Thursday, October 1, 2009

National Book Festival

We loved it!

Those three words sum up a lot, but I want to share all the fun details that bring it all to life.

Our drive to DC is a beautiful one through the countryside of Gettysburg. There is very little "big city traffic" and getting around DC itself isn't bad at all. The night before, armed with our color-coded spreadsheet of authors and times (because we're spontaneous that way), we all packed our backpacks.

The Preparation

You see, we spent the month of September learning about these authors, making our plan, creating posters of our favorite books/authors (click to see them enlarged), reading so so so many books, listening to author interviews, and ordering and stockpiling books to be signed by our favorite authors.

My First Tangent

We found the most wonderful book website I've ever discovered. It is seriously one of the best online resources I've found in long time. I have long wanted to find an online USED bookstore. I mean, I know about, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace, but you're often getting various books by different sellers and paying multiple shipping costs, sometimes negating the savings when you're buying many books. But I've now found something even better than I'd hoped for!

Better World Books lets you buy used books all in once place and you get FREE shipping (and it's ECO shipping!) AND a portion of the proceeds go to literacy efforts around the world. It's FABULOUS! Plus, you can often get extra discounts as well. And they have a nice bargain bin where you can get 5 books for $15 and free shipping. Love, love, love the site. It's now the site I check first when book shopping. Can't recommend it highly enough.

Getting to the Mall

Anyway, I was saying. We got up early and enjoyed our drive down to DC. We parked in the city (free on weekends--I so love being close to DC and NYC) and walked a few blocks to the mall (not the shopping kind, but the grassy area in front of the Capitol). It was a sea of various, wonderful tents and lines and I got giddy with every advancing step.

You can see the Capitol in the background

We didn't hesitate to jump into action. I immediately jumped into Sue Monk Kidd's line since she was the first book signing. Thankfully, I was near the front of the line.

Mark and Thing 2 jumped into the line for David Shannon and Jon Scieszka (bonus that they just wrote a book together so they were under the same tent!). And since only 2 lines over was yet another line for Kate DiCamillo, Thing 1 went into that line. We could all see each other from our various lines and I think Thing 1 felt pretty grown up in a line by herself. I have to say, our kids are AWESOME at navigating big cities--Thing 1 has straight up confidence walking around and getting places and Thing 2 has mad map reading abilities. And they both have no problem or inhibitions at all talking with adults, even ones who are famous authors. I love it.

Thing 1 in line for Kate DiCamillo -- Thing 1 is a beautiful girl and is really getting so grown up

My boys -- it sometimes takes my breath away how handsome they are--waiting in line for Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

There I am getting closer to Sue Monk Kidd
(to give you some idea of proximity, those stairs to the side of me go to the Smithsonian)

The kids were so excited the whole time--this was like Christmas! Big smiles, jumping up and down excitedly in line, craning their necks to see their favorites, checking out our schedule, talking to everyone around them, meeting and talking to favorite authors, getting books signed, and reading in line. Thing 1 finished, yet again, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, while waiting in lines (we did a lot of this that day).

Tangent Number Two

Thing 2's reading has TOTALLY taken off this month. He's been reading for a while, but this month, not only has it gotten so much better, his utter enjoyment of it has skyrocketed and we're thrilled. It is so fun. And when we got back from the festival? The two of them could not wait to start writing their own books (or in Thing 1's case, continue writing her many, many, many books/stories). They both want to be published and they are both writing all they can. The other day, when I announced that it was time to go to their friends' house to play, Thing 2, pencil in hand, said, "Nooooo, I want to finish my book!" But there is balance in all things--they love to play with their friends and he was excited to do both--play and get back to his book.

How the Lines Worked

But again, I digress. The set up is very streamlined and impressively organized. There Staff/Volunteers in purple shirts everywhere. It was wonderful. You shop at a big department store and, frustratingly, spend much of your time looking for someone who works there to answer your questions. Not here. They were all over the place. And they were awesome. We're working on finding out what organization they belonged to exactly, because it was mostly teens and we'd love to get the kids involved in that kind of volunteering.

