College of Education

About Us Admissions & Academics Research & Engagement Departments & Faculty Current Students

2019 Youth Literature Festival Celebrates Diverse Voices in Literature

by Ashley Lawrence / Mar 26, 2019


Seventeen award-winning authors, illustrators, and storytellers will soon arrive in central Illinois to share their love of books, literacy, and more during the College of Education’s biennial Youth Literature Festival (YLF), March 28-30.

During the festival’s first two days, YLF authors will travel throughout central Illinois visiting nearly 60 schools and libraries in Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding communities. Making literature—and, authors—accessible to schools and students throughout the community is one of the most unique and powerful aspects of the Festival, said professor Nancy O’Brien, head of the Education, Health, and Social Sciences Libraries at the U of I. Many of the schools participating in the festival have high percentages of low-income student populations.

O’Brien has served in various capacities on the festival’s planning committee since 2008 and has first-hand perspective of the impact and inspiration the festival brings to area students.

“What excites me is how these authors present information in new and different ways, and children get to escape into new worlds and learn new things because of it,” said O’Brien. “And I love the fact that the festival reaches out to families and promotes reading and literacy. Evidence shows that when you read and get a wider understanding of the world, you can better articulate and find more success in life.”

The festival culminates with the popular Community Day Celebration on Saturday, March 30, bringing all 17 participating artists together under one roof for a day of fun activities. The day’s line-up features readings, live music, an appearance from Super Why! of PBS Kids, book signings, author talks, take-home crafts, art displays, and more. Community Day is a family-friendly event, open to the public, and all ages are welcome. Admission and parking are free for Community Day, happening 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the I Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S. First St., Champaign.

Local and national artists for 2019 include storyteller-authors Dan Keding and Crystal Chan; graphic novelists Stacey Robinson and Julia Alekseyeva; and young adult authors Sharon Flake and Greg Neri. Neri, who goes by the pen name G. Neri, is a Coretta Scott King honor-winning author whose books have been translated into multiple languages in more than 25 countries. Neri’s novel “Ghetto Cowboy” was recently adapted as a screenplay and is currently in production as a film starring Idris Elba of Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Trek Beyond fame.

“The festival focuses on diversity, as well as literature,” said Youth Literature Festival coordinator Vivian Dixon. “Diverse authors, as well as diversity in stories being told. It’s important that students and families who are participating in the festival can see themselves represented and connect with characters’ similar experiences and interests—fictional or otherwise.”

The Youth Literature Festival is an initiative of the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities within the College of Education at the University of Illinois, in collaboration with the University Library and WILL/Illinois Public Media. The festival and would not be possible without the generous support of individuals, publishers, local businesses as sponsors.

A full list of this year’s participating artists, a complete Community Day schedule, and more information is available online at Or, visit for more details.