Children’s Books Host a Party

Local authors convene for storytelling, music, and more.

Which book was the first one you ever loved? The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education remembers those magical can’t-put-it-down moments at its fourteenth annual Celebration of Children’s Literature on Saturday, April 12 in Tolman Hall. Storytelling by Joel ben Izzy and others, live music by Gary Lapow, and a capering costumed Curious George augment signings by numerous local authors including Gennifer Choldenko, Elisa Kleven, Thacher Hurd, LeUyen Pham, Jane Wattenberg, and Oliver Chin, who writes and illustrates children’s books himself and publishes those by others. Due out later this year from Chin’s company, Immedium, are The Octonauts and the Frown Fish, Welcome to Monster Isle, and The Woollyhoodwinks vs. The Dark Patch, among others.

Also signing is Marissa Moss, the Berkeley-based author of Brave Harriet, Amelia’s Itchy-Twitchy, Lovey-Dovey Summer at Camp Mosquito, and many more. “I read widely when I was a kid, going to the library every week for a teetering pile of books,” she remembers. “I just always liked telling myself stories and drawing pictures to go with them. I still do.” Researching works of historical fiction such as Rose’s Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression and Rachel’s Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl is “like going on a vacation, a journey to another place and another time. I generally spend about six months reading before I start to write, going from general information first to more and more detailed books. … Usually I read over a hundred books, information that gets filtered down into the one book I write. I also travel to the relevant historical places.” Before writing Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome, she lived in Rome for a year: “A tough job, but someone’s got to do it.”

Children’s-book authors face a challenge today, Moss says, as they “have to make books as compelling and immediately engaging as computer and video games. I think once kids read my books they have that kind of response, but first they have to get their hands on them. School libraries are important for that and unfortunately they have less and less money for books.” Right now, she’s working on a novel “based on the life of a woman who dressed up as a man and fought in the Civil War.” Moss is prolific; already in the works is another new novel “about a contemporary Egyptian-American girl solving an ancient Egyptian murder mystery. The mystery is real, but the girl is an invented character, and the solution is one I’m hoping the reader will agree with since it’s my own theory, not something I found in any of the books I read doing research.” That one will be illustrated with just a few black-and-white sketches, unlike most of Moss’ works: “It was scary to do a book almost entirely in words.” 11:30 a.m.


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