Category Archives: Op-Ed

Recipe for a Successful Book Festival

ksfest1This past Saturday I participated in the first annual Kansas Children’s Literacy Festival, and it was such an amazing experience I thought I’d share my thoughts on why it worked so well. It was a new event in Wichita, Kansas, but the turnout was huge and scores of kids walked away with new books to explore, and a whole lot more!

kslitfest3Here’s what made the event so successful: COMMUNITY. Area schools, local book stores, and community organizations partnered together with city leadership and a radio station to encourage kids to read and write. I loved the scope of fun events offered to celebrate literacy. The event kicked off with a full-blown parade, including a float featuring a gigantic book! Then a celebrated local children’s choir gave their first concert of the year. An illustrator presented a riveting and humorous demonstration. A local kite and toy store helped kids make kites and we had a balloon launch to help “Reading Take Flight.” Wichita Griots African storytellers played drums and told enchanting stories. There were balloon creations, face painting, food trucks, and everything that makes a festival a festival!

ksfest4And of course there were books! SCBWI authors and illustrators from around the state talked with young readers in an author tent and read from their works in the storytime tent. There were so many smiles!

I think another big factor in the success of the event had to do with the level of PROMOTION it received beforehand. Local news stations and newspapers came out to cover the festival as well, interviewing families and participants to ensure the word is out for next year’s celebration.

ksfest5As you see, I roped my lovely daughter into helping me. She played the Tickle Me Pink Crayon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and had so much fun!

If you are an educator or librarian hoping to launch a book festival of any size or add some zest to an already existing one, may I suggest adding some activities that may not seem necessarily reading related to draw interest? I think that was the other factor that caused the Kansas Children’s Literacy Festival to be such a success: VARIETY.

What things have you seen work to draw kids to book fairs and festivals? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill.)

A look back, a thank you & a goodbye (for now!)…

Mixed-Up Files friends!

Hard to believe, but I’ve been here blogging with the wonderful folks at the MUFs as one of the original members for more than six years now. Yes, six years! A lot has happened during that time — I moved overseas and back (yay military life!), watched my kids go from little to not-so-little (*sniff!*), and went from being an unpublished, aspiring author to someone with almost a dozen books out in the world. It’s been quite a ride so far!

But, as I’ve learned in the last year with the publication of my debut YA novel, there’s an awful lot of work that happens after your book hits the shelves. (You know, once you’ve collected yourself from the floor after spotting that thing you wrote in the Barnes & Noble… ). I’ve been busy doing book signings, conferences, school visits, festivals… (No complaints, though! I absolutely love getting out and meeting readers!)

Of course, I still need to write… :). So, for that reason, I’ll be taking a break from blogging here. But before I go, I’d like to share my journey to becoming a published author. It’s a question I get a lot when I speak to groups. It’s a bit personal and a bit long — but I hope you’ll stick with me until the end.

I guess you could say, like most authors, I’d always dreamed of being a writer… someday. I wrote a lot as a kid, studied literature in college, went on to be a journalist, etc. And there was always that little voice in my head creating stories, nudging me to write. But the truth of the matter is, the thought of actually sitting down and writing a book, of putting myself out there open to criticism — well, it terrified me.

(Besides, life has a funny habit of getting in the way. New jobs, marriage, first kids… I’d always quiet that little voice by telling myself I could write that book later — when I was older/wiser/less busy/not afraid. I’d get to it someday.)

Then, my dad unexpectedly got sick.

It was ten years ago. I was a new mom with a young son when out of nowhere my dad fell ill. One day, he was vibrant, healthy, active; the next, he was struggling to breath, suffering from something called “idiopathic constrictive bronchiolitis.” Which, was basically a fancy medical way of saying the small airways in his lungs had become irreversibly inflamed, making it impossible to exhale — and nobody knew why.

It was progressive. It was debilitating. And there was no cure.

With my brother and my dad, my hero.

With my brother and my dad, my hero.

At the time, I lived outside DC, my dad lived in Vermont. I traveled to see him as much as possible, taking him to consult with doctors and specialists — always hopeful they’d find some way to help. Various experimental medications were tried, some with side effects that seemed worse than the disease. Swelling. Fatigue. Brittle bones. Physical therapy didn’t help. The only hope was a lung transplant, but he was ultimately deemed to sick to survive the surgery.

In the meantime, my brother was in the middle of his own someday — visiting our dad as much as possible while finishing his medical fellowship in upstate New York, and getting ready to come home to Vermont and get married.

We all kept hoping for a miracle. That Dad would get better. But as his health grew progressively worse, Dad became focused on just one goal: to get to his son’s wedding.

June came, my brother’s wedding weekend rolled around. It was a semi-destination type event at a resort on Lake Champlain in Vermont — the quaint sort of place with paddle boats, no televisions, no cell phone signal. My dad arrived, confined to a wheelchair, tethered to an oxygen tank. There were hairline fractures in his back, side effects of the heavy steroids that kept him breathing. But he was still optimistic, still smiling, still fixed on his goal. He bowed out of the rehearsal dinner that night — the one he’d paid for and helped plan — to save his energy for the big day.

He was going to make it to that wedding.

The morning of the ceremony, a huge storm blew across the lake — the type that topples trees and downs power lines. It would later seem incredibly symbolic that the oldest tree at the resort was uprooted that day. But at the time, we were all busy getting ready, hurrying to the church, having our pictures taken. A groomsman was charged with making sure my dad and stepmother got there safely.

But as the final guests arrived, my dad wasn’t among them. Time slowed to a crawl as we began to panic. There were several frantic calls to the resort, and to cell phones that went straight into voicemail because there was no service.

