Washington, which was recently named the most literate city in an annual national ranking by Central Connecticut State University, hosts several annual book festivals, including Fall for the Book and the National Book Festival. Seldom, however, do teenagers and pre-teens have the chance to meet and speak with authors who write books specifically for them. On Saturday, at the inaugural NoVa Teen Book Festival, they’ll have the chance to do just that.
NoVa is the brainchild of One More Page bookseller Danielle Ellison, a young adult (or YA) fiction fan and Boston native who moved to the Washington area two years ago. Ellison felt the literary events in the region didn’t provide teens with sufficient opportunities to meet the authors of the books they read. Over coffee with Arlington County’s Central Library YA librarian Nico Piro nearly a year ago, Ellison proposed a festival for middle- and high-schoolers. Along with Lelia Nebeker, a YA book buyer at One More Page, Ellison and Piro spent the next nine months planning it, gathering additional support from the Fairfax County Public Library and George Mason University’s Fall for the Book. At press time, 200 participants had pre-registered for the event, which will be at Washington-Lee High School.
The free, day-long festival will include book signings, small-group question-and-answer sessions with some of the 24 authors in attendance, and four panel discussions on such topics as character development. Bookending the festival are keynote speakers Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the “Alice” series and the Newbery Medal-winning “Shiloh” trilogy, and Marie Lu, author of the bestselling “Legend” trilogy.
“I think it’ll be really exciting, just because I’ve always wanted to be an author,” said Twyla Peabody, a Swanson Middle School eighth-grader who plans to attend NoVa Teen. “It’s cool when you get to meet people you look up to in a field you respect.”
Kenmore Middle School English teacher Amy Juengst is offering her students 10 extra-credit points if they attend. “This is a great way to introduce them to some new authors,” Juengst said. “It’s a way for them to get exposed to and excited about books, authors, storytelling.”
Juengst also says the chance to meet authors encourages students to become writers. “There are definitely kids who end up becoming authors themselves or going into creative writing studies later on in their lives, and that’s another reason I’d like to see students go to the festival.”
The booksellers from One More Page and the participating Arlington and Fairfax librarians will visit nine high schools the day before the event with some of the featured authors to get the word out. They say they’re anticipating great things from the event for its participants.
“What I want is for these young readers to have that really amazing experience,” Nebeker said. “A day they’ll never forget — getting to meet, or see, or have their book signed by authors they really look up to or who inspire them.”
Ellison agrees that connecting young readers to authors is the crux of the festival experience. “For me, the biggest thing would be if just one person leaves there inspired by an author, or with this book that they didn’t know existed, and now they’re so excited about it,” Ellison said. “One person.”