Photo by Lynn Trautmann/LTPhoto Evanston

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This winter, middle school librarians from schools throughout District 65 put their heads together to create a student-centered literature festival. After hearing about similar events in the western suburbs, the librarians decided to host their own festival geared toward sixth through eighth grade students from around the community. The District 65 team, comprised of Amy Odwarka (Haven), Kefira Phillipe (Nichols), Rika Soodek (Chute) and Tracy Hubbard (Bessie Rhodes), spearheaded this event in partnership with the Evanston Public Library and The Book Stall in Winnetka.

At the event held on Jan. 23, students heard from 10 different authors who discussed their passion for telling stories and why they chose to write books that appeal to young adults. After listening to the authors, students had the opportunity to select from nine different break-out sessions over the course of two hours. Sessions covered everything from “Writing on the Dark Side: Dystopian and Horror” to “How to Write with a Partner.” Several of the sessions featured a single author discussing the creative process for her/his book while other sessions had small panels focused on several pertinent topics. Each session allotted time for questions and answers so students could interact directly with the writers.

“You won’t do anything better than Lit Fest in your life,” said Litzy Segura, 8th grade student, when asked about her participation in the event.

For the last half hour of the festival, students were invited to stay for a “Book Signing Blitz” party. During this time, students had the opportunity to get books they purchased or brought with them autographed by the authors. Participants also enjoyed pizza donated by Whole Foods and Papa John’s.

“This festival is a wonderful example of District 65 working with community partners to bring our students real-world experiences. You know there is a buzz around town when 100 middle schoolers pick a literature festival as a way to spend their Saturday afternoon,” said Amy Odwarka, Haven Middle School Librarian. The event was free to participants. Students also received “swag bags” to take home – full of new books!

To make the first annual middle school literature festival possible, District 65 librarians collaborated with the Evanston Public Library and The Book Stall in Winnetka. Renee Neumeier, Young Adult Services Supervisor for the Evanston Public Library, and Robert McDonald of The Book Stall in Winnetka were instrumental in helping to make this festival a reality. The team is hoping to make this an annual event open not only to those living in Evanston/Skokie but to students from around the North Shore.