West Virginia Book Festival

Clear your schedule — Free Comic Book Day








Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. I’m just sayin’.

If you wanted to grab the kid (or not) and head to a local comic book shop, it should be a nice day to reminisce with old friends and make some new ones, both in our actual universe and others. You can check for participating shops by ZIP code at the Free Comic Book Day website. I see stores in South Charleston, Huntington, Beckley, Morgantown, Fairmont, the Parkersburg area and near Wheeling and Martinsburg.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the event at Lost Legion Games & Comics/The Rifleman in South Charleston is in this gazz story. That includes appearances by local writer and filmmaker Danny Boyd (author of the Chillers graphic novel) and Jason Pell (creator of the Zombie Highway comic).

Of course, serious readers of this blog respect art in all its forms, so I don’t have to go into any justifications of comic books or graphic novels as either art or literature.  However, if you want a deeper look at how this art form grew out of the early 20th-century and how the Forces of Darkness moved to suppress it, let me draw your attention to a book from a few years back, “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America” by David Hajdu.

But you don’t need that book to enjoy Free Comic Book Day.

You also don’t really need to know all the ways comic book reading is good for kids. Reading for fun improves fluency, which comes in handy Monday morning when kids are reading for school. Reading fiction to the point of being absorbed in characters and the story has recently been shown to be beneficial in other ways that have to do with compassion and experience. When teaching and testing young people on reading comprehension, teachers sometimes break stories into sections or panels, so students can identify events and how they relate.

Of course, I don’t tell the kids this, but if there are any reluctant readers in your family, kids who just haven’t yet found a book they love to read, the comic book versions of movie, TV and game characters can ease them into reading for fun.

It’s great that all that happens, but that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m catching up with my beloved Spidey, or evaluating an issue of Young Justice or Superman Family Adventures for our very young nieces and nephews. I’m enjoying the art, the action, the characters, the humor. I’m mulling over ethical quandries and scientific possibilities. I’m looking backward and forward, inside and out. And having a good time doing it.

Happy Free Comic Book Day.

I Heart Tamora Pierce

As a woman who was once a girl, I have a pretty strong understanding of the importance of strong female role models.  I had them, for sure – in life, and in books.  The best role models, to me, were the ones who I maybe didn’t appreciate at the time.  But with the magnificent perspective of practically middle age, I can look back and say how glad I am that I had some pretty fierce women to look up to.

Tamora Pierce, Role Model

Which is why I cannot for the life of me understand why I had not read anything by Tamora Pierce until now.  Maybe it’s because I was raised in a house where there were no books with dragons on the cover (hooray for being able to blame my parents!).  By the time I got to college, I certainly knew of Tamora Pierce – all of my fierce classmates were obsessed – but I thought I was too old.

This is what they were reading.

Anyway, so, finally.  A few weeks ago I read Alanna: The First Adventure, which is the first (duh) in the Song of the Lioness series.  This, I think, is the one that people love.  How many women grew up wanting to be Alanna?  (How many men, for that matter – she kicks some pretty serious butt.)

Oh, am I getting ahead of myself?  How unusual.  I was just really excited by this book.  Alanna is rad.

This is what I read. Spiffied up for the 21st century?

Right, so if you haven’t guessed yet, Alanna is a girl.  In Tortall, the world she lives in, girls go to a convent and learn magic, boys go to knight school and learn how to fight and ride and have adventures.  Alanna’s twin brother, Thom, is more interested in magic than swords.  So it’s pretty convenient (and, OK, very dangerous) for them to just switch places.  With the help of her loyal servant, Coram, Alanna puts on some baggy clothes and learns how to become a page.  A page named Alan.

But Alanna has more to face than just the fact that she is a girl.  She’s small, and she gets picked on by her classmates.  Despite befriending Prince Jonathan, who would happily defend her, she practices extra-hard and defeats the bully on her own.  (Girl, I was cheering at that part.)


I didn’t read this one. I mean, I did, but it wasn’t this cover.

Alanna also possesses some powerful magic, which is not entirely unheard of in Tortall.  But Alanna’s father was so against magic that she’s barely learned to use it – and she’s more powerful than many.

But Alanna’s chief strength is her goodness.  She’s not perfect – she lies kind of a lot – but she’s tenacious and kind, and people respond well to her.  Well, to Alan.  She befriends George, the King of the Thieves who, for a bad guy, is pretty awesome.  But she also runs afoul of some questionable characters.


I call this one the Fancy Cover.

