West Virginia Book Festival

The incredible staying power of Arna Bontemps

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I’ve read Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps to fifth graders before. But this year it was different.

My standard is “Bubber Goes to Heaven,” written in the early 1930s but not published until 1998. That year Oxford University Press brought it out with gorgeous carved and painted illustrations by Daniel Minter. It’s about a poor, African-American kid in Alabama who falls out of a tall pine tree and goes to heaven, where everyone has plenty to eat and all the washer women have plenty of work.

It always pleases the class where I am a Read Aloud volunteer. We get to discuss this child’s idea of heaven and what it reveals about his daily life in the rural South during the Great Depression.

It also always connects, despite being so removed in time, place and even dialect. The first year, when it became clear that the boy in the story was awarded a purple ribbon bookmark from Shiloh Baptist Church for learning the books of the Bible, a girl in the class piped up, “I have one of those.” Hers was also an award for scripture knowledge. Another year, a student commented that her church had the same name.

But this year, it sparked its own little Arna Bontemps revival, right there in Charleston, W.Va.’s Piedmont Elementary School. As soon as we finished the last page, the questions came fast.

“Are there any more of those?”

“Is that a series?”

“Is there another story in that book? What are those extra pages?”

It is not a series, I answered. There is another story with a character named Bubber. I had recently learned as much from one of the essays in the “extra pages” in the book. It is not clear whether it is the same character.

“If I can find another book by this author, would you like me to bring it?”

There was a chorus of “Yes.”

So, we all parted for a three-week school break, and I hurried to the computer to track down copies of “Lonesome Boy” and “Sad Faced Boy,” two of Bontemps’ other children’s books. I did not find them in recent reprints, but in older, less pristine forms. When school resumed, I dutifully carried in “Lonesome Boy,” what I considered the better of the two, and more likely to please. It tells the story of an older Bubber who so enjoys playing his trumpet, he plays it anytime, anywhere. His grandfather warns him not to play his instrument absent-mindedly, but always to pay attention to his surroundings. The young man heads off to New Orleans, forgets his grandfather’s advice, and catches himself in some bad and dangerous company.

The students liked it. They immediately spotted the contrast between the heavenly imagery of the first story and the devil imagery of the second. They begged for yet a third Arna Bontemps. So, with some inner reluctance, we read what I thought was the weakest, certainly the simplest, of the three, “Sad Faced Boy”. Three children hop a freight train and head to Harlem, where they stay with their uncle and have child-size adventures that contrast their 1930s rural life with the bustling life of New York City.

The physical volume itself had a story to tell. I’m so glad that someone somewhere along the way taught me not to judge a book by its cover, and so I told the class. Because this old, plain, worn burgundy cover had fraying corners, and it smelled. But we opened it anyway. The pages appeared to be from a first edition in 1937. They were delicate, but whole. The book had clearly been rebound. I pointed out to the students the biggest surprise. On the title page, among the many marks this book had acquired in its long journey, was a stamp from the Rowther Relocation Center in Arkansas. Relocation center? As in Japanese internment camp.

So before we read, we took a moment to understand where this book started out, and who might have read it, and what was going on in their world at the time. We examined some kid’s notes on the endpages — “5×8=40; 5×9=45.” That brought a sympathetic laugh.

And then we read of three boys who get into a parade, who form a band, who find the park, who eat ices. I would have thought the adventures were too quaint, too old-fashioned to impress these young sophisticates, but there was something both strange and familiar about these children leaving home to see the world.

We spent almost the whole term on this author in weekly installments, not by my plan, but by theirs. In the end, most of the 47 students said “Sad-Faced Boy” was their favorite of the three. That might have been because it was most recent in their memory. Or it might have been the intriguing journey taken by the book itself. In any case, after all these years, Bontemps still brings it.

Before the end of class, one student asked me how much the book is worth. Another one made me an offer to buy it. I call that a successful read aloud.

Clear your schedule — Free Comic Book Day

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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.

Book memories, old and new, at the used book sale

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Early on in the children’s book section of the used book sale at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday.

I made a pass through the children’s section of the Kanawha County Public Library’s used book sale Saturday morning because you never know what you’ll find.

