Lee Wardlaw was one of four professional children’s book authors to attend this year’s Author-Go-Round at the County Education Office’s auditorium. | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Education Office

The Santa Barbara County Education Office’s 53rd annual Author-Go-Round brought together four professional children’s book authors for a five-day event this week at the Education Office’s auditorium in Santa Barbara to encourage local students to find their own voice through writing and storytelling. 

Associate Superintendent Ellen Barger called the longstanding tradition, which began in 1970, a “powerful way to promote pleasure reading,” which inspires students’ own sense of identity and confidence. 

Barger said that the opportunity for students to engage with authors demystifies the creative process and the connection between the stories they read and the real people who write them. 

“When authors share stories of what inspired their books, and when they share the challenges of the struggles, revisions, and persistence that preceded the final work of a beloved book, our young readers and writers come to embrace their own voice and literary process,” Barger said.

More than 400 students in 5th-8th grade from schools around the county were able to participate this year. Each day of the event this week tied in author presentations, fun literacy activities, and the classic merry-go-round of author stations where students could learn more about the authors’ journeys in writing and illustrating. 

More than 400 students in 5th-8th grade from schools around the county were able to participate in 2023’s Author-Go-Round. | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Education Office

Colorful carousel horses and banners marked dividers in each corner of the Education Office’s auditorium on Cathedral Oaks Road to create the four authors’ stations. Each author was able to decorate their space however they liked, putting their personality, genre, and style on display using books, banners, stuffed animals, photographs, and even one large cardboard cutout of Abraham Lincoln.

Authors included Alexis O’Neill, Rebeccca Langston-George, Lee Wardlaw, and illustrator Joe Cepeda, who captivated the students and their parent and teacher chaperones with fiction and nonfiction stories about everything from cats to historic figures and events. 

Cepeda was not able to attend the event due to illness, so he created video presentations of his stories and artistic process. Students eagerly followed along with Cepeda on a TV-screen as he provided a step-by-step process on how to draw a cute cartoon dog. 

For each revolving group of students, the authors explained the effort it takes to create and publish a book, as well as provided glimpses into the stories they write. Their young audiences were extraordinarily attentive, raising their hands and asking questions at every possible moment.

“This is the first time that many of these children have been in the same room as a published author,” said Digital Learning Director Cate Tolnai. “Seeing their eyes light up and the stars in their eyes shine, watching them go up to the authors and ask for an autograph and have the authors have that moment to shine too — it’s like watching magic happen. It’s really special.”

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