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Amelia Islander

Promoting a Lifetime of Learning

Feb 09, 2017 09:44AM

Local author John Gillgren regales a young attendee with his Pirate Tales at last year's Book Festival.

Reading to the mind is what exercise is to the body, and children who develop good reading skills at a young age are on their way to a lifetime of learning. That’s the mission behind the Amelia Island Book Festival, seeking to open up the world through books by providing quality events featuring local and world-renowned authors.

The Amelia Island Book Festival is committed to kids, providing a unique literacy program that puts an author in every school so students can engage in a 360-degree experience with an author and their book. “We’re very excited about our 16th year,” says Marie Rizzo-Fenn, volunteer president of the AIBF board. “The Amelia Island Book Festival supports our Authors in Schools Literacy Program, the Tween/Teen Scenes, and Short Story Writing Contest. This is what our festival is all about, getting a book into every child’s hand and promoting a lifetime of learning.”

Last year’s festival featured numerous bestselling and celebrated authors, including Steve Berry, Greg Iles, Andrew Gross, Janice Gable Bashman, Brenda Jackson, Ellen Malphrus, Vic DiGenti, Michael Wiley, Carla Norton, Lisa Black, Jane Wood, Charles Benoit, and numerous local and area authors. “Thousands participated, but the real winners were the students of Nassau County,” says Kristi Simpkins, head of elementary education for the Nassau County School District at the Kick-off Luncheon. She noted that the festival bought more than 6,000 books for students at every public school in the county. “This is a huge investment in our children’s education.”

Returning this month on February 16, 17, and 18, this year’s festival features New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry, AIBF’s honorary chairman, leading a dream team of notable authors including Mary Kay Andrews, Lara Adrian, David Baldacci, Joseph Finder, R. L. Stine, and more. Over 120 authors will be present at the Author Expo/Reader Extravaganza, featuring the theme “An Amelia Island Encounter—Romance, Action, and Mystery,” held at Fernandina Beach Middle School. Residents and visitors alike will be able to meet local and national authors, have their books signed, and also attend various “breakout sessions,” in which authors speak about their writing processes and answer questions from participants.

“This festival has come a long way,” says Berry. “It started big years ago, but now it’s much bigger. It’s truly a celebration of books, reading, and writing. A triple play that filters into every school, and every person, in the community. Literacy has no greater friend than the Amelia Island Book Festival. I’m proud to serve as its honorary chairman.”

The AIBF kicks off festivities on February 16 with a luncheon held at The Amelia Island Club featuring keynote speaker David Baldacci, introduced by Steve Berry. Baldacci published his first novel, Absolute Power, in 1996. A major motion picture adaptation followed, with Clint Eastwood as its director and star. In total, Baldacci has published 33 novels for adults, all national and international bestsellers, with several adapted for film and television. His novels have been translated into more than 45 languages and are sold in more than 80 countries, with over 110 million copies in print worldwide. He has also published five novels for younger readers. “Book festivals like this one bring out the best in all of us,” says Baldacci, who is thrilled to be part of the AIBF this year.

Also on February 16, the AIBF and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Nassau County have teamed up to put on the Tween/Teens Scene, an event featuring four renowned authors, all in one location, covering four areas of the creative arts—poetry, graphics and illustration, fiction novels, and playwriting. It will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the BGC Miller Freedom Center, located at 942259 Old Nassauville Road. This free event is open all students grades 6 to 12 across the county, although reservations are required.

Students will have the opportunity to meet and mingle with renowned authors in both large gatherings (opening ceremonies and during refreshments), as well as small individual breakout sessions. Students will get the chance to attend at least two sessions of their choice. “This fits perfectly with our efforts to help youth create aspirations for their future,” says Jamie Thompson, chief operations officer of the Boys & Girls Club. “By providing opportunities in this core area, we are enabling youth to develop their creativity and cultural awareness through knowledge and appreciation of the arts and creative writing.”

