This article was written by Mark I. West, a professor of children's literature at UNC Charlotte and member of the EpicFest planning committee.
We are all familiar with the image of a children’s librarian putting her index finger to her lips and saying “Shhhh” to the children in the library, but this stereotypical image does not apply to the many children’s librarians who work in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system. This point was underscored for me during a recent meeting of the planning committee for EpicFest, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation’s free literary festival for children and their families. This festival will take place on Saturday, November 4, 2017, from 10: a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at ImaginOn.
I serve on this committee because of my background as a children’s literature professor at UNC Charlotte, but most of the other members of the committee are children’s librarians. Throughout this meeting, everybody on the committee stressed the importance making Active Reading an integral part of the EpicFest experience.
Active Reading is all about encouraging children to talk about books, to ask questions about characters and plots, and to create projects in response to stories. Active Reading involves reading with children not just to them. Active Reading is inherently social in nature, and there is nothing more social than going to a festival.
The children who come to this year’s EpicFest will have many opportunities to interact with children’s authors and illustrators and make connections with other children who love to read. They will be able to create lots of literature-themed art projects. They will have an opportunity to attend a fully interactive performance by Eric Litwin that will combine literacy and music. All of us who are involved with planning EpicFest are making sure that this event will celebrate reading as a fun activity.
Even though EpicFest promises to be great fun, this does not mean that there will be no learning involved. In fact the event's community partner, Read Charlotte, maintains that Active Reading is essential to developing children’s literacy. As Read Charlotte points out on its website, Active Reading helps children “build their language, vocabulary and comprehension.”
As I see it, Active Reading is for everyone. The idea that reading is a passive, solitary activity is not true for children, and it is not necessarily true for adults either. A few years ago, I presented a conference paper about President Theodore Roosevelt’s passion for reading, and in that paper, I called him an “activist reader.” When Roosevelt read a book that moved him, he often took immediate action. After he finished reading Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, he went straight to Riis’s office and asked what he could do to improve the living conditions in New York’s tenement districts. Throughout his life, Roosevelt showed how reading can lead to informed action.
Roosevelt also enjoyed reading aloud to his children and participating in activities with them. If Roosevelt were alive today and living in Charlotte, I would not be a bit surprised if he decided to round up his kids and take them to EpicFest on November 4.