Decatur Book Festival September 3, 2016

For my literary event, I went to the Decatur Book Festival. I have known about this event for some time because my aunt has been the emerging writers tent coordinator for about six years. She's always wanted my sister and I to come with her, but since it falls on Labor Day and sometimes my birthday, it's never really played out.

In the first part of the day, we used our time to explore all the different discount book booths, visit with some family, and take a picture with Bookzilla, the DBF mascot. I bought a copy of A Little Something Different at one of the discount booths and read it later for young love week.

One of the main reasons that pushed me to go to the festival was that Kate Milford and Jason Reynolds were participating in the beTWEEN author panel. I read (and loved) Greenglass House by Kate Milford during middle grades week and of course read (and loved) All American Boys by Jason Reynolds when we read it as a class. Terra Elan McVoy, who I'd never heard of, was also part of the panel, so I was introduced to another middle grades author.

During the panel, they all shared excerpts from their newest books and discussed their inspiration and beliefs about writing. For one of the questions, the moderator asked the authors to discuss how they write about trauma in their novels. We discussed this as a class earlier in the week, so I thought it was really interesting to hear the opinions of the authors. Jason Reynolds, as always gave a fantastic answer.

How do you write about trauma in your novel?

You have to be really really careful not to turn a human being into a traumatic moment - Jason Reynolds

I really loved how Jason talked about how people are not one single trauma that has happened to them. When I was reading Ghost and All American Boys, I noticed that even though the characters have been through some really hard times, they also have other passions and areas of their life. They don't constantly dwell on their trauma, they're just being kids. To me, this is something to keep in mind with students too. Our students will no doubt have struggles while they are in our class, but they are also dealing with a million other things. We're there to help and support them in that traumatic time, and also recognize that that trauma doesn't define them.

My original copy of All American Boys is very water damaged from being in my backpack during a freak storm. Jason was slightly appalled but mostly amused when I asked him to sign it.

Talk about your inspiration for your novel

The only thing I knew to start with was the name of the ship which is The Left-Handed Fate - Kate Milford

Kate talked about how she was inspired while doing some research on the War of 1812. There were lots of young children during that time who needed food and shelter that took up as ship's boys on war vessels. Because the historical context was there, Kate decided to focus on the lives of these middle-grade aged children on ships to write her novel. I am a total history nerd and as a middle schooler my absolute favorite books were about pirates and sea life, so her newest book sounded right up my alley.

While I was having the book signed, she told me that some of the characters in The Left-Handed Fate set up the ancestry and story line for parts of Greenglass House. I haven't gotten to read The Left-Handed Fate yet, but my sister, who was also at the festival, has now read both books and also pointed out this similarity. Kate also told me that there was a Greenglass House sequel in the works and to look out for it!

Before this, I'd never had the opportunity to meet any authors. I was literally giddy to get to meet Kate Milford because I had just fallen in love with Greenglass House the week prior to this event. The excitement was still fresh and it was so cool to get to tell her how much I loved the book. I think she was pretty happy to get to meet me too because I basically just gushed about how amazing she was the entire time.

She also asked me if I would ever consider being a writer, to which I responded, "oh, no, I couldn't." However, she told me that when the right idea came along, she was confident that I could do great things with it. That idea hasn't come along yet, but it gave me something new to consider for my life. Obviously she doesn't know me personally, but her encouraging words meant so much to me.

Getting to meet the authors of two of my new favorite books was absolutely amazing. As a reader, it was so interesting to get to hear what these writers were thinking about as the crafted their stories and to get to hear their purpose for writing from their own mouths. I read Ghost a few weeks after I purchased the book from the festival, and I kept the things Jason said in the back of my mind. It adds another layer to what you read. I plan to keep this in mind as I move forward as a teacher. It would be so amazing to schedule an author visit or Skype in for my students to get to hear from the writer themselves. Even if a student wasn't originally interested in the novel, it might spark that curiosity to read it. At NCTE and ALAN, there were a lot of authors I'd never heard of, but getting to hear them talk about their book or speaking with them in person automatically made me want to read their work.

I am currently teaching in a 12th grade honors classroom, so that's typically where my mind is when I'm reading books. These that I picked up at the festival may be too young to teach whole class in that context. That doesn't mean that somewhere down the line I won't ever be in a middle school, and at that time, I would use all of these in my classroom. That being said, I tend to subscribe to the idea that just because you're older, doesn't mean that you can't enjoy middle grades novels. Rick Riordan, a middle grades author, is still one of my favorite writers at the age of twenty-one. When I tell people that, I am usually met with a comment like, "aren't those for like 12 year olds?" Good stories and good writing are still good no matter how old you are. So, these books will find their way on to any of my classroom libraries in the future.

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