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Book Festival: Authors share stories, visions, experiences

Children's author and musician Doug Wood reads from a copy of his book, "No One But You." The illustrations are by P.J. Lynch. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -Storm clouds and winds did not deter eager young readers and their families from seeing and hearing children's author and illustrator Nancy Carlson for the morning program of the Bemidji Book Festival at the library Thursday.

Carlson has authored and illustrated more than 60 books that capture her enthusiasm for life. She is also noted for the ability to help children cope with challenges in their lives.

"They can learn that they don't have to be perfect to be a good person," she said.

Carlson's afternoon workshop, held at Headwaters School for Music and the Arts, called for people interested in learning how to illustrate books for children. She told the story of how she knew that she wanted to be an artist way back in kindergarten, but her parents wanted her to be able to get a "real" job. So she spent a year in college, where she did not like the subjects she had to take, and then she decided to go to a school to take the subjects she did want to take. A graduate of the Minneapolis College of Arts and Design with a major in print making, she told the audience that the instructor for the one course she took in illustration told her that illustration "was not her thing." The audience members laughed and also felt thankful that she did not take his advice

Carlson realized early on that she liked to add a sentence or two or a title for each of her drawings. She also told of the many, many sketch books she has filled with images.

"Your sketch books should be filled, because once you have drawn something it is yours. You can use it again and again," Carlson said. "I admit to being a spy as well. I watch what people are doing and what they are saying and think of them dressed as bunnies or some other animal."

Carlson also admits that some of her stories deal with situations that relate directly to one of her three children. The book "Sit Still" is about her son Patrick who could never sit still. Her son Michael was the smallest student in his classes, so she wrote the book "Think Big" to help him through the years of being the last one picked.

One of her characters, Henry, returns again when something new needs to be learned or taught. The variety and type of children's books she writes and illustrates goes from theme books where each page stands on its own, like "Smile A Lot," to those designed to encourage students, such as "I Don't Like to Read," for the reluctant reader.

The last presenter of the day was Douglas Wood, an author and storyteller with more than two million copies of his books in print. There was something magical about a group of adults listening intently to the reading of a children's book. The smiles and nods, and the occasional satisfied "ah" and "oh yes," and the remembering of their own childhood, were proof of the storyteller's ability to reach all ages and lift the human spirit.

Wood spoke about early books of his, "Old Turtle" and "Grandad's Prayers of the Earth," written about his own grandfather, which are international classics. "Old Turtle" is now owned by Scholastic Press and is in a new edition.

Wood also sang and played his guitar and talked about how he laid his guitar aside for years until his son asked him to play again. He called up his old music partner, and now the three of them -- Wood, his old partner and his son -- perform as the Wild Spirit Band.

Wood's stories ring true and are accompanied by beautiful paintings or illustrations. He read and showed the pictures in a book about his Aunt Mary and her impact on his childhood, "Aunt Mary's Rose." He explained that the first illustrator didn't work out for that book and how the publisher had to find another artist. The artist turned out to be from Vietnam, and Wood worried that she would not be able to convey Minnesota accurately. But, he added, sometimes illustrators think of something that makes the story extra special, and in this case it was the inclusion of some of his family pictures. The artist "framed" the pictures and placed them on the wall of Aunt Mary's kitchen.

Today at 10:30 a.m. at the Bemidji Public Library, author, nurse and photographer Terri DeGezelle will talk about how she tries to fire up the imagination of young people.

"Talking with young people about reading, writing, history and research, that's rewarding," said DeGezelle.

She has written more than 60 nonfiction book for children, including "Ellis Island," "Life in the Time of Susan B. Anthony and the Women's Rights Movement" and how-to books like "Manners on the Telephone."

The Author Fair from 5-7 p.m. at the Bemidji High School Commons will showcase more than 30 authors displaying their books and talking to the public. All of the authors' books will be for sale.

Keynote speaker Ann Bancroft will be on stage beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the main auditorium of BHS. Noted for her Arctic explorations, Bancroft will talk about her book, "No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and their Historic Journey Across Antarctica." Even if you did not pick up a free ticket during the week, try to make the event, because there will probably be available seating.

These Legacy events are provided with funds approved by Minnesota voters for arts and cultural heritage. Additional funding is from the George W. Neilson Foundation, Bemidji Area Arts Endowment and the North Country Snowmobile Club.