Authors, books, crafts – the Gaithersburg Book Festival promises a dictionary’s worth of family fun at its first in-person event since the COVID-19 shutdown two years ago. Across the Washington area, book festivals – which were either virtual or shuttered in 2020 and 2021 – are returning to live venues in 2022, with the Gaithersburg Book Festival scheduled for May 21. The free, largely outdoors festival will be held this year at a new location – Bohrer Park at Summit Hill Farm – because of construction close to its previous site, the grounds of City Hall.
“I’m really looking forward to being there in person,” says Megan Wessell, of Gaithersburg. The festival has been a family tradition since her twin daughters were 1 month old, with her in-laws often traveling from Pennsylvania to spend the day with them.
Asked what she liked best about the festival, Wessell’s daughter, Katherine, 7, answers: “Picking out books and getting them signed.” The hard part, she adds, is trying to decide what to choose.
Daughter Hadley mentioned a family favorite, signed at the festival years ago: “Dragons Love Tacos.” It’s a book they’ve often given as a gift to younger relatives. Since its debut in 2010, the festival has grown steadily while still retaining a “neighborhood feel,” says Wessell, a festival volunteer and committee member. It drew about 20,000 attendees in 2019 (the last time it was in person) and attracts authors both local and from across the country.
This year more than 35 well-known children’s authors and illustrators will be talking about and signing their books, with titles spanning the age range from the very young to teens. Look for Fred Bowen, with his new sports book, “Hard Court: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association;” Hena Khan and her lively middle-grade novel, “Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun;” and Carole Lindstrom and her lyrical, inspiring “We Are Water Protectors,” winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal. Acclaimed picture book creators Peter Reynolds, Dr. Christle Nwora and NoNieqa Ramos aim to charm the preschool set. And poetry is rivetingly represented in novel-in-verse “Moonwalking” by Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann.
Sheela Chari will travel from New York to share a recent, hilarious novel, “Karthik Delivers.” She is excited about her first book festival since the COVID-19 outbreak. Chari welcomes the kind of exchange with young readers that usually can occur only in a real space. She loves it when children stop by her signing table and share their ideas. She wants to “know what they think and what they find engaging or funny.” “Kids are natural storytellers,” she says.
Books and Beyond
Meeting and chatting with an author can often spark a child’s desire to write. Such kids can then get guidance and start putting pen to paper at one of the festival’s writing workshops. Budding artists and word-gamers might make a beeline for crafts and activities hosted by Story Tapestries, the National Museum of Language, the Sligo Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and others. Parents eager for a read-aloud experience can visit the Multicultural Story Time Tent with their little ones for tales that help celebrate Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Among the children’s authors reading at the tent this year will be Ginger and Frances Park, profiled in “Read Across the DMV: Discover Local Authors,” the cover story for the March 2022 Washington Parent magazine.
Washington Parent Media, flagship sponsor of the popular Children’s Village at the festival, will have a booth at which kids can decorate and personalize bookplates. “We’re thrilled to be part of this literary event that has become such an important part not just of Montgomery County or the DC-area’s cultural offerings but of the national literary scene,” says Contributing Editor Karen Kullgren. “We love promoting literacy and helping to showcase children’s authors.”
Jud Ashman, the founder and current chair of the festival, plans to enjoy the many presentations and panels for adults, with headliners like Jabari Asim, Dr. Fiona Hill and Ann Hood – but he also “will 100% be buying books” for his first grandchild, 3-month-old Willow. An avid reader as a kid, Ashman embraced “The Chronicles of Prydain,” a fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander; Judy Blume’s “Superfudge” novels; and nonfiction about a fierce ocean predator. “I’d read any book about sharks I could get my hands on,” he says.
Mayor of Gaithersburg since 2014, Ashman sees the festival as an opportunity to nurture readers of all ages. “It’s important to celebrate the written word and its power to enrich the human experience,” he says. “Reading is the most effective way to see the world through the eyes of someone other than ourselves and really understand them.” “I think a great book festival can help make the world a better place,” he adds. Not to mention, “it’s a wonderful, enriching day.”
Gaithersburg Book Festival – May 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Bohrer Park, Summit Hill Farm, 31 South Summit Avenue, Gaithersburg, Md. Free event, free parking. All ages. For the latest on COVID-related health and safety requirements, check the website. The festival follows Montgomery County guidelines. gaithersburgbookfestival.org
Other Upcoming festivals
National Book Festival – September 3-4, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl. NW, Washington, D.C. Free. All ages. blogs.loc.gov/national-book-festival/2022/
Fall for the Book – October 11-15, based at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Check website for location of specific events as programming is finalized. fallforthebook.org