Keeping It Real at the Annapolis Book Festival

This year, the Annapolis Book Festival included a panel, “Young Adult Books: Keeping It Real.” The title alone fascinated me, and I was thrilled to be part of it. The Key School in Annapolis created the Annapolis Book Festival 10 years ago when a group of dedicated parents decided to bring a world class event promoting reading and writing to Annapolis, Md. Once involved with the event, I quickly recognized why the Annapolis Book Festival holds the reputation as one of the finest book festivals in the region. With over 40 authors and 25 panels, The Key School saw to every detail and ensured both authors and audiences enjoyed the event.

The Key School described the Young Adult panel as follows: “Three authors, Kathryn Erskine, Debbie Levy and Valerie Ormond, with very different, but reality-based books, talk about their approach to young adult literature. They sometimes deal with harsh realities, but do so in a way that neither preaches nor patronizes their young readers.” The panel included such talented authors as Kathryn Erskine, a National Book Award Winner, and Debbie Levy, winner of many awards to include a Kirkus Best Book Award, and well, me. Even the Mayor of Annapolis, Joshua J. Cohen, shared his enthusiasm before the panel, stating, “A definite highlight will be the Young Adult Fiction panel.”

In keeping with the “real” theme, unfortunately Kathryn Erskine ended up with flight weather delays and missed the panel. However, Debbie Levy and I easily consumed the spare time with our very attentive and inquisitive audience ranging from young children to senior citizens.

Debbie spoke first and shared how she decided to write her latest book, The Year of Goodbyes, about her young Jewish mother living in Nazi Germany. Debbie knew she wanted to accurately tell the story, and when her mother showed her one of the few possessions she kept from her childhood, her “posiealbum,” in which friends recorded thoughts, poems, and creative postings, Levy knew she had the key story element. Debbie told the story through verse, based on entries in the posiealbum, her mother’s personal diary entries, and interviews and research to create this very real book. I bought The Year of Goodbyes that day, and finished it the next. Although the subject is difficult, Levy treated it with great dignity and respect, and her tremendous writing talent gave the rest us a glimpse into a life that most of us, at all ages, will never comprehend.

So, remember how The Key School mentioned that our books were very different? Although it might have seemed awkward to segue from a Holocaust book to one about saving horses, somehow it wasn’t. One of the most exciting reasons for me to be part of this panel was in pulling together my remarks about the realities associated with Believing In Horses. Sometimes it takes a forcing function like this to help us really think through the causes and effects of what we do.

I toId the audience I wrote about the unwanted horse issue because I knew horses, and knew this to be an issue for which I hoped to raise awareness. In keeping with “write what you know,” I also decided the setting would be in a military family, and later realized that this brought happiness to military families who felt someone understood them and also helped others understand some military family hardships they had not previously considered. I chose to weave in a theme of believing in one’s self and in causes because I felt strongly that, particularly in the middle grade/young adult group, that many times people start to doubt their true selves and their capabilities. I explained that I conducted on-site research to “keep it real,” and in doing so gained even more passion for my lead character’s cause.

I shared the stories of kids, inspired by the book, holding fundraisers, and of people contacting me asking where they could volunteer to help save horses. I told them of donations I’ve been able to make to Freedom Hill Horse Rescue and Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue, Inc., due to book sales, and how I now serve on the Board of Directors for Desire Ministries to help save horses and help people. I explained how fiction can become reality in so many ways, including how Loftmar Stables in Bowie, Md., recently rescued several horses in real life. I asked them how they wanted to make a difference, and encouraged them to believe they could do whatever they chose to do. I know that several readers in that audience are out there now responding to that call.

In the end, the “Keeping It Real” panel reminded me of the power of written words and the strong will of people to respond to challenges. To quote author Stephen King, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Thank you, The Key School, and Annapolis Book Festival sponsors, for bringing a book festival of this caliber to town, and for creating and encouraging magic in our community that extends far beyond the festival.

Comments, stories, and magical moments welcomed.


  1. Thank you, Renee! Yes, it was a great panel, and too bad you and your daughter could not have been there. 🙂 Look forward to seeing you more now that we are connected. Best to you.

  2. Sounds like a great panel – too bad Kathryn Erskine couldn’t make it but sounds like it was fabulous nonetheless. I find that the notion of “keeping it real” is becoming more important to my daughter as she’s getting it older (10 in a couple of months). I sense a real shift in wanting to read about characters who are in real-life scenarios, who experience real-life situations, and who apply problem-solving skills to deal with the issues at hand. She is able to discuss things that happen in a book and apply them to her life. So, while she still likes reading about magic and fantasy, I definitely see a shift in her interests.

    Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop – it’s nice to see you there! I’m a new follower by email, Twitter, and FB. 🙂

  3. Reality in Young Adult Fiction – Yes! #YALit #books #horses #volunteers