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The Next Chapter

Kids will get a chance to meet the authors of some of their favorite books.


Books are filled with the adventures of a lifetime, and hundreds of adventures await discovery at the third annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend. Children--as well as adults--can hunt for treasured titles, from writer-illustrator Marc Brown's popular "Arthur" series to Veronica Chambers' "Amistad Rising: A Story of Freedom" and R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps."

But what makes the festival so special is that the authors of these books--and many others--will be on hand to sign autographs, meet readers and/or take part in panel discussions.

"This is a great opportunity to meet other authors and illustrators and, of course, readers," said children's author-illustrator Colin Thompson, the official Festival of Books artist this year. "Most of us are working in isolation most of the time, so it's a great opportunity to get feedback from people."

There are two stages of entertainment for children, featuring celebrity guests and interactive activities throughout both days. Author and singer-songwriter Jose-Luis Orozco kicks off the festivities with a bilingual sing-a-long on Saturday at 10 a.m. on the Children's Quad. At 11 a.m., Bill Morrison will talk with animators and artists from "The Simpsons" on the Perloff Quad.

Kino and Lucy, of public television's "Storytime," will present songs and stories twice each day, while Mayor Richard Riordan will share some of his favorite children's stories on Sunday.

Celebrity authors Marlo Thomas ("Free to Be You and Me") and Walter Koenig ("Warped Factors: A Neurotic's Guide to the Universe") will read from and sign their books, as will Olympic gold medal winner Kerri Strug ("Landing on My Feet") and Dom DeLuise ("Hansel & Gretel").

DeLuise, who participated in last year's festival, said it was "very much fun." He said the festival is "clean, wholesome, something you don't want to leave--and it was free."

This year, DeLuise will read from "Hansel & Gretel," which he joked has a worthwhile message: "Eat healthier; nonfat milk, bananas and strawberries are better for you than apple pie a la mode with chocolate sauce."

The sea of spectators is sure to part in the storytelling area when actor Charlton Heston steps up to read Saturday at noon. And Bob Keeshan, best known to most baby boomers and their kids as Captain Kangaroo, will be on hand to spin yarns and sign autographs on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Storyteller Marilyn McConnie makes a return visit to the festival, appearing both days to tell tales of foreign lands with the aid of dance, music and Afro Caribbean percussion. Dovie Thompson, also scheduled both days, will share traditional Native American stories.

Though children's book publishers seem to be cranking out more titles than ever before--and hundreds will be available for examination Saturday and Sunday--there are specific things that parents can look for in a book. Book agent Steve Malk, who grew up in bookstores belonging to his mother and grandmother, said the most successful children's books are those that on one level or another also appeal to adults.

"Sometimes adults tend to underestimate kids," Malk said. "I think kids are pretty sharp."

Malk said that as an agent, he looks for books that "have heart, something that moves me," whether it makes him laugh or has something important to say. Malk added, "The best children's books have both good illustrations and a well-written text."

Many of the top authors, including Thompson, believe there are far too many books that patronize children. This subject will be among those raised during the author panels.

"People think it's easy to rattle off a 'kid's book,' whereas it's just as difficult as writing for adults," Thompson said.

DeLuise, who has written seven children's books, said he just writes what he knows and varies his technique only slightly when writing for children.

"When you write a children's book, you have to know that there are certain things that need to be repeated, or there's a little pattern that you want to establish," DeLuise said.

Among the panel topics: "How to Write for Children," Saturday at 10 a.m., featuring children's authors Eve Bunting, Mary Brigid Barrett, Ofelia Lachtman and Patricia Mac-Lachlan; "Getting Kids to Read: Strategies for a New Age," with Barrett, MacLachlan and Joyce Gordon, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.; "The Illustrator as Storyteller," with Marc Brown and Thompson, Saturday at 1 p.m.;and "Get Real: Young Adult Writers in the '90s," with Veronica Chambers, Ron Koertge, Francesca Lia Block, Phyllis Karas, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Celebrated author Sidney Sheldon, who will speak on a variety of topics related to literacy at 10 a.m. Saturday, is passionate in his belief that children must be exposed to books at an early age.

"If a child learns to read in kindergarten, that's too late," Sheldon said. "Their parents have to read to them at home, when they're very, very small. And teach them the love of literature and the love of storytelling."

Attractions for children will go on throughout the Festival of Books. KKBT-FM deejays Dennis Cruz, Ben Kelly and John London will take the stage in the Perloff Quad Saturday at noon; weatherman and children's author Christopher Nance will read from his newest book, "If Not for Weather, We Would All Be Naked," at the Children's Quad Sunday at 11:30 a.m.; Kevin Eastman, creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, will appear Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at the Perloff Quad.


Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, UCLA campus, Westwood. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission free; parking $5. Free tickets to the author panels available through Ticketmaster and at the door (if any remain). (800) LATIMES, Ext. 7BOOK. Web site:http//

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