Author/rock star Tom Angleberger signs a slew of Origami Yoda books for Charlie O’Keefe. Photo by Kristin O'Keefe.
Author/rock star Tom Angleberger signs a slew of Origami Yoda books for Charlie O’Keefe. (Photo by Kristin O’Keefe)

Is your daughter one smart cookie but not much of a reader? Or maybe you know a boy who can’t put down his book but cloaks himself in a dark cloud of misery when someone mentions writing about that book. Here’s something that may help: Introduce them to a literary rock star. Take them to a children’s book signing.

Think about your first concert: You were finally going to see the person whose artistry impacted you. A person who touched some emotion in you and spoke to your experiences. Or maybe they introduced you to new feelings, pushed you outside your comfort zone.

And you were going to see them, live. Well, you can do that with your kids’ favorite writer rock stars.

Okay, the typical children’s book author may not have the fabulous star set or wardrobe. There will not be Taylor Swift-like costume changes. But there will be a show. You may want to leap to your feet. And maybe, they’ll let you in on some secrets.

My son’s first show was of the intimate club sort, in the cozy children’s section of the Takoma Park Library. The author was Peter Lerangis of “39 Clues and Seven Wonders” fame. Lucky for us, Peter turned out to be hilarious. Not only did we buy his new book that day, we got an autograph (and how many rock stars wait after a concert to do that?). And then my son went home and voluntarily started writing a story. On his own. It was not homework. There was much rejoicing throughout the household that night.

After Lerangis, my son sought out authors, checking library bulletin boards and local bookstore Web sites. Carl Hiassen was our first all-ages show; the witty former journalist dazzled his adult and young fans alike with his deep, broad repertoire. The piece my son liked most was that of the overzealous fan who enjoyed Hiasson’s road kill story lines so much he sent him a portrait of—wait for it—road kill. For kids, that conjures up all kinds of delicious weirdness.

Lucky readers who live in a big enough metro area may get to see a full lineup of stars in one outing. Jon Scieszka, creator of stinky cheese and squid kid. The talented author-illustrator Cece Bell and her winsome “El Deafo” super-heroine. And Tom Angleberger of “Origami Yoda” fame, who drove the fans wild with a simple question: “Okay, who here is the weirdest person at their school?! Because I was definitely the weirdest at my school.”

Rock star. The crowd waved their hands and many leapt to their feet (my son would have you know he did not, though he did manage to worm his way to the front of the autograph line with about five Origami Yoda books). In an audience of  at least 150 people, the organizers had to cut off the Q and A encore after an hour and a half. All we needed was a Jackson Browne sing-along of “Stay.”

Our latest solo show was Gordon Korman. His tour included a twist—not just a cool new book called “Masterminds,” but the revelation that he got his first book published at age 14. As for me, I identified with author Elle Cosimano‘s story of leaving a comfortable career for the thrill and uncertainty of writing, in the process “rediscovering” her heart. My daughter, niece and I stumbled across her at a reading of young adult thriller “Nearly Gone” at Politics and Prose, the three of us mesmerized for different reasons—them over the plot, me over Cosimano’s story.

These readings, like concerts, can be intimate or raucous. The stories get a lot of attention, but the artists slip in juicy tidbits too, the stuff that makes the reading that much sweeter—as though there’s an understanding now, between you and the one who created your favorite work.

So how do you connect your kids with some rock star writers?

  1. Check with your local libraries and bookstores. Some bookstores, such as D.C.’s Politics and Prose, offer events on-site and also host them at area libraries.
  2. Find a reading you think will appeal to your child; make it optional (I’ve told my kids we can sneak out if it’s not fun. We never have.) There are often autograph sessions at the end. And if you prefer to get all your books from the library, ask the author to sign a bookmark.
  3. Take a picture with your “rock star.” It’s kind of cool. Go have a hot chocolate or a bowl of ice cream or carrot-tops or whatever your family likes and talk about what you heard.
  4. Leave your child alone to inhale the author’s latest book—and/or start writing his own story.

So don’t wait. There’s a slew of authors out there, as well as wonderful libraries and booksellers intent on connecting us to those authors. And who knows—maybe they’ll inspire a future literary rock star to get writing.

NOTE: No gifts have exchanged hands from all this library/bookstore love. Well, books exchange hands all the time around here but we either bring them back (library) or read and share them—as all good books deserve.

Kristin O’Keefe is a writer living in Kensington, Md. An avid reader, she’s nearly done with her first comedic novel about dreadfully busy suburbanites. You can can read more of her work at her blog, dreadfullybusy.com.

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