2023 Children’s Literature Symposium Brings the Heart of Children’s Literature to the High Country

The sixth biennial Children’s Literature Symposium returned to Appalachian State University’s campus on April 1, 2023. Hosted by App State’s University Libraries and the Reich College of Education (RCOE), this year’s event featured award-winning authors Jeff Zentner, Raúl the Third and Rajani LaRocca and focused on the theme of “Stories and Music Across Cultures.” These children’s book authors offered a window into the worlds of characters who explore and claim agency in their lives and evoke empathic responses from their readers.

Created in 2011, the symposium is designed to raise awareness of the importance and critical role of children’s and young adult literature in the lives of children, adolescents and educators.

La Rocca at the Children's Literature SymposiumRajani La Rocca presenting at the Children's Literature Symposium on the campus of App State. Photo submitted.

In addition to the keynote presentations from La Rocca, Zentner, and Raúl The Third, the symposium included professional development workshops designed to introduce new titles in children’s literature and help teachers, librarians, and App State education majors learn techniques for incorporating poetry, fiction, and non-fiction into their instruction.  

“Participants were invited to personally experience the power of children’s novels and picture books by attending this year’s symposium,” said Dr. Margaret Gregor, Coordinator of the Instructional Materials Center within University Libraries and the Martha and Nancy Lee Bivens Distinguished Professor for Children and Reading.

Academy at Elkin staff at the Children's Literature SymposiumFrom left to right, Willow Larson, Gilly Hill, and Emma Hatfield-Sidden, all from App State's Academy at Elkin, hold up books from each of the authors at the Children's Literature Symposium. Photo submitted.

Over the years, more than 500 teachers and librarians have attended the symposium to discover new ways to teach with literature and to engage children in reading. Additionally, previous symposium authors have made a lasting impression on more than 3,000 children, encouraging them to read and write stories and poetry, said Gregor. 

This year, the participants noted many takeaways from the symposium and workshops:

  • “I learned the power of poetry and giving students a quick opportunity to express themselves.”
  • “Hearing from children’s literature authors and illustrators about how to incorporate their work into my future classroom.”
  • “New authors and new stories to share with students.”
  • “I loved how the authors shed light on how they begin to write and create characters and storylines for their books.”
  • “The importance of mentor texts for creating poetry and how they can be connected to social-emotional learning in your classrooms.”

Literacy-related experiences 

Zentner and Raúl the Third also visited with approximately 550 students from regional schools including:

  • App State Academy at Elkin in Elkin.
  • Elkin Elementary in Elkin.
  • Watauga County High School in Boone.
  • Wilkesboro Elementary School in Wilkesboro.

All of these schools are part of App State’s Public School Partnership, which has existed for more than 35 years to maintain a “strong collaborative program between the university and area public schools,” said Dr. Beth Frye, professor and assistant chair in the Department of Reading Education and Special Education. 

The Children’s Literature Symposium supports students, teachers, librarians/school media specialists and administrators by providing professional learning opportunities, said Frye, and the visits to partnership schools foster literacy engagement. 

“Authors interact directly with young readers, create connections with students and facilitate knowledge-building experiences around their writing processes,” said Frye. “They read aloud books that illuminate their lived experiences and reflect the diversity of students’ interests, backgrounds and languages. These learning opportunities align with App State’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusive excellence.”

App State faculty offer professional developmentFrom left to right, Emily Fee, Beth Buchholz, Beth Frye, and Amber Phillips prepare for Raúl the Third's visit to App State's Academy at Elkin. Photo submitted.

Dr. Beth Buchholz, associate professor and director of the reading education program at App State, and Frye provided professional development to the participating partnership schools prior to the school visits in order to “foster more interactive literacy engagement”. 

Raul the Third at Wilkesboro Elementary School's food truckStudents at Wilkesboro Elementary School visit Pepe's Taco Truck as part of Raúl the Third's visit to their school. Photo submitted.

In addition to the author visits, Wilkesboro Elementary School arranged for community-based connections with the texts - a visit from Pepe’s Taco Truck, similar to the one featured in Raúl’s book “¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat”.

