Orange County Children’s Book Festival going virtual for 2020

Pat Burns, Orange County Children's Book Festival co-founder,
Pat Burns, Orange County Children’s Book Festival co-founder, has adapted the festival’s 17th year into a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Books can take the reader to galaxies far away.

Back in reality, though, the novel coronavirus pandemic has still prohibited travel for many.

For the record:

3:45 p.m. Sept. 8, 2020An earlier version of this story misstated the book Joy Cho planned to read during the Orange County Children’s Book Festival. Cho will be reading from “You’re Okay!” and not “Be Curious.”

Orange County Children’s Book Festival co-founder and executive director Pat Burns was in Tennessee visiting her daughter, Jennifer, when COVID-19 hit in March. She ended up staying there until June and working remotely.

Along the way, Pat Burns had to make a tough decision about the festival, usually held in-person as a one-day event at Orange Coast College. This year, its 17th, would have to be held online.

The festival will still feature celebrity and New York Times bestselling authors, but this year it will be held online from Sept. 14-26. Registration and information are available at

Pre-recorded videos will be available online, as opposed to attempting to host something real-time on Zoom.

“The choice to host the virtual book festival on YouTube was an easy one,” said Burns, 71, a Costa Mesa resident. “Kids go to YouTube for entertainment and associate Zoom with school. The virtual book festival wants to be a source of inspiration and fun.”

The presenters are as varied as actress Kristen Bell, graphic designer Joy Cho and U.S. Representative Katie Porter, who represents south-central Orange County. Other notable presenters include psychologist and author Adam Grant, young adult novelist Jason Reynolds, writer and illustrator David Shannon and Jeff Kinney, author of the popular “Diary of a Whimpy Kid” series.

Actress Kristen Bell is one of the virtual presenters at the 17th annual Orange County Children's Book Festival.
Actress Kristen Bell is one of the virtual presenters at the 17th annual Orange County Children’s Book Festival.
(Courtesy of Pat Burns)

Each day during the festival will feature “Story and activity time,” with five new videos available where authors share their work with festival-goers.

“The video presentations are authors that are giving a fun interpretation of their book,” Burns said. “You get to really know the author in a way that they never would have a chance otherwise.”

There will also be two special blue-ribbon panels on Sept. 19.

“Be the Change” with Reynolds, Porter and Kwame Alexander will focus on racial issues, while “Good Grief!” with Anastasia Higginbotham, Patrice Karst, Maggie Grinnell and Melissa Fisher Goldman will focus on dealing with COVID-19 social distancing.

The festival concludes with “Red carpet time” on Sept. 26, with many of the festival’s best-known authors hosting virtual programs. Bell will be co-headlining two different presentations including one with Benjamin Hart, with whom she co-wrote “The World Needs More Purple People” earlier this year. The children’s book focuses on teaching kids to look for similarities rather than differences.

“Reading has the unique potential to expose us to new worlds and different experiences,” Bell said via email. “It can teach us empathy in a way that most mediums can’t … Reading has gotten my kids through the pandemic! We use books as teaching tools and as escape tools. The more they read, the more I see an expansion of their imagination.”

Cho, who has more than 13 million followers on Pinterest, wrote three different children’s books that are being released this year as part of the “Oh Joy!” series. The interactive books are designed for children up to 3 years old.

Like Bell, Cho has two daughters and sees reading as essential to their development. She will be reading from “You’re Okay!” during her red carpet time in the festival.

“We’re in a situation where lots of physical, in-person events have been canceled,” Cho said. “We’ve all sort of gotten used to the new normal. I think if there’s any way that we can keep things going in a way that’s safe for everyone, then it’s the best of both worlds. This festival is a great thing to be a part of.”

Burns is happy that the festival will be continuing, even in a virtual form. During the pandemic, she also sees books as more important than ever.

“Kids still need to be inspired, especially now,” Burns said. “Maybe more now than ever before. They can feel that escape in a book, escape in the fantasy of a story and float into a happier space. That’s what we bring. We bring that kind of energy and hope and joy to kids.”

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