By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
The ninth annual Children’s Book Festival of Johnstown is set to take place at Bottle Works—Arts on Third Avenue on April 1 and April 2 this year.
The purpose of the Children’s Book Festival of Johnstown is to provide children with a free, engaging literary experience that promotes the joy of reading. It is also designed to give parents the tools they need to encourage a lifelong love of reading in their children.
The theme for this year’s festival is “Read, Rock and Roll.”
New York Times best-selling author and Newberry Honor Award winner Victoria Jamieson is headlining the festival. Jamieson’s graphic novel, “Roller Girl,” focuses on friendship, survival, determination and girl power.
“Jamieson’s graphic novel is great for young girls because it’s about empowerment and navigating those confusing pre-teen/teen years,” said Ingrid Kloss, The Learning Lamp’s director of development. “Plus, it’s really funny. This year, we knew we had to continue recruiting top caliber authors to headline the festival, and Jamieson does not disappoint.”
In addition to offering presentations and signing books throughout the weekend, Jamieson is to deliver the keynote address during the festival’s “Saturday Night Author Talk.”
The talk, scheduled to take place from 6 to 8 p.m., is designed to give both published and aspiring authors/illustrators of children’s literature valuable information and tips for finding success within the publishing industry.
“This talk helps to flesh out what people don’t know, and offers the chance to ask questions in a supportive environment,” Kloss said.
Tickets for the “Saturday Night Author Talk” must be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.com; no tickets will be available at the door. Sales through Eventbrite.com will remain open up to two hours before the talk begins.
To complement Jamieson’s book, “Roller Girl,” the Johnstown Roller Derby Club and Pittsburgh Roller Derby Junior League will be offering demos during both days of the festival.
“A lot of people simply don’t know what roller derby is, so it will be helpful to meet actual derby skaters,” Kloss said.
Author Micha Archer and author/illustrator Stacy Innerst are also participating in this year’s festival.
Archer’s book, “Daniel Finds a Poem,” was chosen as this year’s Pennsylvania “One Book, Every Young Child” program’s selection. “One Book, Every Young Child” highlights the importance of early literacy development, the advantages of reading early and often, and the impact of engaging children in conversations and activities as they relate to the books they read. Archer works with oil, watercolors, pen and ink and collage.
Innerst, meanwhile, has illustrated numerous children’s books, including books about Levi Strauss, Abraham Lincoln and the Beatles. His work has received awards and recognition from American Illustration, the New York Society of Illustrators, Society of Illustrators Traveling Exhibition, Print Magazine Design Annual, a Gold Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and an Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Entertainer Mike Zaffruto and storyteller Melinda Falgoust are also participating.
Zaffruto’s “Rock n’ Roll Pet Show” introduces children to an imaginary pet store that comes to life with music, magic, puppets and more. Falgoust’s storytelling skills have been recognized by NY Book Festival Annual Competition, Oshima International Hand-Made Picture Book Competition and Writers Unlimited Annual Literary Competition.
“We’re happy to feature some talented women as part of this year’s festival, as the past two have been male-dominated,” Kloss said. “We got a lot of feedback from young girls wanting female authors.”
During the festival, parents and children can purchase new and used books as part of the book sale. In addition, every child who attends the festival will be invited to select a free, brand-new book of their choice courtesy of First Book.
“First Book is a great organization that enables us to get books for the price of shipping only,” Kloss said. “This means that every kid gets a book, regardless of whether mom or dad or grandma are able to buy one for them. And it’s a new book, so it’s just for that child, which is important.”
Children who are interested in writing and/or illustrating will have the opportunity to participate in workshops once again this year. Due to last year’s positive response, new workshops — including a poetry and a graphic novel workshop — have been added.
“We were overwhelmed to get 30 kids at last year’s writing workshop, and realized the audience for these workshops is here and ready,” Kloss said. “Many showed up with their dedicated personal writing journals and special pens or pencils and were clearly engaged. We heard back that a lot of them wished it had lasted longer.”
Also new this year will be an appearance by Joey Reisberg, this year’s national student poet for the northeast region.
“Through luck of the festival being in April, which is also National Poetry Month, we are able to feature Reisberg,” Kloss said. “He’s a high school student poet who is spending the month of April travelling and sharing his poetry and facilitating workshops for younger students as service to the country. The program is operated through Scholastic in New York.”
Locals selling food are to park their food trucks along Third Avenue. This year’s vendors include HK Hot Dogs, TNT Concessions and Flair of Country Catering. More vendors may be announced.
Children and teens can also plan to participate in a bookmark contest. Winners in each age group receive a basket full of age-appropriate books.
Live entertainment, storytellers, and themed arts and crafts opportunities round out this year’s two-day event.
Kloss and her fellow The Learning Lamp staff members are hoping that this year’s festival is as well-received as last year’s.
“Last year, the festival was a huge hit with the community, spotlighting the importance of reading to over 3,470 children and their families,” Kloss said.
The ninth annual Children’s Book Festival of Johnstown is supported in part by a $10,000 grant from National Endowment for the Arts as part of their “Challenge America” grant program.
“The NEA funding is huge, and I like to talk about it because people read about these crazy, maybe controversial, projects funded by the NEA, which are also important because art is a conversation about the world,” Kloss said. “But also realize that the NEA supports things in our community like the book festival.
“We also get funding from the state arts agency via (Pennsylvania) Rural Arts Alliance. We’re also grateful to the Grable Foundation in Pittsburgh, and to our many corporate and individual donors of both funding and in-kind contributions.”
Kloss added that the festival’s success is also due in part to the many volunteers who donate their time and talents.
This year’s festival will take place Saturday and Sunday only, with no Friday evening events scheduled this year. Saturday’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday’s hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Bottle Works—Arts on Third Avenue is located at 411 and 413 Third Ave. in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood.
For more information about the 9th Annual Children’s Book Festival of Johnstown, call a Learning Lamp staff member at 814-262-0732 or visit www.thelearninglamp.org and/or facebook.com/CBFJohnstown/ online.
Kloss said she hopes everyone enjoys this year’s festival, as well as the books they take home with them.
“Reading connects you to the world, to new ideas,” she said.