“We loved visiting with Raúl the Third as part of App State’s Children’s Literature Symposium,” exclaimed Becki Spears, principal of Wilkesboro Elementary School. “We’ve been devouring his dual-language books all week, and today, Raúl inspired us with his stories of growing up, finding inspiration in ordinary life, and making pictures mean something!” 

“We loved drawing with him, communicating in English and Spanish, and learning the origin of the Punk Nopal,” she added. “We celebrated with churros for everyone from Pepe’s Taco Truck!”

Raul the Third at Academy at Elkin with studentRaúl the Third highlights artwork from one of the students at App State's Academy at Elkin. Photo submitted.

Emma Hatfield-Sidden, principal of App State’s Academy at Elkin, noted, “Our mini-Mountaineers had the most amazing time visiting with author Raúl the Third!” 

“He spent time with us connecting his books and illustrations to his life and the lives of our students,” she continued. “We laughed at his stories, listened to him read parts of his books, illustrated pictures together, and made new friends. We’re so thankful for these opportunities to enrich our lives!” 

Zentner at Watauga High SchoolJeff Zentner shares his writing process with students at Watauga High School. Photo submitted.

Adrienne Stumb, an English teacher at Watauga High School, recounted the visit with Zentner: “We had a student who came back to talk with Mr. Zentner and impressed upon him how important his book was to him because his family background shared similarities to that of the main character.”

Stumb also noted that the student wrote poetry to perform at the school’s open mic night. “He has brought me two drafts, is checking out poetry books from the library, and has signed up for creative writing next year. This stems from having the opportunity to read this book and meet an author."

Other participants at the symposium commented on their school’s author visit, noting the value of bringing in an author allowed for a direct connection to the students, which was very beneficial to the students. 

Meet the authors 

Jeff Zentner 

Zentner, who lives in Nashville, is the author of “The Serpent King” and “In the Wild Light” — both hailed as New York Times Notable Books — as well as “Goodbye Days” and “Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee.” Among other honors, he has won the ALA’s William C. Morris Award, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award twice, the Muriel Becker Award, the International Literacy Association Award, and been long-listed twice for the Carnegie Medal. 

He’s a two-time Southern Book Prize finalist and was a finalist for the Indies Choice Award. He was selected as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and an Indies Introduce pick. His books have been translated into 15 languages. Before becoming a writer, he was a musician who recorded with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and Debbie Harry. 

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years. 

Raúl the Third

Raúl the Third — whose full name is Raúl González III — is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning illustrator, author and artist living in Boston. 

His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and incorporates both Spanish and English, creating a multilingual reading experience. 

His books have received many honors. “¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge” was named one of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2021 by the New York Times and the New York Public Library, and he is adapting the World of Vamos books into an animated television series with Silvergate Media and Mercury Filmworks. 

He has received Pura Belpré Awards for several of his works including “¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market,” “¡Vamos! Let’s go Eat” and “Lowriders to the Center of the Earth.” “Lowriders in Space” was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016–17. 

He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series and is the co-creator of “Strollercoaster” with Matthew Ringler and Elaine Bay from Little Brown and Company.

Raúl is currently collaborating with New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds on “Stuntboy, In-Between Time,”  the sequel to their New York Times bestselling and Schneider Family Award Honor Book for Middle Grades, “Stuntboy, in the Meantime.”

Rajani LaRocca

LaRocca is a physician and award-winning author of books for young people. She was born in Bangalore, India, immigrated to the U.S. as a baby and spent most of her childhood in Louisville, Kentucky. 

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she’s been working as a primary care internal medicine physician since 2001. 

LaRocca has written award-winning books for young readers including novels and picture books — both fiction and nonfiction — in prose and poetry. Her middle grade novel in verse, “Red, White, and Whole,” won a 2022 Newbery Honor, the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Award, the 2022 Golden Kite Award and the 2021 New England Book Award, among other honors. 

She is the author of numerous other acclaimed novels and picture books, including “Midsummer’s Mayhem” and “Seven Golden Rings.” She also co-hosts the podcast, STEM Women in KidLit.

Children's Literature Symposium handouts
Published: Jun 23, 2023 9:24am