Authors prepare to meet students 

Not many children get to hang out with the authors of their favorite books, but Orion School has made an annual tradition of it.

Orion’s fifth annual authors and illustrators festival comes to the school Saturday, bringing a bevy of creative Californians with new books, including Gennifer Choldenko, Marsha Diane Arnold, Bob Barner, Jane Cutler, Elisa Kleven, Milly Lee, Jeff Savage and Teri Sloat. They’ll read, talk, answer questions and sell books and raffle prizes to raise money for the school.

The event has become an opportunity to get students more excited about reading — and about someday pursuing a creative career for themselves, according to Orion Principal Cathy Okubo.

"It makes them realize these are real people ... kids think, They were young like me and started doodling and became a famous illustrator, or kept a diary and became a writer," Okubo said. "They realize it’s an obtainable goal."

The festival was founded five years ago by parent Sharon Levin, a book critic and self-described "author groupie," who got the idea from a friend who founded a similar event in Clayton. It was an instant hit, and some of the authors who debuted that year, including Kleven and Barner, return this year with new books.

The concept reinforces Orion’s small-school, community-oriented model. Although the K-5 school takes students from across Redwood City, it has a population of 185 students, many of whom come from low-income households in the Centennial neighborhood.

"We want all kids to be able to meet the people who write the books they love," Levin said.

For the authors who come, the festival is a chance to connect with young readers in a tangible way. Culter, who authored "The Birthday Doll," will offer the book’s namesake rag doll as a raffle prize on Saturday.

Barner, whose new books "Penguins, Penguins Everywhere" and "Big is Big and Little, Little" are due this spring, said the experience of meeting the kids is invaluable.

"What you do most of the time is sit in a room writing and drawing, so it’s great to get out," said Barner, who lives in San Francisco. "And I have a bit of a ham inside me, so I get a lot of energy back from it."

Orion School’s authors and illustrators festival takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 815 Allerton St., Redwood City.

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Beth Winegarner

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