Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George and Lilly the mouse with her purple plastic purse were just a few of the larger-than-life children’s book characters at the One Book Two Book children’s literature festival in downtown Iowa City Saturday.
Hundreds of children high-fived, hugged and crawled into the laps of their favorite characters.
Six-year-old Isabel Bayon posed for a picture with her sister and Skippyjon Jones, a daring cat from the books of the same name by Judith Schachner. Skippyjon Jones, Bayon declared, was her favorite part of the festival.
“His ears are so big, and he looks so fluffy,” she said.
She also showed off her sparkly pink face paint.
“It’s all about a fairy princess,” she said.
The festival, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization, kicked off Friday with a banquet at the Sheraton. The event also featured a a book fair, a comic book writing workshop, a junior high writing jam, theater performances and readings by children’s book authors.
Keynote speaker and children’s book author and illustrator Loren Long spoke at the banquet and at the Iowa City Public Library Saturday, where he told about 60 people, including a large contingent of children, that writing and drawing an original story wasn’t easy, but they shouldn’t give up.
“Ah, I’m terrible. I’m thinking as I’m writing, who am I?” he said. “I should play dodgeball. Who am I, trying to write?”
But he keeps at it, he told them, and with persistence the books come together, like his best-selling “Otis” series, which he both writes and illustrates.
He spoke directly to the children in the room, many of whom sat or lay on their stomachs, chins propped on their hand, at the front of the room. The children watched avidly as Long drew Otis the tractor, the signature character of many of his books.
He told the children they shouldn’t be afraid to dream big, talking about his surprise when he got a call asking him to illustrate President Barack Obama’s picture book, “Letter to My Daughters: Of Thee I Sing.”
“You don’t have to be in a big important city. They need us,” he said, telling the children artists from Iowa or Ohio, where he is from, can do big things.
The festival continues Sunday with a celebration of some of the Corridor’s top young writers. “Up and coming” authors in grades 1 to 8 will read their work onstage at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 1 p.m.