Litquake San Francisco, an annual literary festival comprising 850+ authors and hundreds of events in the span of 10 days, can be exhausting and daunting, but it can also be exhilarating and inspirational.
I’m a co-producer of Kidquake, an event that draws 1,000 elementary school kids, their teachers, and chaperones to four assemblies and 10 workshops (poetry writing, prose writing, performance, and illustration) over the span of two mornings every October as part of the larger Litquake festival.
Authors share what it’s like to be a professional writer or illustrator. They talk about the often circuitous journeys of their careers. Jill Diamond’s journey looked like this:
They tell kids that they can be writers if they want to be. But that it takes work. Below is the stack of revised manuscripts (not even all of them!) for the middle grade novel, The House that Lou Built by Mae Respicio.
Some authors also let kids know that they may not have been the “best” readers growing up. That reading may not have come naturally. That they may have struggled in school. When kids hear this, it gives them hope. Writing a book may not be out of their reach, even if they’re in fifth grade and think reading is still hard work.
Tony Piedra, author/illustrator of The Greatest Adventure, told kids exactly that. He said that he still isn’t the best reader, but what he loved as a kid, drawing and animals, guided his career—although he did wonder who was going to hire someone who loves to draw and look for animals.
His answer came in the form of computer animation at Pixar.
The auditorium filled with excited chatter. Apparently, Tony got his animation chops in a pretty sensational way. Fast forward a few years, and he has now written and illustrated his own picture book. Here’s the trailer he made:
Authors also talked about what inspired them to write their books. For Jill Diamond, it was friendship and her neighborhood; for Carmen Bogan, it was a visit to Yosemite; for Alexis Fajardo, it was epic Old English poetry and comic books; for Maggie Tokuda-Hall, it was her fascination with octopuses (did you know they have three hearts and each leg has a mind of its own?);
for Alexandria Giardino, it was her love of onions!
But no matter the inspiration or the route that someone takes toward becoming whatever it is they want to be, no matter the adventure they choose, they should:
For everyone has adventures to live and stories to tell. KIds also get to ask questions at the end of each assembly.
What was the best question?
“Do you ever feel like giving up?”
“That’s why I have pets.”
But if the assemblies still leave kids questioning their abilities, sometimes it’s the personal experience a child has during a workshop that makes a difference. One boy headed to a writing workshop with his class said:
“Oh, I don’t think I can write anything.”
Returning from the workshop one hour later, he said:
“I DID write, and now I want to stand up on the stage and read it out loud to everyone!!”
And that, folks, is what Kidquake is all about!
Many thanks to the following authors for sharing their stories and wisdom this year:
Carmen Bogan, Where’s Rodney?
Alexandria Giardino, Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse
Tony Piedra, The Greatest Adventure
Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Also an Octopus
Jill Diamond, Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza
Alexis E. Fajardo, Kid Beowulf (GRAPHIC NOVELS)
Mae Respicio, The House That Lou Built
And thank you to Naomi Lau (illustrator workshops), Writopia (prose workshops), Florencia Milito and Susan Terrance (poetry workshops), and Gwen Minor (performance workshops). Thanks also to the San Francisco Main Public Library for providing the best assembly and workshop venue for Kidquake in the city.