An Interview with Author Jennifer Murgia, Director of YA FEST Junior, a new MG book festival


1- Can you tell us a little about the very first YA Fest Jr–which middle grade authors will be attending, what activities you’re planning, anything festival goers can expect?

YA FEST Junior is the Middle Grade “offspring” of YA FEST and will be hosted by the Bethlehem Area Public Library on Saturday April 25, 2015 from 12-3pm. We’re very excited! Riding on the heels of an 800+ attended Jeff Kinney event, the BAPL is already on young readers’ radar. We have no doubt this will be a well attended festival. Seventeen MG authors and illustrators will be at YA FEST Junior, each at a signing station that encourages both approachability and interaction with young fans.

Those in attendance will be: Brian Biggs, P.G. Kain, Cecilia Galante, Eric Wight, Aaron Starmer, Matt Myklusch, M.E. Castle, Donna Galanti, Debbie Dadey, Amie & Bethanie Borst, Paul Acampora, Margie Gelbwasser, David Lubar, Ty Drago, Todd McClimans and the very lovely Barbara Dee.

Visitors will enjoy meeting the authors and participating in a fun “game show” called Master Berk Theater hosted by library director and author, Josh Berk. Books will be available for sale on the premises through Moravian Book Shop. We will also offer Art and Illustration lessons where patrons will learn hands-on cartooning by Eric Wight and Matt Myklusch and be able to take home a keepsake sketchbook. Books donated by publishing houses nationwide will be raffled off.

For a complete lineup of appearing authors and activities please visit

2-You’ve run two successful YA Fests, enabling teen readers to meet and hear some top YA authors. What made you want to expand to the middle grade world with YA Fest Jr?

The 2014 YA FEST proved to be a bit large for our venue. We had over 50 authors and well over 600 patrons visit us. Unfortunately, we recognized the need to cut back. I’m a firm believer that a festival such as YA FEST is a community event, drawing families with children of all ages. The younger set, those who are the true Middle Grade audience, should have their own festival and so I approached Josh Berk about hosting a very special event just for them. To instill the love of reading and encouraging a relationship between a child and a book is the drive behind YA FEST. Libraries are such special places and to have an opportunity to meet an author is a once in a lifetime experience that is now an annual reality.

3-What are the challenges in pulling off an exclusively MG book festival? Is it easier or harder to organize than a YA festival? 

The organization of a MG book festival is quite easy. With two YA FESTs behind me, it has been narrowed down to a very simple science. Not to mention the BAPL is the perfect venue as a portion of the money raised via book sales will be given to the library to help fund their new children’s wing. In fact, the area the festival will be held in is scheduled for demolition. We can’t wait to see the renovations!

4-Why do you think there are so few book festivals exclusively for middle grade readers?

This is my personal opinion, but I do feel that Middle Grade is harder to promote. This is a genre that relies on the backing of schools and libraries to give it a push. However, some school districts are in the midst of budget cuts and only have access to a few author visits throughout the year. The Scholastic Book Fair continues to be a main player in reaching young readers, but a large-scale event with multiple authors is not something that is a common occurrence.

YA FEST and YA FEST Junior are free to the public. A percentage of sales is then offered in the form of a fundraiser for the hosting venue. Authors donate their time to attend. Publishers donate books to raffle off. Children make memories at these events—they meet the creators of their beloved characters and discover new stories and adventures. It’s really a winning event for all involved.

5-Unlike many YA readers, middle grade readers are often supervised by parents, teachers and librarians. How do you appeal to adults at the book festival? How do you appeal directly to kids?

I would hope that that anyone bringing their child to the festival is a booklover. If the adult has a deep appreciation for reading I would hope that they, too, are as excited about the event as the children. In fact, they may be more excited! Knowing their children will have an engaging time, meeting authors, meeting illustrators, is rewarding. There will also be many books raffled off as prizes, so the opportunity to walk away with several books is enticing. Children will find the event to be a large, kid friendly atmosphere with activities. We’re certain YA FEST Junior will be so much fun that it will appeal to children who struggle with reading or have yet to discover a love for it.

6-How has the Bethlehem (PA) Public library partnered with you on the festival, in addition to providing  space for the event? Are you getting support from other businesses or institutions in your community?

The Bethlehem Area Public Library has a phenomenal staff. Author Josh Berk recently became the director there and working with him is always fun. My fellow festival planner Ashley Supinski and I have met with Youth Services Department Manager Dana Hoy, and she will lead an active group of teen volunteers to help us out for the day. Our neighborhood indie bookstore is very excited to help out and I will be asking the nearest hotel in town about offering a discount for our authors visiting from a distance.

7-How are you getting the word out about the festival?

We’re relying on a good number of ways to spread the word about YA FEST Junior. Special event posters and banners have been created and have been hung up in the library as well as the bookstore that will provide the titles available for sale. All social media pages will share the news. This includes YA FEST’s media, the BAPL and Moravian Book Shop. The attending authors will post the festival on their event pages and websites.

Several press releases will go out to the local papers and local television station.  Exclusive invites have been sent to fifteen local elementary and middle schools.  We are also slated to be a feature article in LVStyle Magazine’s April issue.

8-How do you envision YA Fest Jr developing in the future?

As long as have a willing venue available to us I see great things for this festival. I would love to see YA FEST and YA FEST Junior unite into one festival again, so that’s certainly something to consider. Looking ahead, I would really like to see this become a traveling festival where local schools vote to host the festival and it then is held in a school auditorium or cafeteria. Each year may be a different school, or perhaps in a different county, and a special unveiling of where it will be will be announced.

Barbara Dee is the author of The (Almost)  Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys, Trauma Queen, This Is Me From Now On, Solving Zoe, and Just Another Day in my Insanely Real Life, all published by Simon & Schuster.

Barbara Dee
  1. Jennifer is amazing and doing such a fabulous job of coordinating these festivals and I’m super thrilled to be a part of YA Fest Junior!

    • Thank you, Donna! YA FEST is a joy to organize! Here’s to many future events, with you attending, of course!

  2. Josh Berk is a gem! You’re so lucky to have him and the YA FEST JR sounds like a terrific idea and one that could grow to other libraries. I run a mentoring series called the League of Exceptional Writers in Portland. It’s jointly sponsored by the Oregon SCBWI and Powells bookstore. I’d love to chat with you sometime about running a larger scale MG event.

    • Rosanne, Josh is wonderful to work with! Please do feel free to connect with me at to possibly speak about a future event. I would love to brainstorm with you!

  3. Wow, this sounds wonderful! So glad to hear that MG readers will have a festival dedicated to their needs 🙂 And I love that some of the proceeds go toward a new children’s wing in the library!

  4. This festival sounds fantastic. Here’s hoping it’s a huge success!

    • Thank you, Donna Gephart. I have no doubt it will be!

  5. An entirely MG festival–wow! What a terrific idea. April is book festival time; the Ohioana Festival in Columbus OH is that same day. Some MG author who will be there include moi, Andrea Cheng, Michelle Houts and Margaret Peterson Haddix. Go middle grade!

  6. Thank you so much for this interview, Barbara — YA FEST Junior is such a special event!

  7. Yes! And don’t you wish there were more exclusively-MG book festivals out there?

  8. The YA FEST Jr. sounds amazing! Sharing MG love is great.