It was the second week of my publishing program, and I found myself volunteering with my class at a children’s book festival. Not even two weeks to the day, I had been teaching adult students academic English. Now I was being shown around this outdoor space with my classmates. They were nearly the same age as my former students. I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision to quit my full-time job to pursue something so new to me.
As we were given a tour around the premises of the event, my head bobbled all around, trying to take everything in. To my left, publishing houses were setting up their uniquely themed tents. To my right, a wholesaler was displaying a plethora of books to be purchased. I wanted to buy them all. In front of me was a huge stage for book readings and performances. Down the path was where literary prizes would be given away in the afternoon. My classmates and I walked silently, uncertain about what to expect from this day. It felt a bit like we were in an episode of MasterChef, getting ready for an on-site challenge. I tugged apprehensively on my red volunteer vest. Was I in the right place?
I was stationed in various spots throughout the day. As the kids started running in, their teachers and chaperones trying hard to keep everything under control, there was one uniting theme in the air. Everyone here loved books. That helped me feel a little more at ease.
My first station was at a booth that was advertising a similar festival that was held in the spring, a little west of the city. It was their first time at this festival too. Their theme for their tent was Progress. They asked the kids to create posters about the changes they wish to see in the world. The kids loved this idea. They didn’t skip a beat. They came up with all sorts of inspirational ideas, from bullying, to environmental issues, to animal rights, and social inclusions These kids had big dreams, and they didn’t hesitate to express them.
Later on, I moved to the autograph signing lines. I was given the unfortunate task of cutting off the lines so that the authors could leave at the appropriate times.
As I arrived at my line, I intersected with a little girl. She took one look at my daunting, “THIS LINE IS NOW CLOSED” sign, and her eyes welled up with tears. I thought she was going to walk away, but instead, she stood her ground and whispered something inaudible. I scooched down and asked her to repeat what she’d said. She avoided eye contact as she spoke, clinging a book to her chest, the pages frayed out in different directions from the top right corner.
“This is my favourite book. I have to meet the author.”
I checked my watch knowing that this author had 15 minutes left of signing and the lineup was not overly long. I gave her a smile and nodded her into the end of the line before officially taking my post at the end. The little 8 year old, braver than I’ll ever be, beamed from her coveted spot in the queue.
At the front, she thanked the author before giving her her book to be signed. Then she leaned in to make a request, and the author nodded. She scurried around the author’s table, and they took a toothy selfie together.
“It’s incredible,” spoke a woman beside me, startling me a bit. I didn’t realize someone else had been watching the same girl. “She’s my student. At the beginning of this year, she was so shy. We thought maybe she was mute or had a learning disability of some kind. Her parents don’t speak English, so it was hard to know what was going on. But we read this book, and everything changed. Look at her now.”
Goosebumps decorated my skin in the hot May sun as I watched the little girl give the author a hug before she skipped back to her classmates.
That’s when I knew I had made the right decision. I was definitely in the right place.