Barbara Blain-Olds’ goal to bring the people of Conway together as “a city that reads,” has quickly taken root.
This year’s second River Read Festival, scheduled from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday at Conway’s Riverfront Park, will have something for all age groups – literally.
“I am absolutely elated about it,” said Blain-Olds, an attorney and a Conway city councilwoman who founded the festival, which debuted last year. “What started as an acorn became a 100-year-old oak in no time.”
The second River Read Festival should have mightier appeal than the first, though an estimated 400 people attended last year on a cool, rainy day.
More than 500 books will be given away to children – one book per child. Adults can participate (donating a book is not required) in a free book exchange.
Local and regional authors, including Jane Spillane and longtime University of South Carolina English department member Tom Mack, will speak. Local “heroes,” local police and fire department personnel, will be among storytellers reading to children.
“Tiara Twins” Acylesaundra and Giavanna, Johnsonville natives featured on TLC’s “Toddlers and Tiaras,” will crown winners of a “Happy, Healthy Baby and Kids Contest.” Elementary and high school students will compete in essay and poetry slam contests. Everyone is welcome to dress up and participate in parade of fictional characters.
Food and drink from Sonic Drive-In will be available for purchase.
“Getting the Tiara Twins in a huge boon for us,” said festival publicist Robin Kavanagh. “We have several attractions for adults and children – there’s something for everybody at the festival.”
Blain-Olds noted that the festival’s timing on “Drop Everything and Read” (DEAR) Day – was serendipitous. The birthday of popular children’s author Beverly Cleary, DEAR Day is supported by several national organizations, including Parent Teacher Association, National Education Association and the Newspaper Association of America.
Winners and finalists from 240 essays written by students in grades 2 through 5 on the theme, “Reading makes me ..” will be recognized and awarded prizes.
About 200 of the entries came from Conway’s Kingston Elementary School.
“I think the kids really liked it,” said Kingston principal Dawn Brooks. “We had some really good essays.”
Three of the eight poetry slam contestants are being chosen via YouTube through Wednesday for the finals, and will recite their poems on the center stage. The first River Read Festival featured only one poet.
Five of the poets are from North Myrtle Beach High School. Seven of the eight are girls.
“This makes poetry cool again,” said North Myrtle Beach High School English teacher Angela Robinette.
The main stage schedule kicks off at 11 a.m. with a welcome ceremony, a performance by the Browns Ferry Elementary School band and the Happy, Healthy Baby and Kids Contest.
Mack, author of “South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers,” will speak at about noon, followed by presentation of the essay contest winners.
Spillane, author of the recently published book, “My Life with Mickey,” about her adventures with her late husband, crime novelist Mickey Spillane, will speak at about 1 p.m., followed by the character parade.
The poetry slam finals – judges from Coastal Carolina University will determine the winner – headline the final hour. A short River Read Awards ceremony will wrap up the festivities. Kingston Elementary and North Myrtle Beach will be recognized for their strong contest participation.
Marsha Tennant, author of “Margaret, Pirate Queen,” a children’s adventure set along the Carolina coast, and Peter Warren, who recently completed his third book, “The Horry County Murders,” are among other speakers.
Blain-Olds said she was excited about attending what she hopes will continue as an annual event, though the date may be changed to May for milder weather. And not only because she gets to dress as the evil queen in “Snow White.”
All books left unclaimed from the exchange will go to Horry County literacy programs. River Read purchased its children’s books from Scholastic Inc. through Bridgewater Academy so the Myrtle Beach charter school could use purchase points to get more books through the distributor.
For more information on the River Read Festival, go to www.riverread.org.