Alastair Heim’s passion for children’s books dates back to “Bar Wars,” the little-known, offshoot book parody of the hit movie series “Star Wars.”
Who could forget such characters as Charleston Chewy, Darth Nougat and Master Soda, as they shot through the stars in their candy-bar themed adventures?
Heim sure wasn’t going to forget, mostly because he wrote the book as a homework project when he was in sixth grade.
But it was through this class assignment that Heim began to realize that books could be more than pictures and prose on pages — they could be children’s first forays into creativity and new possibilities, especially at younger ages.
“Immersing kids in visual imagery and storytelling, especially with rhyme and meter — where they hear the cadence that can almost be lyrical — I truly believe that that sets children off on a creative path, which you can really see come to life once they get to school.”
Heim, now an adult and a published Kansas City-based picture book author, will be among 60-plus authors at the Kansas Book Festival this weekend at Washburn University’s Mabee Library and campus lawn.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Tim Bascom, executive director of the festival. “We’re hoping families and kids can come and enjoy the festival. There will be presentations on a wide array of different topics and in all genres.”
Bascom, who formerly spent more than two decades as a literary academic in Iowa, said Kansas’ book festival stands out from other states because of its specific focus on books and literature about and by Kansans.
A celebration of those kinds of books, then, turns into a celebration of Kansas, and its citizens’ slowed-down, thoughtful approach to life, he said.
“When we read, we’re engaged in thought, and thought is what sets us apart as humans,” Bascom said. “We need to nurture that, and reading is a wonderful way to do that — to think in a way that’s more focused and deeper about what matters in life.”
Kansas Book Festival will include plenty of opportunities for children
In its 11th year, the state book festival will have a focus on children and encouraging them to read, Bascom said. Several of the festival’s invited authors, including Heim, will speak specifically on children’s literature.
Heim, who has written new Dr. Seuss books through Random House, will present alongside author and illustrator John Hare about picture books and how they tie into classroom settings.
Other presentations will include discussions with Kansas children who have published books, a discussion on young adults’ fascination with sci-fi and fantasy literature and a poetry slam by students at Topeka High, Topeka West and Highland Park.
The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center and Paper June Bookstore will also offer hands-on activities under an outdoor tent, while storyteller Kyler Carpenter and puppeteer Priscilla Howe will give a performance at noon Saturday.
For too many children, they start with a strong love for books as they read alongside parents and teachers as toddlers and preschoolers but lose that passion as support systems fade or as they become distracted by other activities as older children, Heim said.
But stoking that love of reading is vital, he said, because it creates not only a well-informed society, but also one that loves to dream and create.
“All of the adults who are writing the kids’ favorite books, performing their favorite music or designing their favorite music — one day, those adults aren’t going to be around to do that, and we’ll need our children, who are the most creative people on the planet, to shape our world,” Heim said.
Donations will help Liberate Books Project build library collections in Kansas jails
Bascom said one of the festival’s exciting programs this year will be to help the Liberate Books Project, a Hays-based initiative to collect new and used books to donate to Kansas jails.
The project, led by Fort Hays State professor Sarah Broman Miller and Hays First United Methodist Church Pastor Troy Miller, works with jail and prison librarians around Kansas to provide donated and purchased books to their catalogs.
Since its launch in fall 2021, the Liberate Books Project has collected and donated about 10,000 books. Project organizers hope to eventually deliver books to every Kansas jail and prison.
The project will have a booth at the festival all day Saturday and will take donations.
How to attend the Kansas Book Festival
The free-to-attend Kansas Book Festival kicks off at 4 pm Friday and continues 9 am to 4 pm Saturday at Washburn University.
After seeing more than 800 attendees during his first year as executive director, Bascom is hoping to see more than 1,000 in 2022.
The festival kicks off with a reading from Michael Kleber-Diggs, the winner of the 2022 Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award, of his book “Worldly Things” on Friday afternoon in the university’s Mabee Library. Through poems, the Kansas native, who now lives in Minnesota, delves into “worldly things,” including the death of his father and the killings by police of Black men around the US
About 60 authors are expected to present at the festival, including headliner KJ Dell’Antonia, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Chicken Sisters.” Her new book, “In Her Boots,” tells the story of a middle-aged author who returns to her family’s farm after the death of her grandmother.
The festival will also feature honors and recognitions for the newest books either by Kansans or about Kansas. Those include the 2022 Kansas Notable Books, as selected by the Kansas State Library. State Librarian Ray Walling and Ted Daughety, husband of Gov. Laura Kelly will present the awards.
Vendors, food trucks, a book art exhibit and a children’s activity area are also included in the festival.
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.