The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 23, 2013

Authors captivate children: 3-day book festival draws large crowds

JOHNSTOWN — Charlotte Blake Alston tells childrens’ stories that have a (certain) sound.

That sound comes from a kora, a stringed instrument used by storytellers in some West African countries.

Alston, of Philadelphia, brought her unique style of storytelling to the Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center and Art Works in Cambria City.

Alston and authors Suzanne Bloom and Nick Bruel captured the imaginations of youngsters at the fifth annual Children’s Book Festival in Cambria City.

The three-day event ends today.

The kora – which has 11 strings on one side and 10 strings on the other – produces a harplike sound Alston uses to tell stories handed down through African cultures.

“With children I try to choose stories that have some participatory aspect to them whether it’s a chant, a song or music,” she said.

 The stories caught the attention of 3-year-old Annabelle Roberts of Johnstown.

“It was very entertaining for her,” her mother, Veronica Roberts, said.

“She goes to story time at the library and they never had anything like this,” Roberts said. “It kept her attention. Usually she can’t sit still for that long.”

An estimated 400 to 500 children showed up on Saturday.

“We were amazed,” said Leah Spangler, executive director of The Learning Lamp, which is sponsoring event.

“When we came to unlock the door we already had people waiting to come in,” she said. “A lot of kids have been in and out of here today.”

The goal of the book festival is to encourage youngsters to read.

“The concept is to connect parents and children to books; to make books meaningful so parents and children can enjoy literacy activities together,” Spangler said.

The book festival is free. Each child receives a free age-appropriate book just for attending the festival.

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