October 30, 2007
By Leah Carliner
Children visiting the Kennedy Center on Saturday will not only see written words come to life but also learn about many cultures other than their own, thanks to authors, illustrators and performers taking part in the 12th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Festival.
Book lovers attending the event — which will feature literature about African, African-American, Asian, Arabian, Caribbean, Latino and American Indian people — will be able to meet their favorite illustrators, writers and storytellers in an afternoon filled with interactive events.
Festival coordinator Vanessa Thomas said it was important to find performers who could tell an engaging story so that even children who are too young to read could appreciate the events.
“I think all children, regardless of age, have an appreciation for story,” Thomas said.
Some of the activities include performances by African drummers and dancers, readings by the authors and free pictures with Nickelodeon superstar Dora the Explorer.
Edwin Fontánez, an author, illustrator and composer, will be leading a workshop for inspiring book authors and illustrators. He thinks anyone 2 years of age and older would appreciate his presentation.
“Children themselves start doing arts at a very young age,” Fontánez said. “I just want to inspire them that their thoughts have importance.”
Fontánez said he hopes his workshop, which will take place from 1:20 to 2 p.m., will teach participants how to put their ideas to paper. He will play an originally composed piece of Latin-inspired music in the background to help motivate his participants.
This will be Fontánez’s 10th year participating in the Kennedy Center’s book festival.
“It’s also nice to see people that keep coming year after year,” he said, describing the event as a “family tradition” for some parents and children.
Fontánez also said he sees the multicultural festival as a special event for the District because it is one “that the community has a hunger for.”
“I think that the most attractive part of the fair is the variety of it and the multiculturalism of it,” he said.
Some other celebrity personalities who will attend include Dominique Dawes, an Olympic gold medalist and Broadway performer, and Farafina Kan, an African drumming and dancing performing arts company.
Thomas said she expects 9,000 people to attend, including aspiring children’s book authors, teachers and parents looking for new literature to read to their children. The event will be managed by about 80 volunteers
The Multicultural Children’s Book Festival began in 1996 as a collaboration between the Kennedy Center and Toni Trent Parker, the president and co-founder of the children’s book service Black Books Galore! Parker, who died in 2005, was frustrated by the uniformity of the children’s books that were being promoted at festivals and wanted to highlight books that mentioned diverse cultures, Thomas said.
Thomas added that she thinks the festival has been successful in drawing attention to the wide range of children’s books available and in sending a welcoming message to the D.C. community.
“By having the multicultural children’s book festival here we are saying this is a place for everyone,” Thomas said.