Page Turners: Demographics at the Festival
11:57 P.M. (crunch time)
Sparkly red swirls wind into the pattern of her wings. She struts in her red and black-striped tights and polka-dotted boots while her tutu ruffles. Two antennas jet from her head, bouncing mindlessly as she inserts two fingers in her mouth to suck on down the runway.
Emily, 6, dressed as the main character Lulu from the children’s series “Ladybug Girl,” for the Storybook Character Fashion Show. She would eventually win the competition, but lacked comment on her victory during a post-contest interview. However, her wide grin and strut in her intricate outfit was self-explanatory.
Author and illustrator Adam Rex acted as a compère for the event with jokes and positive commentary for each model. Although the turnout was not as big as he hoped, he still says it was fun.
"This is my favorite book festival in the country," Rex said. "There’s always a great atmosphere, great location, great weather, and great organization. You guys know how to throw a book festival."
According to texasbookfestival.org, “The signature event has evolved into one of the premier literary events in the country…more than 40,000 book lovers of all ages attend the Festival annually.” Annual festival goers have noticed that the fair has significantly grown upon its ability to attract crowds of all generations.
Drenda Haddock, who preferred not to mention her age but appeared to be in her mid-sixties, witnessed what she called a “parade of life” as she sat on a bench for an hour. “I saw old, young, costumed kids, authors with their guides… people just walking and laughing, kids rolling in the grass.”
Haddock said that she has come to about three-fourths of the Texas Book Festivals. “It has changed a lot with more food, easier access, and less congestion. There are many more families and younger children now as well.”
Scott Montgomery, 43, moderated a panel for two different crime fiction authors on Saturday and enjoyed the festival as an attendee on Sunday. According to Montgomery, the age demographic is “so wide” and mostly includes people in their 30s to 40s along with quite a few people in their late 20s. He also sees a lot of new parents, getting their kids involved with reading. “It’s a smart family event to do,” Montgomery said.
An influx of a younger generation encouraged sponsors to introduce newer technologies in the tents, according to Mandy Gay, a first-time volunteer and co-chair for the Children’s Activity Tent. In the tent, iPads entertained children from the ages of about 4 to 12 alongside tables with paper tablecloths littered with crayons and colored pencils.
In Gay’s opinion the iPads are more popular with the older kids, though she cannot tell how engaged they actually are. “I think it’s also interesting to see that the kids still like to sit and color…especially the younger [kids],” Gay said.
Michael Bae, a father with a love for books, hovers over his son while he explores an iPad game. “I encourage him to read books but technology seems to entertain him more,” Bae said.
There are many potential factors contributing to the festival’s mass appeal, such as the increase of children’s tents over the years or a changing demographic in Austin. However, attendees of all ages agree that the festival has become a time for readers of all kinds, whether wearing a ladybug costume for a storybook competition, or strolling along festival grounds in a walker, to appreciate and display their passion for literature.
-The Page Turners: Jillian Mitchell, Corey Schneider, Claire Bontempo, Chrissy Dickerson