Francisville’s Latest Literary Celebration
By Anne Butler
Miracle worker Missy Couhig, co-owner of The Conundrum Books & Puzzles in St. Francisville, was already deeply involved in two adult book festivals---a relatively staid mid-winter one featuring four published writers presenting their varied works to adoring readers, and a mid-summer downtown progressive Eat-Drink-Be Merry one celebrating the late lamented Louisiana author Walker Percy.
The Conundrum has a wonderful selection of children’s books and puzzles, and frequently hosts visiting authors and illustrators with great appeal for the smallfry. And so, when Missy Couhig happened into an ABA session on children’s book festivals a few months back, she determined to perform a miracle by organizing one in St. Francisville. In an amazingly short period of time she managed to persuade a number of writers and illustrators to participate, ramping up the fun level with sidewalk chalk art competitions, storytelling tent, facepainting, crafts, and plenty of readings. All this takes place May 6 in conjunction with national Children’s Book Week, with activities for youngsters at oak-shaded Parker Park, and for middlers and high schoolers lunch, movie and YA author discussions at the West Feliciana Parish Library, where a special display celebrates the 75th anniversary of Little Golden Books.
Festival theme is “Reading Gives You Wings,” as reflected in the logo designed by Thomas Gresham, its bird-like open books flying the reader into amazing adventures. Books are available for autographs and purchase, but presentations and activities are all free. The inaugural West Feliciana Children’s Book Festival has already gained national recognition as the “Cool Idea of the Day” online at the newsletter called Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade. This is one of the state’s first festivals designed to appeal strictly to children. Park hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; library activities begin with brown-bag lunch, screening of movie at 12:30 p.m., and presentation by authors following.
Participating children’s picture-book authors who will read and sign books in the park include Mom’s Choice Award winner Leif Pederson of the popular Swamp Kids series: Pierre’s Pirogue Parade, The Missing Chord and A Dog Named Cat. Also reading their books for storytime are authors Steven Spires (The Three Little Shrimp and The Oak Tree) and Todd-Michael St. Pierre (Chicory & Roux: The Creole Mouse and the Cajun Mouse). Tracey Koch and Lauren Hawthorne, author and illustrator of Georges: The Goose From Toulouse Who Only Ate Couscous, will lead an interactive presentation and story time, while illustrator Chuck Galey also interacts in the crafting tent. Demonstrating illustrating will be Mike Artell, author and illustrator of Jacques and De Beanstalk, Three Little Cajun Pigs, and Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. From 10:30 to noon, famed photographer/author CC Lockwood will sign his book for children, CC Lockwood’s Louisiana Nature Guide.
Young Adult author Shalanda Stanley, whose fiction book Drowning is Inevitable is set in St. Francisville, has degrees in creative writing from Florida State and special ed from UL Monroe; her PhD from LSU is in curriculum and instruction with a focus on reading and literacy education. she will speak on her book and her craft at the library after the screening of the Disney movie “Geek Charming,” based on the book by author Robin Palmer, who will also be present to discuss her work.
An extra added attraction will be the presentation of student-written books on the Galapagos Islands, inspired by the travels of Advanced Placement Human Geography/World Geography instructor Nicole Means, chair of the Social Studies Department at West Feliciana High School. These young authors, Sydney Corbin, Madison Pollet, and Morgan Chism, whose books focus on making a positive impact on our world, will autograph and give away for free some 50 copies of their books.
On Sunday, May 7, the St. Francisville Symphony Association presents the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra’s St. Francisville Chamber Series “The Tempest,” at 3 p.m. at Hemingbough. Viola/composer Christian Frederickson joins the symphony’s Chamber Players and Of Moving Colors in this world premiere collaboration. Tickets are available at the Bank of St. Francisville (telephone 225-635-6397).
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (the main house at Oakley is closed for lead abatement, but the visitor center and grounds remain accessible and planned programs continue).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.westfeliciana.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).