Inaugural Peoria Book Fest offers one-stop shopping for bibliophiles

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Members of the Star Wars 501st Legion Midwest Garrison will be on hand for photos at the first-ever Peoria Book Fest on Oct. 26. The festival will also feature local authors, library crafters, storytellers, kids’ activities, food and books for sale. (Photo courtesy of Book Rack Used Books)

The First Federated Church of Peoria’s Life Together Center will be filled with authors, books and bibliophiles on Oct. 26 at the first-ever Peoria Book Fest.

“We will have over 10,000 square feet of bookish delights, ranging from local authors, literary crafters, artists and food trucks,” said Stacy Hardin, a local bookstore owner who’s organizing the event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Face painting for kids, balloon artists, storytellers, storybook characters and, of course, many books for sale will round out the Book Fest, which Hardin hopes to make an annual event that will grow bigger each year.

“It came about because I was trying to think of something fun to do to get the whole community interested in literacy and reading. I started looking online and saw where some   communities in different parts of the country do book festivals that have great attendance, so I thought it might be a way to get everybody excited about reading,” Hardin explained.

The event is also a fundraiser with all proceeds going to the Book Rack Literacy Foundation, which Hardin started in March. The foundation’s first goal is to stock 355 kindergarten through eighth grade Peoria Public School classroom libraries with 60 books each.

“When we took over our store three years ago, I realized very quickly that a lot of our customers are teachers who buy books for their classrooms out of their own pocket, and it gets very expensive for them,” said Hardin, who owns Book Rack Used Books in Peoria.

“We started doing dollar sales and half-price sales and giving away free books to teachers to try to help them out, but then I thought about how we could help on a larger scale if we started our own foundation,” she added.

Through donations and other fundraisers, the foundation has raised enough funds so far to  buy books for 15 classrooms. Hardin hopes to raise at least $10,000 through the Book Fest to fill the rest of the classrooms with new books.

“If anyone wants to sponsor a classroom, it’s only a $60 donation. Literally, $60 pays for a classroom to get a whole new classroom library,” Hardin said.

This Little Free Library that’s being rebuilt after being damaged by vandalism or bad weather at the Carver Community Center is one of 17 that the Book Rack Literacy Foundation helps support in Peoria. Artists Joshua Hawkins and Keith Wilson are painting the steel box, which will be installed at a re-dedication ceremony at a future date. A Peoria Book Fest on Oct. 26 will help raise funds for the foundation. (Photo courtesy of Book Rack Used Books)

After stocking K-8 classroom libraries, Hardin plans to move on to classroom libraries in the district’s high schools and eventually to help purchase textbooks and update the school libraries with more modern and culturally diverse books. “All of this will take several years to accomplish,” she said.

Hardin frequently visits classrooms to read to the class after which she gives each child in the class a copy of the book she just read and donates a copy to that classroom’s library.

“I’ll go to any school in the Peoria metro area that invites me,” she said. “I pick the book based on the age of the classroom.”

Another thing Hardin does is invite teachers and other community members to read bedtime stories that are recorded and available for viewing on the store’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Some of those people will be reading stories at the Peoria Book Fest.

“I’ve also partnered with a teacher at Manual Academy high school who came in to do a bedtime story over the summer , and now her students are writing their own children’s picture book,” Hardin said. “Some of them will be showcasing the books they’ve created at Book Fest.”

Teacher Torri Wyzgowski said students in her enriched sophomore English classes are creating children’s books “that explore difficult issues or heavy topics, like hunger, homelessness, bullying, divorce, immigration, etc.”

She added, “Giving our students the opportunity to demonstrate professionalism and their creativity at Book Fest is wonderful and crucial to their positive exposure to community involvement. About 20 students have signed up to showcase their work at the event, and it is so encouraging as an educator to see students excited and proud of the work they have put in. Some students aspire to become authors in the future, and attending Book Fest allows them to meet local writers and pick their brains.”

Among more than a dozen authors from Peoria, Bloomington, Chicago and southern Illinois who will have a booth at Peoria Book Fest are Sylvia Shults, Sue Rovens, Rachel Dunn, Linda Lowery and Indigo Skye.

Book store owner Stacy Hardin (right) hands a book to teacher Karen Lune after reading to her life skills class at Von Steuben Middle School in Peoria. Hardin, who’s organizing the first-ever Peoria Book Fest to help raise money to stock classroom libraries, will read to any class she’s invited to in the Peoria metro area. (Photo courtesy of Book Rack Used Books)

In addition, the HarperCollins publishing company is sending two of its published authors in the Young Adult  genre. Kimberly Gabriel will be signing advanced reader copies of her new book, “Every Stolen Breath,” and Lauren Mansy will be signing copies of her new book, “The Memory Thief.”

“We’ll have literary crafters and artists, as well,” Hardin said. “There are lots of really beautiful things they make that will be available, including bookmarks and stuffed animals that a lady sews from storybooks.”

Craft vendors will sell wares including diffuser bracelets, homemade purses, reading pocket pillows, embroidered towels, literary handmade teas and handmade bath bombs in literary themes.

Non-profit exhibitors will include the Dyslexia Awareness Network and the Peoria Public Library.

“We’ll also have members of the Star Wars 501st Legion Midwest Garrison walking around in costume, and people can take photos with them,” Hardin said. “And we’re going to have food to purchase, a bake sale and a book sale.”

The $1 admission price includes a raffle ticket for prizes that will be drawn throughout the event.

Anyone wishing to donate books for the book sale or for one of 17 Little Free Libraries that the Book Rack supports can drop them off at the store at 4408 N. Knoxville. Last week, students from Metamora Township High School donated more than 2,000 books they collected in a book drive for the Little Free Libraries.

For more information about Book Fest or the Book Rack Literacy Foundation, visit the Book Rack’s Facebook page or call 309-682-2666.