By AUDREY FISCHER
The Library's sixth annual National Book Festival demonstrated once again that the National Mall in the nation's capital is a place where all voices and points of view can be heard.
Last year, the book festival shared the Mall with antiwar protestors. This year, the festival, which is organized by the Library of Congress and hosted by first lady Laura Bush, presented Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, whose new book, "State of Denial," is a harsh critique of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.
In the end, it was an agreement to give "60 Minutes" an exclusive interview—and not the Bush administration—that prevented Bob Woodward from discussing his new book at the National Book Festival. News that The New York Times revealed details about the book in its Sept. 29 issue—three days before its scheduled release on Oct. 2—sent festival organizers scrambling to make sure the book would be on sale at the event. But the book joined hundreds of others by the 70 participating authors on sale at the festival. At day's end, Barnes & Noble reported that book sales were 40 percent higher than at last year's festival.
Readers came early and stayed late. A half-hour before the festival opened at 10 a.m., visitors began collecting blue C-SPAN2 book bags and circulating among tables in the Pavilion of the States. At 5 p.m., three- to five-deep around the History and Biography pavilion, straining to hear Woodward's remarks in hopes he would talk about his book, released earlier that day.
Attendance topped last year's record as more than 100,000 people of all ages dodged the intermittent raindrops to hear their favorite authors speak and have their books signed. Award-winning children's book authors Louis Sachar and Andrew Clements signed nearly 1,300 books between the two of them.
"This year's festival has the thrill of the new with the comfort of the familiar," said Jabari Asim, deputy editor of the Washington Post's Book World. He singled out festival favorites Doris Kearns Goodwin and John Hope Franklin (named Nov. 15 as a co-winner of the John W. Kluge Prize), who once again were part of the lineup in the History and Biography pavilion.
Goodwin, along with authors Khaled Hosseini ("The Kite Runner"), Nathaniel Philbrick ("Mayflower") and Sharon Draper ("Copper Sun") spoke at the National Book Festival gala on Friday night. The president and First Lady Laura Bush attended the evening event, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"Join me in welcoming America's first lady of literacy, ambassador extraordinaire to the world of literature and the reader in chief of the United States," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
In turn, Mrs. Bush welcomed the Librarian and Mrs. Billington, along with participating authors, to a White House breakfast on Saturday morning before the start of the book festival.
In her remarks at the opening event, world-renowned forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, whose novels are the basis for Fox's hit TV show "Bones," noted that book festivals "are the payoff for all the solitary hours spent at the keyboard."
Another guest at the White House breakfast was beloved "Sesame Street" character Elmo, who has the propensity to speak about himself in the third person.
"Elmo has been up since 6 o'clock this morning," he told a delighted crowd of children and adults who came to meet him (and his puppeteer Kevin Clash) later in the day at the book festival. "Elmo is really feeling it now!" Clash is the author of a new book titled "My Life as a Furry Red Monster."
Along with Elmo, other PBS characters such as Maya and Miguel, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Arthur were on hand to greet festival-goers. Miss Lori and Snook read aloud to children in the Let's Read America pavilions. As in past years, families waited in long lines to be photographed in the Target Big Red Chair.
Now in its 20th year, Scholastic Inc.'s Magic School Bus was parked on the festival grounds to introduce children to fun scientific experiments. Ms. Frizzle, a most admired science teacher, and the Dirtmeister, geologist extraordinaire, were on hand to meet their fans.
Also popular among their fans were NBA/WNBA players Brendan Haywood of the Washington Wizards and Ruth Riley of the Detroit Shock, who represented the organization's Read to Achieve literacy initiative in the Children's pavilion. They were introduced by former NBA All-Star BJ Armstrong.
"My mother was a librarian, so I had no choice but to read," Armstrong said. "Read in school, read for fun, read for work and read on the computer," he suggested. With help from several students from Jackson-Via Elementary School in Charlottesville, Va., Armstrong read aloud "Martin's Big Words," an inspirational story about Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport.
As part of the book festival's theme of Lifelong Literacy, the Library and the Ad Council, its longtime promotional partner, announced an upcoming campaign. Through its six-year partnership with the Ad Council, the Library has engaged all Americans in learning their nation's history through its online resources at www.loc.gov. The effort will take on a new goal.
"While 45 percent of fourth-graders in the U.S. say they read for fun every day, that percentage drops to only 19 percent by the time they get to eighth grade," said Kathy Crosby, senior vice president of the Ad Council.
The new campaign is designed to address this drop-off. A series of new television, radio, print and Web public service announcements will encourage children in grades 4 through 6 to "explore new worlds" through the wonders of reading. The campaign will be augmented by a special Web site, www.loc.gov/literacy/.
"This new site will engage and inspire children to find their passion for reading," said Jo Ann Jenkins, the Library's chief of staff.
Visitors to the Library of Congress pavilion were encouraged to express their passion for books and reading on the graffiti wall. Armed with colored markers, adults and children noted their favorite books and how reading inspired them.
"Books are my vision when I lost my own, my escape when none was possible, my friends when mine were lost," wrote one festival-goer. Others noted, "Reading makes me lose myself to a better world," and "reading keeps me humble."
In his closing remarks at the conclusion of the 2006 National Book Festival, the Librarian of Congress articulated his thoughts on the subject.
"Reading is important for everyone; it is the basis of our democracy. If we don't keep reading, we don't keep thinking."
For more information about the National Book Festival, including webcasts of selected author presentations, visit the Web site at www.loc.gov/bookfest/.