Book bash
Gwinnett Reading Festival sure to be a page-turner

Though it already boasts 14 locations, the Gwinnett County Library system has added a new branch, Festiville.

OK, not a new branch, per se, but a temporary check-out center stocked with a sampling of library materials that will be at the center of the Gwinnett Reading Festival.

The inaugural Gwinnett Reading Festival has been a labor of love for library staffers for the past year, although Nancy Stanbery-Kellam has been dreaming of the event for four times as long.

"I started thinking about an event that would celebrate reading and the library in a big way, that not only brings together current library enthusiasts but also shares the treasures we provide to our community with those who may not realize what awaits them in each branch," said Stanbery-Kellam, executive director of the library system.

After examining other festivals in the area, Stanbery-Kellam and her crew "gleaned the best from them while putting our own unique mark" on the county's first books fest, she said. That meant bringing in a collection of 30 regional and national authors to read, discuss and sign copies of their works.

"Book talks build bridges between people, breaking down the cultural and socioeconomic divides we find in society," Stanbery-Kellam said. "They build better understandings of others and ourselves. Once you have been a part of a book discussion, it is hard to read a really good book and not just want to talk about it with someone else."

Authors slated to take the stage include Georgia native Terry Kay ("To Dance with the White Dog" and "The Valley of Light"), illustrator Mark Braught ("P is for Peach: A Georgia Alphabet") and Georgia Public Radio regular Jackie Cooper.

Eddie Suttles, director of public relations for the library, had a tricky time narrowing down the expansive list of authors to pick his favorite. They all have something unique to offer, he said, adding - under pressure - that Gwinnett Daily Post columnist Lisa Earle McLeod, whose column is syndicated nationally, tops his list of standouts.

"She has been called a modern-day Erma Bombeck," he said. "There will be a whole range of authors, with topics to fit every taste."

Beyond introducing fans to their literary heroes, the festival also aims to connect parents and children with bookish adventures. Favorite characters from the world of books, including Harry Potter, will be brought to life and will wander around the fairgrounds throughout the day. Book-based arts and craft venues as well as trivia and games will also be on hand.

"When else will you have the opportunity to play and watch a real-life Quidditch match?" Suttles said.

Workshops, panel discussions and a bookstore provided by Barnes and Noble will be centerpieces of the fest, and events for all ages will be set up. Think storytellers, battling knights from Medieval Times, sumo wrestling suits and entertainment from the improv comedy troupe Laughing Matters.

"We've got a real array of events going on for everyone in the whole family," Suttles said. "That's the great thing about books, and a books festival. It brings people together and there is always something for everyone."