By Gabby McConnell October 31, 2023
Over the past five years, the School of Education has held the Children’s Book Festival for K-8 students. Each year, the festival features renowned authors and illustrators who introduce their work on panels and then split into breakout groups to give students hands-on interaction with the literature. Teachers, students, families, librarians and literature lovers all participate, as authors visit schools across Colorado. The visits foster excitement for reading and offer first-hand experience with writers.
Each school benefits from a connection to a volunteer or educator within the CU Boulder Children’s Book Festival Committee, creating a valuable point of contact to the university. Funding provided by the School of Education, Office for Outreach and Engagement and Boulder Book Store makes it possible to supply books to participating elementary schools.
The festival took a dynamic turn this year when the School of Education collaborated with the Center for Humanities and the Arts. Adam Crawley, CU Boulder assistant teaching professor and co-chair of the festival, has researched censorship of culturally diverse children’s literature in elementary contexts, and the theme for the 2023-24 school year at the Center for Humanities and the Arts is “Liberty, Justice, Democracy: The Fight for Ideas.” Both aim to confront pressing censorship and book-banning issues, making the festival partnership a perfect match.
“We prioritized, as a committee, bringing out and inviting culturally and linguistically diverse authors because we know we have culturally and linguistically diverse communities that we serve,” said Crawley.
It is essential for students to indulge themselves in literature, especially in grades K-8 when children are in the early stages of mind development. The concept of “mirrors” and “windows” is important within the stages of growth to give students a sense of self while also giving them perspectives on people of different cultures and identities. When children learn about people different from them at a young age, they learn empathy for those around them.
“The most touching part is the connection with students, whether someone is viewing from home or in the schools participating. Kids, teachers, parents and caregivers are excited about books and the whole process,” said Jacalyn Colt, a member of the Development Advisory Board for the School of Education who is responsible for reviving the festival five years ago following many years of acclaim for a similar festival held in the 1980s and 1990s.
In addition to school visits, this year’s festival featured a panel on book bans and the right to read in K-8 schools and libraries. Censorship has been more of a hot topic since the pandemic hit, and parents were able to hear what their children were learning and either liked it or felt there was a need for change. For example, some parents did not like that their students could read about and be educated on LGBTQ+ communities.
The Censorship Unbound panel featured Director of Boulder Public Library David Farnan; Andrea Wang, children’s book author; and a Boulder-based parent and teacher, Jo Currier. Each panelist answered a set of questions submitted by community members. Panelists commented that there is a great deal of fear about publishing diverse stories primarily because of the worry they will be challenged or banned. Jo Currier stated that her biggest question revolves around what she, as an educator, can best do to serve her students. She cited her internal battles when educating students on topics such as Westward Expansion: Do you use the given curriculum, or do you teach the students multiple perspectives and introduce them to new texts? Panelists spoke about the belief that limiting access to diverse literature can hinder the development of empathy, respect and growth for different cultures and identities.
“Book banning can limit exposure to different ideas and experiences. That’s why it is so important for book festivals and panels like this to happen. It educates people in communities, ensuring that their kids, neighbors and surrounding schools will get the education they deserve,” said Sarah Mak, a CU Boulder student.
The Children’s Book Festival fosters a love of reading in children, parents, caregivers, librarians, authors and many more. You can learn more about the Children’s Book Festival by visiting its webpage, where you will find the featured authors, books and teaching resources that were showcased at the festival earlier this month and during previous years.