‘Evan and His Dog’ join Abilene’s Storybook Garden for children’s literacy festival

Abilene’s 2023 Children’s Art Literature Festival features author Brian Lies.

By Sammantha Gutierrez, KACUJune 12, 2023 10:24 am, ,

From KACU:

The 11th Annual Children’s Art and Literacy Festival brought thousands of visitors to Abilene over the weekend. The city, which is the Storybook Capital of America, hosts a jam-packed weekend of reading-fun every June. This year’s festival celebrated the work of Brian Lies.

For more than a decade Abilene has been welcoming families to town to celebrate children’s literature. The festival has grown into a four day event that incorporates everything from book readings and marionette performances to theater and even an instrument petting zoo, hosted by the Abilene Philharmonic. And it all kicks off with a parade and the unveiling of a new storybook statue, which author Brian Lies said brought out strong emotions, “To actually capture the character of the characters I created in two dimension is absolutely mind blowing. So Steve, [Neves, sculptor] thank you so much!”

Abilene has built one of the largest collections of storybook sculptures in America. Each year the CALF features the books of a children’s author, adding a new life-sized sculpture from their work to the storybook garden. The collection includes figures from the works of Dr. Suess, David Shannon and E.B. White, and many others.

This year, Brian Lies’ characters join the garden. The new sculpture depicts Evan and His Dog from The Rough Patch, one of the books children got to hear live readings of all weekend.

Shelly Womack / KACU

Children gather round for a reading of "Got to Get to, Bears."

The Children’s Art and Literacy Festival draws thousands of people, not just from the Big Country, but from across the nation. And that helped Abilene claim the title of Storybook Capital of America in 2018. Molly Bellah, Executive Director of National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, says CALF is building the reputation of Abilene beyond the region by encouraging children to engage with the fine arts, “What started off to be something so small really, it was kind of a ripple effect, which has changed Abilene history in general.”

The seed of what’s grown into the CALF festival was first planted in 1993, when then-mayor Gary McCaleb reached out to William Joyce. While reading to school children, McCaleb discovered that the author included Abilene as the hometown of the main character in his book Santa Calls. He invited Joyce to speak at a luncheon, and a couple of years later Abilene installed a sculpture downtown inspired by Santa Calls. Soon after that the NCCIL was established. This year McCaleb got to see his legacy in action, as his great grandchildren attended the festival for the first time, joining more than 45-hundred others. “It’s a great commentary about the spirit of community here in Abilene,” McCaleb noted. “And it’s a statement about how this is a city that really does care about our children- about the kids.”

Robert Lopez, Vice President of Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau, says CALF not only has a $250,000 local economic impact, but a great social impact in this digital age, They’re not only having fun, but they’re also learning about books and illustrators and doing something that’s exciting and educational and fulfilling in both of those ways.”

Shelly Womack / KACU

Le Marionette Theater of Dallas perform their show "Happily Ever After."

And that’s proving to be a big draw for parents and grandparents. Abilene resident Sandy Pequeno took her grandchildren to CALF for the first time this year, “There’s just so many things going on in this world right now that the kids need some kind of encouragement- some kind of peace- some kind of just something that shows love and that’s a good thing here in Abilene that we have this Storybook type function that we have here in Abilene. Plus the art gallery and different things that they can go to that’s very important.”

Ten-year-old Colton, who traveled from Fort Worth, says he’s most excited about the marionettes every time his family attends CALF. So far his favorites have been the Star Wars and Frozen marionettes from previous years. Oh yeah, the soap comes down out of that thing like snow. Yeah, that was basically my favorite part,” he recalled from the marionette show.

Whether it’s laughing at puppets on strings, climbing on sculptures in the garden, meeting live bats, or creating their own illustrations or storybook sculptures, the CALF festival offers kids a chance to step out of their usual routines and explore their imagination and creativity. Kind of like books do.

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