Delighted shrieks and peals of laughter ricocheted off the cinderblock walls of the school’s large commons, children scurrying about with parent and teacher chaperones in tow as they raced from one table to the next. Activities such as coloring bookmarks, taking pictures with silly masks, and decorating the paper graffiti wall entertained the children in anticipation for the main event.
“Begun in 2014, the Bookworm Festival is a fun morning that celebrates emerging readers, and those who write for them. Librarians and language arts teachers from across Houston comprise the steering committee for this event. Their goal is to connect emerging readers with authors to foster the joy of reading,” Blue Willow Bookshop events coordinator Cathy Berner, said.
On February 2, 2019, the high school hosted the sixth annual Bookworm Festival for the first time, with numbers reaching over 900 people, if one excluded the numerous volunteers that also showed up.
“This year’s Bookworm Festival exceeded our wildest dreams. The attendance almost doubled from last year and we had incredible support from CFISD (especially Assistant Director, Curriculum and Instruction Diane Garland) and from the high school’s librarian Liz Nebeker and the amazing high school’s teen volunteers,” Berner said.
The festival also had massive support from the Blue Willow Bookshop, an independent local bookshop located in the greater Houston area, that provides a large selection for adults and children, as well as games, gifts, and events.
“Blue Willow Bookshop works in conjunction with librarians from the greater Houston area to put on three festivals each year: Bookworm (picture books), Tweens Read (middle grade books) and TeenBookCon (YA/teen books). Each festival aims to connect readers with book creators. Blue Willow Bookshop secures the authors for each festival, helps develop the programming for each festival and sells books at each festival,” Berner said.
Intended to encourage the younger generation’s appreciation for the fundamentals of learning and reading, the children had the opportunity to meet several successful picture book authors and illustrators lined up this year.
“Bookworm introduces kids to authors up close. Young readers can meet picture book authors and illustrators and can see that being a creative person is a potential career. The festival also works hard to share the joy, excitement and value of reading so we can help develop lifelong readers in the Houston area,” Berner said.
But, as the saying goes, “nothing comes from nothing”. Therefore, students from National Honor Society (NHS), Interact, and Book Club assisted with set up, tear down, and engaged with the children in an assortment of activities scattered about the Commons.
“They all did a great job and the organizers of the event were very impressed with how well they represented JV,” the high school librarian Elizabeth Nebeker, said. “The younger students enjoyed working with student volunteers. The student volunteers had a great time helping the young kids, since they loved doing the activities and helping them find their way,” Nebeker added.
Kids could participate in any of the following as they (or the chaperones) wished: coloring bookmarks, drawing and coloring on the bookworm graffiti wall, taking photos with silly masks and picture frames, spinning the prize wheel, and/or creating buttons embellished with images of popular children’s book characters. A team of students even dressed up as popular children’s book icons such as Clifford the Big Red Dog and the Cat in the Hat to amuse and engage with the children.
“My whole experience was very outgoing. I worked the photo booth most of the time and I just loved seeing the kids running around being happy, smiling and just goofing around for pictures with classmates and families. Overall, seeing them happy made me happy as well with the joy in their faces,” Interact Club member Vanessa Castillo, sophomore, said.
Working together as a cohesive team and working for a worthy cause also presented a learning opportunity for the teen volunteers, where one can only grasp such concepts by experiencing them hands-on in lieu of reading a textbook.
“I learned from volunteering how much work goes into such an event that often looks effortless. I discovered how some people can be very generous and courageous to hold such an event so that everyone can get a chance to enjoy the world of reading,” Interact Club member Larissa Bates, freshman, said.
Aside from other activities and games, during the second half of the festival, children’s book authors Ame Dyckman, Vashti Harrison, David Ezra Stein, Lita Judge, Julia Sarcone-Roach, and Katie Yamasaki appeared as guest speakers to promote their latest books such as “There Are No Bears in This Bakery” and “Misunderstood Shark: Friends Don’t Eat Friends.” Each book presented by the authors held different stories emphasizing life lessons such as the importance of self-reliance and politeness to others.
David Shannon, author of the critically acclaimed “No, David!” series, appeared as the keynote speaker as well, not only to promote his latest picture book, “Grow up, David!”, but to illustrate his personal writing process and share how various aspects of his life influenced his books.
At the conclusion of the festival, the children stood in line to have their books signed by their respective authors and take a quick photo before heading home. As they shuffled out to the buses awaiting them outside, the volunteers breathed both a sigh of relief and contentment for having played their part in what may result in an even greater outcome.
“The Bookworm Festival was a great experience where I got to meet lots of new people that also enjoy volunteering and reading. The festival was a chance to see all the people who love to read,” Bates said.