We all feared the worst.

Finally, we saw my dad’s car pull into the parking lot. I can’t even explain the relief that washed over me as the groomsmen rushed outside and wheeled him through the blustering wind and rain to the front door.

My dad had done it. He made it to the wedding.

And as he crossed the threshold, rolling safely inside, out of the storm — his head gently dropped to his chest.

And he took his last breath.

It was probably the most profound, sad, and life-changing moment I’ve ever experienced. In one instant, the lens through which I viewed the world shifted. It was the day I truly realized that time is finite, and I had to stop waiting for “someday.” It was the moment I realized I could be afraid, but I couldn’t let fear keep me from moving forward.

If my dad could make it to that church — if broken bones and oxygen tanks and wheelchairs couldn’t stop him — I could write a book.

So, I did. I wrote a book. And then I wrote another one. And then I wrote three more before finally landing an agent. That was eight years ago. And it took almost three years from then to land a deal with book packager Working Partners and see my first book published, and three more before my debut with Disney sold. It wasn’t easy.

But, if my dad could make it to that church — I could handle the rejection, the tough reviews, the waiting to hear on a submission.

I could make it to my own personal church.

And so can you. As I tell people during my speaking engagements — whatever your goal, wherever your church, whatever your destination, you can cross that threshold. You can make it.

Just don’t be afraid to take that first step.

So as I sign off here, I’d like to thank you for being part of my journey the last six years! It’s been a wonderful, inspiring ride so far. And, of course, I wish you all nothing but the best on your own travels through life!

(p.s. For those who are wondering, my brother did get married later that day, on the dance floor at what would have been the reception hall, circled by the guests holding hands, with my cousin singing Ave Maria a cappella. It was the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever attended, without a dry eye in the house, and I know Dad would be proud.)

Jan Gangsei won’t be blogging on the Mixed-Up Files anymore, but she’ll be hanging out in the comments every now and then, and you can find her at, and on Facebook and Twitter. Someday, she might even post something on Instagram.

My First ALA Annual Conference


A little over two weeks ago I got to attend my first ALA Annual conference. It was an exciting experience… and so exhausting. I was there not just as an attendee, but as an author. Lucky me!  I  was thrilled to be representing  three of my publishers: Charlesbridge, National Geographic Kids, and Nomad Press.

Why exhausting? I spent four days on  my feet about 10 hours a day discussing all things BOOKS.  It was awesome!

If you haven’t been to an ALA conference yet, you should go. It is definitely something to see if you love the literary world.

So what did I learn in my first adventure into ALA?

1) ALA is HUGE! Seriously. The room is massive and is FILLED with exhibits from every type of book imaginable: children’s (PB, CB, MG, YA), trade, educational, self-published,  Adult books of many different genres, graphic novels, and even self-help books. There are places to buy benches for your library, consultants to help you plan your technical needs, and also representatives from the Library of Congress and NASA.

My recommendation: Go in. Take a deep breath and get your bearings. It’s a lot to take in all at once.


This gives you an idea of the massive size of the convention area. This is one of their empty rooms. It  was actually twice this size. The other half stretched under the walkway I was on. See? HUGE


2)  Use your Conference Directory


Yes, it’s a massive tome in and of itself. But it has all of the information you need. In fact, take a good look through it and make notes of things you want to do and people you want to see. There is a comprehensive list of authors who will be signing and if you know where they are you can get in line… EARLY!

That will save you the time of seeing a huge line, wondering who is there, and walking around to see that you missed the one awesome kidlit author that you definitely wanted to meet.  (Yes, that happened to me a couple of times)

3) Get a COGNOTES every morning

20160709_140603 This is the newspaper that the conference puts out. Every morning at the top of the stairs, people are standing their handing these out. Many people (like me) don’t take one. That is not a good idea. This is a GREAT source of everything that is happening that day.




Every publisher is handing out books for FREE. They are just stacked on the tables and you can take them. It’s like being a kid in a free candy store.

People kept asking me “Would you like a book?”  UM YES!!


This is just one small stack of the 20 books we came home with!


5) Find the Book Buzz Theatre, the Pop Top Stage and the Graphic Novel &Gaming Stage

These stages host various authors and editor speakers talking about fascinating topics. I was thrilled to be on a panel with Anastasia Suen and Chris Barton talking about STEM books for kids!



6) Take time to meet up with author friends


With author Miranda Paul at the We Need Diverse Books Booth



Meeting author Sylvia Liu for the first time




7) Spend quality time with your editors


With Alyssa Mito Pusey of Charlesbridge Publishing


8) Talk to many wonderful librarians about your books!


Playing BRAIN GAMES at the Nat Geo Kids booth


Whew! Are you tired yet? And I didn’t even get to go to any of the hundreds of fascinating workshops and programs put on by amazing librarians, editors and authors.

There were so many things to do and see, you can’t possibly get to them all. So here is a short summation of some of the highlights of the conference:

For an amazing wrap up, I give you ALA Annual’s very own video. Go to this page and click on it:

The ALA Archives has a great summary of many of the wonderful presentations here:

Some fabulous images from ALAAC16 shared by School Library Journal here

Matt de la Peña gave an awesome  2016 Newbery acceptance speech.                        It is a must-read! You can find it on the Horn Book Website here 

So are you game? Plan to attend the next ALA conference?

Here is my final piece of advice : Try to pick a few events that you want to attend and then fill in the rest of the time just walking around and seeing it all.  But whatever you see and do, just drink it all in. After all, its ALL ABOUT BOOKS!!


***** Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 books, mostly about STEM, because, well, STEM ROCKS! You can find her at her website: