Book festival borrows page from city to stage event

Reading: Organizers in Bel Air take a cue from a Baltimore festival when planning their own book fair, which begins Saturday.

May 16, 2004|By Joe Eaton | Joe Eaton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When organizers set out to bring a book festival to Bel Air, their biggest challenge was revamping the musty book sale image.

"We had to get people over the hurdle of thinking that this was just another school book fair where we just sell a bunch of books. It's much more than that," said Kathy Casey, one of the festival organizers.

The festival, which will take place on Saturday at Shamrock Park in Bel Air, is far from a common book sale. The all-day event features storytellers, poetry slams and readings by popular authors. The public radio literary duo "The Book Guys" will be taping two shows at the festival and appraising rare books. Panels will discuss topics ranging from mystery novels to the history of Harford County.

"This is not just geared toward children," said Kitty Pickett of the Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission, which is a co-host at the festival with the Highlands School Foundation. "We wanted to have events to bring out the entire family."

The festival is surrounded by two "bookend" events - a preview party on Friday at the Maryland Golf and Country Clubs in Bel Air and a concert by the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra on Sunday in the John Carroll School auditorium. These events will benefit the Highlands School, a private school for children with learning disabilities.

Casey, the executive director of the Highlands School Foundation, said partnering with the Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission for the festival was a chance to expand on an idea that she created along with the school's director as they wandered through the Baltimore Book Festival in 2000.

"We thought, `Wouldn't this be so cool to bring up to Bel Air?'" Casey said.

Their success at turning an offhand idea into three days devoted to literacy had everything to do with their ability to get the help of volunteers and local talent such as Didi Salvatierra, a quilt-maker and fiber artist from Bel Air.

Salvatierra donated a children's "story quilt" that will be raffled off at the Sunday concert. The colorful quilt is made from square panels of fabric with images from children's books such as Winnie the Pooh and the Harry Potter series, and strips of fabric printed with book titles. The message, "Curl up with a good book, and read happily ever after," snakes around the border.

To find the children's book references she used in the quilt, Salvatierra started with the stories she read to her two children, such as Charlotte's Web and the Pinkerton books.

Then she went to local libraries and bookstores, where she came away with modern titles featuring protagonists such as Captain Underpants and Bubble Bath Pirates.

It was a challenge to find fabric patterns with images from children's books to use. Before she sewed a stitch, Salvatierra hunted through craft stores for months and asked friends from her quilting club to check their fabric stashes for material she could use.

"It's a one-of-a-kind. I could duplicate the idea, but I could never find that fabric again," Salvatierra said.

The quilt is for curling up with or it can be hung on the wall for decoration.

Best of all, said Salvatierra, it can be read like a book. "I would love it if a child wins it. But I also think it would be neat if a teacher or a librarian wins so it can be appreciated by a lot of people," she said.

If festival organizers have their way, the book festival will become an annual event in Bel Air.

Casey said it is a chance for people and organizations that care about books to support literacy in the community. But Casey admits that the festival has already gone beyond anything she imagined.

"When we first thought about it, we chuckled," Casey said. "It was a little dream we had, and now it has come to fruition."

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