So you stand in line and wait. And they have lines for the current author as well as a place to start lines for the next one after that. And as you wait with your book(s) in hand, a volunteer walks up to you and asks if you're planning to have your book dedicated. You say yes and they hand you a sticky post-it note. You write down the name you want the author to write and stick it in the page you'd like them to sign, with the yellow note sticking out slightly so they can find it easily and quickly do the book signings. I'm telling you. Streamlined.

As you get closer to the table (and closer to your favorite authors--it's so exciting!), you hand your book to a volunteer standing by the table. She or he then opens the book to the page getting signed and slides it to the author. You approach the author and tell them how much you love their work and so forth. I was a bit star struck but I totally kept it cool, too. I mean, I recognize that while I'm excited, they've heard "I love your book!" about 30 million times, you know? We did try to come up with more original and personal things to say, but you do feel somewhat pressed when there are literally hundreds of people in line behind you and you know that author will only be there signing books for one hour.

Also, when they hand you the sticky, they give you that author's policy -- no pictures (though most of the kids' authors were so very cool and did pose for pictures), number of books, which books, and whether or not they're doing dedications. For example, some authors would only sign one book per person and while most did dedications, some weren't able to since their lines were about a mile or three long. Most of them signed multiple books and it didn't matter which of their books they signed. I only heard of one author who insisted on only signing his current book and that was John Grisham. He was also the only one signing for 45 minutes instead of 1-1.5 hours. And he also had massive security around him. I guess that's what you get when you're one of the most famous authors in the world. I did get a picture of him since I was so close while standing in another line--there he is (I think he's kinda cute):

John Grisham

Meeting Sue Monk Kidd

So, this was the first book signing and I loved it. Of all of the writing-for-adults authors, I was most excited to meet her (I say this because I was really excited to meet the children's authors). She was sitting at the table with her daughter since they just wrote a book together. I felt kind of badly for her daughter since most people were clearly there to see Sue Monk Kidd, but it'll come for her, too, I'm sure. Most everyone in the line was holding copies of The Secret Life of Bees and some held her newest book, but I walked up with my copy of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and when she saw that, she did a bit of a double take, paused and looked at me, smiled, and went back to signing it. It wasn't until after we got home that I found an interview online with her in which she said:
You rarely see a lukewarm reaction to it. The book is also pointing women home, to a lost place in their own soul. That may be part of it, too. Whatever it is, it has been moving for me to see readers respond like they have. At book signing events for my novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, there were always women who showed up, clutching The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. Sometimes they would break into tears when they asked me to sign it. I know this is not about me, and it’s not even about the book, except in the sense that the book opens something for them.
I didn't break into tears and I don't even think my experience with the book has been quite like that of many others, but I did, during many parts of the book, often feel that I was reading many of my own thoughts and it was pretty amazing--though I do think it resonates with me for different reasons. I'm not usually one to write in books, but I wrote all over that one.

So I said, "This book has been life altering." She looked at me and smiled understandingly and nodded and thanked me. I told her that I meet with a small group of some of my women friends and that we discuss the book but that we do it in parts since it's so much. And she looked at me, leaned in, and said, "Please send them my best." I told her it was very brave of her to write it and then told her and her daughter that it was nice to meet them. She said it was nice to meet me, too.

Of course I would've loved to be able to talk to her at more length, but this wasn't the setting for that. Maybe when I start selling bestsellers, she and I will have lunch and share our stories. My impression of her is that she was very nice, very mannered, and had a calm, quiet, Southern, confident centeredness about her that didn't surprise me, having read her book.

Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter (in red)

Sue Monk Kidd signing the book of the lady in front of me

Me, talking with Sue Monk Kidd

Mark got this picture of me as I walked away from the table--I look pretty happy

Meeting Kate DiCamillo

LOVED her. Seriously LOVED her. I could hang out with her. She was so genuine. So down to earth. So approachable and funny and warm. She was charming. She was a little off beat and that only made her that much more endearing.

