From its inception in 2006, the AJC Decatur Book Festival set out to be a festival for everyone, including the very youngest readers. In fact, each festival includes books, authors, activities and a special area designated for young book lovers.
“We decided at the start that the festival has to have great children’s programming,” recalled Terra McVoy, the festival’s director of programming. “Decatur is such a child-friendly city. It has great schools that are very much pro-reading. There are many children’s authors and bookstores such as Little Shop of Stories that cater to children.
“One of the festival’s goals is to encourage literacy and a love of reading. What better way than to start with preschool children?” McVoy asked.
The Children’s Stage each year has been an extremely popular festival site with hundreds of children and their parents packing the area. “The children’s stage has just grown bigger and bigger,” McVoy said.
Previously on the lawn of a church, the children’s stage this year “is moving out of the glaring sun into more bucolic settings,” according to the festival website. “You’ll find the children’s stage on the west side of Clairemont Avenue, in the dappled shade of one of Decatur’s prettiest green spaces, just south of the Marriott Courtyard.” The site promises plenty of chairs, but also invites families to consider bringing blankets and picnics.
Even before the festival officially starts on Friday evening, it visits city of Decatur schools during the day on Friday, giving youngsters a chance to meet and interact with authors. “The youngest children may not understand that books start with an author, but they recognize that this is a person connected to a book they love and they are thrilled. For the ones old enough to understand how an author creates a book, meeting a children’s book author is like meeting a rock star,” McVoy said.
In at least one instance children were excited to meet a person connected with their favorite books even though the person wasn’t the author. “We had an editor of the Harry Potter books at the festival and the kids enjoyed playing ‘stump the editor’—asking questions to see if they could come up with one the editor couldn’t answer.” One presentation featured an illustrator who had the audience participate in a “draw-off.”
In addition to meeting people connected with books they’ve read, children are introduced to books that they hadn’t heard of. “When children have fun at a presentation, they can’t wait to read the book. Sometimes they find a new favorite author,” McVoy said.
Decatur is known for its free-form parades that include lots of children, so it was natural that a children’s parade be incorporated into the book festival. It succeeded far beyond the organizers’ expectations. “We looked up and the line of children stretched on for blocks and blocks. There must have been more than 1,000 of them,” McVoy said. The solution was two parades. Now there’s one on Saturday and another on Sunday.
The festival traditionally starts with a keynote speaker—a widely known author who opens the event with a Friday evening presentation. New this year is a “kidnote” presenter, who will open the festival for children. Jose-Luis Orozco, author of Rin Rin Rin, Do Re Me, will be in Agnes Scott College’s Presser Hall at 4 p.m. with an interactive presentation in Spanish and English that will include dancing and music. “How cool would it be to know how to sing an old favorite like The Itsy-Bitsy Spider in two languages?” notes the festival website.
The activities for children are essentially all interactive. Children don’t just watch and listen, they are part of the action—“and they just love that,” McVoy said.
No child is too young to be part of the festival. Parents are encouraged to bring even infants. “Studies show that the No. 1 thing parents can do for children to help them be successful in life is read to them from ages 0 through 5,” McVoy said.
The festival run Aug. 31 - Sept. 2.