This article originally appeared in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, March 8, 2019.
Last week, students at several Valley schools were able to meet and learn from nationally-recognized authors and illustrators who created the books they have been reading this year.
The Texas Book Festival brought the Reading Rock Stars program back to the Rio Grande Valley last Thursday and Friday. The event brought nine authors/illustrators to schools in the Mission Consolidated Independent School District, La Joya Independent School District, Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, Weslaco Independent School District and Donna Independent School District.
Students at Midkiff got to hear Julissa Arce (author), Rafael López (illustrator) and Steven Weinberg (author and illustrator) speak on the process of creating a book and how they bring their ideas to life. Arce spoke to fourth and fifth grade, López spoke to pre-k, kindergarten and first grade and Weinberg spoke to second and third grade.
“Promoting literacy is a central part of our mission,” says Lea Bogner, Outreach Manager for Texas Book Festival. “For our eleventh year of Reading Rock Stars in the Rio Grande Valley, we’re proud to bring this celebrated, diverse group of authors and their important stories to these students.”
In addition to meeting these authors and illustrators, students were gifted autographed copies of their author’s book, handed to the kids by the creators themselves.
3,140 books were given to students in the RGV alone this year.
According to a press release from the Texas Book Festival, the annual literacy program “brings books to life for children in low-income schools by inviting authors and illustrators into classrooms with entertaining presentations that inspire students to read, write, and create.”
For López, showing students that success is possible for everyone is the best part about working with the Reading Rock Stars program.
“Part of the program is about connecting authors with the people we visit,” López said. “Being an immigrant from Mexico, I hope that when I talk to the kids, they can see themselves in me one day.”
López added that changing just one student’s life makes everything he does worth it, because that one kid will change the lives of two more, and so on. He said that literature introduces students to other ideas and cultures.
“It fosters tolerance,” López said. “We should show kids as many books as possible, so not only do they see people that are different than them, but people that look like them as well.”
According to López, empathy and understanding are deepened with a diverse reading list and library because of the varied perspectives and different struggles people face. He said that showing children real-life examples of diverse writers and illustrators who have gone through the process of creating a work of art fosters inspiration, and the Texas Book Festival wants to promote that.
“In the studio, you’re by yourself, you don’t have all these interactions,” López said. “And then you get here, and they [the students] are so excited to show you their work, so you see the connection there. There’s an affirmation that what I’m doing is making a difference.”
The Texas Book Festival was founded in 1995 by former First Lady Barbara Bush, Mary Margaret Farabee, and a group of volunteers as a non-profit in order to “inspire Texans of all ages to love reading.”
Since its inception, TBF has annual events other than their main weekend in Austin such as the Reading Rock Stars Title I program (for elementary schools), the Real Reads Title I program (for middle and high schools) and the Texas Teen Book Festival.
The Festival also provides grants to Texas libraries and year-round literary programming.
Midkiff Elementary Principal Dora Villalobos seemed excited and happy to see the students engaging with the authors and illustrators. She reminded students that what they learned from the authors applies to how they create their own stories.
“I always tell our Midkiff Mavericks that every time they’re reading, there’s a little movie in your mind,” Villalobos said. “There’s a huge connection with reading and writing, and having that comprehension of understanding what’s going on.”