I had joined Thing 1 in line after I met Sue Monk Kidd. And Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka/David Shannon were signing at the same time and Mark and Thing 2 were in about the same spot in line as me and Thing 1. So we decided that whoever got up there first, the other parent in line would send the child with them to the first author. Well, Thing 1 and I were making good time in the line, so Mark sent Thing 2 over to us and we all approached her with our books (me for our family with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Thing 1 with Because of Winn-Dixie, Thing 2 with The Tale of Despereaux) and held a place in line for the other authors. We're bummed that we didn't get to go to all the authors all together, but we made sure the kids didn't miss out.

We walked up and she greeted us. I took pictures while the kids talked with her. Thing 1 said, "We really like your books." Kate DiCamillo asked Thing 1, "Do you write books?" And Thing 1 said yes. Then she looked at the sticky and said, "Kate. I like that name." :) Thing 2 told her, "I like this book," as she signed his copy of The Tale of Despereaux and she said, "Why thank you!" I told her we read it as a family and she said, "Thank you for reading out loud to your children." As we were leaving, she said to Thing 1, "I'll look for your books." And Kate DiCamillo took time to pose for a picture. She was really just way, way cool.

Kate DiCamillo signs the book of the person in front of us

Kate DiCamillo greets the kids

Kate DiCamillo poses with the kids

Meeting Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

After meeting Kate, we raced over to Mark and jumped back in line to meet Jon and David (yes, by the time we walked all over the place, we were all on a first name basis). We got to the front of the line and

They. Were. Awesome.

These two were hilarious. As we get closer, Mark looks at them, leans over to me, and says, "Do you think the way David Shannon is dressed matches his illustrations?" I craned my neck to see. "Yes."

We get to Jon Scieszka and David Shannon's table

They talked with the kids as if we weren't even there, which I thought was great! Thing 1 told David Shannon, "I like your books" and he said, "Thank you!" Then she moved over to Jon. Meanwhile, David looks up and sees Thing 2. He stops, squints, leans in, and says, "I think you're the absent-minded type." I was getting ready to say, "No, she is," and point to Thing 1 (Well, she is! That child has walked into walls and solar yard lights with her nose in a book.) But then David said, "It looks like you left your front teeth somewhere!" Then he asked, "Would you like a big, juicy apple?" Goof. Ball.

We told him we love his No, David books (I pointed to Thing 2 especially since David the character and our son have things in common which Thing 2 has always found hilarious). Also funny, Thing 2 handed him his copy of the book No, David and said, "Be careful. This book is ripped up and well loved." (The pages are literally frayed and falling out of the book.) He laughed. He signed them and also did some doodling in there! So cool.

We scooted over to Jon Scieszka. He was so nice and so normal. This was kind of surprising because his books are completely off the wall and we have referred to him all month as a "total nut job." He talked to us like we were all friends -- it was very comfortable and fun. Jon asked Thing 1, "Do you write books?" (I'm not sure why they all asked her this--does she give off a vibe? Do authors sense these things?) and when she said yes, he signed her book "To Writer Kate." I told him that our whole family thinks he's a nut case and he said proudly, "Well, I grew up with 5 brothers!" (Take note Mark and 5 brothers, you should be writing hilariously funny, off-beat books). Well, Thing 2 came over at this point, not having heard any of our conversation and he looked at Jon and smiled and said, "You're a nut!" Jon BUSTED up laughing, looked at the sticky note for the book he was signing and said, "Maxim? I like you!" He grinned broadly, chuckling and looking so pleased, like he had just received the biggest compliment in the world.

Jon talks to Thing 1 and David talks to Thing 2

I loved how they absolutely did not make us feel the least bit rushed up there. They were so relaxed, so easy going, totally taking their time with us. Loved them.

