LAURA NUMEROFF gives pancakes to pigs and cookies to mice. Buzz Aldrin reaches for the moon. Louis Sachar, we hope, has finished digging holes. This weekend, these children's book writers will visit the Washington area for two festivals: Saturday's National Book Festival on the Mall and the Baltimore Book Festival Friday through Sunday at Mount Vernon Place. Both events are free and feature author readings and plenty of other activities to get the whole family excited about books.
This year marks the fifth annual National Book Festival. First lady Laura Bush, who approached Librarian of Congress James Billington with an idea for a national book festival during her husband's first term, is its host. The Library of Congress, through its Center for the Book, administers the festival. John Cole, director of the center, said about 80 authors and illustrators will read from their work, sign copies of their books and speak about writing.
Numeroff will read her whimsical "If You Give a Pig a Pancake" and "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"; she also plans to talk about her books' saucy illustrations by Felicia Bond. Numeroff said she has attended other book festivals but is especially honored to be invited to Washington. She's excited to meet again with Hilary Knight, illustrator of the much-loved "Eloise" books. In 1955, Knight and Kay Thompson collaborated on the first book about the famously misbehaving 6-year-old girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel. A 50th anniversary edition of the book came out this year. "I've met him twice before," Numeroff says. " 'Eloise' is one of the reasons I became a children's book author, and so any time I can see him, I'm happy to have the chance."
The D.C. festival is organized in several pavilions. In addition to Numeroff and Knight, authors featured in the children's pavilion are David Baldacci, best known for adult thrillers and recently the author of the kid-targeted "Freddy and the French Fries: Fries Alive!"; Doreen Cronin, who penned "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type," along with Harry Bliss, who has illustrated several of Cronin's books; Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the tear-inducing beagle story "Shiloh"; former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who has written the autobiographical "Reaching for the Moon"; Gloria Jean Pinkney and Jerry Pinkney, who create children's books together; and Sandra Pinkney, their daughter-in-law, also a children's author. R.L. Stine, author of the wildly popular "Goosebumps" series, will read from his first "Rotten School" book, "The Great Blueberry Barf-Off!"
In addition to the children's pavilion, kid-friendly activities and authors can be found in all areas; for instance, in the Pavilion of the States, kids can get authors from all 50 states to sign a free map of the United States. Storybook characters, including Arthur the aardvark, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Latino twins Maya and Miguel, will greet the festival's youngest visitors, while teenagers can see the six national winners of the Letters About Literature contest, which brings together high school students and their literary heroes (including festival authors Dave Pelzer and Terry Trueman).
Cole said he is particularly proud of the launch at the book festival of Book Relief, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the nonprofit First Book organization (www.firstbook.org) to provide books to children and families displaced by Hurricane Katrina as well as to schools and libraries affected by the hurricane. "It's a testimony to the power of books and reading at a crucial time like this," Cole said.
At the Baltimore Book Festival, in its 10th year, kids get their very own Children's Park, where the Children's Bookstore Stage hosts individual readings and multi-author panels on humor, fantasy and young-adult literature. Children with a penchant for art can meet Bryan Collier, whose watercolors and collages adorn "Rosa," a biography of Rosa Parks by poet Nikki Giovanni; photographer Walter Wick, of the "I Spy" series, will ask young visitors to explain what his wooden hero, Seymour, is doing; and Priscilla Cummings will read "Chadwick the Crab." Kids can head to the Storytelling Tent for live readings and join costumed characters -- including Curious George and Winnie the Pooh -- in a Storybook Parade.
As at the Washington festival, child-targeted events are scattered throughout the Baltimore festival. In the Literary Salon, Louis Sachar will read from his award-winning "Holes"; a free screening of the movie version of the story follows in the Walters Art Museum auditorium.
A performance stage, featuring popular regional bands, will offer music for all ages, including reggae, blues and zydeco, while an arts-and-crafts zone will encourage new work -- including clay, wax works and bookmaking -- inspired by the creativity shown by the authors and performers onstage.
Festival-goers can give a little back to their city, too: The Mayor's Book Drive encourages visitors to deposit used and new books in receptacles throughout the festival to benefit Baltimore City public schools.
NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL -- Saturday 10 to 5. Between Seventh and 14th streets on the Mall. 888-714-4696. www.loc.gov/bookfest.
BALTIMORE BOOK FESTIVAL -- Friday 5 to 9, Saturday and Sunday 11 to 7. Mount Vernon Place, 600 block North Charles Street, Baltimore. 410-752-8632. www.baltimorebookfestival.com.