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Festival includes new programming

The Virginia Children’s Book Festival — in conjunction with the Longwood Speech, Hearing and Learning Center — will offer special needs programming this year.

According to Festival Executive Director Juanita Giles, the new programs will be offered to general participants but on a quieter basis on the Saturday of the festival.

“What we want to do is offer those kids with learning disabilities and those (with) special needs the opportunity to be able to participate in the same kind of exciting programming but with the support they need to be able to handle it,” Giles said.

Juanita Giles

Giles said the festival is attempting to be sensitive to the needs of children who have a shorter attention span or are sensory sensitive.

“We know that the activities surrounding the festival are really frenetic, and so we want to bring that down, just quiet that down for the kids with special needs on Saturday,” Giles said.

Giles said festival sessions can involve anywhere between 40 to 2,000 children.

Dr. Lissa Power-DeFur, the director of Speech, Language and Hearing Services at Longwood University, said children with learning disabilities and special needs generally need smaller spaces, less stimulation, both auditorily and visually, and fewer people around them when they are participating in activities.

“They are less likely to be independent, so having a (Longwood) student who’s trained in working with children with disabilities and working with them will enable them to be more successful,” Power-DeFur said.

Dr. Lissa Power-DeFur

Giles said the sessions for the special needs children will be 30 minutes, about 15 minutes shorter than regular sessions in order to accommodate the children who may have shorter attention spans. She said the programming would include making comic books, songwriting and using Minecraft in reading.

Giles said she has been in contact with Newbery Award-winner Cece Bell, known for her graphic novel El Deafo, and her husband Tom Angleberger, known for the children’s book series Origami Yoda, in helping with planning the programming. Giles said Bell is deaf and Angleberger is autistic.

“They are advising me on (the making a comic book) program,” Giles said. “They both participated in the book festival before; they were here in 2015. So, they’re familiar with the festival and how many children there are … They’re giving me great advice and leading me in the right direction there.”

Giles said festival staff were working with the Grammy-winning program Kid Pan Alley, led by musician Paul Reisler in the songwriting programming. 

For more information on the festival, set for Oct. 19-21, visit vachildrensbookfestival.com.

This article has been edited.