Families throughout the Greater Houston area load up on new books and pack the halls of South Houston High for the annual Tweens Read Book Festival.
| Jason Reynolds shares stories about growing up in the 80s.
By Reesha Brown
Photos by Reesha Brown/Connie Doolin
Over 2,300 middle school students poured into South Houston High Saturday morning for the sixth annual Tweens Read Book Festival
, bridging together book enthusiasts and educators throughout the state, along with nationally renowned authors, including keynote addresses by Jason Reynolds, Trenton Lee Stewart and Adam Gidwitz.
The crowd packed into the auditorium for the first keynote address by Reynolds, Coretta Scott King award-winning author of When I Was the Greatest and The Boy in the Black Suit. He shared riveting stories about growing up in the 80s and how his passion for rap music helped him discover his talent for writing.
“What they were doing is telling our truth – a truth that nobody was willing to write in the books back then,” Reynolds said. “As kids, we were saying that at least somebody is saying it. The rappers were the YA [Young Adult] authors of my generation.”
He went on to describe his favorite rapper of all time – Queen Latifah.
“She’s rapping and I’m reading,” Reynolds said. “When the album is over, guess what I do then, I read all those lyrics over again, but this time without the music. It dawned on me, Queen Latifah was like poetry – that Queen Latifah was doing the same thing Mya Angelou was doing.”
“I decided I was going to be like Queen Latifah and I wrote poetry every single day of my life from 9 years old all the way…through the first part of my twenties.”
After Reynolds’ speech, the crowd separated into various rooms throughout the campus for a series of panel discussions with the authors – each representing various adolescent genres.
Comprised of over 30 award-winning authors, the panelists had a unique opportunity to promote their new books and interact with their fan base.
The authors introduced themselves and read excerpts from their new books. When the moderators opened up the floor for questions and comments, nearly every hand flew up as students fired off questions ranging from the author’s favorite color to their motivation for writing. While some responses resulted in an eruption of laughter, others sparked discussions between the crowd and the authors.
“From the authors perspective, you don’t get to frequently talk to kids outside of school about your books,” Karen Romano, author of Hundred Percent said. “For the kids, they have the opportunity to be young writers and big readers and talk to people who were like that as kids themselves. I would have loved to come to something like this as a teenager.”
The crowd rotated after each panel discussion. Around lunch time, attendees purchased books and snacks at the stations set up through the hallways. By the time they made their way back to the auditorium for the next keynote speech, students were loaded down with bags full of books.
After the final keynote speech, attendees formed two lines extending from one end of the school to the girls and boys gyms for book signings. To pass the time, several students dived into their new books to start the next chapter in their reading adventure.
The event has grown significantly since 2010, attracting an increase of 400 students since last year. While the majority of participants were comprised of middle school students, some attendees were chaperones, teachers, librarians, high school and college students and administrators. In addition, numerous community members, district staff, South Houston JROTC students and cheerleaders volunteered for the event.
“The event started as a way to connect children in grades 5-8 with authors of books written for their age group,” Margaret Hale, Tweens Read co-founder said. “The first couple of years, our organizing committee created a wish list of authors and gave that to Blue Willow Bookshop… and after about the second year, the festival had received so much recognition in the publishing industry, that publishers were pitching lists of authors to us. This year, we had about 75 author names that were pitched, so we had the opportunity to find authors that were the best match for the kids.”
Sponsored by the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Phillips 66, the festival is a collaborative effort by the Pasadena ISD Office of Libraries and instructional Materials, South Houston High School, Blue Willow Bookshop and the University of Houston.
The organizers have a message for those who have never attended the Tweens Read Festival.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to meet the authors of the books that you read and if you are not a reader, come talk to an author, and you will be a reader by the end of the day,” Hale said.
The authors in attendance at Tweens Read 2016 included Jason Reynolds, Trenton Lee Stewart, Adam Gidwitz, John David Anderson, Jonathan Auxier, Tracey Baptiste, Kate Beasley, Frank Beddor, Ally Carter, Karen Cushman, Gitty Daneshvari, Margaret Dilloway, Margarita Engle, Elizabeth Eulberg, Dan Gemeinhart, Donna Gephart, Chris Grabenstein, Jennifer Holm, Amy Ignatow, Jo Knowles, Barry Lyga, D.J. MacHale, Cammie McGovern, Lisa McMann, Rene Saldana, Jr., Augusta Scattergood, Monika Schroeder, Tui Sutherland, Lauren Tarshis, Ursula Vernon, Lisa Yee and Karen Romano Young.