There's one surefire way to give books some immediacy for children, author- illustrator Dolores Johnson believes -- have kids create their own.
"Kids think that big people write books," Johnson says. "Sunday, they'll be writing their own books."
Johnson's book creation workshop is one of the attractions at this weekend's "Ears Are Burning, Children Are Learning" program, the Sunday portion of which will take place at the California African American Museum near downtown L.A. Part reading, part arts-and-crafts activity and part book festival, the program is set to coincide with National Children's Book Week, which starts Monday.
Storytelling and author readings featuring a host of Southland artists also are scheduled.
"We are fortunate to have in our own backyard an outstanding group of authors and illustrators to help us send this message of literacy to our community," says Charmaine Jefferson, the museum's executive director.
Johnson, whose most recent book is "We Play Music," both pens her stories and creates the pictures that follow the action. She will conduct a hands-on session for literary novices, starting by outlining the basics.
"I'll talk to the children about how to make a good story," says Johnson. "Every story has to have a hero, a villain, a conflict and a resolution."
During the 1 1/2-hour session, participants will be given time to write their stories. "They'll fold the paper their stories are written on and attach them to construction paper. Then we'll have them draw the pictures that illustrate their stories. And I'll let them know that they can draw on their family members, friends and teachers for ideas for characters," Johnson says.
The "Children Are Learning" weekend begins Saturday with a performance by storyteller Leslie Perry at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
Besides the workshop, Johnson will participate in a session for adults -- a panel discussion moderated by novelist Gary Phillips. The session is aimed at parents and teachers as well as would-be children's book authors.
Artist Synthia Saint James, who among other credits designed the U.S. Postal Service stamp for the Kwanzaa holiday, says the panel is intended to "demystify the process of coming up with children's books."
Also appearing will be Varnette Honeywood, an artist whose work has appeared on the covers and in the pages of books and on record albums. Many will recognize Honeywood's work from "The Cosby Show" -- hers were the colorful, stylized paintings that hung in the Huxtables' home. It was that acquaintance with Bill Cosby that eventually led to their collaboration on the popular "Little Bill" books for early readers.
"I've never been at the type of forum that celebrates literacy and children's books -- with part of the program for children and the other part adults," says Honeywood, who will read from "The Meanest Thing to Say," the first installment of the collaboration with Cosby.
Ramona Moreno Winner, an author and publisher of multicultural books for children, also should be a popular reader. Moreno Winner's titles include "Lucas and His Loco Beans," a bilingual rhyming tale about Mexican jumping beans, and "It's Okay to Be Different! eforeEsta Bien Ser Diferente!" Moreno Winner will give the first 100 children to arrive at the program a copy of her book about tolerance and acceptance.
Among the others appearing: Bebe Moore Campbell, a bestselling author whose first children's book, "Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry," received this year's National Assn. for the Mentally Ill outstanding literature award, and Georgette Baker, a teacher and performer who produces the children's bilingual book and cassette series "Cantemos."
'Ears Are Burning, Children Are Learning'
What: Reading program, performance by storyteller Leslie Perry, crafts activities, 1-3 p.m.
Where: Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall, 3650 W. Martin Luther King Blvd., L.A.
Info: (213) 744-7432
What: Storytelling and reading,
1-4 p.m. Book creation workshop with Dolores Johnson, 1:30-3 p.m. Authors/illustrators panel discussion, 2:30-4 p.m.
Where: California African American Museum, Exposition Park, 600 State Drive, L.A.
Cost: Free; parking, $6
Info: (213) 744-7432