Community expected to rally behind book festival events

As Dr. Seuss wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Salisbury’s literary community agrees, so wholeheartedly that a two-month series of events, presented as a festival, has been planned.

With the slogan “One Book Can Change a Life,” the Salisbury Book Festival’s goal is to inspire children and adults to read.

An offshoot of the annual Light of Literacy Breakfast Awards, the idea for the festival was sparked by the unexpected death of Ernie Bond, a children’s literature professor at Salisbury University and internationally known expert in that field.

“There were those from the university and in the literacy, library and academic communities, who wanted to honor him,” said Andrea Berstler, director of the Wicomico County Library.

“He brought in authors and he was quite the resource as far as the quality of children’s literature. He died suddenly last fall. The children’s literature community in the area and outside the area was really affected by that,” Berstler said.

Hannah Miller, who works with Delmarva Public Radio, was impressed with Bond’s wealth of knowledge when they spoke at Barnes & Noble bookstore, where she once worked. Miller suggested to Berstler that a book drive be held in his honor.

Meantime, the library staff had a similar idea and libraries statewide were promoting having everyone read the same book throughout Maryland and discuss it.

“The idea for the festival was sort of a series of events,” Berstler said.

“All of a sudden we wound up with the better part of two months all booked with events having to do with reading and literacy and all of them were very cool. There were fun things we could do with it. We got a group together to talk about what is it we were doing in the community. A lot of people were doing similar work, but they didn’t know that others were doing it, too. So, we said, ‘How do we make this into a really cool event?’”

The grassroots community effort isn’t receiving financial sponsorships, but several non-profit organizations, plus The Delmarva Shorebirds, are involved. The city will provide garbage cans, barriers and police for a block party in May.

“We’re excited about it. All these organizations, 15 maybe, are involved,” Berstler said.

The festival, which includes the Light of Literacy Awards on April 20, will include a One Book Event, an invitation to everyone in Salisbury to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

A grant from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore is allowing the library to buy almost 200 copies to give away, with reading guides.

“We hope to get 200 to 300 people to read it and talk about it in the community,” Berstler said.

“We plan to make this festival annual. Parts of this will move forward every year. Whether or not it will look exactly like this next year will be determined by how well people participate this year, but I think the idea of a book festival, where we provide a series of events where people engage, will happen,” Berstler said.

“There are two really important statistics when it comes to children reading. Children’s brains are wired by the time they are 4 years old. By 4, a lot of the wiring is done. Parents need to engage their children verbally. They need to talk to them and read to them. They need to engage them by using words so kids understand how to use words before they are 4 years old,” Berstler said.

Statistics concern her, like the fact that two-thirds of children who do not read proficiently by the time they finish fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

“We’ve got a literacy problem here. Kids aren’t ready to start kindergarten and that is not the board of education’s fault. We are 23rd of 24 in the state and that is not acceptable. So, we hope by creating a lot of fun events that parents can enjoy that we will increase the likelihood that children will begin reading better, too,” she said.

Miller praised community residents for their willingness to help with, and volunteer for, the festival, calling it “heartwarming.”

Dave Hanlin, the husband of Dr. Donna Hanlin, superintendent of Wicomico County schools, has run book drives in other cities and quickly agreed to help.

“We have people calling to ask to be a drop-off point for books that are donated. It has been eye opening and rewarding,” Miller said.

Festival events include:

*April 6 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. — Wild about Reading evening at the Salisbury Zoo. A free, enjoyable night for children to learn about zoo animals through literacy and arts and crafts.

*April 7 at 5 p.m. — Race For Wellness and Literacy, a 5K race and 1K walk sponsored by the Wicomico County Board of Education at City Park. There is no entry fee, but registration is required. Participants can register the day of the race. Bring book donations as part of the registration fee.

*April 20 at 8 a.m. — Light of Literacy Awards Breakfast at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. This breakfast will recognize those in the community who advance the cause of literacy. Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot will be guest speaker. Tickets are required.

*April 20 to May 20 — New and used books and donations will be collected and books distributed through local non-profit organizations and public schools for the Ernie Bond Memorial Book Drive. Donors are asked to give children’s books or make a donation toward the purchase of volumes in English and other languages.

Children from birth to third grade will be targeted, although reading material for those up to eighth grade will be accepted.

Books will be distributed to children who live in Title I areas “where having reading materials in the home is not something that always happens,” Berstler said.

*April 22 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Salisbury University Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival, in memory of Bond. It will feature 10 authors and illustrators, three discussion panels and the presentation of the inaugural Sonia Lynn Sadler Diverse Illustrator Award. Registration is required and there will be a fee.

*April 22 and 23 – Barnes & Noble Book Fair to benefit the book drive.

*Month of May – One Book Event.

*May 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Block Party Downtown, near the library.

“It’s going to be a big celebration,” Berstler said. “It will be a really fun time.”

book festival events poster

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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