Swapping stories at the Adirondack Family Book Festival

Authors from across the country gathered at Lake Placid Middle/High School Saturday, Aug. 19 for the Adirondack Family Book Festival. In the front row, from left, are Jose Barreiro, Kate Messner, Amy Guglielmo, Grace Lin, Angela Kunkel and Loree Griffin Burns. In the middle row, from left, are Kalynn Bayron, Francesca Padilla, James Ransome, Debbi Michiko Florence, Lesa Cline-Ransome and Emma Otheguy. In the back row, from left, are Sarah Albee, Phil Stamper and Maxwell Eaton III. (News photo — Sydney Emerson)

LAKE PLACID — The Adirondack Family Book Festival returned on Saturday, Aug. 19, despite some inclement weather.

Originally scheduled to take place at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, the festival was moved to Lake Placid Middle/High School a few hours before families began to arrive. Karen Armstrong, assistant librarian for children’s programming at the Lake Placid Public Library and event organizer, saw a silver lining in the rain clouds.

“(Last year’s festival) was wildly successful, I would say, and I think that this year as well, even with the change in venue, it is still working so well,” she said. “It’s a collaborative group of many people from many different communities helping to put it on.”

Last year’s first annual Adirondack Family Book Festival saw more than 700 guests fill John Brown Farm with laughter, fun, and of course, books. Authors of books for all age ranges participated in panels, signings and meet-and-greets with young fans, while Lake Placid’s Bookstore Plus ensured that plenty of books would be available for families to purchase. This year, the festival stuck to the tried-and-true slate of activities with some fresh faces. Another addition this year was the participation of the Adirondack Center for Writing, which recently wrapped up a camp for young writers in fifth through eighth grade.

The festival was a long time coming.

“It’s something that many of us have dreamed about for years,” executive director of John Brown Lives! and event organizer Martha Swan said.

Created in collaboration with Armstrong, author Kate Messner and Bookstore Plus owners Sarah and Marc Galvin, the festival was funded by a North Elba LEAF grant. Messner, a local author, was instrumental in developing the festival’s programming.

“The panels are fabulous, the topics, and Kate pulls those together,” Swan said. “She thinks them up and she pairs the authors, so there are highlights there.”

Some of the festival highlights this year included an interactive illustration workshop with author/illustrators, a panel about writing historical books for children, and discussions geared toward middle-grade and high school readers.

Though there were adult volunteers milling about on Saturday, many of the people wearing “volunteer stickers” on the festival floor were students.

“When I was a teacher, it was always important that, if kids could do it, they should do it,” Armstrong said. “So if there was going to be a program, kids should do the introductions. Our group decided that we were going to go with that model as well.”

Fourth-graders Eloise Ruttan and Taika Mzese, both 9, had the opportunity to introduce some of their favorite authors to the audience. They took their jobs seriously, revising their script together at the festival before taking the podium. Both read books “every day” and are avid fans of some of the festival’s authors.

“There’s some authors that weren’t here last year that I’m excited to meet, and a lot of the authors that were here last year are some of my good friends, so it’s good to see them again and check out their new books,” Ruttan said.

“I am super excited to see Maxwell Eaton III. I love his books,” Mzese added. She loves Eaton’s series, “The Flying Beaver Brothers.”

The festival features three to four local authors every year — this year, Messner, Eaton and Amy Guglielmo — alongside authors from outside the Adirondacks.

Though they have been limited to authors based out of the northeastern United States this year and last year, Swan hopes that the festival will soon be able to extend its reach to authors across the country.

Both Armstrong and Swan confirmed that a third-annual festival is in the works, emphasizing the importance of a place for young readers to gather.

“Here we are at a time when people are trying to take books out of kids’ hands, ban books from classrooms and libraries, and here is a community-wide — and by community, I mean Adirondacks-wide — celebration of books and stories,” Swan said. “It is a really important thing.”

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