On February 17, honorary chairman Steve Berry and his wife, Elizabeth, will lead “Lessons from a Bestseller—Steve Berry’s Writing Workshop,” held at FSCJ’s Bean Center, located at 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Lost Order, The 14th Colony, The Patriot Threat, The Lincoln Myth, The King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson Key, The Emperor’s Tomb, The Paris Vendetta, The Charlemagne Pursuit, The Venetian Betrayal, The Alexandria Link, The Templar Legacy, The Third Secret, The Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages, with 21,000,000 copies in print in 51 countries. Berry consistently appears in the top echelon of the New York Times, USA Today, and Indie bestseller lists.

History lies at the heart of every Steve Berry novel. It’s his passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, which led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation. Since 2009, Steve and Elizabeth have crossed the country to save endangered historic treasures, raising money via lectures, receptions, galas, luncheons, dinners, and their popular writers’ workshops.

Also on February 17, the festival’s authors will be visiting all of Nassau County’s schools for the AIBF’s most beloved projects, “Authors in Schools,” where each student receives a book, free of charge, written by the author who visits their school. “This year, we have provided 8,200 books to local students,” says Rizzo-Fenn. Authors in Schools is held throughout the day and open to each and every Nassau County school student.

Later that evening, the AIBF presents its Authors Faceoff Gala, held at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, located at 39 Beach Lagoon Road, from 6 to 10 p.m. Supporting Authors in Schools, Steve Berry will be joined by R. L. Stein, David Baldacci, Joseph Finder, Lara Adrian, and Mary Kay Andrews. Beginning with a cocktail hour, then followed by a sit-down dinner, this fun-filled evening features friendly banter between world-famous authors, a not-to-be-missed event.

R. L. Stine has a long writing career, even before he began writing scary books for kids. In 1989, he created the Fear Street series, the best-selling young adult book series in history. He has written about 100 Fear Street books about teens facing all kinds of terror. Goosebumps began in 1992. The book series quickly became a hit around the world. Translated into 32 different languages, it made Stine a worldwide publishing celebrity. The Goosebumps TV show was the number one kids’ show in the U.S. for three years in a row.

Joseph Finder is the New York Times bestselling author of 13 suspense novels, most recently Guilty Minds, the third to feature private spy Nick Heller. Heller was introduced in Vanished in 2009, and returned in Buried Secrets in 2011. Finder’s novels High Crimes and Paranoia have been adapted as major motion pictures. Killer Instinct won the International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Award for Best Novel, while Buried Secrets won the Strand Critics Award for Best Novel and Company Man won the Barry Award for Best Thriller.

Lara Adrian is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of the Midnight Breed vampire romance series, with nearly 4 million books in print and digital worldwide and translations licensed to more than 20 countries. Her books regularly appear in the top spots of all the major bestseller lists, including the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Indiebound,, Barnes & Noble, and more.

Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of Beach Town, Save the Date, Ladies’ Night, Spring Fever, Savannah Breeze, Little Bitty Lies, Savannah Blues, The Weekenders, and many more. A former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she wrote ten critically acclaimed mysteries, including the Callahan Garrity mystery series, under her “real” name, which is Kathy Hogan Trocheck. Her mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity awards. On February 18, the last day of the 2017 Amelia Island Book Festival, an Author Expo/Reader Extravaganza will be held all day at Fernandina Beach Middle School, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors to the Expo will have a chance to meet local and international authors, purchase books, have them signed by the authors, and engage in various breakout sessions with numerous writers for 30 to 40 minute intimate talks, plus question and answer sessions. There will be over 120 authors in attendance. This family festival and celebration  of the written word also features entertainment, activities, contests, and prizes. It’s free and open to book-lovers of all ages. Food and beverages will be offered by area schools and non-profits throughout the day.

In addition on February 18, a special free ticketed breakout session with R. L. Stine will be offered. Check the AIBF web site for availability as tickets are going quickly.

“We are committed to our kids and the demonstrated benefits of our Authors in Schools literacy program. We are so grateful to our sponsors, partners, and individual supporters for helping us make this the year we achieve our goal to buy every student a book of the author they meet,” says Rizzo-Fenn. “With Steve Berry at the helm, all of our wonderful community partners, and our sponsors, we think this will be the best Book Festival ever! If you want to support literacy, a lifetime of learning, if you are a book lover, author, poet, writer, or storyteller, if you like mingling with interesting authors, then mark your calendars!”

For more information, a complete schedule of events, and to purchase tickets, visit