Artists and authors will meet their young audience

G-rated it will be. Traditional? Not necessarily.

The sixth annual Mount Airy Kids' Literary Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, presents lighthearted readings by the artists who bring color and life to the pages of children's books.

The free event will showcase artists and authors from Philadelphia and the region, a Disney animation veteran, and the illustrator of the best-seller Go the F*** to Sleep, which has since been adapted for a younger audience.

Ricardo Cortés will read from the new version, Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, at noon Saturday. The story, which started as a sympathetic tale of overtired parents in a struggle to put their kids to bed, was reissued in March in a child-friendly version with bigger pictures. It's an alternative for parents who think their children could derive something from the humor book, minus the profanity.

"It makes it easy to not have to stress about the wrong word slipping out," said Cortés.

It remains a read for grown-ups, too: Samuel L. Jackson, who narrated an audiobook version of the original agreed to make an illustrated cameo in the new book. Children probably won't recognize the actor, but their guardians likely will. Cortés said he searched the Star Wars prequels for a good Jackson model. "Ultimately, I found something in Pulp Fiction."

Disney animator Frans Vischer's reading, Fuddles, takes a more traditional approach, though its chubby feline protagonist should resonate with cat owners of all ages.

Fuddles, the author and illustrator explained, is a "pampered indoor cat who wants to seek sort of greener pastures." He leaves home. "Everything goes bad, partially because he's physically not prepared at all," said Vischer.

But the author promised a cheerful conclusion: "In the end, he sees himself as an adventurer."

Vischer, whose film credits include Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Princess and the Frog, said his work on two children's books began with sketches of his son and his real-life cat. He said the books have given him the chance to create something all his own.

He enjoys bringing his stories directly to children, as he will this weekend. They ask him questions about Fuddles' weight and diet, and at one book signing, he invited them to participate in a weight-guessing contest.

In addition to the readings, the weekend-long Mount Airy festival includes post-reading pizza parties and book signings, chances to meet illustrators as well as drawing, writing, craft-making, and musical activities.

Philadelphia illustrators, too, are looking forward to seeing their young audience.

"It's just really fun to meet people who are readers, because readers are awesome," said Amy Ignatow, the Mount Airy creator of The Popularity Papers. She will read from the fourth book in her series, a scrapbook-style story of two girls who attempt to become popular by researching the "popular girls."

"They have successes and failures," Ignatow said. Julie is an artistic type and writes her parts in cursive; Lydia prefers stick figures. But the girls are united in their prototypical preadolescent quest.

Brian Biggs will read The Boy Who Cried Alien, a cry-wolf story with a plot that evokes at least one Radiohead song ("Subterranean Homesick Alien").

"Aliens have landed and nobody's buying it," said the book's illustrator, whose panel-by-panel storytelling reflects his comic-book influence.

Biggs plans to have fun with the voices of the visiting aliens, the young boy - unaffectionately nicknamed Larry the Liar - and his fellow townspeople.

"It's a big, bold-colored, funny book," he said. "There's gonna be a lot of laughing."


Mount Airy Kids' Literary Festival, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, Mount Airy. Free. Information: 215-844-1870, www.bigbluemarblebooks.com.

Contact Matt Huston at 215-854-5289 or mhuston@philly.com.