Reading festivals on the rise?

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?)

The Tweens Read Book Festival in Houston.

I am heading to Tweens Read Book Festival in Houston. This rodeo goes down on Saturday and though it’s my first time appearing there, I am entirely fired up.

How can you not love the celebration of kids reading books? Truly, every major city in the United States of America could take a lesson from the good folks who organized this shin-dig.

Bunches of authors. Scores of librarians. Droves of teachers. And – of course – kids, kids, kids hungry for books, books, books.

As the program rhetorically asks…

Who is invited to participate?

  • The target audience is tweens who are in grades 5-8.
  • We welcome teachers, librarians, parents, and other advocates for children’s and adolescent literacy attending with their tweens.

What more could a person want? And is there a better way to spend a Saturday? As the good folks ask in TX say, “Y’all fixin’ to come?”

Hope so. As the ridiculous assault on librarians marches forwards by nincompoop politicians, I wonder if there is a more intelligent way to battle the nitwits than through positive experiences such as this?

Fans of HOMEBOYZ alert: I just sold a new book of YA fiction yesterday

I sold a new book proposal yesterday. It’s going to be a YA book aimed at boys (particularly at reluctant readers). Truth is, I get emails all the time from fans of my book HOMEBOYZ which constantly ask “for another”. Well, this book isn’t a sequel… but it’s going to be just as hard-edged and raucous.

If my writing career is akin to that of a baseball pitcher, these books book are high heat!

Reaching reluctant readers has really become my life’s work. In the classroom, working with peers in the field, speaking at confs, cranking out fiction.

I’m gonna keep a bunch of it under wraps right now – title won’t hit shelves for another 18-24 months (that’s the way the world of publishing with the big houses works these days – a process which I actually like) but for those who are looking for fresh new material that is gonna get “that kid, that boy” to engage with a text, know that I am right there with ya trying to do my darndest to rock the socks off that kid with the hope of actually “flippin’ him” into becoming a reader.

It can be done. I’ve done it, seen it, know it in my bones. And when the process works, Wow… the joy, magic, beauty and power of reading congeals in a way that is just tremendous.

For those who are interested in the actual “behind the scenes writing process” I’ve got a chunk of it written and a top-notch outline in place which drew tons of praise from a host of publishers, but at the end of the day, I am gonna do it under the Hyperion banner. (i.e. Disney – which means this will now be my 8th book with them. Essentially my editor at Disney is just so amazing that the grass is not – nor will ever be – greener. I’m really fortunate in this regard.)

Stay tuned… more to come as things evolve.

Been laying low…

Been laying low on the blog front for the past few weeks cause lots of stuff is on the plate. All exciting. Lots good. Challenges galore. Hey, it’s life – and while there have been many times in the past when I felt a bit numb, as if days were “just passing” in uneventful, unremarkable ways, this certainly has changed for me. It’s pedal to the metal at this point of my life and in that mindset I am finding more fulfillment than ever before.

Weird how, like a magnet, I have always been drawn to people who find deep meaning in (and hold great passion for) their work. My best teachers always reflected that. The people I idolized as a kid always seemed to represent this. And though it’s taken me way, way longer than I ever would have imagined to “get comfortable in my own skin” the dawn of this phenomenon is upon me. The older I get, the shorter life seems, yet the richer and more wonderful, too. No one is exempt from pain in this world but freeing myself from self-inflicted pain and having stopped being my own worst adversary really has helped me a ton.

It’s a skill I wish someone would have taught me a long, long time ago. (Oh Common Core, the shortcomings you have.)

Indeed I am reading, reading, reading all the time but the thing about all the reading I am doing is that it never feels like I am getting the chance to read enough. (I even wonder if I get to write enough, which is another reason I have pulled back on blogging so prolifically. I was cranking 5,000 blog words a week there for almost two years… but I think that ship is sailing for me. The deeper writing of constructing meaningful stories for young readers beckons more than any other type of writing right now and with so many hours in the day, one must make choices, right?)

Family, literature, friends, yoga, good food, meaningful work, an occasional glass of wine and travel. The math of my mid-life is adding up to these things. Low key yet rewarding. Simple, for the first time ever, suffices. More than suffices, actually. Simple rocks! And the fact is, I am lucky to be able to have all that I do. (Side note: 20 years ago, I probably would have said “bo-ring”. Nowadays, exotic seems way over-rated.)

Tablet-based education just inched that much closer.

Amazon’s announcement of the new Kindle Fire has certainly caused a ton of people to weigh in in all sorts of ways on the implications for us “user folks”. Some will be right, some will be wrong but one thing which I think we can all bank on is that tablet-based education where schools get rid of textbooks is certainly on the horizon.

When? I know not. However, there is an inevitability to tablet education that seems all but assured to me right now. The “race to the bottom” cost factor is only making these devices more inexpensive every year. Just do the 2011 math.

A 7 pound textbook costs $99 for each subject area. Assuming at least 5 subject areas per kid (ELA, Science, Math, History, and 1 odd duck – could be foreign language, could be Health, and so on) and we are looking at $495 per student per school… not inclduing the cost of the class set the schools often buy.

At $199 for the Kindle Fire that leaves at least $300 per kid for content per subject area. Put another way, it allows for about $60 dollars per kid per class for content. Considering an average ebook costs about $10 bucks, for any school that goes the tablet route, they get 6 books per class PLUS THE ENTIRE INTERNET in the hands of their kids.

For the same price as a set of textbooks.

Additionally, they get access to every text in public domain. (The textbook companies include public domain material in their materials all the time and yet they charge the schools for its inclusion, Huh? I know.) And every educational image in the Smithsonian, every wonderful video on School Tube, every archived article in TIME magazine… the list goes on and on and on as to what kids get with the Kindle Fire that they do not get with textbooks.

Of course, we are a slow group to adapt in public education and textbook adoptions will still take place “as they always have” but I’d venture a guess that a less of them will because tablet-based education just inched that much closer to being a very smart, if not innovative, alternative to a very tired and “has seen its best days” curricular tool.