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The National Book Festival

posted Sep 28, 2009, 4:19 AM by Dan Dunbar   [ updated Sep 29, 2009, 11:27 AM ]
This past Saturday, I attended the National Book Festival which was sponsored by the Library of Congress. The festival was held on the Mall in the middle of all of the Smithsonian museums. There were large tents pitched on the grass with banners on top of them announcing their specializations: Fantasy & Fiction, Teens & Children, History & Biography, Poetry & Prose, Mysteries & Thrillers, plus an additional tent for Children. There were also tents for event sponsors like Target, Scholastic, and PBS, plus a big tent where people bought books written by the authors attending the event so they could have them autographed. I arrived on the Mall in time to stand just inside the Teens & Children tent and hear James Patterson answer questions from his fans. I am not one of Mr. Patterson's biggest fans, but I have read his Maximum Ride series of books about the adventures of a flock of genetically modified children who have wings and can fly. He spoke about his books and also said something that I heard all the authors say throughout the day - he reads a lot and that if you want to be a good writer, you need to read a lot and write and re-write a lot. One of my new favorite authors, Shannon Hale, had a 30 feet of rejection letters laminated end-to-end which she rolled out with the help of a girl in the audience. She said that she wrote over a hundred stories before she had one accepted and published. It just goes to show that if you want to do something well, it takes a lot of practice and that you can expect to fail many times before you finally get it right. 

I remember trying to tie my shoes over and over again and creating crazy knots in my shoelaces that I could not untie without my mother's help, but one day I figured it out and I can still tie my shoes to this day! I remember getting a new bicycle for Christmas and being so excited that I went right out side, hopped on, and then careened off into a snowbank at the end of our driveway and getting hurt. I crashed and fell of my bicycle many times before I managed to learn how to keep my balance, steer, and stop without injuring myself. How many times did I try to dog paddle the width of the Boys' Club pool before I could make it without sinking like a stone midway? There are not many things we do (except the ones we are born doing, like crying, and breathing, and going to the bathroom), that don't require time, effort, and multiple failures to learn. To be good at math, you need to do a lot of math. To be a good soccer player, you have to play a lot of soccer. To be a good reader or writer, you must do a lot of reading and writing. Some people have God-given talents that help make them better at some things faster than other people, but we all can develop our abilities with God's help if we give ourselves grace as we try and fail and try again. Don't quit!

Back to the book festival...I had a great day trying to squeeze into the tents to hear the various authors speak. Sometimes I simply sat on the ground and listened; other times I was fortunate enough to find a seat. I enjoyed listening to Shannon Hale (The Bayern series and The Princess Diaries) speak about her favorite authors, hearing Shannon Creech (the Newbery award winning author of Walk Two Moons) read aloud from her newest book The Unfinished Angel, and listening to Kate DiCamillo ( Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux) tell about how she got the ideas for her books. Paula Deen drew a huge crowd (mostly adults) when she talked about her cookbook for children in her trademark Southern drawl, and when the Poetry Out Loud champions recited poems in the Poetry tent, it made me want to see GGCA students interpreting and reciting classic poems on that stage some day.

I am so happy that GGCA students have taken up the gauntlet to read more this year. Reading and writing are becoming lost arts in this age of tweeting, texting, video gaming, Internet surfing, and hundreds of television channels to occupy people's time. But we Christians are People of the Book, People of the Word, and we need to be good readers, writers, and thinkers in this day and age, so that we are prepared to meet the challenges of life and to discern and communicate truth. It is my hope that each student will learn to how to make good reading choices, how to write and speak well, and how to think with God as believers. Keep up the good work, and remember to persevere - don't quit!