Book lovers unite!

My favorite event of the year was last week–the North Texas Teen Book Festival. It’s a huge event–at it’s pre-Covid-19 peak, 15,000 people attended. I wish there was a way to harness all the positive energy that is in that space–teens, authors, adults–all so very excited to be surrounded by fellow book lovers. It’s just magic.

The crowd at the Irving Convention Center.

Now in it’s ninth year, I’ve had the privilege of moderating a panel 5 times (based on a quick check of my t-shirt drawer!). My first year moderating was also the first year of the festival, back in 2015. Most of my authors have something to do with history, which makes my heart happy–and always increases my to-read pile. Every year is a bit the same (so many people! Familiar authors), but every year is also different.

My panel this year featured two graphic novels, which got me thinking about exhibit design. They did an amazing job of boiling down complex history into a few words and lots of images. Kinda like exhibits. But are there things us museum people can learn from these authors? (spoiler alert: yes!)

This year, I got a giggle when an old friend reached out and said “My son is Nathan Hale’s biggest fan, and I see you’re moderating a panel with him. Is there anything you can do?” I did nothing (per official rules), but he got a photo with his favorite author–and I did pick his question as one of the panel questions. Later, we had a nice long chat about books–which is totally the point of a huge book festival.

And the Rest Is History panel: Nathan Hale, yours truly, Jennifer Nielsen, and Steve Sheinkin. Great people and great books!

I also got to run into a childhood friend. She’s attended the festival before, but we’ve never attended the same years. Until now! We only had a few minutes to chat, since she had her kids with her and they had other priorities.

Childhood friend Erin Rankin Jewell, now a librarian. We haven’t changed a bit in the almost 40 years we’ve known each other!

Two fun tidbits for my museum friends:

One of my lightning round questions for the panel was “What’s your favorite museum?” After the panel was over, they turned to me and said “You didn’t answer the museum question. We want to know your favorite.” We had a lovely chat about museums, and Nathan Hale shared that pre-best selling author life, he worked for an exhibit design company, painting the backgrounds for natural history dioramas. We kept talking about museums, and I joked and said “See, museum people are almost as cool as writers.” He said “Oh, no. Museum people are much cooler than writers.”

The afternoon keynote featured Angeline Boulley, author of one of my favorites from last year, Firekeeper’s Daughter. She described her next book, Warrior Girl Unearthed, as a native Lara Croft–a teen gets tired of waiting on a museum to repatriate remains and takes matters into her own hands. This book could really move the conversation about NAGPRA, decolonization of museums, and repatriation into a much broader audience. The museum community needs to be ready–and embrace this opportunity. For me, this will probably be one of those rare books that I buy and read right when it’s released–but we have to wait until May!

Though the festival was several days ago, the good vibes remain. In our age of book banning and intense battles over libraries, it was just so good to be at an event like this. Kids are going to do what they need to do to get the stories they need. Saturday was proof of that.

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