A Day for Storied Families: EpicFest and the Power of Family Literacy

Mark I. West, Professor and Chair, Department of English at UNC-C and EpicFest volunteer shares his thoughts about EpicFest and the continued importance of sharing and creating stories within families:

The phrase storied family is generally used when referring to a famous family that figures in historical narratives, such as the Kennedy family or the Bush family.  However, I like to use this phrase when referring to families that are held together by a web of stories.  Such families read stories together, tell stories at the dinner table, and are always ready to enjoy a good yarn. 

Children who grow up in such families are lucky.  Research in the emerging field of family literacy indicates children are more likely to succeed in school if they grow up in families where books are available, stories are told, and reading is valued.  Barbara Bush, an early leader of the family literacy movement and the founder of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, is famous for having said, “Let your children see you read.”

When families engage in literacy activities together, everyone in the family benefits.   It not only promotes children’s reading skills, but it also facilities family communication.  Families who have stories in common have something to talk about, and they can make references to characters and phrases that they all understand.  For a family who has read the Harry Potter books together, for example, the phrase “constant vigilance” takes on a special meaning since it figures so prominently in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I think that all families should be storied families, and one way to accomplish this goal is to gather one’s family together and go to EpicFest 2019 at ImaginOn.  Billed as “Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s free literary festival for children and their families,” EpicFest will take place on Saturday, November 9, 2019, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.   As a member of EpicFest’s steering committee, I know that the organizers of this festival have arranged for many opportunities for families to engage in literacy-related activities together.  Participants can interact with children’s authors and illustrators, and they can participate in literature-themed craft projects.  For more information about the details of this year’s festival, please click on the following link:  https://foundation.cmlibrary.org/events/epicfest

I think it is fitting that Charlotte’s premier family literacy event came into existence because of a storied family from Charlotte.  EpicFest is the Preston family’s gift to the community.  Long-time supporters of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Jim and Libby Preston had a passion for reading, which they shared with their daughter.  Libby Preston worked for many years as a librarian in the public schools, and this experience contributed to her commitment to promoting literacy in the Charlotte community.  When she died in 2014, her husband wanted to honor Libby’s passion for reading and literacy education, so he approached the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation about making a gift to help carry on his wife’s life work.  The result is EpicFest.  Jim died in 2016, and today EpicFest honors both Jim and Libby Preston. 

Jim and Libby Preston’s daughter, Mary Lane Lennon, serves on the EpicFest steering committee.  She and I often sit next to each other during the committee meetings.  We are the two non-librarians on the committee, but we both feel at home on the committee.  After all, we are all united by a deep belief in the power of family literacy.