Virtual Book Fair: Spotlight on Middle School Authors

Chapin’s first-ever Virtual Book Fair, which runs through Friday, has continued this beloved school tradition by celebrating the joy of reading while raising funds for student scholarships and professional development.

This year’s three-week-long event, framed by the theme “Speaking Out: Bravely and Rightly,” offered students in each division the opportunity to connect in real time with accomplished and inspiring writers*. Here are highlights from Rena Barron and Saadia Faruqi’s virtual presentations to the Middle School:

Rena Barron

Rena Barron is the author of “Maya and the Rising Dark,” the first book in her middle-grade contemporary fantasy trilogy, and “Kingdom of Souls,” a young adult fantasy novel that is also the first installment of a trilogy.

On November 5, after Middle School Librarian Natasha Goldberg initiated a webinar, Chapin parent and Book Fair Co-Chair Nathalie Zayek introduced Ms. Barron, who joined the Zoom gathering from her home in Chicago. Behind her was a display of “Maya and the Rising Dark,” its cover glowing in shades of purple, yellow and gold.

Sharing her screen, Ms. Barron began by narrating a lively slideshow that introduced 12-year-old Maya and her “celestial powers.” She also brought the students along on a tour of the South side Chicago neighborhood where her books are set and gave a sneak preview of the next installment in the Maya trilogy, “Maya and the Return of the Godlings.”

“You’re the first people to see the cover!” she exclaimed excitedly.

An engaging speaker with a bright smile and a soft Southern accent, Ms. Barron told the audience that she grew up in a small town in Alabama. She described a “daydreaming childhood” shaped by her love of fantasy.

“I always thought about magic,” said Ms. Barron, who began writing when she was just seven or eight years old.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this morning Assembly – aside from Ms. Barron’s delightful reading – was hearing the thoughtful questions the students asked, which they submitted in advance and Ms. Zayek read aloud.

“What inspired you to write the ‘Maya’ books?” one student wondered.

“I didn’t see a lot of books with little 12-year-olds who looked like me,” responded Ms. Barron, who is Black.

“Is it based on you as a kid?” another asked.

Noting that her three main characters (Maya and her friends, Eli and Frankie) represent different aspects of her personality, Ms. Barron added, “I was really into comic books like Maya, and I love science, ghosts and the paranormal.”

“How do you come up with a good storyline?” a third student wanted to know.

“It develops over time,” Ms. Barron said. “I get an image in my head, a small, tiny idea, then I expand it.” She encouraged the young writers to “let your imagination go as wild as you want.”

Underscoring the Book Fair’s vital theme, Ms. Barron reminded the students, “to make positive change in the world, you must speak out. You are the future. Your voice matters.”

Saadia Faruqi

A Pakistani American writer, Saadia Faruqi is the author of the middle-grade novels “A Place at The Table,” co-written with Laura Shovan, “A Thousand Questions,” and the popular early-reader series, “Yasmin.” She has also written “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope and Courage from Pakistan,” a short story collection for adults and teens.

During an engrossing Middle School Assembly on November 12, Ms. Faruqi talked about creating characters, her writing process and the importance of perseverance. Again, Ms. Zayek introduced this talented author and read questions from the students.

Sitting with an oversize cardboard cutout of her character Yasmin, who almost stole the show from her spot behind this special guest, Ms. Faruqi noted that she grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, where “A Thousand Questions” is set, and came to the United States when she was 22. She was a voracious reader as a child and often read books in English.

Joining the webinar from her home in Houston, Ms. Faruqi urged the students to take their time writing and revising their work. “Being patient is one of the most important things about being a writer. You have to be okay with rejections.”

Next, Ms. Faruqi read a poignant excerpt from “A Place at the Table,” which centers around sixth-grader Sara’s conflicting feelings about the constant mispronunciation of her name (So-ra like “sorry” is correct). “It’s not a big deal,” the character says to her teacher, although inside she feels differently.

After her reading, Ms. Faruqi devoted the rest of her presentation to answering questions.

“When did you start writing?” one student inquired.

“Since I was a little girl, but I never showed it to anyone,” admitted Ms. Faruqi. “If you write regularly and it’s your passion, then you’re a writer!”

Another asked, “How do you get past writers’ block?”

“Reading helps to get the creative juices flowing again,” she advised. “Forgetting about your project for a little while is key.”

“Do you have a favorite book?” was yet another question posed to Ms. Faruqi.

“I like most books,” she shared. “I recommend that all of you read diversely. Read books by people different than you, different races, religions and backgrounds. That’s how we develop empathy.”

*Along with Ms. Barron and Ms. Faruqi, Chapin was pleased to welcome Brooke Hecker, author of “Letters From My Tooth Fairy”; Miranda Paul, author of “Speak Up”; and Jill Twiss, author of “Everyone Gets a Say,” who entertained Lower School students with their animated readings. In addition, Heather Bryant ’95, author of “My Trans Parent: A User Guide for When Your Parent Transitions,” gave a captivating Upper School Assembly.

For more information about these authors, check out the Parents’ Association’s Book Fair webpage here:

To purchase books, visit the online bookstore here: