Boston Book Festival 2017: "Where We Find Ourselves"

The theme of the ninth annual Boston Book Festival was "Where We Find Ourselves." We found ourselves in Booth #9 enjoying the music and performances from the Berklee Festival Stage — and all throughout the twenty-plus (!) venues in and around Copley Square and the Boston Public Library. Here are some highlights from the event along with a slideshow selection of photos. We look forward to next year's tenth anniversary!

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax is grumpy; Jamie Talbot is not. Photo: Jamie Talbot

I started my day in a bad mood — in a bad mood headband that is, as distributed to attendees of the Kids’ Keynote by Lemony Snicket in honor of The Bad Mood and the Stick. Well, by his Handler; Mr. Snicket himself is notoriously elusive. Mr. Handler, though, embodied the Series of Unfortunate Events author both before the reading, when he lumbered his way through the audience with a grim countenance, and during, when his asides about the book were in keeping with the “bad mood noises” he asked us to join him in making.

Then came a busy shift in the Horn Book booth. Young festival attendees came for the passport stamps and stayed for the stickers; more than one grew wide-eyed at the realization that one of those stickers matched Roger’s real-life face. We displayed the Boston Globe–Horn Book winners and honorees, and I was happy to see many attendees gravitate toward The Hate U Give, and to hear a number of kids say they recognized The Best Man from their classrooms.

Finally, I attended the “YA: It’s Getting Real” panel with Dick Lehr, Daniel José Older, Erika L. Sánchez, and Nic Stone, moderated by Laura Koenig. All of the authors’ new books address issues of race in some way, and they had so much to say that the panel could’ve filled double its timeslot. There was discussion of the difficulty in allowing characters of color to be flawed when there are so few of their stories out there, and of assumptions we make about young readers’ innocence, with the authors bringing in broad historical perspectives.

Cindy Ritter

I began at the “YA: Truth & Consequences” panel with Kristin Cashore, Malinda Lo, and E. Lockhart hosted by Simmons College’s Lauren Rizzuto. My big takeaways from that panel: E. Lockhart apparently wrote semi-erotic Pippi Longstocking fanfiction as a kid, Kristin Cashore is the master of the book/library dress, and Emmanuel Sanctuary is gorgeous. I love that BBF panels utilize several downtown locations near Copley Square that people might otherwise walk right by without fully appreciating.

Afterward, I strolled through the square to see which vendors were there this year and to grab a Green Muenster sandwich at the Roxy’s Grilled Cheese booth (thanks for the heads up, Roger), before heading over to the panel Elissa was moderating in the BPL’s Teen Central. The topic — “Middle Grade: Reimagination,” with authors Elizabeth Eulberg, Kekla Magoon, and Karuna Riazi discussing the hows and whys of reimagining classic stories — was right up my alley. The authors were dynamic speakers and I appreciated the discussion of their varied approaches to writing. More on that panel from Elissa below. I popped downstairs to Hubbub at the BBF, sponsored by Candlewick in the BPL’s Guastavino Hall, where there was “a full slate of expanded offerings for children and families.” In addition to play areas and craft activities, there were appearances by favorite storybook characters, including Elephant and Piggie, whom I stopped by to see for my niece.

I decided to mix it up a bit and see an adult book panel (that was a first for me!), because I really wanted to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak. This year she wasn’t at the BBF promoting one of her many children’s/YA books but her adult novel Another Brooklyn. She was one of two Fiction Keynote speakers, along with Claire Messud (author of The Burning Girl) in a panel moderated by UMass Boston English professor Sari Edelstein. It was interesting to hear them read from their respective novels, which are both about teenage girls’ friendships, and talk about the ways in which these books work as adult (rather than young adult) books, but also serve as crossover books. My last few hours were spent at the Horn Book booth, and that time sped by with all the activity still happening on the square. A friend of mine went to the “BBF Unbound: Literary Never Have I Ever” panel earlier in the day with two authors, a literary agent, and an editor as panelists — apparently it was a hoot, so I’m hopeful BBF will do a similar panel next year at their tenth-anniversary celebration.

Elissa Gershowitz

I am in perpetual awe of BBF deputy director Norah Piehl and director of operations Sarah Howard Parker — both great Friends of The Horn Book — and of author liaison Cassie Sheets (who also helped make this year's Boston Globe-Horn Book and Horn Book at Simmons events huge successes! The festival's founder and executive director Deborah Z Porter was a Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature classmate of mine, but I digress).

On Friday night I attended the swanky cocktail party hosted by the BBF in the lobby of the gorgeous Boston Public Library — complete with signature pink cocktails. It was lovely to catch up with old children's book friends and make many new ones. Libba Bray and I have sons with the same name. Javaka Steptoe and I like salad with deliciously marinated mushrooms. Nic Stone enjoys the smell of nail polish (and she's got to be the smartest person in most any room).

I hosted the "Middle-Grade: Reimagination" panel on Saturday, with authors Kekla Magoon, Karuna Riazi, and Elizabeth Eulberg. The panel description summed up the topic perfectly: "It's fun to make up stories out of thin air, but it can be even more fun to start with an existing story and ask yourself 'what if this happened instead?'" The authors talked about the inspirations behind their reimaginings (of Robin Hood, Jumanji, and Sherlock Holmes, respectively); about their own paths to children's books (Karuna wrote hers in college[!] and it's one of the first titles from Salaam Reads); and about fandom in general. And to the person in the audience with the idea for the gender-swapped Tom Sawyer — we'll say we knew you when.





Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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