Rock stars of writing take the stage at 2012 National Book Festival

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Take a bit of Hollywood, add sports insiders, include at least one Pulitzer Prize winner, internationally known and loved writers and artists, and you have the making of the 2012 National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress.

This year's "Books That Shaped America" festival puts an array of notables before their fans. Consider Bob Balaban. Many know him from his acting in "Midnight Cowboy," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and a host of other roles including in a number of Christopher Guest movies such as "A Mighty Wind." But perhaps not many realize that he is a much-loved children's author.

"I wrote the 'McGrowl' series about 10 years ago for Scholastic and had such a good time I decided to write another one," said Balaban, whose new book is "The Creature from the Seventh Grade: Boy or Beast" from Penguin/Viking Juvenile. "I thought it might be more fun and challenging to write for slightly older kids so I set my sights to ages 9 to 12 -- and it really was."

So fun, in fact, that he delights in hearing from young fans. After receiving a letter from a young "McGrowl" fan, he took her suggestion and changed the character's direction and dedicated a book to her.

If you go
The 12th Annual National Book Festival: 'Books That Shaped America'
» When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Rain or shine.
» Where: National Mall, between 9th and 14th Streets NW
» Info: Free; 888-714-4696; loc.gov/bookfest

The chance to interact with an array of authors at a noncommercial national celebration of books was the brainchild of former first lady Laura Bush. The Library of Congress solicits personal donations to support the event.

Publishers nominate authors, illustrators and poets to participate in the event. A panel then selects the final participants.

The only downside might be that with 200,000 attendees and an array of consecutive authors' talks, signings and readings, first-time goers might be a bit overwhelmed.

"Go to the website before the festival, know who is appearing where, who you want to see in what order, so you are able to make good calls," said Jennifer Gavin, project manager of the National Book Festival. "We have a number of features, and even I'm amazed that we have 125 authors this year. That's possible, in part, because we're opening early on Sunday and having new sessions [including some with] multiple authors."

Gavin noted that the authors of children's and young adult books are especially in demand.

Mike Lupica, one of the best-known sportswriters in the U.S., has authored an array of fiction and nonfiction books. Yet, the father of four finds a special satisfaction in writing for young adults.

"As I travel around the country, I tell kids all the time that for 250 pages, I get to make sports -- and the world -- come out the way I want it to. Not a bad job," said Lupica, who has authored New York Times Bestsellers. "I love telling these stories. Another thing I tell my readers is that anybody in the room can get knocked down -- requires no talent, no skill, no character. But it's how they get back up that tells the world about all those things. In a world dominated by technology, laptops and cellphones and video games and all the rest, I have found out firsthand that children still love a good story. They love to read. I tell them all the time, there is no greater magic than page one, chapter one, of a book you want to read."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner