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Best of the National Book Festival: Carmen Agra Deedy, 2017

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

This event from the National Book Festival is especially for children, and this blog post includes prompts for writing and thinking that young readers, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work. Recommended for ages 6+.

Carmen Agra Deedy is the author of 12 books for children, including “The Library Dragon,” “The Cheshire Cheese Cat,” “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach” and “14 Cows for America,” a New York Times bestseller. In today’s video, Carmen Agra Deedy discusses “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!” on the Children’s Green stage of the 2017 Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. She is introduced by Lauren Woody.

Carmen Agra Deedy starts her presentation at 1:26, and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • Growing up as a refugee in Decatur, Georgia (1:40)
  • Experience of non-English speakers in the classroom in the 1960s (4:52)
  • Speaking up against unfair treatment (8:19)
  • Challenges with auditory dyslexia (10:03)
  • Surviving the playground (13:08)
  • The power of children’s voices (18:01)

Writing and Thinking Prompts

  • Have you read “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!” or any other works by this author? How has this talk changed the way you think about this author?
  • What surprised you about the author talk? Carmen Agra Deedy used the presentation to tell an engaging story about her life. How did this story connect to the book? What does the story of her life make you wonder about?
  • If you had been at the talk, what would you have asked the author?

2:10: Carmen Agra Deedy is a professional storyteller and uses different voices, funny sounds and interactive elements of storytelling to share a story about her first day in school as a 6-year-old Cuban refugee in Georgia.

  • Think of a story from your life. How would you tell it? How would you share it as a comic strip, a song or a one-person skit? Try sharing your story in your own unique way with a person you trust.

15:48: Toward the end of her story, Carmen Agra Deedy describes how she became friends with a boy in her class. She says, “The two border dwellers had found one another.” What makes each child marginalized? What helped them connect?

  • Think about your friends and recall how you first became friends. How did your friendship begin and what makes it special? Write a story or draw a picture about the first time you realized you were friends. If you feel comfortable, share the story or picture with your friend and ask that friend for their own perspective about your friendship.

19:12: Carmen Agra Deedy ends her talk by saying, “If you have [your voice], keep it. If you lost it, be of strong heart. It’s never gone; it’s still in there.”

  • Think of a time when you had the chance to use your voice to stand up for something. Did you use your voice or stay silent? What impact did your action or inaction have? Even if you did not take action, your voice is not gone. How will you prepare for the next time when your voice might make a difference?
  • Think of a book or story about someone who used his or her voice to take a stand. How does the author show how the main character found his or her voice? What did the character have to overcome to do so?

Explore More

Carmen Agra Deedy grew up in Decatur, Georgia.

  • Explore the maps of Decatur from 1911 and 1964. Compare these maps to contemporary maps of the town. What has changed, and what remains the same? Can you imagine young Carmen walking these streets?

Carmen Agra Deedy is a talented oral storyteller. Listen to more of her talks:

  • National Book Festival 2011 talk with folk musician (and her husband) John McCutcheon (starts at 7:18). Pay close attention to storytelling elements that are similar to her talk in 2017.
  • Watch her talk with another Latina storyteller, Karla Campillo-Soto, about growing up Cuban and Mexican, respectively, in small-town USA, and how she became a storyteller. According to Carmen, every family has a storyteller (10:15). Who is it in your family? How does this person collect and share these stories?

When she gets in trouble, Carmen sits outside of the classroom and sings “In My Own Little Corner” from 1965’s “Cinderella” broadcast. Learn more about the song and the musical in this short video.

The Library has recordings of children’s playground songs like “See, See My Play Mate” that Carmen and Overton share. Take a listen on this page.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.