By April Bayer
Concordia served nearly 13,000 students, teachers and other visitors through its 22nd annual Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival and Adult Conference, which was included this year as an official event of the Nebraska Statehood 150th Celebration.
The event brought approximately 5,000 students and educators to the campus on Friday, September 29, to meet and learn from renowned children’s authors and illustrators, and engage in activities and workshops that encouraged literacy and creativity. The festival also reached thousands more students on Thursday and Friday by arranging nearby school visits and presentations for some of this year’s featured authors.
“I liked going to Matt and Jenny [Holm] who wrote Babymouse!, Squish, and Sunny Side Up. They were funny,” Rachel Mayes, a sixth grader who attends St. Paul Lutheran School in West Point, NE, said. “Some of my friends and I got to play with parachutes, and we built a boat, which was fun.”
Five hundred adults also visited the campus on Saturday, September 30, to listen to presentations and attend book signings by authors, illustrators and literary experts, including a keynote address by Newbery Award winning author Patricia MacLachlan.
“I really feel it is important and powerful for teachers to have really quality professional development…I thought it was interesting to see our job as literacy teachers from a professional standpoint as well as from the authors’ perspective,” Jennifer Pralle, a Language Arts teacher at Friedell Middle School in Rochester, MN, said. “I’m anxious (for us) to go back to our professional learning communities and share things that we’ve learned here.”
Newbery Honor recipient Joan Bauer, who resides in Brooklyn and is known for her young adult fiction, stepped in to attend the festival with only three weeks notice after a previously scheduled visitor, Kwame Alexander, was unable to attend. She had previously attended the Plum Creek Festival in 2008.
“(Plum Creek) has certainly grown, but the heart of it is still so powerful,” Bauer said. “I feel, honestly, that a lot of what we do as writers is alone, just sitting there, writing these stories. Then you come out and you get to engage with people who are using the stories and kids who are responding to you. It’s like being a camel…getting filled up with water for the next round.”
Other guests at this year’s festival included Coretta Scott King Award Winner Sharon Draper, New York Times bestselling author Brandon Mull, Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson and renowned literacy experts Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne.
“I think this (festival) is uniquely rare,” Bauer said. “It just shows the love and the commitment that the community has, that they care about stories, and they want children not just to read a book, but to enter into the life of the character and the author’s thoughts. When you add all of those dimensions, it brings storytelling alive in new ways.”