Let’s stop talking about the plot.  Suffice it to say: Pierce sets the stage for Alanna’s adventure, both in the climax of the book and in future volumes.  It’s page-turning stuff.

Alanna is written at a pretty young reading level – the heroine is ten at the start of the book, and that’s probably the target audience – but even as an adult, there is a lot to appreciate.  There’s humor, adventure, and an unforgettable heroine.  I am definitely going to get a copy of this book for my niece.  She’s totally obsessed with princesses, and I am looking forward to giving her a different perspective.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with princesses!)

I kind of like this one. Fierce Alanna!

To that end, I would only recommend this book for young people who show signs of being strong, independent, smart, and tenacious.  Or for youngsters who do not.

And, please, for the love of Alanna, everybody come see Tamora Pierce at the Book Festival this weekend!  (Saturday at 4 p.m.)  Interviews I’ve read show promise of Pierce being every bit as strong and opinionated as her heroines.

A West Virginia connection to Banned Books Week

This week is the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s annual “celebration of the freedom to read.” The group tracks hundreds of challenges to books in libraries every year (while noting that many more go unreported), and among the most challenged authors this year is one on whom West Virginia has some claim.

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor‘s “Alice” series — which Booklist called “a road map for a girl growing up today” — ranks sixth on the ALA’s top ten list of most challenged books. The reasons the books are challenged, according to the ALA: nudity, offensive language and “religious viewpoint.” Naylor has said the Alice series will end next year with “Always Alice”; that’ll make a total of 28 books in the series, including three prequels.

Naylor lives in Maryland, and the Alice books are set there. But perhaps her best-known work, the Newbery Award-winning “Shiloh,” is set in West Virginia — specifically, the area around Friendly, an Ohio River town in Tyler County. The title character, a beagle, is named for a community a few miles southeast of Friendly. Two Shiloh sequels are set in the same place, and Naylor has also set books in Hinton, Webster Springs and Buckhannon, among other places.

As for Banned Books Week, libraries around the country, including the Kanawha County Public Library, are taking part in the commemoration. The ALA has even set up a YouTube channel with people reading from books that other people have tried to get removed from libraries.

Stories on Book Festival authors Corbin and Shank

In case you missed it, a couple of news stories appeared recently about authors who will be coming to the Book Festival in less than two weeks:

Cecelia Mason at West Virginia Public Broadcasting talked to David Corbin, longtime U.S. Senate staffer for Sen. Robert C. Byrd, about his new book on Byrd and his encounters with 11 presidents, “The Last Great Senator.” According to the story, Corbin’s book challenges some of the long-held views on Byrd’s early career — specifically, the idea that Byrd was a racist in his early years in Congress.

Also, the Gazette’s Paul Nyden went to listen to Marilyn Sue Shank, author of “Child of the Mountains,” when she spoke at the University of Charleston Builders Luncheon series. Although that’s her first book, Shank said she hopes to write another three novels for young adults and another one for middle-grade children. She also talked about her use of dialect in “Child of the Mountains,” despite specific advice not to do that.

Corbin will speak in the Book Festival’s annual Settle Session at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. Shank will speak on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 12:30 p.m.

Inspiring children to read is topic of talk

Sarah Dooley
photo by John McCoy

Young adult author Sarah Dooley will present a session for adults about helping children find books they’ll love. Her talk, “Captive or Captivate: Inspiring Kids to Reach for Books,” is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 13, 11:30 a.m. at the West Virginia Book Festival.

Getting kids to read and getting kids to want to read are two separate animals. In this workshop, participants will explore a variety of strategies for connecting young readers with the books they will love.

Dooley is the author of two novels for young readers, “Livvie Owen Lived Here” and “Body of Water,” both from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. She holds a degree in education from Marshall University and has taught special education at the elementary, middle and high school levels. In August, Dooley won a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for Free Verse, which is forthcoming from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. She is a member of West Virginia Writers.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; Dan Chaon, former National Book Award finalist; and Tamora Pierce, author of 28 fantasy novels for teens, have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation; Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart; the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County; West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book; BB&T West Virginia Foundation; Books-A-Million; and William Maxwell Davis. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.


Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce began writing in sixth grade to escape from her parents’ disintegrating marriage. A fan of heroic fantasy, she began writing stories that featured fearless, bold, female protagonists because those characters were lacking in the books she loved to read.

Fast forward to 1983, when her first book, “Alanna: The First Adventure,” was published in hardcover by Atheneum. Since then, she has written 28 fantasy novels for teens, the most recent of which is “Mastiff.”

