By AUDREY FISCHER
Werewolves, mad scientists, real ninjas and fake vampires, a roller-skating baby, a talking pig, a monkey dressed as a pirate, 11-year-old twins who escaped from the circus and a character whose head has been replaced by his posterior are but a few of the zany elements of an online story that made its debut at the National Book Festival.
Throngs of students from Prince William County, Va. (see story on page 204), young reporters from Time for Kids, former first lady of Virginia Lynda Johnson Robb (who serves on the board of Reading Is Fundamental) and other children’s book-lovers gathered in the Children’s pavilion for the widely anticipated unveiling of the first episode in “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.”
In the great tradition of progressive story games like “telephone” and “fortunately/unfortunately,” the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) developed the literacy initiative aimed to get children to read more and write more.
The online story, with a new chapter to be contributed every two weeks by a different children’s book author and illustrator, can be viewed on Read.gov, a new multimedia website launched at the book festival. Lesson plans and activities can be found on www.thencbla.org.
Jon Scieszka, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, had the honor of writing—and reading to a delighted audience—the first episode titled “A Very Amazing and Completely Unusual Story Pieced Together Out of So Many Parts That It Is Not Possible to Describe Them All Here, So Go Ahead and Just Start Reading.”
The irrepressible Scieszka was repeatedly chastised to wait his turn by a panel of authors who joined him on stage. “No, not yet, Jon,” the panel shrieked repeatedly, causing the audience to roar with laughter.
The self-described “motley crew” of authors included NCBLA President Mary Brigid Barrett, and fellow children’s book authors Kate DiCamillo, Nikki Grimes, Shannon Hale, Steven Kellogg and Megan McDonald.
They will be joined in the literary effort by many other beloved authors such as M.T. Anderson, Linda Sue Park, Susan Cooper, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Patricia and Fredrick McKissack and Katherine Paterson.
“If we’re not a literate society, then our democracy will fall apart. It’s as simple as that,” said Grimes.
The authors each read a “teaser” from their chapters, and illustrator Steven Kellogg sketched a few of the characters. Finally Scieszka got to read his first chapter.
Scieszka began, “This story starts with a train rushing through the night” and ended the convoluted tale with “to be continued.”
Barrett encouraged everyone to read the first and succeeding chapters online at Read.gov. “Spread the word to all the kids in America because, after all, this is the National Book Festival.”