LA Times Festival of Books 2023 – ReadersPLUS goes back to its roots

ReadersPLUS student staff working the booth
ReadersPLUS Vermont Assistant Coordinator, Nataly Lozano, is distributing books of Room to Read and JEP’s Careers in STEAM book series

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books took place at the University of Southern California on April 22 and April 23, 2023. The Festival, which has been held yearly since 1996, is a free, weekend-long event that celebrates authors.

One of the biggest draws of the Festival is the Children’s area; among the many tents and the main stage, the Joint Educational Project (JEP) / ReadersPLUS tent is always a contender for most popular.

Tina Koneazny is the Associate Director of Administration and Educational Outreach at JEP as well as the Director of the literacy and math tutoring program ReadersPLUS. Koneazny has organized and managed the JEP/ ReadersPLUS booth at the LA Times Festival of Books with her team of tutors and JEP volunteers since it has been at the USC campus.

Tina posing with books and another person at the festival of books
ReadersPLUS Director Tina Koneazny with actor/children’s book author, Max Greenfield

Starting in 2006, before the LA Times Festival of Books changed its location from UCLA’s campus to USC’s, ReadersPLUS hosted its own humble event called The International Reading Festival. “We presented essentially the same thing we did this year, that is, having each of our schools pick a country or region of the world, introducing both a nonfiction book about that region and fairy tale, as well as engaging children in fun hands-on reading and math activities connected to the stories read aloud to them by our ReadersPLUS tutors.”

One tradition that ReadersPLUS started even prior to its International Reading Festival, and still continues at the LA Times Festival of Books, is an annual Writing Contest, which invites children from JEP partner schools to write about a specific topic. Once the festival comes around, ReadersPLUS displays the students’ essays in its tent, with a special board dedicated to grade level contest winners.

This year, children were asked to write about where they would travel if they could go anywhere in the world, and why. In a way, this topic symbolized an ode to the International Reading Festival, which offered activities and free books tailored to a specific country. The free books this year were generously donated by The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation and Room to Read. Additionally to the books, attending children also received reading and learning kids that were assembled at this year’s Alumni Day of SCervice.

Over the almost two decades of organizing ReadersPLUS festival activities, Koneazny says the best part of every year is seeing the impact she and the tutors have on their past and current students.

ReadersPLUS student staff posing in the tent.
ReadersPLUS student staff members represented the program with joy and enthusiasm.

“It’s really fun to see the kids from our schools come on campus rather than at their school,” she said. “They see their tutor who they work with on their school’s campus, and just seeing the kids’ faces light up is great. This year, we had one of the students who won the writing contest last year show up, and her tutor recognized her and that made that child’s day. Seeing the relationship between the kids and the tutors, that’s my favorite part.”

For the future, Koneazny wants to continue organizing the Festival to build the relationship between JEP ReadersPLUS and the communities it serves. Looking at the fully packed tent full of excited attendees, activities, book kit giveaways, and more, Koneazny jokingly remarked, “and maybe we can also get a bigger tent!”

To read more articles that were featured in the Spring 2023 Edition of “What’s new at the JEP House?” please click here: What’s new at the JEP House? – 2023 Spring Edition