The New York Times bestselling author will speak at the West Virginia Book Festival at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Charleston Civic Center. She  joins a slate of speakers featuring Charlaine Harris, author of the “Sookie Stackhouse” series; Christopher Wilkinson, author of “Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia”; and Marilyn Sue Shank, author of “Child of the Mountains.”

Pierce was born in South Connellsville, Pa., into a long, proud line of hillbillies. While her family didn’t have much money, they did have plenty of books, and books continue to be the main yardstick by which she measures true wealth.

Crediting her fans with her success, Tammy loves the chance to go on tour and thank them in person.  “Struggling along as a kid and even through my 20s, it’s the kind of life I dreamed of but never believed I would get. And I never take it for granted.”  She hopes her books inspire her readers with the feeling that they too can do anything if they want it badly enough. She now lives in Syracuse, N.Y., with her husband Tim Liebe.

The 12th annual West Virginia Book Festival will be held Oct. 13 and 14. The two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and panel discussions. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

50 years of “The Phantom Tollbooth”

Ever wonder what kind of book leads someone down the path toward becoming a serious reader? For blog contributor (and Gazette editorial page editor) Dawn Miller, it was “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Jules Feiffer. She writes:

It was such tough going at first I thought it was a grown-up book, which made me more determined to read it. Eventually I read as far as the spelling bee. The Spelling Bee was an actual man-sized insect that could spell anything, A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. He got into a fight where market stalls and people were toppled. In the disturbance, the main character, a boy named Milo, was knocked over and fell on the bee. The bee shouted, “Help! Help! There’s a little boy on me.”

To my 9-year-old ear, that was the wittiest thing I ever read. I was hooked.

In The New Yorker recently, Adam Gopnik talked with Juster and Feiffer as they, too, recalled their work of a half-century ago.

National Book Award finalists announced

From The Associated Press:

NEW YORK — Debut novelist Tea Obreht, longtime poet Adrienne Rich and Malcolm X biographer Manning Marable, who died on the eve of his book’s publication, were among the National Book Award finalists announced Wednesday.

The list of 20 nominees, five each in four categories, included several published by small presses, from TriQuarterly to Graywolf. Fiction finalist Edith Pearlman’s story collection “Binocular Vision” was released through Lookout Books in Wilmington, N.C., while Andrew Krivak’s “The Sojourn” came out from Bellevue Literary Press, based at the famous hospital in New York and the publisher of Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tinkers.”

The 26-year-old Obreht was cited for “The Tiger’s Wife,” a haunting novel about displacement that has already won Britain’s Orange Prize for best fiction by a woman. Others in the fiction category were Julia Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic” and Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones.” Another widely praised first novel, Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding,” was not selected. Neither was Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot,” his first novel since the Pulitzer-winning “Middlesex.”

In nonfiction, Marable was nominated for his long-awaited “Malcolm X,” on which the Columbia University professor had worked for 20 years, only to die just before the book came out. A Harvard University scholar, Stephen Greenblatt, was a finalist for “The Swerve,” his story of the Renaissance-era rediscovery of Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things” and the Latin poem’s influence on Western thinking. The other nominees were Deborah Baker’s “The Convert” and two biographies of married couples: Mary Gabriel’s “Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution,” and Lauren Redniss’ “Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout.”

Manning is not the first posthumous nominee. In 2004, Donald Justice was a finalist for his “Collected Poems.”

The National Books Awards are chosen by separate panels of writers for each retrospective category. Judges looked through 1,223 books in all.

While fiction judges focused on lesser-known authors, the poetry panel selected some of the biggest names in the field, including the 82-year-old Rich (“Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010”), Carl Phillips (“Double Shadow”) and Yusef Komunyakaa (“The Chameleon Couch”). The other finalists were Nikky Finney’s “Head Off & Split” and Bruce Smith’s “Devotions.”

The young people’s literature finalists were Franny Billingsley’s “Chime,” Debby Dahl Edwardson’s “My Name Is Not Easy,” Thanhha Lai’s “Inside Out and Back Again,” Albert Marrin’s “Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy” and Gary D. Schmidt’s “Okay for Now.”

The award’s sponsor, the National Book Foundation, had initially reported that Lauren Myracle’s “Shine,” not Billingley’s “Chime,” was a nominee.

Winners, each of whom receive $10,000, will be announced at a Nov. 16 ceremony in New York hosted by actor-author John Lithgow. Honorary prizes will be presented to poet John Ashbery and Florida-based bookseller Mitchell Kaplan.


