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Wide and Wonderful Literacy Skills

Lit Fest
During Mount Nittany Elementary School’s Lit Fest 2023 on March 22, children’s book illustrator Eric Velasquez told students about a “book dummy.”


He wasn’t referring to a dim-witted character. As Velasquez explained, it’s a prototype used in publishing to arrange illustrations and text for final books, similar to how mannequins help make clothes.


“You get an idea of what the book is going to look like when it’s finished,” Velasquez said.


Velasquez, a Hartsdale, N.Y., resident whose award-winning art has graced more than 30 books, was among the many guests invited to Lit Fest, a Mount Nittany annual tradition since 2016. Throughout the week, he also spoke at Corl Street, Easterly Parkway, Park Forest and Radio Park elementary schools under the district librarians’ visiting author program.


At each of Lit Fest’s three 45-minute sessions, Mount Nittany students could choose a talk or activity from a wide range of selections. One session helped students generate empowering words, another figurative language. Other rooms were devoted to illustrating, using dramatic arts for storytelling, exploring bilingual books in Spanish and English, crafting personal proclamations, screenwriting, publishing, coding, and reading weather maps for meteorology, to name a few of the choices. 


Lit FestNaturally, there were plenty of stories read aloud along the way.


Our goal was to show the school the wide and wonderful variety of literacy skills needed across our diverse community,” MNE librarian Dustin Brackbill, Lit Fest’s founder, wrote in the event program. “We hope that this day has been a step into that larger world of encouraging reading, writing, listening, and storytelling.


To help show the illustrating process, Velasquez displayed pages from his book “Octopus Stew” while reading the humorous tale of an Afro-Latino boy and his grandmother trying to cook a resistant, and rapidly growing, octopus in a home modeled after his childhood one in Harlem. Spanish phrases, octopus fun facts and even a recipe for pulpo guisado — octopus stew — were included, as well as a demonstration of his drawing skills afterward.


He also threw in advice for aspiring children’s book illustrators.


“Most importantly, you must read the books,” he said.


Meanwhile, in another room, employees from the local Taste Buds Kitchen culinary classes program showed students how to follow a recipe while making soba noodle salad. After each received a portion to take home, they listened to a reading of “The Way We Do It In Japan” by Geneva Cobb Ilijima, the story of a boy learning Japanese culture in his new overseas home.


Lit FestAs the story was being read, MNE teacher Susan Hipp said she likes Lit Fest’s message to students that professions and activities, such as meteorology and cooking, require literacy skills.


“Just connecting it back to reading,” she said. “It’s not just about books.”


Additionally, she appreciates how Lit Fest connects Mount Nittany with the community through inviting guest speakers. Brackbill expressed his gratitude in the program.


We would like to offer our most sincere thanks to the presenters, parents, teachers, secretaries, and administrators who helped make this day possible.”


By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark