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Read to Them has a Blast at Virginia Children’s Book Festival!

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Every October for the past 10 years, the children’s literary world has turned to a small college town in Southside Virginia for the Virginia Children’s Book Festival (VCBF). In partnership with Longwood University, the festival brings authors and illustrators from across the country to interact with students and educators from across the state (and from some neighboring states, too!). 

Read to Them is thrilled to have been a sponsor this year for the 10th anniversary celebration. Five staff members made the trip to Farmville to take part in the festival. Sara Hudson, Programs Manager, said, “Watching the students learn and laugh with the authors and illustrators just reinforces what we all know to be true – stories are essential in the lives of our children.” 

VCBF isn’t your standard hear a spiel, buy a book, get it signed festival held on the weekend for families to attend. Instead, this festival happens over three days during the week, and each day kicks off with big yellow school buses rolling into Farmville from near and far. Bus after bus is filled with kids and adults who are there to have a unique literary field trip.

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Author Peter Brown presents a panel on his latest “The Wild Robot” sequel and his process for the series.

After hearing from Sophie Blackall about writing and illustrating her new picture book If I Was a Horse, elementary school children filed outside under the Virginia sunshine to draw a real horse who was nibbling on the grass, much to the amusement of the college students walking by. After learning about Wendy Shang’s Bubble Trouble, a new middle grade rom-com set in a boba shop, middle school students got to choose the flavor of their own boba tea. And, after hearing about the intersection of basketball and stories from Pablo Cartaya (Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish), high schoolers hit the court to challenge the author’s hoop skills, with some help from the Longwood women’s basketball team. The festival featured Double Dutch lessons (with Doreen Spicer-Dannelly), robots (with Martha Brockenbrough), dumpling making (with X. Fang), and so much more. VCBF also runs an all-day workshop for aspiring young hip hop artists with artists-in-residence Sonia Patel and Malik-16. So, not your typical book festival at all. 

Juanita Giles is the creative force behind the VCBF whose mission continues year-round with literacy events in the Farmville community. Brent Roberts, dean of the Longwood library and assistant provost of the university, brings the logistical force of the university to support the festival. And, legions of volunteers make the whole thing happen on the ground for three literature-filled days. 

To make this year’s 10th anniversary even more special, shortly before the buses rolled into Farmville, the VCBF was awarded the Library of Congress Literacy Award as a Successful Practices Honoree. The award is fitting praise for an effort that brings the joy of books to so many children, both in Farmville and across the state. 

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Author Meg Medina and Read to Them Programs Manager Sara Hudson smile for a selfie at the VCBF.

This year’s festival featured five Read to Them creators: Elana K. Arnold (A Boy Called Bat, Bat and the Waiting Game, Just Harriet), Peter Brown (The Wild Robot, The Wild Robot Escapes), Timothy Basil Ering (illustrator of The Tale of Despereaux), Meg Medina (Merci Suárez Changes Gears), and R.J. Palacio (Wonder, We’re All Wonders). Staff from Read to Them were excited to be able to thank these creators in person for the important stories they tell for our young readers and their families. We are all so fortunate to have these diverse and compelling stories to share and explore together, and we can’t wait to see who arrives in Farmville next year! 

The 2024 VCBF is scheduled for October 16-18.

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