Jon and David, or Two Nut Jobs

After meeting those 4 authors, Thing 1 and I raced over to Mo Willem's (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie) line and Mark and Thing 2 raced over to Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi's (Spiderwick) line. We were ON task, I tell you.

Meeting Mo Willems

First off, the book snob in me was annoyed at how many people I overheard calling him "Mo Williams" in line. But that may just be because this was the first longish line we got in and I thought that we should be closer to the front since we actually knew his name.

We were totally pumped to meet Mo. Everyone loves Mo. How can you not love Mo? I mean his name is Mo. Even that is cool. That's why I keep saying Mo's name. We love Mo. We love Mo's books. Mo is awesome.

By the time we got in his line (right after having met the other 4 authors mentioned so far), we were in line 2. We heard that Mo was signing 3 books per person and doing dedications. Well his line was growing and growing fast. By the time we got closer, the line was hauling. Apparently someone had wised up to the hundreds of people (and growing) in line and rethought the whole 3 books thing. Mo was now signing 1 book/person and not doing dedications. He's a popular guy.

Even though we were way farther back in our line, we got to Mo before Mark and Thing 2 got to Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. Mark and I were texting and calling and waving the whole time to keep an eye on each other and our progress in the lines. The event was getting more crowded by the minute, so Thing 1 waited in line while I ran over to escort Thing 2 over to our line.

I felt so badly that Mark was missing out on meeting Mo. He texted me the sweetest message. You see, the day before, our homeschool group had gone on a field trip to the Hershey Chocolate Factory. Not the little Chocolate World ride we've done 300 times. THE chocolate factory. It was akin to getting a golden ticket for Wonka World. Well, we had over 70 people sign up initially and the Factory kind of said, "Whoaaa, how about 30?" So, we cut back our numbers. Because of that, we knew that only one of us (me and Mark) could get in. So, I backed out so he could go.

My text said, "I got the factory. You get Mo." I've got the best husband for me. LOVE him.

So, though Thing 2 was somewhat disturbed that Mo was bearded (unlike any of the pictures we'd seen of him up until now), we were all VERY excited to meet him. He came across very much like his book flaps had me expecting him to be . . . a young, Manhattan Dad. Very nice. Great with kids.

Mo signs our books

Check it out--I'm pretty sure that's Jodi Picoult seated behind him

Thing 2 told him, "I love these books (Elephant and Piggie), especially this one (I Will Surprise my Friend)," to which Mo replied, "Thank you!" Thing 1 said, "I really like this book. It's my favorite (Elephant and Piggie - Watch Me Throw the Ball) and he said, "Thank you." We told him that we really like all of his books so much and how much they've helped us with reading and he said, "Well if you don't read them, they don't work! It's like they're broken!"

He signed our Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus book and my personal favorite, Knuffle Bunny. He signs quickly since his signature is 2 letters (Mo), but he also gave us doodles! It was quick, the line was moving, but Mo was cool. Of course we already knew that.

Meeting Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

This line was not moving fast at all. But what's handy is that the kids and I bolted from Mo's to Mark's place in line and we were only a few people from the author-illustrator duo. When we got up there, we figured out why the line was slow. They really took their time with us and made us feel like they were in no hurry at all. It was so nice. They were relaxed and warm and oh-so-nice.

The kids, especially Thing 2, were very excited to meet the authors of Spiderwick. We told them we read the series as a family. They loved that. They asked about our favorite characters and favorite books from the series. Thing 2 really likes Holly Black, maybe even has a 6-year-old-kind-of-crush? Plus, he kind of digs the "rebel" types who dye their hair fun colors. They happily signed our entire box set of Spiderwick books. Thing 2 really likes these books and loves to listen to them on CD when we have it from the library and read the books, too.

Tony, for his part, was happy to see that we brought Ted along to be signed. He wrote and illustrated that one himself and it's a sweet story. He saw it, smiled, and said, "Ahhhh, Ted." And he wrote such a neat dedication in it (complete with a doodle!) that said "Never Grow Up!" (which goes along with the story).

