The first Saturday of November, Jim and I attended the 22nd annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. The book festival began in 1996 about the same time my family moved to the Central Texas area. It is prestigious, large, and mostly free. It promotes literacy and reading across all ages. There are events for the youngest children through adults. There is something of interest for everyone. The money raised at the book festival through book sales, donations, and other fundraising goes to library and literacy programs in Texas. This year there was a special fundraising effort for public and school libraries effected by Hurricane Harvey. I participated by attending and purchasing lots of books. Once I started it was hard to stop!!!
One of the first events of the day was the announcement of the new Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List for 2018-2019. We missed the announcement, but I collected a copy of the list. As I have said in the past, I like this award as Texas school children in grades 3-6, who have read (or have heard read out loud) at least 5 of the books on the list, vote for the winner. The 2016 winner was Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl. The 2017 winner will be announced this spring at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. I picked up a book from the list How to Avoid Extinction. It quirky title made we want to see what is inside!
Another program that the book festival supports is the Reading Rockets Program. This is a literacy outreach program for students in Title I elementary schools, like the one where our daughter teaches. It brings bilingual and award-winning children’s authors to these schools for presentations. This program donates a signed copy of the author’s book to each student and a set of the author’s books to the school’s library. How cool is that!
Because I love children’s books, we had to spend time in the Children’s tent. We stopped to see the PreK class from my daughter’s school introduce Aaron Reynolds. He had been at their school earlier in the week. I also wanted to hear his new book. It had an interesting title, Creepy Underwear. This book is hysterical and so was the author. Have you ever talked with a group of young children? You must bring your A-game! You never know what they will say. He was funny, charming and energetic. He told the group that he was an author and most of the time he was a grown up. The kids in the tent were delighted! They loved his book. Alas, I delayed going to the books sales tent and all the copies of the book were gone. As an alternative, I purchased his book, Creepy Carrots. You will hear about it in another blog.
I decided to stay for the next session as I was intrigued by Chris Harris’ book title, I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups. Here was another delightful author. The local class that introduced him recited one of the poems from the book. He thanked them and told them how much he had enjoyed visiting their school. Wow, you must really love to talk with children to be on this circuit. They asked him all kinds of questions. As you might have guessed, he began this book for his own children and it just grew. His poetry, rhyming or not, is captivating and the poems have appealing titles. Here’s a title from one he showed the audience, “Alphabet Book (by the Laziest Artist in the World)”. The illustrator for this book is also one of my favorites, Lane Smith. The pictures in this book are fantastic, just like the poems. There will be more to come on this book in another blog. I have to read the book first!
I learned an interesting fact from both Chris and Aaron. Authors and their illustrators rarely meet. I was under the wrong impression that they collaborated during the entire process. That must only happen when the author and illustrator or illustrator and author are very close or the same person. According to Aaron and Chris, you write your book and you send it off to the publisher. They look it over and then decide, who might be the best person to illustrate it. They send the book off to the illustrator to see, if he/she wants to illustrate it. Aaron said he never met his illustrator, Peter Brown, until after his first book, Creepy Carrots, was published. Jim and I wondered what happens when the author hates the illustrations? Our question will have to wait for another time as both these authors appeared to enjoy the illustrations in their books.
These two children’s authors presented in the mid-afternoon and as I am not a husband torturer, we split the day between what he thought might be interesting and what I wanted to see. He is interested in science and science fiction, so we took a flyer and attended Kelly and Zach Weinersmith’s session. Their book title looked curious, Soonish: A Funny Future of Technology: Ten Technologies That Will Improve/Ruin Everything.
I thought this was a delightful session! Zach has two degrees one in literature and the other in physics. Kelly, who could not attend, has a degree in parasitology. Between the two of them, they work on the ideas and research for their books. Their book combines interesting theories and Zach’s cartooning. In this presentation, Zach talked about two technologies from their book: Cheap access to space and robots. In the section on “Cheap Access to Space”, he discussed carbon nanotubes that could be used for a space elevator. As soon as he started on this topic, I thought about Arthur C. Clarke’s story The Fountains of Paradise. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know, if they reference his story.
He also discussed robots and how it will end for humanity. He talked about some interesting recent robotic experiments. We, the people, are so gullible. Seems if a robot tells us something, it is true. To the best of my narrative ability, here’s how the experiments went. In experiment one, on a campus, near a locked dorm lurked a robot. The robot would stop students and ask them to let it into the dorm. A very, few students let the robot into the dorm. On the other hand, around 80% of the students stopped and would let that same robot in the dorm, if it robot had cookies and offered one to the student. Makes you wonder what people will do for cookies!
In experiment two, began with student who were volunteering for a study waiting in a building’s lobby. They were met by a robot and led to a room. Sometimes the robot went straight to the room. Sometimes the robot took what was obviously a long, circuitous route. Sometimes the robot would walk into a wall and go the wrong direction and have to correct itself on the way to the room. Sometimes the robot would move very slowly. The robot left the students in the room where the experiment was to take place. After they had been in the room for a few minutes, the room began to fill with smoke and the fire alarm went off. A robot appeared in the doorway and told the students to follow it to safety. It is interesting that in every case, people followed the robot. It didn’t matter, if they could see the exit door, or if the robot had made mistakes in getting them to the experimental room and was making obvious mistakes getting them back to the outside door, the students followed the robot. I think that is a scary thought that they would so blindly follow robots. After all they were built by people. During the Q&A session someone asked this related question, what would you do to prevent a robot apocalypse? His answer: “Don’t let it get started!” It was a most amusing presentation. Did I buy his book? Why yes and “soonish”, after I read it, I will blog about it.
Jim and I listen to the news on the way to and from work every day. It gives us a chance to talk about current events. Discussing current events led us to this session with its intriguing title, “Falsehoods, Forgeries, and Fake News” in the C-SPAN Book tent. This session featured Kevin Young and Jared Yale Sexton. They discussed how PT Barnum and his use of the Penny Press was similar to the way the internet is used now. It was a lively, but somewhat distressing topic. They offered us hope. We must learn about each other and find common ground so that civil discourse can continue.
After that heavy topic, we were ready for lunch. We walked down to six street and had lunch at BD Riley’s Irish Pub. Books (a discussion), a brew (Guinness Stout), and BD Riley’s Irish stew (best ever) made lunch heaven. I am glad that we had the second half of our day at the book festival to walk off all that yummy goodness.
To cap off our book festival day, we intended to try the festival’s lit crawl. Unfortunately, all the lit crawl venues were too far from us. We had our own lit crawl. We used two of our newly purchased books (Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type and Zack and Kelly Weinersmith’s Soonish) to play the game, “Bring Your Own Book.” We had a blast and it was a lovely end to a perfect day at the Texas Book Festival.