The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on nearly everyone’s lives and forced the cancellation of virtually every local event since March of last year.
Now, one of the most popular fixtures on the local calendar is set to return.
The Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, which was created eight years ago and has drawn thousands of families and young readers each year, will be back on Saturday, Oct. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., albeit a scaled-down version and in a new location.
Festival Executive Director Dawn Greenberg said the 2021 renewal will be limited to about 60 authors and is being relocated to a portion of the Town of New Castle’s parking lot at the Chappaqua train station.
“We’re super-excited,” Greenberg said. “We’re a little frantic, though we’re excited.”
Last week, the New Castle Town Board authorized use of the town-owned lot to host the festival. It had been held on the grounds of Robert E. Bell Middle School across South Greeley Avenue in recent years. In 2019, the festival drew upwards of 7,000 people and close to 150 authors and illustrators were on hand.
That won’t be happening this year. Greenberg said there will be an online reservation system on the festival’s website where about 350 to 400 people will be admitted for each one-hour interval. Currently, state guidance for outdoor events is a maximum of 500 people, and that would include the authors, volunteers and any other personnel that needs to be present in addition to the patrons.
If guidance changes over the next four months, perhaps the number of authors can be increased.
“If the positivity rate keeps cratering and the governor thinks that we can do more, I indicated to the Town Board that we can hold it open if things become better looking for us, then maybe we can bump up the author count a little,” Greenberg said.
All guests over the age of two years old will be required to wear masks.
Despite the reduced number of authors, organizers are working to get as wide a mix as possible. Some of the more popular authors will be on hand but there will be representation from non-fiction and young adult authors, among other categories, Greenberg said.
Authors that have already committed include Dan Gutman, who has written about 160 children’s books, Vedra Hiranandani, author of “The Night Diary,” a winner of the Newbery Honor, and “Biscuits” creators Alyssa Capucilli and Pat Schories, celebrating Biscuit’s 25th birthday.
Last week, the Town Board expressed some concern about having enough space and parking capacity, since the Chappaqua Farmers Market has been operating in the back lot on Saturday mornings into the early afternoon. Town Administrator Jill Shapiro said there should be ample space to accommodate both events.
To prepare for any parking shortfall, Greenberg said the festival is prepared to ask school officials about using Grafflin or Roaring Brook elementary schools for spillover parking and to run a shuttle from the school to the train station parking lot, if necessary.
“We’ll keep an eye on that but I don’t imagine it’s going to be a big problem, if we keep it at 300 to 500 (people) an hour,” Greenberg said.
In addition to reduced capacity for the book festival this year, there will be no food vendors at the festival. Visitors may walk over to the farmers market to get something to eat or they will be directed to downtown Chappaqua with signage, she said.
Admission will be free but required reservations are expected to be available online at the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival website at www.ccfg.org on or about Aug. 1. For additional information, also visit the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/chappaquachildrensbookfestival.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/