YAK Fest - The Young Adult Keller Book Festival - is an annual event geared towards Keller ISD teens in middle and high school. It is a day of fun and education, and gives students a chance to meet young adult fiction authors and flex their own writing muscles.
The event also draws students from across the region. Timber Creek High School librarian Brandy Abbott, who has volunteered and helped plan the event, says that they come from as far as Mount Vernon in East Texas.
This year’s event is January 28 at Central High School. We talked with librarians, teachers, students, and authors who have participated to find out what makes this event unique and inspirational.
Kerri Harris, librarian at Hillwood Middle School, is the YAK Fest Coordinator for the second year in a row. She highlights how this event is not only a meaningful experience for students, but also for the teachers involved.
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“The reader/fangirl in me gets such a kick out of working with these authors on a professional level. Getting emails from the author whose book you love is so fun! When I tell the students who is coming each year and I show them the books that the participating authors write, they get so excited,” she says.
Love of Literature
Brandi Morehead, who teaches eighth grade English at Hillwood Middle School, spends the whole first semester preparing her students for this event. She begins the school year by sharing her love of reading and asking her students if they consider themselves readers.
“To be honest,” she says, “only 15 percent of my children ever say they believe they are readers. The rest will hesitate or lower their heads as if in shame. I assure them that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that more than likely they have just not found THE BOOK that will change their reading perceptions.”
Slowly and steadily, Morehead introduces the kids to a variety of books and authors. By the time YAK Fest comes around, they have had months of exposure to the writers who will be attending as well as a wealth of thought-provoking questions to ask and consider.
Last year 85 of her students attended YAK Fest.
“When asked what theme song they would choose for the YAK Fest, child after child exclaimed ‘I’m So Happy’ by Pharrell and I know why,” explains Morehead. “The YAK Fest for this age group is like going to the fair for the very first time as a small child. With music, food, and entertainment, it offers an adventure for each soul. Everyone is excited; everyone is elated at the possibilities of meeting a lifelong mentor or inspiration.”
For many students, it isn’t the excitement that motivates them to attend YAK Fest, but their grades. Many teachers assign extra credit for attendance, knowing there is much more value to be found.
“When I see those kids who just came for the extra credit and I hear them ask the authors questions, and I watch them run back to their friends to show the autograph they just got, well, it shows me they are really there for more,” says Harris. “The literature-rich environment and the fact that their teachers are also there sharing in the experience makes YAK Fest something that benefits the students in more ways than one.”
“It helps build a reading community and encourages teens to read about characters that are like them. Teenagers don’t always see their own world reflected back to them in their books, but meeting the authors and knowing them as people, rather than just a name on the cover of a book, shows the teens that life experiences can motivate them in ways they never thought,” she adds.
That newfound love of reading is something that Hillwood teacher and parent Stephanie Skinner has seen firsthand. “My son has never been excited about reading until he attended YAK Fest last year. His real reason for going was to earn extra points on an assignment,” says Skinner.
“He met authors and listened to them talk about how they developed stories. All of a sudden, he started making connections and realizing that a person with hobbies, a family, and a story to tell wrote the books he was ‘forced’ to read. Since last year’s YAK Fest, he has attended another book conference, written to and received responses from authors, and is genuinely interested in choosing books to read.”
Words of Wisdom
Students and teachers who attend come away with advice that is not only inspirational, but also practical.
“Hearing the authors speak at YAK Fest has given me a whole new way to talk to students about books,” says Abbott. “It gets a student’s attention when I point to the book they’re holding and say, ‘that author told me this was one of her favorite books to write,’ or ‘the author of that book says this heroine is her favorite character of all her novels.’ It gives the student another layer of curiosity and more motivation to read that book.”
Timber Creek High School senior Megan Degner says, “I love being able to talk to the authors and react to their explanations about their books. It’s also great to get advice about writing and learn how authors go through the writing process.”
Hillwood student Nafisa Yusufali says said she loves “the entire ambiance and organization of the event. You can tell the authors are having fun.”
She adds, “I also learned a lot about my own writing there, from how the publishing process works to how important it is to outline and edit your story as much as you can. All in all, it was a great experience, and I will definitely go back this year.”
For the authors who attend, many of whom return the next year, that connection goes both ways. They answer questions in discussion panels and also have hangout time to talk one-on-one in the Escape Hatch.
“Connecting with teen readers is by far the best part of my job as an author, so I love an event that prioritizes finding opportunities for us to hang out with them,” says Chandler Baker. He is the author of young adult thriller “Alive” and the High School Horror series.
In 2016, Baker participated in a panel. This year she will be leading the writing workshop.
“What keeps me coming back to YAK Fest is the level of interaction that authors get with students at the event. Both the writing workshop and the Escape Hatch are specifically set up to facilitate in-depth conversations between authors and readers so that we can dialogue about what we're all reading and writing. There are lots of aspiring authors in attendance, too!”
Dream a Little Dream
YAK Fest is in its sixth year and each seems to be bigger than the previous one. Lucy Kubo, library media and technology specialist at Keller High School, is one of the creators and has continued to help in planning each festival.
“When I started planning the first YAK Fest for 2012, my dream was that it would be a celebration for teens who love to read and an encouragement for those who had not yet discovered the pleasure to be found in books,” she says.
“Every January I’m delighted to see young people sharing their enthusiasm with one another and with the authors whom they admire. I’m thrilled that the festival has grown and become well-known in YA literature circles.”
Keller High School eleventh-grader Anna Altman summarizes the whole event perfectly: “YAK Fest has been, and continues to be, a simple whirlwind of sweets, insanity, and (of course) literature. I spend most of the year looking forward to it.”
YAK Fest 2017
January 28, 2017
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
at Central High School
9450 Ray White Rd, Keller, TX 76244
Free admission; food and books available for purchase
Contact email@example.com or
call 817-744-1422 for more information.