2,000 Houston area readers flock to district’s Tweens Read Book Festival, connect with nationally renowned authors
Nearly 2,000 reading enthusiasts gathered at the fifth annual Tweens Read Book Festival at South Houston High School October 3 to meet their favorite authors and share their love of reading.
The event attracted students of all ages, in addition to teachers, librarians and administrators throughout the greater Houston area, and even as far as Pflugerville and Dallas.
Tweens Read kicked off bright and early Saturday morning with lines of students and chaperones wrapped around the building for registration. When the doors opened, the crowd flooded into the school and packed the entire auditorium for the first keynote address by Gene Luen Yang, award-winning comic writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC Comics’ Superman.
The crowd separated into five rooms for a series of panel discussions – each room representing various adolescent genres including: Five Funny Guys; Edge of Your Seat; a Different World; Nothing but Trouble; and Fantastic Fantasy.
Comprised of 26 national award-winning authors including a Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe honoree, the panelists promoted their new books and talked about their inspiration for writing.
After the authors gave introductions, a moderator in each room 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 involved riveting discussions between the crowd and the authors.
“This is the only place in the country that you are going to find a book festival that is focused specifically on tween readers. This is it. This is the stage in a kids’ life, where we either get readers for life or we lose kids to books. So if we can grab them at this age, it is going to change the rest of their lives, which is why this is such a valuable conference,” Jennifer Nielsen, author of the Ascendance trilogy, said.
The crowd rotated after each panel discussion. Around lunch time, attendees purchased books and snacks at the stations set up around the hallways. By the time they made their way back to the auditorium for the closing keynote speech by Newberry award-winning authors Katherine Applegate and Rebecca Stead, students were carrying bags loaded with books.
Following the 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 delved into their new books, to start the next chapter in their reading adventure.
The event has grown significantly since 2010, attracting about 600 more students this year. About half of the attendees were comprised of middle school students, while the other half consisted of 343 elementary students, 220 chaperones; 153 teachers; 80 librarians; 41 college students; 30 high schoolers; and 18 administrators. In addition, over 70 community members, district staff and South Houston JROTC students volunteered for the event.
Tweens Read was founded by a bookseller and librarian who aspired to promote literacy among pre-teenagers. The festival is a collaborative effort by the Pasadena ISD Office of Libraries and instructional Materials, South Houston High School, Blue Willow Bookshop, the University of Houston and community volunteers. The event is sponsored by the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Phillips 66.
Organizers hope the festival will educate, enrich, inform, entertain and ignite a passion for reading and writing in the tween community. Judging by the smiles on student’s faces as they met with authors, they have accomplished their mission.
“There is a kinetic energy in this building that ricochets from the students to the authors,” Christine Van Hamersveld, Pasadena ISD director of libraries and instructional materials said. “Pasadena ISD hosts this event every year to bring a community of readers together to share their enthusiasm, their thoughts and their passion for the written word. We are incredibly thankful to the organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and especially these published authors for making this event a memorable experience for students. We hope that Tweens Read will encourage students to continue reading so they can become life-long learners.”
Authors in attendance at Tweens Read 2015 included: Five Funny Guys Jeff Anderson, Nicholas Gannon, Daniel Handler, Geoff Rodkey and Gene Luen Yang; Edge of Your Seat panelists Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Nikki Loftin, Jennifer Nielson, Jackson Pearce and Kevin Sands; A Different World authors Cecil Castellucci, Polly Holyoke, Kekla Magoon, Michael Northrop, Jenn Reese and Linda Urban; Nothing but Trouble authors Crystal Allen, Ali Benjamin, Lydia Gil, Wendy Shang and Rebecca Stead; and Fantastic Fantasy authors Katherine Applegate, Ingrid Law, C. Alexander London, Jonathan Maberry and Kenneth Oppel.