COSTA MESA — Chapman University President Jim Doti will take off his adult hat as a University of Chicago-schooled economist and put on a new one as a first-time author of a children's book.
On Sunday, Doti will read from his newly published work, "A Christmas Adventure in Little Italy," alongside more than 100 other authors and illustrators at the seventh annual Children's Book Festival at Orange Coast College.
Doti's fully illustrated children's book is based on his childhood Christmastime adventure while visiting his grandmother, or nonna, in Little Italy, Chicago, he said.
The book follows a young Doti, "Jimmy," as he delivers his grandmother's fresh baked Italian cookies, called biscotti, to the church on Christmas Eve. But, on his way home, the boy loses Blackie, his mixed-terrier.
"This is a story of traditions, the love of a little boy for his dog and his relationship with his grandmother," Doti said. "What I've found is that good children's literature is not unlike a powerful novel — there is a narrative and a bond built between the readers and the characters."
Unfortunately, a lot of children's and young-adult literature no longer capture readers through building a compelling storyline and relationship with the characters, Doti said.
The result is that fewer children are reading, he said.
Young-adult and pre-teen audiences are particularly at risk to distractions, such as video games and TV, said festival Executive Producer Barry Ackerman.
For this reason, the festival, which attracted about 24,000 people last year, will emphasize young-adult literacy, he said.
"There is no substitute for learning how to read through actually reading a book," Ackerman said. "Parents can use books to help children learn and children can … read to and help one another learn."
The festival will also have readings from authors geared toward younger audiences, such as the reading scheduled by Doti, and have other illustrators and exhibitors to appeal to a wider audience.
Children of all ages — even of the adult kind — may enjoy the Animal Stage and petting zoo, where wild animal demonstrations and the stories about them will be presented, Ackerman said.
"The whole experience is exciting and stays with children," Ackerman said. "The excitement of meeting an author and illustrator and having a book signed is a memory that lasts and encourages that love of reading."
Doti, who has also helped deliver the widely watched annual Chapman Economic Forecast for the last 33 years, attributes his success as an academic to early reading habits.
Literature is also the way of remembering the past and carrying on traditions, which is what Doti did in writing about his favorite Christmas tradition with his nonna.
Her biscotti recipe, which was cooked by little Jimmy and Nonna in "A Christmas Adventure," is included in the books so that other children can share in the same tradition.
The recipe is rumored to be for the best biscotti in Orange County, according to the book's website, achristmasadventure.com.
"It's not a very objective accolade, but I'll go up against anyone in a biscotti cook-off," Doti joked.
If You Go
What: Seventh annual Children's Book Festival
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa
Cost: Admission and parking are free
Information: (714) 838-4528 or http://www.kidsbookfestival.com