Dicy McCullough column: ‘Books Under the Big Top’ a boon for local readers, authors
It was a glorious day for an event, but even more glorious because of the number of people who came to the Books Under the Big Top at the Rowan Public Library on Saturday, April 13. This event was a joint effort sponsored by the Rowan Public Library and the Rowan Salisbury Schools to promote and encourage the love of books and reading.
Leigh Graham, media coordinator for West Rowan High School initiated the event after seeing something similar in Washington, D.C., last year. While walking around taking in the sites with her husband, Scott and their son, Brett, they came upon the National Book Festival. Leigh said, “It was quite exciting to see so many authors, vendors and states coming together to celebrate reading and the love of books!”
Hoping to see this kind of event in Rowan County, she realized it would take many people working together, but even so, believed it would be great for the community. Arriving home, Leigh emailed
Kelly Feimster, Director of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Media and Academically/Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program about the National Book Festival. Leigh was happy when Kelly said, ”Let’s do it!”
A circus theme was chosen for the event, with North Carolina authors invited to showcase their books under the “Big Top.” Other activities planned were storytelling, puppets, face painting, clowns, balloons, animals from Dan Nicholas Park and Lazy 5 Ranch, music and food. The event was scheduled to begin at 10:00 at the Rowan Public Library, but even before then an atmosphere of excitement was in the air.
As an author, I arrived about thirty minutes early and noticed one big tent and several little tents on the front lawn of the library, with colorful banners blowing in the breeze welcoming visitors. There was much activity everywhere in preparation for the day, including a clown making balloon critters at the entrance. It was almost like overnight the library had been transformed into a circus.
With the help of Leigh Graham, I unloaded my car and began setting up books under the “Big Top,” at a table between Cathy Cress Eller and Julia Taylor Ebel. Cathy is a well-known children’s author from Rowan County, while Julia is from Jamestown. Cathy’s books highlight a moral lesson through the eyes of different characters such as Madelyn Butterfly and Emma Cricket, while Julia’s books are based on real stories and people from North Carolina. Julia says, “I write to call out stories that bridge us to our roots, to memories of times past and persons who have nurtured and shaped our lives.”
Kurt Corriher, Eric Hood and Marty Hartman were some of the other authors at the event. Marty, born with spina bifida, has been paralyzed from the waist down since birth. Drawing from his own experiences, he wrote a book about a little boy, Timmy, getting his first wheelchair. Through the book, “Wally the Wheelchair,” Marty hopes people can see the unpredictably and humor in life, not just life with a disability. He said he was thrilled when children came to his table, asking for his autograph.
With eighteen authors in attendance, Cathy said, “It was wonderful spending time with other authors, sharing successes as well as receiving support from each other and the community. It was an awesome day.”
Julia Ebel also raved about the event, saying she had been to many literary events and festivals, but Books Under the Big Top had brought out families and children more than any other she had been a part of or attended.
Ben Butchart, who brought his five year old son, Sebastian, was impressed with the organization of the event as well as the variety and number of activities available. He said Sebastian loved everything, but his favorite activity was learning about the snakes from Cindy Smith Barnhardt’s wildlife presentation at the Dan Nicholas Park exhibit. Pausing for a minute, Ben then added, “I had a hard time pulling Sebastian away.”
Many of the children were familiar with some of the authors because of previous presentations in the Rowan Salisbury Schools. Even so, the children sometimes seemed amazed they were talking with a “real author,” asking questions like, “Did you really write that book?” Beverly Litke, media coordinator at China Grove Elementary School said, “It’s these kinds of experiences that help children realize they too can be an author someday.
Listening to the comments of those in attendance, it was easy to see how much fun everyone was having and how much they appreciated family oriented activities that encourage the love of reading. Leigh said, “Even though this year’s event took about six months to plan and another six months of hard work to get ready, it was well worth the effort. It was a great day for all ages. I didn’t even mind holding the parrot from the Lazy 5 Ranch.”
With talk of another event next year, it will be fun to see what Leigh is willing to do to inspire and motivate the community to get excited about reading. Maybe pull a rabbit out of a hat, or arrive at the library in a hot air balloon? Well, whatever it is, I’m sure it will be great. Besides, with a whole year to plan and with great imaginations on the planning team, there’s no doubt it will be even bigger and better next year. Congratulations on an awesome event and thanks to everyone who helped make it a success.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.