Authors Describe How the 10th Annual Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival Rocked their Worlds, too
The Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival is a tradition that we’ve marked in our calendars for 10 years. Once back to school season starts, I know I’m going to be whisked away into its magical world once again. Since 2013, this festival has been putting books into the hands of eager readers, along with an experience they will never forget. After years of attending as an avid reader myself, I had an amazing opportunity to interview six authors who are regular attendees of the festival. The stories they shared made me laugh, cry, smile, and feel so lucky to live in a town that holds this treasured event each year.
These authors experience their fair share of interesting and intriguing encounters with readers, parents, and other authors. They have made countless memories, and they describe how they take a mental polaroid picture of every individual they speak to!
“Every time I come here it’s like I’m in a conversation for four hours with the best people, the kindest moms and dads, the most fun kids,” says author of Throwback, Peter Lerangis. That enthusiasm is reciprocated as every single kid who comes up to an author’s booth is genuinely ecstatic to be talking to the person who crafted their favorite book, or the story that made them fall in love with reading.
Leslie Kimmelman, author of Ready, Set, Run: The Amazing New York City Marathon, had a similar experience where she felt immense pride in the impact her stories have had on young kids, “I worked at Sesame Street for many years and I was one of the creators of the character Julia, who is autistic, and one year I was offering one of my books called We’re Amazing, 1,2,3 about Julia, and someone came over to me and she picked up the book and looked through it and said, “I’m a Julia”, and I thought that was so sweet. It really made my day.” It’s small but mighty moments like these all authors yearn to hear in their career, and the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival facilitates hundreds of such conversations every year.
The September 30th festival featured 180 authors, with books that highlighted BIPOC characters, characters with disabilities, mental health challenges, characters from the LGBTQ+ community, and so much more. Every kid who attended this festival could envision themselves in the cover of a book, and that is so powerful in enhancing literacy.
This festival also gives adults a chance to re-find their inner child. Author Peter Lerangis stated: “Some adult comes up to me and says with a low voice, ‘hey remember me?’ and I’m like, ‘why would I remember you?’ And the reader, now 18, recalled meeting him in the fourth grade and how that changed his life. “That’s really moving.”
In fact, every single author offered a moving encounter during the festival that they say are a reminder of why authors even wake up every morning and do what they do! Author Artie Bennett described how one kid came up to him and shared that their book is the reason they like to read. Another reader memorized the author’s entire book! “A small girl came up to me and began reciting Poopendous. She had taken to it so greatly that she had memorized it… that nearly brought tears to my eyes, to see that someone could enjoy something I created so much to where she had clearly read it over, and over, and over again and had committed it to memory.”
Along with the connections the authors make with their beloved readers, the connections they make with one another can be just as profound. Nick Bruel, author of the Bad Kitty series, explained: “All of us here… we live in such insular worlds where we sit in our little hobbit holes and write and illustrate books all by ourselves, we don’t actually interact often, so events like these are great opportunities to do that.” Bruel said he met author Alan Katz, one of his closest friends today, because he had been seated next to him at the event.
“The last time I saw the wonderful, great Jerry Pinkney was at my house, after I met him at this event four years ago… I miss him terribly and I knew that every year I would see him. This will be the first year that I won’t.” Pinkney, the beloved author of The Lion & the Mouse unfortunately passed away on October 20th, 2021, at 81, however his legacy lives on in the books he wrote and the lives he touched. Hearing Mr. Bruel talk about him, and their meaningful friendship, was very touching.
It may be the 10th year of this book festival, but the magic that has been with the creators, authors, and readers lives on every year. Bennett, also the author of The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse Who Couldn’t, summed it up well: “The Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival is where dreams come true, and they do the most magical job. During a monsoon, everyone was out to make sure that the authors, and all the young book lovers would have a festival – as well organized, as well put together, as if it were a 70-degree sunny day!”
On a personal note, it was a joy to talk with each of these authors and to feel their appreciation. Alan Katz, author of Got Your Nose! described “the energy, the spirit, the readers, the people who put it together. There’s no word in the dictionary to describe how awesome they are in bringing together, you know, over 150 authors, thousands of readers, and a way to celebrate literacy and a love of books.”
Jarrett Lerner, author of A Work in Progress offered: “It’s such a great literacy community.”
Leslie Kimmelman expressed her love for the festival from its very beginnings: “The volunteers are amazing. The crowds of people coming are amazing, the authors are wonderful and there are more of them every year. It’s just such a fun fair.”
Within the pages of this book festival lies the lessons, the shared experiences, the sacred places that exist in the hearts of every individual who steps foot under the tents or on the fair grounds. The smiles we leave with, the ones that have lasted 10 years, will hopefully last for countless more.
Save the Date for the next Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival: September 28, 2024. Follow ccbfestival.org.