BookFest @ Bank Street Celebrates Literature for Children and Teens

On October 16, Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature hosted BookFest @ Bank Street, an annual event that welcomes authors and illustrators, librarians, editors, and other members of the children’s literature community for a virtual celebration and discussion of books for children and teens.

Donna Barba Higuera at BookFest @ Bank Street 2022This year, Donna Barba Higuera, 2022 Newbery and Pura Belpré Winner for the middle-grade novel The Last Cuentista, presented the keynote address in which she spoke about storytelling and the influence of the tales shared by her family on her work as a writer.

“If you’re not a writer or illustrator, maybe you’re a storyteller and you can pass along stories to your children and grandchildren or friends or family much like my parents and grandmother did for me,” said Higuera. “I think all of us have unique life experiences and the challenge in sharing those with others sometimes is that we’re not always ready but when you are, I think it’s really special and it helps us connect with one another.”

Higuera discussed many of the intergenerational stories shared by her family, including the legend of mythical boogeyman El Cucuy, which inspired her picture book El Cucuy is Scared, Too! Higuera noted how “illustrators are also storytellers” as she spoke about the story’s illustrations by Juliana Perdomo, who she connected with over their shared childhood fear of El Cucuy.

Additionally, Higuera expanded on how these themes are present in her more recent award-winning title The Last Cuentista, a dystopian novel about the power of storytelling. On the cover art, Higuera said, “I am so grateful for that illustration that really, I feel, enhances the book and the story.”

Pinkney family members panel discussion at BookFest @ Bank Street 2022This year’s event began with a panel discussion in honor of renowned illustrator Jerry Pinkney, who is best known for his vivid art and retelling of classic tales, like the Caldecott Award-winning picture book The Lion and the Mouse. The panel of family members included authors Gloria Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrators Brian Pinkney and Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Pinkney’s daughter, Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale, Director, Child Life Programs, and Course Instructor & Supervised Fieldwork Advisor, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, moderated the discussion.

“[My father’s] purpose was to create an environment of celebrating Black life, celebrating the environment. I am so thrilled when I think about all the ways that he really forced us to think about the world around us, how we treat one another, and there’s a message hidden in every one of his books,” said Pinkney-Rasdale. “He was always believing…that the world would be a better place, that the art that he produced could make an impact.”

Throughout the conversation, the Pinkney family shared personal reflections and explored their beloved husband, father, father-in-law, and grandfather’s impact and influence as a creator of books for children.

Next, award-winning authors Meg Medina, Margarita Engle, and Pam Muñoz Ryan gathered for a discussion on “Complex Characters in Complex Times: Lessons for our Lives from Middle Grade Latinx Authors.” Moderated by Carla España, Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education and Puerto Rican/Latinx and Latin American Studies, Brooklyn College, the panelists kicked off the talk by sharing what brings them joy.

Panelists discussed their writing process, character development, research, and how they care for themselves as they write about difficult topics. Additionally, the authors discussed the issue of banned books in school districts, libraries, and community spaces.

“I think if our goal is to prepare readers for the greater world…we need to be saying to them, we can’t know anybody by just looking at their countenance, the color of their hair, the color of their skin, how they dress, their religion…we can’t understand them, we can’t make a judgment about somebody by just looking at them. We have to first hear their story,” said Medina. “I think that’s why we need to read broadly and we need to read a wide breadth of stories about people from many cultures, from many walks of life.”

She added, “It’s important, of course, for me to write a story where someone can connect to the culture but even more important or as important…is for that non-Latino reader or Latinx reader who discovered something other than themselves and we have opened their eyes a little wider.”

The final panel discussion focused on the topic “Delicious Reads: Picture Books about Food and Culture,” featuring highly acclaimed authors and illustrators Andrea Wang, Jason Chin, Raúl the III, June Jo Lee, and Winsome Bingham, as well as moderator Gillian Engberg, Consultant, Children’s Books and Media.

To begin, panelists shared their personal connections to their work by reflecting on family memories before exploring the idea of food as a catalyst for character transformation in their books. They also discussed a message that they hope children will take away from their stories.

While sharing a childhood experience that his father had going to school and feeling embarrassed by the Chinese food that he ate, Chin said, “ I think what a tragedy, right, to be ashamed of your family because of an experience at school…I hope this book goes some way to making any kid who might have a similar experience not feel ashamed, not feel so alone, and helps them to be proud of who they are in their heritage and their food.”

“Thank you to our moderators, panelists, and keynote speaker for leading such powerful conversations,” said Cynthia Weill, Director, Center for Children’s Literature. “I would like to share a thank you to the founder of KidLit TV,  Julie Gribble, who worked tirelessly this year to make this program look perfect. I also want to thank our wonderful sponsors for their contributions and a special shout out to Epic!, who paid for the livestream of this program.”

Attendees can view a recording of the program by accessing the BookFest 2022 virtual gift bag.

For more information about BookFest, contact Cynthia Weill at cweill@bankstreet.edu.