Summer Brenner glided through the noisy throng of kids and parents, smiling and shaking hands and patting shoulders. The children didn’t know the author by name or face, but many were familiar with her work.
“To walk into rooms with hundreds of kids who have read my book and who are excited about reading,” Brenner said, nearly shouting over the festive din. “Is unbelievably satisfying, especially since it’s a book about Richmond, a book that connects the kids to the place they live.”
Despite intermittent rain showers that forced the planned outdoor festival into the Nystrom Elementary School auditorium, Saturday’s 2nd annual “Richmond Tales” Family Literacy Festival drew nearly 500 kids and parents.
More than 1,000 books were given free to local kids, thanks mostly to donations from West County Reads, a volunteer organization that collects books from local communities. (Richmond Tales was on sale for $10)
This year’s festival featured was marked by a “grow at home” theme that emphasized community gardens, urban agriculture, and healthy foods. The theme also incorporated elements of Brenner’s 2009 book, “Richmond Tales: Lost Secrets of the Iron Triangle,” which is the literary centerpiece of the event.
“The book has a lot of different aspects and positive angles that we can use as a theme to our event,” said Tana Monteiro, co-organizer of the event and Community Liaison at Richmond College Prep Schools, another event sponsor. “This year’s focus is on Richmond’s urban gardens and on eating a fresh, healthy and sustainable diet.”
In Richmond Tales, which has become a staple in local elementary schools, a diverse cast of youthful characters embark on a journey through time and space in discovery of the “lost secrets” of the Iron Triangle. The trek spans the pre-colonial Richmond of the native Ohlone tribe, the early 20th Century period when Richmond was a small oil town, the WWII boom years and a jump into the glittering future of mid-21st Century Richmond, which the protagonists have helped to build into a peaceful, architecturally pleasing oasis where all food is organic and locally grown.
“It’s a very hopeful story, but in a way that tries to be authentic so that it will resonate with the kids who read it,” Brenner said.
The themes and activities and the celebration of local literature are all brought together with a larger goal in mind, said Kevin Hufferd, chair of West County Reads, a volunteer group that seeks to promote literacy and book disbursement in Contra Costa County. “In our neighborhoods, there are many homes with fewer than five books, or no books at all,” Hufferd said. “That is still a challenge that we need overcome. There is nothing better than seeing a child who is excited about a book.”