They took time to pose for pictures, too. And even when we weren't sure we got the first one, they suggested we do it again. They were sooooooooo relaxed and so very nice and warm and genuine. We were really impressed with them.

Almost to the authors!
(See the Washington Monument behind them? And see all of those other tents? Oh yes, there was more than just book signing--there were presentations, there were book sale tents, PBS kids tents, US States pavilion tents, it went on and on and on. You just couldn't get to everything. Even with our spreadsheet/list in hand, some had to go on the chopping block unfortunately.)

Getting our books signed

A posed picture with the author and illustrator of Spiderwick

A Quick Break

After meeting all of these authors, we ran over to the Smithsonian for a bathroom/water break (we ate our sack lunches in line). Then we ran back to the book signing lines to get a couple more signatures. The weather had been very mild all day and comfortable. At this point, it was starting to rain. This, however, did not deter the crowds. And it did not deter us either.

We got in line for Shannon Hale. Thing 1 was particularly excited to meet her. We looked at the time (and the rain) and decided that Thing 2 and I should get over to Lois Lowry's line to wait, even though her signing was still a ways off. Well, when we found the end of the line, we were informed that that was "Line 4" for Lois Lowry. I asked the volunteer if we'd get up there to meet her and was met with a shrug and look of uncertainty. So, sadly, meeting her was added to the "not this time" list (along with Nicholas Sparks and Judy Blume) because of how the timing was working out with everything.

We knew we probably wouldn't get to it all but it was interesting to see how it all played out once we got there--who we saw and who we didn't. We're bummed, because, not to say that they're old, but . . . Lois Lowry and the great Judy Blume are in their 70s, you know? I mean it makes sense but somehow I was surprised, because I picture them as being more like 50/60. We got back and looked at their sites and are on the look out for times we can meet them at more intimate signings. One lady in line with me told me that she'd met Lois Lowry at a bookstore signing about a year ago in a town about half an hour from where we live and that it was much easier to meet her there than at the National Book Festival. Judy Blume seems a little harder to catch, but not impossible! So, they're on our lists!

So, Thing 1 happily waited in the rain with Mark and sat and finished her book (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume--she's read most all Blume books; we're saving Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret for a coming-of-age 13-year-old kind of thing we can do together):

And Thing 2 and I went to the book sales tent and perused the books there (it was REALLY crowded in there since people were trying to get out of the rain)--we got Mo's newest book (very funny, by the way) and excitedly read it under cover before walking around a bit more and then meeting up with Thing 1 and Mark again:

Meeting Shannon Hale

Thing 1 was so excited to meet Shannon Hale and get her copy of The Princess Academy signed. Shannon Hale was super nice and friendly. The kids really liked her. She talked with Thing 1 a bit. Thing 1 said, "I really like your book." And Shannon said, "Well then you must be very smart!" And she signed her book with the dedication, "To Kate, who is very smart." She got a big kick out of that when she saw it in the car. There wasn't a lot of time to really see what they wrote until afterward. It was fun to see what they wrote and find doodles and such.

Talking with Shannon Hale

Shannon and Thing 1 looking at opposite cameras--
we have a similar picture of the opposite thing.

Random Other Stuff

It was fun talking in line with others. It was fun to talk books, authors, and to just generally be in a place that was full of fellow human beings who love to read! Many had been down several times (one woman from PA told me it was her 5th year!). We're sure to make this an annual event. It's fantastic.

We heard that Rick Riordan had 15 lines!! I don't know how they handled that or how much he got through, but wow, popular guy!

We heard later that Kate DiCamillo stayed for more than an hour so she could get to more people in line. She was awesome.

I heard cheers at one point and cameras were going nuts. I asked a tall person who it was (I'm short--tough to see sometimes over crowds) and got the response, "I think it's Paula Deen." Seriously? I mean, I know people like her, but I thought the cheers were for Judy Blume or John Irving, you know?

