More Than Just Books at NoVa Teen Book Festival

More Than Just Books at NoVa Teen Book Festival

Gaining insights by talking with authors.

The main lobby of Marshall High School in Falls Church bustled with activity on March 30 as teens carried tote bags laden with books. Youth volunteers in red t-shirts sporting “NoVa Teen Book Festival” popped out from behind corners and walls.

Table kiosks lined the walls of the lobby with logos emblazoned on the front banners: Fairfax County Library, Prince William Library, Arlington County Library — a party of libraries. Smiling librarians stationed themselves behind each kiosk and offered an array of “swag” that could be won by spinning a wheel. Spinner-winners (everyone) could choose from stickers, notepads, bookmarks, stylus pens, candy, or a free book — the most sought-after prize.

Other kiosks housed non-profits such as HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that works with musicians to promote participation in democracy, created by Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead (

One More Page Books in Arlington generated the most commotion around its plethora of books (88 titles) laid neatly out on tables for teens to pick and choose from, priced around $10. The tables faced directly out into the courtyard, looking onto the food trucks whose smells wafted through the doors — deep fried donuts, empanadas, and grilled cheese. Bookworms gathered in the courtyard, noses deeply entrenched in books, barely paying notice to the food when they already had food for thought.

Back in the hallways, classrooms held writing workshops and “breakthrough sessions” where for 40 minutes readers could ask authors a multitude of questions about their characters and the processes of writing.

Colleen Harrison, 25, thought it was interesting how the authors get inspiration for their books. Some pulled inspiration from real-world issues such as “oppressive societies, dictator-esque governments; or with personal issues, a lot of the characters can be seen channeling their rage, which doubles as an excellent conductor for directing the story,” she said.

“Black Wings Beating” author Alex London and Dhonielle Clayton of “The Belles” answered to a classroom full of young adults, giving a glimpse into the lives of a writer. Many questions were broad at first: “Why did you want to become a writer? How do you start writing? What’s your routine? How do you come up with the names for your characters? How do you come up with your story idea?”

However, as each question unraveled a unique story or insight, it prompted more specific questions. A young girl prefaced her particular question by giving a little background on a theme in the book “The Belles.”

The teen said, “Everyone wants to be made beautiful by the important Belle (a female with beauty-bestowing powers) but then there are other Belles (women) that just aren’t as beautiful … in real life, we judge people’s capabilities based on their appearance. How do you want us to get past this — to look at someone and not think that they can’t do something as well as another person based on their looks?” The classroom fell silent for a moment.

Clayton responded, “Well, I wanted you to question that, so you’ve found the essential question. You’ve done the work. Continue to ask yourself, why do I feel the way I feel about another person, why do I make these shortcuts in my brain based on the way they look, where did I get that programming or how did I develop it, who says that the way someone looks is to mean they are any less capable or less worthy than another? I can’t give you an answer but I just want you to question it.”

To which London responds, “Everyone needs to see themselves as a hero.”