I found a worn but serviceable hardback copy of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson, the funniest Christmas book ever (and deep and moving). Already have an adequate paperback. Put it back.

Grown-ups shuffled along, heads and lower backs bent to the task of sifting for fiction and non-fiction treasure. Kids wiggled in between, forming an inner line along each table, like the front row along a parade route. One girl weaved fearlessly in and out of the formation.  She examined and gathered items from the picture book table and carried them neatly to a distant box her mom was filling. They looked like they were stocking up for the winter. Other families did the same. They piled books into their strollers and carts and other load-bearing vehicles. One boy nabbed every volume in the Dragonball  series that he saw. Another pulled two books out of a lineup of early chapter books, slipped them deftly into his father’s shopping bag without distracting Dad from his own browsing, and went back to the precise spot where he had left off as if it were bookmarked. A preschooler pulled a book out of a pile and sung out triumphantly, “Toy Story!” Adults laughed, but didn’t look up.

At the big kids book table, an older woman carefully turned over every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book one by one. I saw “White Fang” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” and I’m pretty sure the exact edition of the Classics Illustrated “Black Beauty” that I read in third or fourth grade. I opened  Anna Sewell’s 1877 classic:

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master’s house, which stood by the roadside; at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank.

While I was young I lived upon my mother’s milk, as I could not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold we had a nice warm shed near the grove.

Yep. Still a classic.

I really don’t need any more books. The crowd was thick and intent at this hour. It was time for me to get to a 10 a.m. program, so I backed off my browse. As the children’s books disappeared behind me, I heard a gruff man’s voice exult, “Stone Soup!”

Pop-up book designer scheduled for festival

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Robert Sabuda

As a “paper engineer,” Robert Sabuda creates pop-up books. But these aren’t your grandmother’s pop-up books. They spin, float, flip and rotate with intricate, carefully designed moments of magic.

Sabuda has created 33 books in the past 15 years. He’ll speak about his work and sign books immediately afterwards at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 1 p.m. Here’s a sneak preview.

With more than five million books in print that have been translated into 25 languages worldwide, he appears regularly on the television programs “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “Martha Stewart,” where he shares his enthusiasm for creativity, children’s book art and literature. His titles include “Chanukah Lights,” “Beauty & the Beast,” “Peter Pan” and many more.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; 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, 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, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

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Marc Tyler Nobleman

Before Metropolis, Smallville and Krypton, Superman came from Cleveland, and Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne. Both superheroes were created by youthful dreamers whose stories are told in picture books by Marc Tyler Nobleman.

Nobleman will speak about his work and sign books at the West Virginia Book Festival on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center.

The author of more than 70 books for young people of all ages, Nobleman’s titles include “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman” and “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.” On his blog Noblemania, he reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of his books, from uplifting research moments to unconventional promotional efforts.

Nobleman joins best-selling urban fantasy novelist Charlaine Harris, best-selling author of books for teens Tamora Pierce, and Senator Robert Byrd historian David Corbin, among others, in 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, 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, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

2011 meant some bookish baby names

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Although the official results won’t be in until the Social Security Administration weighs in later this year, many people have weighed in with some of the most popular names for new babies in 2011 — and one list has several names with some literary associations.

Pamela Redmond Satran, co-author of “The Baby Name Bible,” wrote recently about the most-searched names in 2011 on her website, nameberry.com. Among the most-searched names:

| Charlotte is at No. 1 on the girls list; Satran calls it “an elegant name with literary cred, from Charlotte Bronte to ‘Charlotte’s Web.'”

| The No. 2 girl’s name is Seraphina, which happens to be the name former Charleston resident Jennifer Garner and husband Ben Affleck chose for their second daughter a couple of years ago. No word if either had read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, which features the witch Serafina Pekkela (described by Washington Post critic Michael Dirda as “wise and profoundly sexy”).

| Finn has only been used in the U.S. over the past decade, Satran says. It now sits at No. 2 on her list for boys. The initial push may have come from Huck Finn, but a character on the TV show “Glee” has driven its success in the past couple of years, she says.

