Mississippi children’s book festival returning to in-person event
Published 6:15 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023
The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival will be held April 12-14 on the Hattiesburg campus, during which awarding winning and bestselling writer and artist Gene Luen-Yang will be honored with the event’s top award, the Southern Miss Medallion.
The festival, to be held in-person for the first time in three years due to past restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, will also feature the Ezra Jack Keats Award recognition ceremony.
Yang joined the Kaigler Festival family in 2015 when he was a keynote speaker. He is the bestselling writer and artist behind American Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints, the Avatar: the Last Airbender comics, Dragon Hoops, Superman Smashes the Klan, and many other iconic works. American Born Chinese, Gene’s first graphic novel, was the first-ever graphic novel to be named a finalist for the National Book Award. The book went on to win the Printz Award, the ALA’s award for the best young adult book published in a year, and an Eisner Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the comic book world.
His follow-up solo graphic novel, Boxers & Saints, was also a National Book Award finalist and won a Printz Honor and the LA Times Book Prize for Young Readers. His more recent graphic novel Dragon Hoops also received a Printz Honor and an Eisner Award, and Superman Smashes the Klan won two Eisner Awards.
Karen Rowell, coordinator of the festival, says she’s eagerly anticipating the event’s return to “normal” after three years of online-only programming, and recognizing Yang for his outstanding contributions to the genre of children’s literature.
“We are thrilled at the prospect of seeing – in person – the smiling faces that truly make the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival the special event that it is and always has been and look forward to honoring a true talent in Gene Luen Yang with our top award,” Rowell said.
Yang was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress in 2016. He was the first ambassador who works primarily in graphic novels. During his two-year tenure, Yang promoted “Reading Without Walls,” a platform he developed with the Children’s Book Council and his publisher, First Second, that encouraged young people to read outside their comfort zones. In 2016, he was also awarded a fellowship with the MacArthur Foundation and the accompanying prestigious “genius” grant.
A strong believer in collaboration, Yang has published books in partnership with esteemed cartoonists. He is a strong proponent of using comics in education, and of representing diversity through the comics medium, which he does in all his comics work.
“As a library administrator who has been attending and presenting at the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival for five years, I couldn’t be more excited to be back in person this year,” said Dawn Zimmerer, adult and youth services director for the Madison County (Mississippi) Library System. “It is, perhaps, one of the best professional development opportunities for me and our staff.”
Along with Yang, other honorees and keynote speakers in the festival’s schedule of programming include:
*Amy Bluemel – Coleen Salley Storytelling Award Winner
Bluemel is a gifted storyteller, educator, artist, and stomp dancer. Her appreciation for cultural awareness came at an early age. She was raised in a military family; she lived in Germany, Okinawa, Turkey, and Scotland before returning to her Chickasaw roots in America. As the great-granddaughter of Eastman Kaney (an original Dawes Commission enrollee), Amy is a proud member of the Chickasaw Nation. She often performs with the dance troupe Chikashsha Hithla during nationwide tours and shares Chickasaw customs (and those of other southeastern tribes) with audiences of all ages through lively programs at schools and museums across the country.
Bluemel was one of 36 Native American artists chosen to show and sell her art at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Native American Art Market in Washington D.C. in 2019; she also shows and sells her creations at powwows and festivals throughout the United States. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Carl, and two daughters who have also taken to Chickasaw culture and stomp dance.
Williams-Jackson is the author of critically acclaimed, Mississippi-based historical novels Midnight Without a Moon, A Sky Full of Stars, and The Lucky Ones (Common Sense Media Family Seal Selection 2022). Southern by birth – and a Southern writer by the grace of God – Williams-Jackson is plum-picking proud to still call Mississippi home. Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in the town of Rosedale, Williams-Jackson likes to spin stories about everyday people in small-town settings. Though she has lived in a few other states (Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas), she currently makes her home in a not-so-small town in Mississippi with her husband and three children. While a degree in math and computer science from the University of Alabama allowed her to enjoy a career in information technology as a database administrator and adjunct professor, she now prefers manipulating words rather than numbers and symbols. Besides her novels for young readers, Williams-Jackson has also written reading assessment passages for various educational publishers and is published in five Chicken Soup for the Soul titles.
*Loren Long – de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection Lecturer
Long is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling picture books Otis, Otis and the Tornado, Otis and the Puppy, An Otis Christmas, Otis and the Scarecrow, and Otis and the Kittens. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator of President Barack Obama’s picture book Of Thee I Sing, Matt de la Peña’s Love, the re-illustrated edition of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, and Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna. Long’s new edition of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas is a modern, more inclusive take on the classic poem. His most recent works are Never Forget Eleanor by Jason June, Someone Builds the Dream by Lisa Wheeler, and the much-anticipated Change Sings, written by Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman. The Otis series has been developed as an animated television series, Get Rolling With Otis, on Apple TV, for which Long served as executive producer.
Lukoff writes books for kids and other people. Before becoming a full-time writer, he worked at five bookstores, in four libraries, for three schools, as two genders, through one intersection: people, and books. Lukoff’s middle grade novel Too Bright to See received numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor and a Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. Kyle’s picture book, When Aidan Became a Brother, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, also received a Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. His most recent books include A Different Kind of Fruit, Mermaid Days, and If You’re a Kid Like Gavin: The True Story of a Young Trans Activist.
Madan grew up in India where he really wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up an engineer. Many years later, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart back into humor. When not making whimsical paintings in his Seattle studio, Madan writes and illustrates funny books, including the award-winning poetry collections A Hatful of Dragons, The Bubble Collector, and Lord of the Bubbles. A Hatful of Dragons is being turned into a musical theater performance and is being released in India by Harper Collins India. Madan has also written and illustrated the graphic novel series, Zooni Tales, and the early reader series, Bobo & Pup-Pup. His early reader book Owl & Penguin received a 2023 Geisel Honor and was recognized on the 2023 ALSC Notable Children’s Book List.
*Angie Manfredi- Southern Miss SLIS Lecturer
Manfredi is a librarian, writer, and editor. She has a special interest in and focus on spotlighting and uplifting marginalized voices in both youth literature and librarianship. She passionately advocates, in the words of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, giving readers “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” in all the books shared with them. She cherishes mentoring new librarians and championing equity of access for all youth readers. Her areas of expertise in librarianship include collection development and maintenance and youth programming. She edited the young adult anthology, The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce. Manfredi is currently a middle school librarian in the southwest, serving grades 7th-8th. From 2019-2021, she was the Youth Services Consultant for the State Library of Iowa. She provided continuing education, training, and support around everything related to youth services for all 543 public libraries in Iowa. Previously, she worked as the Head of Youth Services at the Los Alamos County Library System in Los Alamos, New Mexico from 2007-2018.
The Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is presented by the USM School of Library and Information Science. Learn more about the festival, including its daily schedule of events, registration/parking information, and opportunities to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) at https://www.usm.edu/childrens-book-festival/.