Author R.L. Stine gave the hundreds of children listening to his ghost story a chance to take part in crafting the tale: should the characters go to the haunted pumpkin patch or go see their math tutor?
The kids gave their resounding support for the pumpkin patch.
"That wouldn't be a good story if they went to the math tutor, would it?" Stine said to the crowd. "That'd be a terrible ghost story!"
There's no terrible stories at the National Book Festival, the Library of Congress' 12th annual event on the National Mall where children of all ages meet their favorite authors, hear tales new and old and get a chance to tell stories of their own.
Stine, author of the popular Goosebumps series, was followed on stage by Tom Angleberger, who put the storytelling and paper-folding aspects of his Origama Yoda series -- a parody of Star Wars -- into children's hands by distributing enough paper for every child to make their own origama character.
"To come here and be in this atmosphere, and then there's like, I don't know, a thousand people out there? It's crazy!" he said. If he could have attended such an event as a child, "that would've been wild, man. I would've loved to have met a couple of my favorite authors, like Beverly Cleary or somebody at an event like this."
A few blocks over on the Mall, tents are filled with a more mature audience listening to poems read by U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine, whose poems about working-class Detroit strike a dour tone.
"I'm searching for something more cheerful," Levine tells the audience as he picks another poem to read. "Guess I have to write it first."
Levine credits William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer as his poetic influences as a child, when "poetry wasn't taught as well in schools as it is now," he said.
Not everyone will like poetry, he said, though he encourages students to at least give it a try. But if it's not interesting to them, he encouraged the audience to let kids try something else. There's a lot to chose from oand all the literary offerings and interactive exhibits are free to the public, so there's plenty of choices.
"Now, if there's nothing that gets to [kids], then they're in trouble," Levine said.