Kidlit Pizzazz Festival
Sidekick Coffee and Books, Iowa City -- Saturday, Nov. 5 and Sunday, Nov. 6
Sidekick Coffee and Books has cozy green couches and private booths. It has a long coffee bar, complete with pastries and ice cream. But apart from its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, the bookstore’s most prominent feature is the children’s section. Rows of children’s books cover two walls and surround three hexagon-shaped reading nooks.
Katy Herbold, the owner of Sidekick, is a self-described child lit aficionado. She previously worked as a first- and second-grade teacher, as well as teaching English as a second language, and is a mother to three young boys, her “sidekicks.”
Sidekick has books for adults, too, but unlike many bookstores, children and young adult literature are in the spotlight here. Last year, Herbold decided to celebrate children’s literature with the Kidlit Pizzazz Festival, an event featuring local children’s authors and illustrators, book readings and signings, outdoor games and more.
“It was fantastic. It was a better turnout than we ever could have hoped for,” Herbold said. “So many books were flying off the shelves.”
She estimates that around 200 people showed up for the festival. They sold $4,000 worth of books during the two-hour event.
“We knew immediately we wanted to do it again,” she said. “This year, we went back and made a few changes.”
This year, the Kidlit Pizzazz Festival will last two days instead of two hours and will feature authors and illustrations from adjacent states like Illinois. The festival will also have five workshops, mostly geared for children 2 years and older.
In Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s workshop, the author and illustrator will read from her latest book, Always by My Side: A Stuffie Story, while parents, kids and their stuffed friends drink cider and eat cake bombs. Afterwards, participants will create sparkly head pieces for their stuffies, and Reinhardt will personalize a ceramic teacup with a drawing of their stuffie.
Claudia McGehee will show kids how to create three-dimensional shadow boxes, made from recycled boxes, scratchboard and other materials in the Scratching the Seasons workshop. The shadowboxes will showcase a tallgrass or woodland setting during the fall or winter. McGehee will hold a reading from her book, Begin with a Bee. This workshop is for kids aged 7 and up.
Author Michelle Edwards will teach attendees how to embroider a simple image during her workshop, Smiling Moons. The embroidering, using yarn on burlap, mirrors the introduction to her book, Me and the Boss: A Story About Mending and Love.
“It’s a beautiful story. I read it to my son the other night at bedtime, my 7-year-old, and I said, ‘How did you feel after reading this?’ And he said, ‘I felt very calm, and I felt proud,’” Herbold said. “And I thought that was a really big insight, and I don’t know how you get a kid to say that when they’re 7 years old. So bravo to Michelle.”
In Writing A Sense of Place, Lin Thompson will teach young writers, aged 8 to 12, how to make environments feel real. The group will practice their skills through different exercises, like creating a description of Sidekick, and focusing on senses like smell, touch and taste, instead of just sight and sound.
“Lin just does an incredible job of reaching the audience in that workshop, teaching how writers how to write sense of place and bringing the reader into the story,” Herbold said. “I think it’s going to be incredible. My fifth grader signed up for that workshop.”
In the final workshop, Norene Paulson will talk with adults who want to become kidlit authors. She’ll discuss her journey into children’s publishing, how to brainstorm story ideas, the submission process, snagging a publishing deal and a Q&A session.
The workshops cost $35 each and are limited to 20 people. Interested readers and writers can register online. Depending on the workshop, registration includes a copy of a book, some food and drinks and/or a notebook.
The festival will also host Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Jill Esbaum, Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia, McKinzie Rekers and Tess Weaver. Unlike last year, the festival expanded the pool of authors and illustrators beyond Iowa’s borders but limited the selection to those who have been published within the last five years.
Herbold is excited for Esbaum and her book, Jack Knight’s Brave Flight, a nonfiction picture book about the titular pilot’s 1921 flight through a blizzard that saved the U.S. Air Mail Service. Several scenes in the book take place in Iowa City, and Esbaum released the book at the Iowa City Airport.
“A lot of these picture books came out during COVID, and they never got the really big splash that they deserved,” Herbold said. “I’m happy to celebrate them with this festival.”
The Kidlit Pizzazz Festival is coming to Sidekick on Saturday, Nov. 5 and Sunday, Nov. 6. An event featuring games, music, a gift buffet and signings with the 10 authors and illustrators will occur Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.
“I was excited to see kids come back into the store, because that’s the part I missed when I was curbside for so long,” Herbold said.