The National Book Festival welcomes authors with tough but vulnerable characters

On Saturday, you’ll be able to see some of your favorite authors and illustrators in person at the National Book Festival, for the first time since covid-19 forced the event to go virtual two years ago.

Kwame Alexander, Mac Barnett, Sabaa Tahir and more than 40 other children’s book creators will speak at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in DC, with three stops for presentations and activities for toddlers, teens and kids. intermediate ages.

“Holy smoke! I’m thrilled,” David Bowles said of fellow Texas author Jennifer Ziegler during a panel at the festival. They’ll talk about their new mid-level books and tough-but-vulnerable characters.

Both authors, who are Mexican-Americans, draw on their own awkward, sometimes amusing, college experiences in their writing.

“The insecurities, the excitement, the terror, the mistakes — I can access this time like it was yesterday,” Ziegler told KidsPost by phone from his home near Austin.

In his novel “Worse“, the well-ordered world of its prickly seventh-grade protagonist is turned upside down by the recent stroke of his teacher mother. One thing that helps alleviate Worser’s sense of loss and confusion is a passion Ziegler shares: words. and word games.

“When I was a kid, I loved puns,” she said. “Mad Libs, Scrabble, crosswords. I would even invent my own. Now I often start the day with Wordle, or I write a little poem.

For Bowles, years in a high school rock band inform “They call her Fregona», his novel in verse. Its protagonist, Güero, creates a group with three friends named Bobby.

“The dynamics, the fights, the way we trained,” he said by phone from the Rio Grande Valley, where he lives. “I basically stole life.”

Another real-life inspiration is his wife, who models Güero’s brave and strong-minded girlfriend, Joanna.

“My wife is a real fregona, or tough girl,” he laughed. “That part with the bully’s arm?” In fact, she did this when she was a child.

Ziegler’s husband, Chris Barton, played more of an editorial role on “Worser.” Since he, too, is a children’s book author, he’s “my best first reader,” Ziegler said. “He would read my drafts and let me know when [the voice] sounded more Jenny than Pire.

Bowles and Ziegler are also quick to notice and listen to the young people around them. And they try to be true to the needs and feelings they observe or learn from.

When she taught middle school, Ziegler knew students who, like Worser, were sad, lonely, and overwhelmed. Although her character isn’t based on any one person and has her own “very precise, almost formal way of speaking,” she has the same feelings, she said.

Bowles warmly thanks the students of Pete Gallego Elementary School for the idea for his book. His novel in verseThey call me Guerowas just published several years ago, and he was talking about it at the school, which is in Eagle Pass on the Texas-Mexico border. The children surprised him with a dramatic reading of his poems, and then a group of girls approached. They wanted him to write a book centered on Joanna, who had only appeared a few times in “They Call Me Güero”.

“They felt she needed her own story,” he said. “And they were right. Thanks to these girls, I got to know Joanna. I have to write about what his family is going through and how Güero is trying to help. A whole new book. »

What: David Bowles and Jennifer Ziegler talk about their new books in a panel titled “Tough With a Gooey Center: Kids Learn to Be Themselves.”

Where: KidLit Stage, Hall B, National Book Festival, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place in Northwest Washington.

When: From 3 p.m. to 3:35 p.m., with signing afterwards in Hall C.

Other activities: Presentations by over 40 authors and illustrators for children and teens, story times and activities, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (doors open at 8:30 a.m.) on the Please Read Me a Story, KidLit and Young Adult stages.

For more information: For a calendar of authors and activities, visit

A reminder from the KidsPost team: Our stories are for ages 7-13. We welcome discussions from readers of all ages, but please follow our community guidelines and make comments appropriate for this age group.

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