On a lovely weekend, early this fall, we visited a magical place. The geographical place itself is fairly magical when unadorned, but on this particular weekend downton Bath in Maine was rendered even more magical by the annual Bath Book Bash.
I have been aware of the Bath Book Bash for the last two years, but have never managed to get there. It isn’t immediately clear how long this has been a tradition in Bath, but for our family it’s definitely going to be an annual one.
For a day in September, Library Park, outside the Patten Free Library in Bath Maine, is transformed into a book lovers paradise for the littlest of readers. This year saw 35 children’s authors and illustrators gather. There were author workshops, a costume contest, author curated activities, music, and food trucks. Three enormous tents hosted all 35 authors and illustrators, and their books. Within these tents you could chat with them, purchase a signed copy, and just soak in all that fictional goodness.
My son has long expressed a desire to be an author/illustrator and so it seemed like a good place to take him. It was in fact the perfect place to take him.
We were there when the bash began at 11am, and after picking up our scavenger hunt sheets and checking out the fountain, made our way over to the author tents. It was simply amazing. Every author was seated at a table with copies of their books and other assorted items such as stickers, bookmarks, and sometimes games. They were all excited to see every child, and all so excited about each other’s work. More than once, an author leaned over to the author we were chatting with, picked up one of their books and said “I love this one, this one’s great.” The sense of community between the authors was vibrant, and joyful, and on full display.
We took a walk around all three tents to check out all of the books, before my son zeroed in on the ones he wanted signed and went back to get them. Our one exception was that as soon as he met Chris Van Dusen, he wanted to buy a book! Chris is responsible for several of our favorite books about Mr McGee and his little dog Dee, but also for the “If I built a…” series. In addition he is the illustrator for Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. Charlie instantly grabbed a copy of If I Built a School and it was then we discovered something truly amazing. When kids are involved, and authors are signing books, they will draw a little picture for you too! So not only do you get signed books, but sometimes you get a little personal artwork too.
Charlie knew as soon as we were done which books he wanted to go back for and he raced from author to author like he was on Supermarket Sweep. We met and chatted with authors he knew, and made new friends with authors he did not. You don’t have to line up and pay each author, you walk around having them sign books and then there is a separate tent for checking out. We checked out with quite a number of books, but I already had an inkling we might make another few sweeps.
After our first flurry of fictional purchases, we headed over to the workshop tent just in time for a presentation and workshop with Matt Tavares, author and illustrator of Dasher
How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever. We arrived just as Matt was reading from the book, and then Charlie drew alongside him as Matt taught a tentful of kids how to draw a reindeer. It was amazing. This led me to my second truly amazing discovery, many of the authors had new books coming out in the next month or so, and we all got access to early copies here. Dasher Can’t Wait for Christmas actually came out on September 5, just over a week ago, and we had access to personally signed copies here.
By this time we were getting pretty hungry, so we stopped by a food tent for some sweet goodness from Thayer’s Treats. A cheesecake flavored Pete the Cat macaron and a capybara cookie! All the treats were delicious, and all the treats were devoured quickly.
We were able to do a bit of multitasking with our next event. While I waited in line for Charlie, he sat in the board game tent just ten feet away from me. Every 45 minutes the authors would trade places, so that you could play a board game with an author. Charlie got to play Jenga with a new favorite of his, Jarret Lerner. By this time they were old friends as Charlie had talked with Jarrett back in the author’s tent about wanting to be an author/illustrator already, and Jarrett had given him some useful information on where to find writing prompts and such. Just as their game was ending, I reached the head of the line and Charlie got to sit and have his cartoon likeness drawn by the delightful Charlotte Agell. She spent a few minutes chatting with each child, and capturing them on paper. It was utterly delightful and now we have such a wonderful keepsake for him.
By this point Charlie had chatted with a few more authors along the way, and so we made our second sweep of the author tents to buy a few more books. He did however want to buy Maybe Tomorrow by Charlotte Agell who was still drawing pictures. So while we waited for her to arrive, I sat in a shady spot and Charlie drew on the sidewalks with chalk and otherwise took part in some of the activities laid out on the lawn. Then when we saw her arrive we made our third sweep for her book.
We made a quick stop in the library itself, where the rest of our family had been waiting for about two hours. The Patten Free Library is a delightful space, and we will need to spend more time there the next time we are in Bath. Then of course we had to walk down Main Street, with its three bookstores!
It is hard to put into words the sheer joy of this day, and of this event. Charlie has ADHD, and can very often be uncomfortable with new and unexpected things. I had not told him we were doing this, to minimize his anxiety about “the plan”, and so his expectations were not a burden to him. But there was not a single moment of this event in which he was not radiating pure joy. He came out of the event for new ideas for his own stories and illustrations, and with a few new authors to keep an eye on. I came out of the event marveling at the goodness that still exists in the world.
While I wanted to buy every book from every author, these are the books we came away with, all signed to Charlie:
- Fry Guys by Eric Geron (Author) and Jannie Ho (Illustrator) Charlie spoke with Jannie several times, and was the first person to vote on her leader board, as to whether curly, waffle, or sweet potato fries are best. She drew a curly fry in his book for him and was excited to see everyone.
- The Hunger Heroes # 1 Missed Meal Mayhem by Jarrett Lerner
- The Hunger Heroes # 2 Snack Cabinet Sabotage by Jarrett Lerner. Jarrett took the time to talk to Charlie about resources for becoming an author/illustrator, and Charlie was beyond excited to play Jenga with Jarrett at Board Game time.
- The Secret of the Dragon Gems by Rajani Larocca and Chris Baron, we met Rajani, and while this book was purchased for me rather than Charlie, he loved getting to talk with her.
- A Perfect Mistake by Melanie Conklin. Just like Charlie, the main character of this book has ADHD, we had this signed to both of us so we can read it together.
- The Mirrorwood by Deva Fagen Another purchase for me, as I was walking away, Deva told me that she had been watching Labyrinth and was inspired by the 80s fantasty movies of her youth, I could not be more excited to read this!
- If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen. Chris had the biggest table there, and the most books availalbe, and still managed to talk to each child and draw everyone a picture. He lives locally so is a frequent visitor at the local bookstore.
- Battle of the Books by Melanie Ellsworth (Author) and James Rey Sanchez (Illustrator) This book was picked up on our second sweep after Charlie had chatted with Melanie a little bit.
- Maybe Tomorrow by Charlotte Agell. Charlotte was a super star, drawing pictures of so many kids.
- My Pet Feet by Josh Funk (Author) and Billy Yong (Illustrator). Charlie kept going back to talk to Josh Funk, because Josh Funk is full of life and love for the kids and his work. His exuberance for the day was unmatched!
Everything at the Book Bash is free, you simply pay for the books and any refreshments you buy. There is plenty of public parking all over town, and plenty of other places to explore. Everyone is there for the love of books, and for the love of kids who love books. Even if you are nowhere near Bath in 2024, this is well worth a road trip.