A room full of middle school students sit quiet and transfixed, hanging on the words they hear from the front of the room. No, it’s not a giant screen version of Fortnite that has them entranced, it is a panel of young adult book authors who are talking about what they write at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival (SEYA.)
Why a Young Adult Festival?
Discovering that kids read more when they engage with the authors of the books they read, six years ago, a group of Rutherford County librarians went to a young adult book festival to see if it was true. The Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival was born on the drive back. Now in its fourth year, it has grown every year.
How it Works
For three days, middle and high school students had the opportunity to interact with authors like New York Times Bestseller C.J. Redwine, writer of science fiction and fantasy, including the Deception series. Others include David Arnold, who has participated in the Festival all four years, and had his first book come out the first year of the event, and Ashley Woodfolk, who is a first-time participant and author.
The event takes place on the Middle Tennessee State University campus. On Thursday and Friday, schools allow students to come as a field trip, some from Missouri, Wisconsin, and Michigan. This year over 3,000 students came with their schools, an increase over last year. On Saturday, it is open to the general public.
“The planners of this Festival prioritize student needs,” said Arnold. “The work they do to get teachers and librarians on board really pays off. Many kids come from more rural areas. This event provides them an opportunity to hear authors and points of view they are not used to hearing, which is invaluable.”
Panel discussions, workshops, and books signings all give the students a chance to interact with the authors. From a workshop on “Turning an Idea into a Book”, to a panel on the “Six Degrees of J. K. Rowling,” to an opportunity to talk to the authors one-on-one at a book signing.
It’s All About Buying and Reading Books
What the Festival is all about, is getting kids to buy and read books. It is working. According to David Roth, Regional Manager for the MTSU bookstore, last year they sold 2,600 books over three days, and in two they had sold just over 2,200 [third day totals were not in yet].
Many of the lines to get books signed were long. SEYA has an effect on sales.
“We got in line early to get our books signed,” said Emily Mangrum, mother to first year visitor Abby Mangrum. “We head that the lines could be long.”
“The bookstore does a great job of making things run smoothly,” said Arnold.
Fostering Empathy Between Kids and Authors
Another thing the event does well is getting kids to understand how books are written and the relationship between authors and their books. The kids come to feel they know the authors personally, opening up to them about personal issues.
“I was at the end of a panel and a girl came up to me and told me about her eating disorder,” said Ashely Woodfolk. “I had to leave her and go to another session. I felt bad. Luckily, I was able to talk to her later during my book signing.”
Woodfolk’s book, The Beauty that Remains, is about three kids dealing with suicide. It was a way for her to deal with her own depression and anxiety after loss.
“We don’t talk about [suicide] much in the black community,” said Woodfolk. “I wanted to let kids know that with help everyone can be whole at the end of the day.”
Well Planned Event
What everyone says is that this is one of the top Young Adult Book Festivals in the country. Teachers, participating authors, and parents all say that the planners obviously did their homework on the front end. They are well organized and respond quickly to feedback.