Ten-year-old Mia Cheung colors an image of Harry Potter, one of her favorite literary characters, at the Access Books tent. (Photo courtesy of Maya Sabbaghian)
Portola High School

The L.A. Times Festival of Books encourages literacy rates in an immersive experience

With their parents in tow, hundreds of children ran around the USC campus engaging with different books and booths at the Festival of Books, on April 13 to 14. Through the numerous booths, book signings and story times, the Festival helps to instill a love for reading in children and raise literacy rates.

“Kids love books, but they still think of it as in a library or in school. Though, when you come to the LA Times Festival of Books, it’s like an immersive experience,” children’s author Bethany Barton said. “You see books everywhere, you get to talk about books, you get to meet book characters. It’s a whole world of books, and you get to be inside of it.”

In one area of the campus is the kids’ section, which includes a space for story time for younger children, as well as tents filled with children’s books of various genres that encourage children to read, ranging from picture books to some on multicultural heritage.

“I think the Festival of Books is a good way to share people’s imagination, and look at different things you may not have been interested in,” 10-year-old Penny Upstine said. “My favorite part was seeing different authors and how they were talking on the books that they wrote.”

Children in the kids’ section use markers to write the names of their favorite books on a wall sponsored by Target. (Photo courtesy of Maya Sabbaghian)

One important element of the Festival of Books and its encouragement of literacy rates is its partnership with Access Books, a nonprofit that serves, so far, 300 low-income public elementary schools and libraries in Los Angeles and beyond.

“Unfortunately, there are now no librarians [in these schools], and the books that these kids read are the books that they were given since the school was created,” Access Books lead Beatriz Valls said. “We give quality books, more than 6,000 every time, almost every Saturday. We bring books to elementary public schools. We transform the library by even bringing new shelves and making the shelves on-site, bringing rags, bringing sofas, painting the walls and painting murals on it — all in one morning.”

Access Books had its own large area in the children’s section that encouraged children to engage in reading through art. For example, children could color outlines of their favorite characters or enjoy the murals painted by high school students of prominent and inspiring role models, such as Frida Kahlo, or of book covers, such as “Wonder.”

Valls and a team of high school volunteer artists all work on murals that encourage children to engage with literature. (Photo courtesy of Maya Sabbaghian)

“The L.A. Times chose the nonprofit Access Books as their partner,” Valls said. “They gave us a booth and we planned and created a whole event where high school students are inspiring elementary students to read through the arts, which is something we support clearly through multiculturalism, diversity and inclusivity. High school students are segments of society that elementary students can aspire to become.”

The Festival offered a unique experience for children to engage in various literature across the USC campus and booths throughout, all in one large and busy space.

“The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is such a great central community event, where literally tens of thousands of people will come and be excited about books and be in one space as a community,” visitor Trista Bearde said. “There’s art, music, poetry. There’s a lot of educational support resources that many people may not know about or have access to. I think it’s nice to bring people together to celebrate learning and celebrate reading.”