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How TomeCon ignites a stronger passion for reading in young minds
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Students attending TomeCon 2019 Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus visit the Kennesaw State University iTeach truck between sessions. - photo by Scott Rogers

Kids eagerly rushed up to meet their favorite authors at TomeCon 2019, grabbing autographs and expressing their undeniable fondness for the worlds and plots the writers created.

The conference attracted nearly 2,100 students, parents and volunteers to the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus on Tuesday, March 12.

“I love seeing their eyes light up over the books, and talking to each other and meeting an author in person,” said Rebecca Hamby, executive board member of the Tome Student Literacy Society. “Authors are rockstars at TomeCon. It’s just a fun day helping the community.”

The students immersed themselves in a plethora of literacy-themed sessions presented by authors, editors, storytellers and other experts in the field.

Around 200 schools from Georgia were represented, and 200 volunteers came out to run the conference.

Hamby said she started the nonprofit with her sister, Jennifer Parker, and friend, Shelby Day, in 2012. Their organization serves students from third grade to seniors in high school through a digital school book club program.

Each year in February, Tome releases 36 book award nominees for schools’ Tome chapters to read.

The nonprofit additionally offers around 15 competitions for students and schools to participate in, such as the Reading Bowl.

Hamby said the organization held its first TomeCon in 2013, which started with only 90 attendees.

“I like that we offer a niche for students interested in reading and literacy,” said Day, one of the founders. “It’s so rewarding to come and see the kids’ excitement and how they network like adults and meet each other.”

Jaden Cochran, a fourth-grader from Lanier Elementary School, said one of the aspects of the conference she enjoyed the most was meeting other students who shared a passion for reading.

“My mom always said I have my nose in a book, I just love reading,” she said. “It takes you to different worlds and it makes you smarter. You get a bigger imagination and you learn all kinds of words.”

Laughter and applause erupted from Josie Bailey’s session, which encompassed African folktales and fables, and the importance of collecting one’s own personal story.

“What you do now is determining your story,” Bailey said. “You’re writing your story everyday. I want you to physically write it down, talk to your parents and just be nosy.”

Adding energy to the crowd, Bailey asked students and teachers to come up to the front of the room for a dramatic interpretation of two Shel Silverstein poems.

Not being afraid to act silly and let their emotions run wild, kids and adults recited two different poems.

“I loved the way she told the stories,” Christy Walden, a fifth-grader from Fairview Elementary School said. “She showed us how to put more emotion into what you say and in different stories.”

Divulging the secrets behind her writing process, published author McCall Hoyle offered an interactive session based off of developing characters for stories.

She said all protagonists must have a goal, motivation and conflict. Out of the three, she finds that the motivation proves the most difficult to establish.

Hoyle encouraged everyone in the room to continue peeling back the layers as to why a character would pursue their goal.

She shared her first experience with writing a book that was never published.

“You are perfectly normal if you write a bunch of bad books that don’t sell,” she said. “Not only do most people write a few bad books, most people write a few books that they never finish.”

So far she has published two young adult novels, “The Thing with Feathers” and “Meet the Sky.”

Not all of the sessions involved chatting with authors, one in particular entailed meeting a couple of scaly friends.

Kathy Church, program coordinator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources held “Slithering with Slytherin,” which broke some misconceptions about snakes and dived into the mythology of the basilisk also found in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

She brought out a couple of live native snakes from Georgia, explaining their role in their respective ecosystems.

“My goal is to get them to understand these guys are an extremely important part of the food chain,” Church said. “I don’t care if they’re still afraid or not, but if they respect that animal, then I’ve done by job.”

Hamby said if people want to spread a love of reading to young people, to consider becoming a sponsor of the Tome Student Literacy Society. She aims to lower the cost of student tickets, and in order to do that Hamby said the conference needs more support.

For more information about the nonprofit visit www.tomesociety.org.

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