How Can Books Open the World? Some of This Year’s National Book Festival Authors Share Reflections

With the theme “Open a Book, Open the World,” this year’s National Book Festival (NBF) will once again welcome readers to dive into the limitless universe of reading alongside fellow bookworms. From September 17 to 26, the Festival will offer live virtual events (i.e., conversations and Q&As with authors, including those who write teens’ and children’s books), interactive sessions with Library specialists, and local events in communities across the country. In addition, dozens of videos-on-demand presenting interviews with authors will be made available online on September 17 at 10AM ET.

Among these on-demand videos are conversations with authors of children’s and young adult literature, including Ibi Zoboi, Traci Chee, Kate DiCamillo, Jay Coles, Katie Zhao, Derrick Barnes, Meg Medina, Angie Thomas, and many more. In the interviews with them, which are conducted by teens from across the country, the writers discuss their work and share their inspirations and creative processes, as well as their hopes for younger readers.

In the spirit of the Festival’s theme, they also reveal the stories or characters that opened up their own worlds. Their reflections underscore the potential impact and multitude of ways that books can enrich our lives—whether they help us learn about the world around us or help us see and represent ourselves in the world. For example:

Poster for the 2021 National Book Festival, designed by Dana Tanamachi

The 2021 National Book Festival Poster, created by Dana Tanamachi

Books can mirror and bear witness to our experiences—or those of people like us, as author Traci Chee evokes when she recalls a pivotal childhood moment with a book: “When I was a kid, someone in my family gave me this book called The Best Bad Thing by Yoshiko Ushida… it was set in the 1930s in California and it was about this Japanese-American family living on their farm, and it was the first time that I had seen a book about my Japanese-American heritage… Seeing that, I felt like really helped me to understand my place in this country, my family’s place in this country, and the fact that we have been here a very long time…it was an American story and I was an American kid, just like this kid in The Best Bad Thing.”

Author Sharon Flake describes feeling a similar sense of validation when she first read Langston Hughes’s The Best of Simple. Flake notes, “Some of the conversation I heard, I also heard at my house… about what it was like to be African-American in this world… a reminder to me that it was OK to be a little Black girl from north Philadelphia.”

Echoing the sentiment that books can make us feel less alone, author Tahereh Mafi’s comment that “For me, books were a huge escape, growing up. They were in the absence of friendships my only real friends…” reminds us, too, that books can be trusted companions and a place of refuge.

They can also provide outlets for imagination and reveal new pathways for creative thinking, as Ali Stroker describes: “The book that I opened that opened the world to me was Matilda by Roald Dahl…the book allows you to really use your imagination. As a young person, I loved to be creative and I loved to go to other worlds in my imagination. It was like an escape, it was a way to be free. And Matilda finds herself in a world where she feels really, really stuck and unhappy but she uses her powers and her imagination and finds herself in a better world.”

 Books can also reveal to us complex perspectives, different from our own, and help us develop empathy and understanding. When sharing the takeaway he hoped readers would get from his book, for instance, author Trung Le Nguyen emphasizes, “…There are ways to be radically empathetic. And there are opportunities in your life to try your very best to understand that people are at where they’re at…Identifying when people are trying their best with the limited resources that they have can really help you be a more compassionate and empathetic person.”

In what ways do you think books can open the world? Which books have opened the world for you or your children? Your friends? Your family? Let us know in the comments.

We hope you can participate in the National Book Festival this year! For more details on the Festival (including the programming lineup, schedule, participating authors, events, and more), visit: www.loc.gov/bookfest.

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