. Developed under the leadership of the district’s superintendent, the 5 Book Dive program aims to stop the summer slide and build a love of books by encouraging all Austin kids to read at least five books of any kind over the summer break. Using materials we’d used in past summer reading campaigns as a springboard, we collaborated last spring with Austin ISD librarians on reading lists and bookmarks that could be used by kids in all grades to track their reading over the summer. As extra incentive, BookPeople offered $5 gift certificates in exchange for any completed program bookmark and donated 1,000 books to be used as reading rewards in top participating Title 1 schools.
This summer we’re taking the program to the next level with a middle grade festival designed to kick off the summer reading season in style—and introduce kids to some great books to their lists. We’re obviously putting together all kinds of panels and conversations that we think kids will love (and that we will announce soon). But because AISD’s new performing arts center offers a black box theater, a dance studio, and all kinds of cool spaces, we also looped in Austin Public Library and other partners to design programming to get kids thinking, making, and letting loose throughout the day.
Austin already has an awesome fall teen fest, so we wanted to focus on a slightly younger readership this time. We were lucky enough to get Kate DiCamillo on board early in our planning as our very first keynote speaker, which felt like a perfect fit because of her passion for literacy—not to mention the depth of her backlist for summer reading. After all, from heroic, fairy tale-loving rats and poetry-writing super squirrels to irresistible dogs and miracle-seeking baton twirlers, Kate DiCamillo’s books truly offer something for every reader. She’s also one of the most eloquent advocates out there for the power of story to touch readers’ lives.
Once we had a time, a place, and a headliner, we mainly had to figure out what exactly we wanted the mission of our event to be. And at the end of the day, those priorities have pretty much boiled down to wanting it to be really fun, and wanting it to be accessible to all. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my biggest piece of advice for launching a book festival is always the same: Build the best team you can. The team that has come together around in support of this event includes not only school librarians and booksellers, but the district’s SEL specialists and parent support and parent engagement specialists along with representatives from Texas Library Association, Austin Public Library, and more. From funding shuttle bus transportation from 10 schools around town on a Saturday to simultaneous translation services to free food for all who need it, their commitment to making sure all students can access this kind of programming on the weekend—and maybe even get a voucher to leave with a book of their own—is incredibly inspiring.
Beyond the festival day, librarians from the district will once again be taking out their Buford the Book Bus to carry the summer reading initiative through the vacation months by distributing free books in neighborhoods where kids might have trouble getting to public libraries. I was able to go help them out for one day last summer, watching as each kid lined up to pick out two brand new books to take home. I loved everything about it and am thrilled that our annual donation will now go toward stocking the shelves of this busy book bus for the summer. Honestly, contributing to programs like this are a big part of what makes me proud to be a local, community bookseller, and I can’t wait to see this new partnership in action!