I recently had the pleasure of attending the Children’s Art & Literacy Festival in Abilene, Texas! You may not know that Austin and I used to live in Abilene. He grew up there and we met while both attending Abilene Christian University. Over the last decade, we’ve seen this beautiful quiet town take off in development! The people are what make this place so special and the secret is finally getting out! This year the C.A.L.F. set a new attendance record, hovering around 5,500 registered attendees!
What is the C.A.L.F.?
To start, Abilene is the Storybook Capital of America. It’s home to the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, a museum that rotates installments of original illustration pieces from some of the most renowned artists in the industry.
The Children’s Art & Literacy Festival is an annual event that emphasizes the importance of families, art, and literacy. It takes place the second weekend in June.
The C.A.L.F. celebrated its 10th anniversary this year by honoring the work that Sophie Blackall has given to children’s literature. This three day event consisted of dramatic readings, interactive shows, educational workshops, hands-on extension activities, and community involvement all centered around children’s literacy. The joyful smiles and giggles were impossible to miss.
Here’s an outline of what I did in two days. . .
If it seems like a lot, that’s because it was! This festival was packed with activities!
- Dramatic Reading of Finding Winnie
- Meet and Greet with Sophie Blackall
- Musical Performance by Joe McDermott
- Cookie Decorating
- Petting Zoo
- Kornpop Balloon Art Interactive Show
- Nancy & Her Friends ventriloquist show
- Dramatic Reading of Hello Lighthouse
- Birds of Prey presentation
- Puppet Show by Gepetto’s Marionette Theater
- Dinner with Sophie Blackall
- Meet the Storybook Characters in the Sculpture Garden
- Dramatic Reading of Wombat Walkabout
- Dramatic Reading of The Mighty Lalouche
- Dramatic Reading of Big Red Lollipop
- Dramatic Reading of Negative Cat
- Dramatic Reading of No, David Read and Dog on a Bicycle (previously honored author/illustrator David Shannon)
- Hands-on activities and experiments connected to Blackall’s books
- Reading aloud to therapy dogs
- Storybook Train Ride
- Live performance “Wild Boars Cook: Live!”
- Instrument Petting Zoo
- Live performance “Ivy + Bean: The Musical”
I started the morning in the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL), where we listened to a vibrant reading of Finding Winnie, the book for which Sophie Blackall’s sculpture was created. More on that later!
I met Sophie Blackall and had my copy of Finding Winnie signed. It was such a treat meeting her!
After leaving the NCCIL, I walked down Cypress Street to find Stilt Walkers entertaining kids with exciting costumes and dance moves.
My next stop was at Minter Park, where I saw Joe McDermott perform his original silly songs and poems. He had both kids and adults captivated with his wit and humor!
Did I mention that it was a weekend of record breaking heat?! Well, next I stopped at Monks Coffee Shop, an Abilene staple, and ordered an iced lavender vanilla latte. Amazing, 10/10 def recommend.
With my coffee, I headed across the street to McKay’s Bakery, another unofficial Abilene landmark, for cookie decorating. McKay’s set up a decorating station within their bakery for kids (and adults) to try their hand at the culinary arts!
As I made my way to the next scheduled event, there were so many examples of community involvement. Students from a local private school volunteered to host a face painting and hair chalk station that STAYED BUSY! This was the place to be in between readings and performances!
Once I made my way to the Convention Center, I spent a few minutes outside before heading in. Along with a petting zoo, there was chalk galore on the front patio, an invitation for children to express their creativity throughout the event. There was also a chalk art installment by a local artist that represented the lighthouse from Blackall’s illustrations in the book Hello Lighthouse.
Inside the Convention Center, I watched the adorable Kornpop Balloon Art Interactive Show. Kornpop (yes, that is his real name) had every kid mesmerized with balloon art and magic tricks. They loved him!
After the silliness at Kornpop, I walked to the historic Paramount Theater to watch an educational show titled “Nancy & Her Friends.” This was my favorite show of the weekend! Nancy is a skilled ventriloquist and kept her audience (kids and adults) captivated with interesting facts about butterflies and spiders and funny jokes from her puppet children.
Next up was a short walk to Nora Hall to listen to a read aloud of Hello Lighthouse. After each read aloud, there was a related craft for children to complete!
I had a quick lunch at The Local before heading over to Frontier Texas for some outdoor fun! There, I learned about hawks, vultures, and owls, and the Birds of Prey show. I also got to get up close and personal with the most adorable warthogs I’ll ever see! Remember, each event connects to Blackall’s books. These two were extensions of The Crows of Pearblossom and Meet Wild Boars.
Last event of the day was a marionette show at The Well put on by Gepetto’s Marionette Theater from Dallas.
I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literacy, where we all got to observe a Q & A with Blackall. It was spectacular!
First up on Saturday was Meet the Storybook Characters in the Sculpture Garden located next to the Convention Center. I found Winnie, as well as many other characters!
I stopped for another coffee at Monks and headed to the Grace museum for two dramatic readings: Wombat Walkabout and The Mighty Lalouche.
Next were two more dramatic readings at the Community Foundations Center: Big Red Lollipop and Negative Cat.
No, David Read and Dog on a Bicycle dramatic readings (honoring David Shannon from years past) were presented at the Majestic Theater.
At the Center for Contemporary Arts, was a “STEAM Room” full of hands-on activities and experiments that were extensions of Blackall’s books. “STEAM” stands for Science Technology Engineering Art and Math.
They also had an area for children to practice reading aloud to therapy dogs provided by Hendrick Pets.
I stopped for a quick turkey sandwich at Cypress Street Café and then was off to the Storybook Train Ride at the T & P Depot!
One of my favorite shows was the Wild Boars Cook: Live! Show presented by Abilene Christian University’s theater department at the Abilene Public Library!
The afternoon ended with a unique experience, an Instrument Petting Zoo at the Wooten! This event allowed children to explore all kinds of instruments, providing early exposure to musical arts.
I wrapped up the weekend’s event on Saturday night with a live performance of Ivy + Bean: The Musical at the Paramount theater. It was the perfect way to wrap up a weekend of children’s literacy and honor Sophie Blackall’s work.
What a fantastic experience! This event is incredibly centered around the child’s experience, making it the perfect family friendly summer bucket list event! If you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, or bookworm, the Children’s Art and Literacy Festival is a must!