By Dana Y. Wu
Our bucolic suburban hamlet with its excellent schools and vibrant community support for literacy is the perfect setting for the 4th annual Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival (CCBF) on September 24. This free, day-long event attracts thousands of families from Westchester and beyond to meet 90 authors and illustrators including award-winners Chris Raschka, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Jane Yolen.
Children’s authors and illustrators share a similar hope–to imagine a better world through images and ideas in books. Book lovers know the particular joy of putting a book into young hands and seeing curiosity greatly inspired by imagination.
Eric Velasquez says his book, Liberty Street, a story of a slave girl’s escape, is one of his favorites, “because the closer the little girl in the story gets to being free, the closer she gets to literacy.”
Writing as Activism
At a master class hosted at the Library of Congress, Kwame Alexander, the 2015 Newberry Award winner for The Crossover, said that “writing children’s books is activism.” Given recent events that signal a more polarized world, the CCBF is our community’s way to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate both differences and commonalities in our increasingly multicultural and multilingual society.
Velasquez continues, “When I was a child, very few children’s books had characters that looked like me. I remember feeling left out and uninterested in reading.”
Today, his deeply moving drawings are rendered with realistic details so children see themselves, their friends and their families in his books, but also see outside themselves.\“Children need both windows and mirrors. Too much of one and not enough of the other can seriously impair the intellectual growth of a child, especially their sense of empathy,” says Velasquez.
Author/illustrator Nick Bruel, creator of this year’s CCBF poster “Be Part of Our Story” makes a conscious effort to be inclusive and authentic in his laugh out loud books which are about a cantankerous cat.
Bruel says, “In A Bad Kitty Christmas,” I needed to depict generations within the same family. I made several characters, Black, Asian and Hispanic, and I included a LGBT couple. I debated with myself–do I write a book that could potentially speak to that kid who actually has two Mommies? I recognized that there would be people who would be offended. Like it or not, that kid exists and deserves to see his/her world represented in a book. Over the years, I received many, many angry missives over the very brief mention of Nan and Pam and even a school in Houston banned my book.”
The CCBF is our community’s way to promote reading, freedom and the power of discernment–keys to our children’s success in the 21st century world. Our town’s recent capital bond vote enables our schools and the Chappaqua Library to be “active and dynamic learning environments where students engage in meaningful inquiry, invention, interaction, hypothesizing, collaboration, and personal reflection.” It demonstrates our shared priority that students think deeply, apply problem-solving skills, and actively participate in their learning. The CCBF represents the desire for all our kids and teens to experience a broader world through the pages of a book, with empathy in their hearts and critical thinking in their minds. Barry Graziano of Houlihan Lawrence says, “the CCBF “is a great example of bringing the community together for a great cause. By empowering our children with the art of reading and language, we open a world of culture.”
Here’s what to look forward to:
- “Be Part of Our Story” Join the all-day excitement of the CCBF at the Robert E. Bell Middle School–rain or shine–Sept. 24th.
- Meet and greet favorite authors and beloved illustrators at readings and book signings.
- Healthy fun with live music, STEM challenges with Regeneron, and games courtesy of Kiwi Country Day Camp.
- Enjoy treats from the food trucks and the always wonderful “Great American Bake Sale to End Hunger” at tables on the Great Lawn of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
“Banned Books Week” Sept. 25- Oct. 1, 2016
This annual event sponsored by the American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read, to seek and to express ideas, even those ideas which some consider unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.