Sunday, October 22, 2017

Humboldt County Children's Author Festival 2017

This is a new one.

Not new in general. New to me.

I've done other festivals where a squad of authors speaks to a fleet of children over several days. They fall into two categories: 

  1. an event where the authors stay in one spot (often on a college campus), kids are bused in, and the authors speak to rotating groups
  2. an event where volunteers drive the authors to various schools in the region (one author per school at one time, but typically authors speak to multiple schools over two or more days)

The Humboldt County Children's Author Festival is the latter kind—so that's not what makes it stand out. Humboldt County is about a five-hour drive north of San Francisco and two hours south of the Oregon border. It's a picturesque, vast, and largely depressed area; once a lumber and fishing mecca, it's now particularly known for its marijuana production. The historic downtown is charming, though marked with a surprisingly significant population of people down on their luck. 

The schools are spread out (some authors were driven two hours to theirs) and often small. My two schools, Blue Lake Elementary School in Blue Lake and Loleta School in Loleta (each only a 20-minute drive from the historic/haunted Eureka Inn where we stayed) had at most two classes per grade, so small by my suburban East Coast standards—but not the smallest. I spoke with one educator whose public school has only 14 kids—from kindergarten to 8th grade.

The committee and community rallies and hustles to give these kids the chance to meet authors in person—and the result is not only moving but also impressive. It's an event with a staggering amount of moving parts and it's run very smoothly. 

This festival has been running every other year since the 1970s and lasts three days. The first two days are the school visits, the third day is a four-hour group book signing at the public library. The first night (Wednesday) was a cocktail mixer, the second night was a potluck dinner where a group of students from a performing arts high school acted out a book from three of the authors (including, to my great honor, The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra; the main one was Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky), and the final night was a ticketed banquet where all 25 authors spoke—three minutes apiece, (semi-)strongly enforced. I was impressed with how polished most of the semi-extemporaneous mini-speeches were—lots of these folks have slick comic timing. 

I arrived in Eureka Tuesday afternoon because this area is one of the foggiest in the nation and apparently flights are often delayed because of this. 

I'm geographically oblivious so it was pure happy fluke that I saw a map Tuesday night and noticed that I was a mere two-hour, fifteen-minute drive from Brookings, OR—setting of my upcoming picture book Thirty Minutes Over Oregon.

So though I planned to spend Wednesday exploring the redwood forests, I changed course to include a drive up the rugged coastline to Brookings, where I'd never been. I was at the rental car place when they opened at 7:30 am and enjoyed the drive north, which was punctuated by a number of things I'd never seen before—including redwoods. I managed to fit it all in and still get back to Eureka with time to spare before the 5:30 pm mixer.

Glimpses of it all (sadly, none with author friends including Deb Heiligman, Kirby Larson, Barbara Kerley, Dan Gemeinhart, Kelly Milner Halls, Bruce Hale, Barry Deutsch, and beyond *):

 First of four signs I posed in front of.

 The town closest to where Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita's
bombs hit in his 1942 WWII raid on the U.S. mainland.

 This is the library in Brookings, which remotely helped me
with research numerous times.

 The 450-year-old heirloom samurai sword that
Fujita gifted to the town in 1962 as an apology,
on display at the library.


 One of the hundreds of articles about the bombing and aftermath
archived at the library.

 On the way back.

 The route.

 Combative elk. Dozens more elk were in the vicinity, 
undisturbed by the cars driving through their territory.

 He's right behind me, isn't he?


 McCreepy is a good fit in ways, but also McLovely.

 Mysterious standalone fireplace along the road. 
One theory: the wooden house that it was once part of
burned in one of the fires that have swept through the area.

 The students and staff at Blue Lake gave me
chupacabra hot sauce, goat cheese 
(inside joke if you've read the book), 
and an adorable card/drawing.

 The first graders at Loleta wrote their
own sequel to The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra!

 Stained glass in the (also haunted) Carson Mansion
one of the most (if not the most) notable Victorian houses 
in the United States; custom-made for under $300 in 1885, 
its four figures represent 
music, art, literature, and science.
The house is now a private club.


Thank you again to JoAnn Bauer for inviting me, my driver volunteers Jean and Ruth, ultra-patient travel agent Bev, and the rest of the committee for your enormous efforts to make this festival happen. I was honored to be a part of it.

* I did get a photo (in front of a bookstore, no less) with author Jay Asher, whom I bumped into in the San Francisco airport en route home.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Nobleman in Noblesville

Starting 9/25/17, I spoke at a school a day for five days in Noblesville, IN. 

I felt right at home.

I liked that some of the schools focused not on heroes but specifically on unsung heroes; an example from White River Elementary:

They sold some books:

Noble Crossing Elementary of Noblesville warmly welcomed this Nobleman:

Two weeks earlier, I was blown away by a mob of Chupacabras as drawn by an entire school. Noble Crossing also had Chupacabras posted throughout:

This school also marked the first time I signed a copy of the book to a person who has the same name as one of the three (named) characters in the book. Not Bumsie. Not Pep. Yes, it was...

I'm part of the second-highest group:


Special thanks to Jessica Homan for spearheading the week's visits and Sherrie McGovern for putting in a good word!