I could hardly believe the sight was real. Dozens of school buses from districts across North Texas lined the road outside the Irving Convention Center, unloading kids who’d given up a beautiful Saturday to hang out with their favorite authors at the first annual North Texas Teen Book Festival.
And it wasn’t just hundreds of kids, but thousands of them. The final attendance count totaled 3,500, according to festival steering committee member Mandy Aguilar. Crowds of young people (and a scattering of adults, like me) filled two stories of the convention center to see and hear more than fifty authors. And to line up for questions, and buy books, and mob writers for one-on-one discussions and selfies beyond number.
As someone who worries over predictions that boys stop reading once they hit adolescence, it was reassuring to see almost as many boys as girls line up to question authors.
And since I’m always looking for the next new thing to satisfy my tweenaged grandsons’ appetite for books, I took copious notes at author panels designated for middle grade readers (generally, ages 8-12).
What would tempt boys who crave male heroes but who don’t turn up their noses at spunky females? Boys who are daringly geeky, the kids who spout hockey league statistics at the drop of a puck, but are undecided about whether to pursue careers in science or the arts?
Maybe they’d like The Great Greene Heist, by engineer turned author Varian Johnson, www.varianjohnson.com/? Johnson still pursues an engineering career, but he’s spending ever-increasing amounts of time writing award-winning books for young people.
And then there was Plano author Polly Holyoke (http://pollyholyoke.com/) with The Neptune Project, about a group of genetically-altered, ocean-dwelling young people and their dolphin friends. Former middle school teacher Holyoke enjoyed researching The Neptune Project and its out-this-May sequel, The Neptune Challenge. The downside of research? Sharing so much scary stuff with her daughters they're now reluctant to go swimming or scuba diving with her.
I personally sympathized with author/panelist Shannon Messenger who started her career intending to major in art, discovered she hated it, switched film because she loved a screenwriting course but found she hated the Hollywood life, and finally realized she really wanted to write novels, like the Keeper of Lost Cities series starring a preteen telepath, and admits at
http://ramblingsofawannabescribe.blogspot.com/ to keeping company with insane numbers of animals.
By lunchtime, all the mental exertion left me starving. But with the line for the convention center’s café out the door (note for next year, bring sack lunch), I hit the book room stocked by HalfPrice Books. Oh, here was something that looked fun, a book from Obert Skye’s Creature from My Closet series, illustrated by drawings my grandsons would love. (See samplings at his website, www.abituneven.com/.)
The boys were flying off the next day for spring break. And although their dad had loaded movies on his iPad, they couldn’t resist taking a book along as well, an actual printed book. Which one was it? I’m waiting to see. And to hear all about it.
By the way, if you missed the festival, I’m sorry. But mark your calendar for the next one, March 5, 2016. Because like a good book series, the sequel is already in the works.