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Wordstock 2011: A Parent's Guide

On Wednesday's Think Out Loud, Wordstock Executive Director Greg Netzer commented on just how many writers targeted toward the young reader would be at the annual festival of books this Saturday and Sunday: not only will there be a stage dedicated to children's writers, as well as a children's activity area sponsored by Knowledge Universe, but also some middle reader and young adult authors will present on other stages as well -- so that, at some points in the festival, you might have two or three different simultaneous kid-focused authors speaking at once. Oh, the bedevilment!

The thing is: Wordstock, for writers and book lovers and pretty much any parent who likes to adventure with the kids on a weekend, is one of the best deals anywhere. The ticket prices are super cheap ($10 for an adult for both days, or $7 for one), and kids under 13 are free. There are giveaways galore; Kindercare is giving away 1,000 free books at Wordstock. Last year we came home with a stack of great titles. And I get all shivery with the chance to rub elbows with authors I love; hopefully, some of that can rub off on the kids.

After two hours with the Wordstock guide and lots more time delving into new favorite books, I've come up with some recommendations for book-loving kids and parents -- and see the end of the post for a grid describing the kids' stage authors.

Saturday, 5 p.m., McMeniman's Stage. Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis. Wildwood. If I had to give one recommendation for kids this year, it would be this amazing, artful, magical book. Colin Meloy is famous as the Decemberists' lead singer and songwriter, but here he becomes famous for something entirely other. Follow 12-year-old Prue through an alternate reality Portland through the Industrial Wastes into the Impassable Wilderness -- Forest Park re-imagined. It's magical and practical and funny and filled with the kind of prose lyricism and nods to the cerebral you'd expect from Meloy. And best of all, even my nine-year-old loves it.

Sunday, 2 p.m., Knowledge Universe Stage. Doreen Cronin, Mom Operating Manual. Also: Marla Frazee and Kathryn Thurman. Remember Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type? Just about every mom who's read aloud to her kids has fallen in love with this ridiculous and hilarious barnyard tale. Cronin has a knack for the sort of books that entertain children and keep adults from eye-rolling with a nod toward more mature humor. I'm looking forward to seeing her new title, a "troubleshooting guide [which] provides step-by-step instructions for addressing moms who don't get enough of the daily basics, 'Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise, and Water, or SNEW for short.'"

Saturday, 2 p.m., Knowledge Universe Stage. Maile Meloy, The Apothecary. Also, Adam Jay Epstein, The Familiars, and Andrew Jacobson. Maile Meloy led just about every best-book list in 2009 with Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, an adult collection of short stories that's probably not at all appropriate for young kids. But her new book is getting all kinds of attention, and is on my to-read list. "It's 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows - a fascinating boy who's not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin's father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary's sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies - Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons."

Saturday, 12 noon, Knowledge Universe Stage. Nancy Tillman, The Crown on Your Head. Also, Judy Sierra, Zoozical, and Marc Brown (the creator of Arthur the aardvark and illustrator of Zoozical), who are just as great. You'll know Tillman if you've ever picked up a copy of her first title, On the Night You Were Born, which is a beautifully-written tear-jerker. (Just try to get through it with dry eyes!) I'm not sure if her newest book is as good as her best-selling titles, but I'm up for finding out.

Sunday, 12 noon, Wordstock Community Stage. Move Over, Holden Caulfield: a conversation about coming-of-age stories with Anna Solomon, Blake Nelson, and Jen Violi. I haven't had a chance to read any of these authors' books, but as a fan of the coming-of-age story I'm interested in the topic. This would be a great choice for teens or parents of teens.

Saturday, 4 p.m., Knowledge Universe Stage. The Murky Ground of Middle Grade Books: a conversation about what sets this genre apart from other YA and children's literature. Featuring Maile Meloy, Adam Jay Epstein, and Jonathan Auxier -- another adult-to-kidlit crossover -- this discussion gets at something that's interested me. How do we define middle grade -- and can adults love this genre too? (Yes!)

Here is the grid of all the authors at the Knowledge Universe stage. See you there?

Saturday, October 8

11:00 a.m.

Carolyn Conohan, author, The Big Wish

Steve D'Amico, illustrator, Ella the Elephant

Ann Cameron, author, Spunky Tells All

12:00 p.m.

Judy Sierra, author, Wild About Books

Marc Brown, author, Arthur adventure series

Nancy Tillman, author, On the Night You Were Born

1:00 p.m.

“It’s a Small World”

What are the challenges in presenting another culture to children? Panelists will discuss how they approach their unique subjects when writing for young readers.

2:00 p.m.

Malie Meloy, author, The Apothecary

Adam Jay Epstein, producer, The Familiars

Andrew Jacobson, producer, The Familiars

3:00 p.m.

Pseudonymous Bosch , author, The Secret Series

Patrick Carman, author, Land of Elyon Series

4:00 p.m.

“The Murky Ground of Middle Grade Books”

What defines a “middle grade” book? Panelists will explore what sets this genre apart from other literature.

Sunday, October 9

11:00 a.m.

Lynn Connor, author, The Stones and the Poet

Eric Kimmel, author, Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock

Carmen Bernier-Grand, author, Cesar: Yes We Can!

12:00 p.m.

Doreen Cronin, author, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type

Marla Frazee, author-illustrator, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

1:00 p.m.

Deborah Hopkinson, author, The Humblebee Hunder

Myra Wolfe, author, Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime

Julie Paschkis, illustrator, Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

2:00 p.m.

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

Illustrators explore the challenges of bringing a children's story to life.

3:00 p.m.

Lauren Oliver, author, Before I Fall

Jonathan Auxier, author, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

4:00 p.m.

Lindsey Leavitt, author, Princess for Hire

Lisa Schroeder, author, It’s Raining Cupcakes

5:00 p.m.

“Nitpicky Kids”

Kids are picky about everything. Panelists will discuss both the perks and the unique challenges of writing for children.


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The kids and I are heading over there today. It's such a great festival, we love it!

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