Nicholas Sparks — remember him? — comes out today with his latest book, “The Best of Me.” Judging from the book’s description, Sparks fans will enjoy this one as well:

High school students … fell deeply, irrevocably in love. Though they were from opposite sides of the tracks, their love for one another … unforeseen events would tear the young couple apart … twenty-five years later … neither can forget the passionate first love that forever changed their lives … Can love truly rewrite the past?

I’m guessing yes.

Anyway, today seems like a good time to catch up with the other people who helped make last year’s West Virginia Book Festival a success:

| Diana Gabaldon has the latest installment in her Lord John series, “The Scottish Prisoner,” scheduled for release on Nov. 29. She also a 20th anniversary edition of “Outlander,” the novel that started it all for her, in July. And, she recently announced on her blog that the eighth “Outlander” novel will be called “Written In My Own Heart’s Blood.”

| Carmen Deedy, as we mentioned last month, has a new young adult novel out, “The Cheshire Cheese Cat.” She also has a sequel to her 1994 book, “The Library Dragon,” coming out next April, called … wait for it … “The Return of the Library Dragon.” Michael R. White illustrates the book, as he did the original.

| James Robertson, longtime Civil War scholar, retired after more than four decades as a professor at Virginia Tech. That doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of him. He’s the author of “The Untold Civil War: Exploring the Human Side of War,” which comes out next week. He’s also the co-editor of “Virginia at War, 1865,” a look at the mother state at the end of the Civil War, due out on Nov. 3.

| Meredith Sue Willis released a collection of stories, “Re-Visions: Stories from Stories.” Her newsletter, Books for Readers, remains a great resource for people who love reading.

| Jim Benton’s twelfth in the Dear Dumb Diary series, “Me (Just Like You, Only Better) was published in June. Because each book covered a month in diarist Jamie Kelly’s life, you might think that’s the end of the series. Not to worry, the first book in the “Dear Dumb Diary, Year Two” series is out on Jan. 1. Also, Benton’s Happy Bunny book, “Love Bites,” gets a special edition release on Dec. 1.

| Did you hear Ken Hechler is 97? Come wish him a belated happy birthday at this year’s Book Festival.

| Jayne Anne Phillips continues as director of the Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Rutgers-Newark — she’s reading in the school’s Writers at Newark Reading Series on Oct. 25 — and was featured in “We Wanted To Be Writers,” an anecdotal history of the Iowa Writers Workshop published in August.

| Sarah Sullivan, Charleston children’s book author and longtime friend of the Book Festival, released “Passing The Music Down” to general acclaim in May.

| John J. Fox III, Civil War historian, writes:

My project due out late spring 2012 is about how JEB Stuart became famous – his June 12-15, 1862, ride with only 1,200 Confederate cavalrymen around George McClellan’s entire Union army that threatened to capture Richmond. Stuart only lost one man during the operation, but the intelligence he brought back gave Robert E. Lee the green light to go on the offensive and launch the Seven Days’ Battles that saved the Confederate capital.

| Heidi Durrow had her novel “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” chosen as the city of Portland’s “Everybody Reads” book for 2012. Durrow, the daughter of an African-American father and a Danish mother, also appeared as part of CNN’s “Dialogues” series, in an event on “The 2010 Census and the New America.” She continues to co-host the weekly “Mixed Chicks Chat,” available on iTunes.

| John Antonik remains new media director for the WVU athletic department, and writes the Campus Connection blog on MSNsportsNET.com.

Alex Flinn offers teens some writing advice

One of the reasons people come to book festivals is to learn the secrets of authors like Lee Child (coming to this month’s West Virginia Book Festival). Why, they wonder, is he a best-selling novelist and I’m not? What’s he doing that I should be doing?

In many cases, there isn’t any secret formula. It’s a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.

In that vein, young-adult author Alex Flinn (also coming to this month’s West Virginia Book Festival) offered some good suggestions earlier this year on her blog for her teenaged readers who want to be writers. The top two are the most obvious: if you want to be a writer, read a lot and write a lot.

But there are some other suggestions geared specifically toward younger writers that are worth considering — including the realization that becoming a success at writing usually takes a long time. Flinn says:

I worry about what I call Christopher Paolini syndrome, the idea that you need to have a publishing contract in high school. Teens like this get a lot of publicity. The reason for that it, they’re rare. Most writers I know got published as adults, and many writers who are published as teens don’t end up being successful. I worry that teens who don’t get published will consider themselves washed up at 18. You have time.