Mark told Thing 1 that he wouldn't be surprised to come down and see her there signing books someday. She said, "Really?" And he said, "Yes. Why not?" She later asked my opinion and I agreed. For both of them. They are so hard working and such readers and writers, I wouldn't be one bit surprised. Not one bit.

We got a really cool poster (they were giving them away and a nice lady in line saw that we didn't have one, so she immediately gave us hers for the kids--I love seeing such nice people in the world!) and free recyclable bags with the logo on it.

Next time we go, we should enlist a team of friends and to help strategize even more our places in line so we can get to everyone. But hey, 9 very famous authors in one day? Not bad.

In Summary

Like I said at the beginning, we loved it. It was thrilling! I love that this is something we're excited about. It's nerdy and geeky and so much fun. We're like groupies! We left there wet and tired, but very content and excited.

Our family at the 2009 National Book Festival


Midnight08 said...

What an awesome type of groupie to be...the National Book Festival variety! Love it. This event sounds like so much fun!

Mom said...

What an awesome experience. Hip hip hooray for great authors, for parents who encourage reading and for kids who love it. I'd like to see some of your signatures, dedications and doodles. I won't be a bit surprised when we see Thing 1 with her own tent on the mall. Thing 2 is clever enough to do the illustrations for her.

Jimmy said...

Shucks. The "Mom" beat me to it. My thought was--How cool! And maybe some day I'll be standing in line for Thing 1 to sign my copy of her book.

Peg said...

That is so cool - I think I need to do that next year. I have been to a couple of book signing here in Denver and I love seeing these people in real life. What a great experience.

Robynne said...

That is so awesome Stacy - what an amazing trip!! That would be so much fun, I'm jealous!!! I'm glad you guys had such a great time.

Gary said...

I have some weekend reading to do. I just scanned it and looked at pictures. Don't worry I didn't read the end so it will still be a surprise how it ends. And I totally agree - Thing 1 is turning into a beautiful young woman. Thing 2 - love the toothless grin. Husband - still as handsome as ever. Wife - also a very beautiful young woman.

Zelia said...

Wow! I did no think you would be able to see so many authors. Awesome trip. Kate and Maxim will sign copies of their books when I go to Washington to see them.

Rebecca said...

Looks like you had a great time! I hope we can get down there next year!!

Laura said...

What a cool event...thanks for sharing! What great pics and details... my big, pregnant self feels like I was there and I didn't even have to leave the recliner. :)

Alena said...

Wow Stacy this is great! I enjoyed this post so much. It must have taken you a while to prepare, So, Thanks for sharing!

J Fo said...

I'm so glad that you got out of your BLUNK! Mo seems like a great guy. I think if we ever have twin boys I will name them Mo and WillEM. If I ever meet Mo in person, I'll tell him hi for you. Mo MO mo! ;) I can't tell you how profoundly jealous I am of that great day! Someday I'll join you!

Chelle said...

It sounds fabulous! And considering the crowds, lines, etc. your game plan served you well. I think it's great that you make such an effort to take advantage of the great things the east has to offer!

bythelbs said...

That is awesome. What a great experience for all of you. My kids would be very jealous. They love a lot of those same authors.

Lindsay said...

How fun is that! You have inspired me to start reading more. You guys look great.

jenny said...

Very, very cool!!! I'm so jealous- I love Sue Monk Kidd!!! And the boys would have just died to meet Mo Willems! Love that guy. I always thought he was black until a couple of years ago I finally saw his picture and was like whaaaa? hehe He just has one of those names. That looked like an awesome experience. :)

April (Thorup) Oaks said...

That looks like so much fun!!!

terahreu said...

This is me green with envy! I am dying here. I eat up every word you wrote so I could feel like I was there too. This is a yearly thing? Ugh, when my kids get a wee bit bigger, this will definitely be on my list! You are awesome to stand in line, run from author to author, and write about the entire experience! LOVED IT!