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Virtual Latinx Kidlit Book Fest delivers diverse stories, a bit of joy

Sharyn Vane
Special to the American-Statesman
Elizabeth Acevedo wrote "Clap When You Land," which delves into the split lives that many immigrants experience.

Authors for young people loved connecting with kids before the pandemic. Eight months in, it’s become crucial.

Organizers of the first Latinx Kidlit Book Festival say that’s a big part of what inspired their event. More than 140 creators from the United States and around the world —including several from Austin and other places in Texas — will be part of the virtual fest. It launches Friday on YouTube.

“What really made me sign on and say, ‘Let’s do it!’ was this sense of dread and concern … not just in myself during the summer, but in kids all around the country and world,” said “This Train Is Being Held” author Ismée Williams, who teamed with fellow writers Alexandra Villasante (“The Grief Keeper”) and Mayra Cuevas (“Salty, Bitter, Sweet”) on the fest’s steering committee.

“Seeing how the Latinx and Black communities are the communities most severely affected by this pandemic in terms of mortality, morbidity and socioeconomic conditions, maybe this is something we can do to give back,” Williams said. “We want to reach students and educators and give them two days of pure joy, where they can sit back and hear authors say, ‘These are our stories.’”

The team, part of the Las Musas collective of women and nonbinary authors for young people, has amassed a lineup with impressive breadth and depth.

There are creators for all ages, ranging from picture book readers to young adults. Panel topics include a Latinx poetry slam, social justice, machismo, immigration, LGBTQ representation and multiracialism. National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo (“Clap When You Land”), Newbery winner Meg Medina (“Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away”), former U.S. Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle (“With A Star In My Hand”), National Medal of Arts winner Julia Alvarez (“Already a Butterfly”) and National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi (“Punching the Air,” with Yusef Salaam) are among the luminaries anchoring the lineup.

Austin authors participating include Natalia Sylvester, whose young adult novel “Running” follows a teen finding her own voice in the shadow of her politician father, and Adrianna Cuevas, who mixes magic and adventure in her middle-grade fantasy “The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez.”

Also representing Texas are David Bowles, the multiple award-winning author of “They Call Me Güero,” whose newest books include the middle-grade graphic novel “Tales of the Feathered Serpent”; “Love Sugar Magic” middle-grade series creator Anna Meriano, who makes her young adult debut this month with a modern retelling of Cinderella called “This Is How We Fly”; and “Lucky Luna” author Diana López, whose picture book biography of Tejano superstar Selena arrives next spring.

“This festival is for everyone, and everyone is welcome. It’s not about showing your Latinx credentials at the door,” Villasante said. “It’s about exposing people to, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop said, those mirrors, windows and sliding doors. It’s showing the Latinx culture in our wide diversity to others, and really making the point that our stories are for everyone.”

Organizers connected with educators through organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English, Williams and Villasante said, to ensure student access and offer opportunities for kids to participate. Young people can submit questions for authors on the festival website, and some will get to record short videos of themselves asking their questions that will be broadcast during the fest. Submitting a question selected for the festival also gets a class entered to win one of more than 60 classroom sets of donated books from the event.

Educator guides in English and Spanish are available for free download from the festival’s site, where teachers and librarians can access Flipgrid videos from many of the authors.

“My hope is that the kids will feel hopeful, and excited about books,” Williams said. “I also hope that this will be empowering for the kids. We want the kids to know that they are seen, and that we care about them, and that we want them to succeed.”

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival

Two days of virtual panels, interviews, keynote addresses and Q&A events.

When: Friday and Saturday via YouTube

Cost: Free

Information, sign-ups and full schedule: latinxkidlitbookfestival.com

Ibi Zoboi wrote "My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich."