On the ride home from this year's 2nd Annual YALLFest, the group of students I took to the festival were already making plans to attend next year's festival. Nicole, a junior, even asked if once she graduated, she could continue to go with our school to the festival as a chaperone. Teens don't normally think past the next weekend, so you know an event must've been amazeballs to inspire that kind of long-term planning!!
Me and the fifteen students I took as part of a field trip were all YALLFest newbies. I only heard about the first YALLFest after the event *sniff*, and kicked myself when I saw a list of the authors who'd been just a three hour drive away *wipes tear*. When you live in upstate South Carolina, Y.A. author visits or sightings are few and far inbetween. For years, author Neal Shusterman has been great about visiting schools in our area - for a fee that required sharing him amongst schools - but as library budgets continue to shrink, paying authors to come in our schools is fast-becoming a fond-reminiscence for most. When this year's YALLFest line-up was announced, featurting 44 of some of today's most popular and well-loved authors, my head and heart nearly exploded.
The easiest thing to do would've been to go on my own, but knowing I have students who love these authors and their books as much as I do, I couldn't NOT try to take some of them. The cost of the festival itself is FREE, so the only student expense would need to be for the school bus transportation. School field trips aren't cheap, so to reduce travel expenses for the kids, I charged $25 a person - which covered about a third of the cost of the trip - and paid the rest out of my library budget. Money totally well-spent.
Though there are some huge corporate sponsors - Amazon, Tumblr, Justine magazine, to name just a few - the YALLFest festival is Blue Bicycle Books' baby. An independently-owned, small local book store, much credit and thanks fall at the feet of the Sanchez family - owners since 1998. Putting on a festival event of this size is no small feat, especially one that's still so new to the scene, but these people come off as pro's. Miraculously, author panels started on time! Plenty of books by the authors were available for purchase! Authors showed up for their books signings, and in most cases stayed or worked it until they had signed and spoken to every fan in line! If there were any divas or douches, I didn't see them, because everyone I came in contact with - authors, booksellers, volunteers - had read the southern charm rulebook and was on his/her best behavior. And when some panel discussions got a bit bawdy - I'm looking at you, Simone Elkeles and Gayle Forman - well, c'mon that only added to the awesomeness.
Me and fifteen of the raddest readers you could ever meet.
Blue Bicyle Books had plenty of copies of all the authors' books available for purchase. New authors also had booths set up to promote and sign their books.
While waiting to get books signed, fans could take part in trivia contests where you match a book quote to its author and win a free t-shirt. Nine of my kids won shirts!
Nicole enjoying a fangirl moment with her favorite author, Ellen Hopkins. If she looks like she's hyperventilating, it's because she is!
Um, Nicole wasn't the only one who may have fangirl-ed a little over Ms. Hopkins...
One thing I also really appreciated was that authors, such as Jess Rothenberg, were willing to sign student notebooks or YALLFest posters in lieu of books. Not all kids can afford books - which is why they use libraries! - and the authors understood that and were happy to sign. Some clever peeps brought along their Nook/Kindle covers and had authors sign those - might have to steal that idea for next year!
Each hour from 11pm-4pm, there were at least three author panels you could attend to hear your faves discuss topics like "YA Boy Band: Boys Writing Girls (& Boys)," "The Future of Sci-Fi/Fantasy," "Not Your Normal Paranormal", and "Good Girlz and Bad Boyz." What quickly became obvious to all in attendance is not only are these authors passionate about what they do, but they're passionate about supporting each other and the profession. No shame in writing Y.A.!!
Annnd the award for savviest marketing goes to Simone Elkeles and her publishers, who understand the hottness of the Fuentes brothers should NOT be contained to just words on pages...note: I laminated the poster to protect the boys from student drool. ;-)
So YALLFest #3 has been announced for November 9, 2013 - my students and I are already looking forward to it!!