Paulo Yap, a fifth grade student at Dr. Pablo Perez Elementary School in McAllen, said it "feels good" to have the author of a book his class read come to his school, meet and talk to the students, and to give each of them a book.
"The book includes the struggles of a normal kid in school," said Yap, who got to introduce Lopez as one of the top readers in his school.
Yap was one of hundreds of students at his school who heard from three of the Texas Book Festival's Reading Rock Star authors March 21 as part of The University of Texas-Pan American's Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) being held March 20-23. FESTIBA is an annual event presented by the University to promote literacy and an appreciation for the arts and humanities.
The Reading Rock Star program sends noted children's authors to selected Title I schools where they bring their books to life for pre K-fifth grade students by discussing and reading from their works. Following their presentations, each student receives an autographed copy of the author's book. Since 2001, the Texas book Festival has given more than 52,000 books to kids at Title I schools in Texas through its Reading Rock Stars Program. For many children, it is the first book they have ever owned.
Other Reading Rock Star authors who visited Valley schools this year were Cynthia Weill, Duncan Tonatiuh, Carmen Tafolla, Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Lupe Ruiz Flores. The six authors visited six different Valley schools March 20-21.
Target Corporation donated $25,000 toward the distribution of 4,000 of the authors' books to the students during their Valley school visits. Target employee volunteers helped distribute the books at each school. Kendall Miller, logistics and outreach coordinator for the Texas Book Festival, praised Target's support and FESTIBA's focus on promoting reading and the arts.
"FESTIBA aligns perfectly with our mission to celebrate authors and their contribution to culture and literacy," she said.
"I find that to be very motivating," said Lopez, who shared stories of her own hopes and concerns as a middle school student with the fifth-graders. "The students get so excited to meet authors and to talk about the books, the characters and what is going to happen next. Anything I can do to encourage kids to read, to continue reading and hopefully become lifelong readers, I'm there."
During a presentation to pre-K and kindergarten students at the same school, Reading Rock Star author Cynthia Weill described to pre-K and kindergarten students her search for the maker of the colorful Mexican folk art animals that appear as illustrations in her bilingual book Opuestos, which teaches children about opposites.
She told the youngsters how she found the artist - Martin Santiago - living on top of a mountain in Mexico and learned what inspired his work and how he created it. Weill, who has a doctorate in education and is a former teacher, had the children enthusiastically describing some of the many animals in her books to her in English and in Spanish.
It was Weill's first trip to FESTIBA but said it was an event every state should replicate.
She said people here are very receptive to her books but feared that reading is becoming a lost art.
"It (reading) is so critical to intellectual development but I would also say (to parents and children) to read in both languages and instill that pride in bilingualism because it is such a gift ... bilingualism should be acknowledged and nurtured," she said.
Texas Book Festival Executive Director Lois Kim called it a "magic moment" when a child receives a book handed to them by an author they have just heard and gotten to interact with. She said the University and the Valley has provided a "welcoming embrace" during its seven year partnership with the Texas Book Festival.
"UTPA's reach into the community is what helps this make this a successful partnership," she said. "We want all these kids who are just starting off in their education to become passionate readers, to do well in school and see themselves as college-bound to a University like UTPA."
See photos of the Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Star visits and other 2014 FESTIBA activities at this photo gallery.