Back From Warrensburg

Warrensburg, Missouri–does anyone even know where it is?  About fifty miles west of Sedalia (uh…), about sixty miles SE of Kansas City (ah…), near Whiteman AFB, home of the Stealth Bomber.  Warrensburg itself is home to the University of Central Missouri (Go Mules!!) and, of more concern to me, the annual Warrensburg Children’s Literature Festival, the biggest little-known children’s book event in the nation. 

Every year, for two days during the University’s spring break, thousands of schoolkids ranging from third grade through eighth, throng the campus to meet authors, listen to authors, buy books, get them signed, and read.  And that’s no exaggeration:  I do mean thousands.  This year it was well over 5000, plus around 1500 adults.  The kids can visit up to five authors per day, plus time for book-shopping and lunch.  This year they had 42 authors to choose from.  Here’s a scene from one of my sessions:

Full house, and I’m not even one of the more popular authors! 

The Warrensburg LitFest began 42 years ago as the inspiration of Philip Sadler, a literature professor at the University.  As a child growing up in Sikeston, MO, he would have given anything to meet a real author.  Years later he proposed to his colleague Ophelia Gilbert that they set aside a weekend to gather a few local authors (six, I believe) to meet with local kids.  Over the years, like James’ Giant Peach, the festival has grown and grown to the largest event of its kind that I know of.  The authors come from Maines to Alaska and everywhere in between (though a hefty percentage are Missourians).   One of the most inspiring sights of the festival is the grand ballroom of the student union, where the bookstore is.  So watch hundreds of kids buying books–and excited about buying books–warms this authors heart.

Both Phil Sadler and Ophelia Gilbert have passed away–Phil only last December–but I was privileged to have met them and sustained an acquaintance for the ten years I’ve been honored to attend.  They started something, oh yes.  Festival Coordinator Naomi Williamson and her crack team have kept it going.  If this year was any indication, it’ll go for a long time.


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