A cluster of young children leaned forward and listened eagerly as author Tom Noll opened a picture book and began to read them his life story.
Noll was one of 11 local authors who participated in the inaugural Manassas Reads book festival Oct. 11 at the Loy E. Harris Pavilion in Old Town Manassas. About 400 people attended the event, where they had the opportunity to chat with the authors, buy their books and listen to them read from their works. They also received free books and other items donated by the festival’s sponsors.
Noll read from his book “The Bicycle Fence,” the story of a boy named L.T. whose father passes an interest in recycling on to him. Following in the footsteps of his dad, whose truck is an amalgamation of parts reclaimed from other vehicles, L.T. takes parts from several old bikes to assemble his own multicolored bicycle. He then finds a creative use for the old bikes and some clothes he has outgrown.
“The book is basically [an] autobiography,” said Noll, 58, an Ohio native who lived in Manassas for about 15 years before moving to the District four years ago. His home in Manassas was well known for its distinctive white bicycle fence, which he decorated for holidays, said Alberto Ucles, a spokesman for Green Kids Press, which published the book. Noll now has three bicycle fences on display near the Huntington Metro station in Alexandria, at Bloomingdale Park in the District and in Somerset, Ohio.
A sculptor and landscape designer, Noll said he is “an avid recycler” who likes to turn found items into art. With “The Bicycle Fence,” illustrated by Brandon Fall, he hopes to encourage children to think of recycling as more than separating bottles and papers into bins.
“Encouraging kids to recycle is a fun thing to do, and if I do it this way, then they can look at recycling a little bit differently than just sorting out things,” Noll said. “It gets them thinking about recycling in a different way.”
Green Kids Press published “The Bicycle Fence” this year as part of its “Trash to Treasure” series. The book comes with a list of 15 tips to “save our planet,” a recycling pledge form and work sheets for children.
Noll said the response to the book has been positive.
“Last week, we got our first huge order,” he said. “Kansas bought a book for each of their libraries, 400 books. And in January, they’re buying them for all the school libraries, in all the schools. So we’re on our way!”
“The Bicycle Fence” is Noll’s first book, but it won’t be his last. The character L.T. will return in two more books, Ucles said. “Selling Eggs” will be released in January, followed by “The Flowerbed” in April, Ucles said.
The inaugural Manassas Reads festival was a success, said Mary E. Tompkins, a spokeswoman for the Prince William County Library System, which co-sponsored the event with the city of Manassas and Manassas schools. The purpose of the festival, she said, was “to give back to the community.”
“We want people to read just to celebrate the joy of reading,” she said in a statement. “It’s an adventure. It’s an experience that can take you anywhere you want to be in the world depending on which book you pick up.”
Tompkins estimated that organizers gave away more than a thousand books that had been donated by partners such as Scholastic, Barnes and Noble, and the Friends of the Library. Several other corporate partners donated food and giveaway items. “We didn’t have to buy a thing,” she said.
Tompkins said that all of the authors who participated in the festival were members of Write By the Rails, the Prince William chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. They included Dan Verner, who read from his books about a World War II bomber pilot; Deborah Johnson, author of “How Did They Do That,” featuring interviews with successful people; and Belinda C. Miller, author of two fantasy novels in the Phillip’s Quest series.
“I was pleased to hear a lot of the authors say they had sold so many books” at the festival, Tompkins said. “They were very, very pleased.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.