I spent my Saturday last weekend at the inaugural Tweens Readin Houston. In many ways, I think it represents a harbinger of many more things to come for people like us who deeply value books, kids, reading, writing and teaching.
Sure, it was an amazing event but it felt like a critical one as well. So many positives were on display that I’m not quite sure where to begin.
First off, the organizers (regular ol’ librarians and English teachers) targeted a specific audience: tweens. This built unofficial parameters into all the choices which were made about how to execute the day. They weren’t going for a “splatter” approach; they sought to rock the house for readers in grades 4-8.
As one could easily see by the faces of the kids, put one in the win column on this front for Tweens Read. It was a knock out day.
Next, they solicited the publishers to send out authors on the publishing house’s dime (as opposed to trying to figure out a way for the festival organizers to foot this bill through sponsorship). Turns out, if you can promise hordes of kids and teachers and librarians, all the major publishing houses have money put aside for this type of PR. Disney footed my travel costs, Penguin footed those of Richard Peck (yes, that Richard Peck!), authors like Obert Skye, Michael Buckley, Lis McMann, Lindsey Levitt, Jason Pinter, Crystal Allen, Kat Falls, Matthew Kirby, Clete, Smith… (okay, you got the point)… we’re talking a day filled with heavies were out in full force. Of course, when heavies are out more kids, teachers, parents and librarians come, too. (Which came first, the reader or the egg?)
This leads to the very smart decision to bring in an independent bookstore to handle all of the sales, title gathering and so on. Another big win for all who were involved. (BTW, is Blue Willow Books not one of the most rockin’ outfits in the nation?) By my count, 5 of my own titles were on sale. As an author, this resulted in me having a line of kids stretching 45 minutes deep and the words “sold out” to be beautifully whispered in my presence. And I didn’t even have the longest line in the building.
Of course the bookstore did a ton of legwork but they certainly wracked up a whole heck of a lotta sales. Were the parents bummed about buying their kids books? If they were, their frowns were being blotted out by the pride and smiles of seeing their own kids so fanatical about getting this super-cool chance to meet real authors, be exposed to new titles and get their hands on personally signed books.
Lifelong readers aren’t built through bludgeoning kids with 6 pound textbooks in core academic classrooms; lifelong readers are built by exposing young readers to the excitement, passion, energy, magic, power and beauty of real books. One parent even told me (with a beaming smile) that her 5th grade son was whining about how their was some double point Madden X-box tourney or something and he was entirely sour about missing it when she dragged him to the event that morning. At 3:30 in the afternoon that very same kid cajoled his mom out of her last $20 bill so that he could buy a copy of the new title by… (which he just had to have even though she’d already bought him 4 books that day).
What better way is there to build older readers than to start by building younger ones. Tweens Read, you rocked! Thanks for inviting me out.
(Side note: Through me tweeting about this event, the city of Orlando wants to see if they can get something like this going. Tweens do read and I could see something like this catching on in cities across the country. Are reading festivals about to be on the rise?)