| No. 4 on the boy’s list is Milo. Last year was the 50th anniversary of “The Phantom Tollbooth” and its protagonist, Milo. Coincidence? Hmmmmmm …

| Jasper is No. 5 on the boys’ list, almost certainly because that’s the name of one of the Cullen vampires in the “Twilight” books.

| No. 6 on the boy’s list is Atticus, which I’d imagine is almost completely attributable to “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. (Harper, incidentally, is Nameberry’s top-searched unisex name.)

| Oliver, No. 7 on the boy’s list, is the most popular boys’ name in Britain, Satran says, and that must have at least something to do with that Twist boy.

| Alice is probably the most traditional female name on the list, at No. 8, and Satran notes several writers with that name, including Walker, Sebold, Munro and McDermott, as well as a certain children’s heroine who fell down the rabbit hole.

| Scarlett is No. 9 on the list, but that’s probably more to do with Ms. Johannson than Ms. O’Hara.

Satran also lists the top 100 for each gender, and there are several literary names there as well (it does my hard-boiled heart good to see Dashiell at No. 28 on her list).

Free storytelling concert slated at Book Festival

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Three members of the West Virginia Storytelling Guild will present a storytelling concert at the West Virginia Book Festival this fall at the Charleston Civic Center. The free concert, “Stories from the Back Porch,” begins at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22. Featured storytellers include:

Lynn R. Mills

Lynn R. Mills
A retired Wyoming County teacher, Mills began storytelling when her children were young to keep them entertained during car trips or in waiting rooms. She became a professional storyteller in 1999 and entertains audiences at family reunions, church picnics, nursing homes, schools, state parks and anywhere else there is someone to listen to her. She was the second place winner at the National Storytelling Competition in Hillsboro, Ohio, in 2000, and won the 2005 Tazewell County Fair Storytelling Competition.

 

John Wyatt

John Wyatt
“Appalachian from the heart” best describes Wyatt. His songs and stories of the mountains will transport you to an era when life moved at a slower pace, to a time of innocence, as he writes in one of his songs. Wyatt’s music and stories are drawn on his personal experience of growing up in rural Appalachia in the 1950s and 60s.  Wyatt and his wife are founders of Appalachian Cultural Heritage Alliance, a non-profit group that promotes and preserves the positive aspects of life in the mountains, then and now.

Sue Atkinson

Sue Atkinson
In August of 2010, Atkinson became the second biggest liar in Raleigh County. Sue has always been an avid reader and a dreamer. She has told stories as a Sunday School teacher and a Scout leader, at 4-H camps and church gatherings. She worked in business with her husband for 35 years and played with stories when she could. She retired from business in 2004. Now, she plays with stories and works occasionally.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, basketball legend Jerry West, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 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 Kanawha County Public Library, The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., 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, Segal & Davis Family Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Target, Wal-Mart, BB&T West Virginia Foundation and Borders Express. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

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Children will have their own area with hands-on activities and performances by a children’s theater group at the West Virginia Book Festival, Oct. 22 and 23 at the Charleston Civic Center.

Sadie — Bright Star Touring Theatre
Maximus Mars — Bright Star Touring Theatre

Bright Star Touring Theatre, based in Asheville, N.C., will present two plays on Saturday – “Sadie’s Spectacular Saturday” at 11 a.m. and “Maximus Mars” at 3 p.m. – and will repeat “Sadie” on Sunday at 1 p.m.  Both productions teach children ways to cope with bullies. Launched eight years ago, the group’s season is comprised of literary, curriculum- and character-education based classics that are as entertaining as they are educational.

Word Play, located in West Hall 2, is devoted to a variety of children’s activities provided by area organizations. This year’s participants include: Kanawha County Public Library, South Charleston Public Library, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Kanawha County Master Gardeners, Pioneer West Virginia Federal Credit Union, The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, and Charleston Newspapers’ Newspapers in Education program.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, basketball legend Jerry West, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival. 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 Kanawha County Public Library, The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., 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, Segal & Davis Family Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Target, Wal-Mart, BB&T West Virginia Foundation and Borders Express. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.