It could be a positive sign for literature if hundreds of children turn out with their parents to hear four popular children’s book authors and illustrators speak and request autographs at an Octavia Books-sponsored event at 6 p.m. Friday at Metairie Park Country Day School.
The authors are in New Orleans attending a conference of the International Reading Association, the world’s leading organization of literacy professionals.
Tom Lowenburg, owner of Octavia Books, said children’s book authors bring out crowds. The room was packed when his store hosted Mary Pope Osborne, creator of the “Magic Tree House” books, he said.
Jeff Kinney (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”), Jon Scieszka (“Frank Einstein”), Dav Pilkey (“The Adventures of Captain Underpants”) and illustrator Dan Santat (“Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot”) will discuss their latest volumes and answer questions from elementary and middle school students.
“I love that kids in this day and age care about books,” said Kinney, who moonlights as an exceptionally successful children’s book author while holding down a day job designing virtual worlds on computers for kids.
Though a programmer by trade, Kinney prefers a physical book to an e-book because he believes a “permanent object” in children’s hands becomes more beloved with multiple readings.
Kinney’s books combine text and comic book-like drawings that captivate kids’ imagination.
Because the Internet has raised kids’ expectations for colorful and exciting graphics, every page of his books features a “hybrid” format.
Pilkey is the author of the “Captain Underpants” series, which includes 10 books translated into 20 languages. He said he writes kids’ stories that are empowering.
“Adults are always telling them what to do and restricting them from doing what they want. So kids really respond to stories where children are in charge. It’s pure wish fulfillment,” he said.
As a child, Pilkey was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and he was slow to begin reading.
“I wasn’t a reluctant reader. I was an avoid-it-at-all-costs reader,” he wrote in a recent email.
“Now I write the kind of books I would have liked to read,” he told Susan Larson in an interview on WWNO-FM’s “The Reading Life.”
Pilkey said he also was a “wimpy kid.”
Both Kinney and Pilkey create cartoon characters who are anti-heroes — children who really don’t fit into the grade school culture but who triumph over bullies, parents and other persecutors.
Pilkey’s “Underpants” books are supposedly “written” by their main characters, fourth-graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins.
“I purposely designed each book so they would not only be fun to read, they’d be easy to read. Each story has short chapters and pictures on every page, but the humor is aimed squarely at third- and fourth-graders,” Pilkey wrote.
He uses imagery and language drawn from fan mail to make them consistent with the drawings of those age groups.
Pilkey’s “Ricky Ricotta” series, recently released with illustrations by Santat, was inspired by his own childhood fantasy of having a giant robot as a best friend. Sadly, his dad’s golf clubs taped to the vacuum cleaner did not work as he had hoped.
Admission to the event at Metairie Park Country Day School, 300 Park Road, Metairie, is $10 and counts toward the pre-purchase of books at the event or a signed copy of Scieszka’s forthcoming “Frank Einstein” or Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” later this year.
Tickets are available at www.octaviabooks.com.