Women’s History Month: Q&A with the SAFE Alliance Book Club

Before Women’s History Month comes to an end, we wanted to give the TBF audience a look inside the book club at the SAFE Alliance, the Austin organization that serves survivors of sexual abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. The book club has been reading together for about four and a half years, with roughly 25 members.

Here’s a brief Q&A about what SAFE is doing with their book club — answers are courtesy of Lesley Landry, SAFE’s volunteer onboarding coordinator.

What made SAFE decide to start a book club?

Two of us (Erin and AJ) were catching up over coffee outside of work and started listing all the books we want to read but had not yet read, particularly around anti-racism and feminist themes. Erin said it had been her dream to start a book club. We realized Lesley and so many others at work would be interested as well so we put a notice about the book club in the monthly staff matters newsletter. AJ credits book club with reigniting her love of reading.

What types of books do y’all read?

Thought provoking intersectional feminist fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs. We do our best to select books that reflect the broad range of lived experiences, written by people who have lived experience with their subject matter. We do not shy away from books that share hard realities but we also seek books that uplift and empower historically marginalized individuals. We are still learning how to achieve this balance as it can be a tough line to walk!

What has been the favorite read so far? What about the most lively discussion? Our most lively discussions tend to be ones where people had strong and/or competing opinions about the books.

Some of our most lively discussions have been around the following books: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and Madame President by Helene Cooper.

Some of our favorites have been the following: The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, Saga by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples, Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.

Why do you think the book club is important?

Book club is a great way to gather outside of work and discuss a topic that may relate to our work but is not specifically about our work. It helps us broaden our perspectives both through the books we read but also through the opinions and lived experiences of group members. We have always told people to come to our meetings even if they have not finished (or even read) the book. It is a supportive “come as you are” group that gives us a chance to unwind and grow at the same time. No matter how tired one is on arrival, we leave feeling energized and connected. The friendships formed have carried us through a lot of change and some hard years, and makes us all the more grateful to this amazing community of book lovers!

What are y’all looking forward to reading this year/in the coming months?

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, Good Talk by Mira Jacobs, and The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern are the books some of us are really looking forward to reading and discussing this year.

Did you miss any live streams from our Instagram Live series? Catch up on them here!

In case you missed it, we’re filling your weeks stuck at home with plenty of literary programming (more coming your soon) on Instagram Live to keep you entertained and learning. We have drawing lessons and storytimes for kids, as well as interviews with some of your favorite adult authors. If you’ve missed any of the live streams, watch replays of them here:

Interview with Deb Olin Unferth, author of Barn 8

Drawing lesson with author and illustrator Juana Medina

Interview with Kate Elizabeth Russell, author of My Dark Vanessa

Interview with Richard Santos, author of Trust Me

Looking for a kids’ activity? Learn about music with ‘Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural’

Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural, a children’s book by Reading Rock Stars author Raquel M. Ortiz, tells the story of a young girl, Sofi, who uses her imagination to travel into a mural she sees on her walk home from the bodega, teaching kids about music, dancing, and Puerto Rican culture. You can buy the book on BookPeople’s online store on Bookshop.org (make sure you choose BookPeople as the beneficiary!), and Raquel sent along these learning materials to help you and your kids read along with the book, learn more about the process of writing and illustrating the book, and even dance along!

VIDEOS:

Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el mágico mural musical: Teaching Sofi to Teachers, Educators and Parents (13 minutes)

Author and educator Raquel M. Ortiz shares pre-reading activities for her Sofi picture book with second graders from Public School 250. This includes a plena demo by Dr. Drum and a PowerPoint presentation on the mural that inspired the Sofi picture book. The presentation ends with the author and students learning and singing the three songs found in the Sofi picture book accompanied by music by Dr. Drum.

Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el mágico mural musical: Plena with Dr. Drum (7 minutes)

New York City Department of Education teaching artist Dr. Drum explains the history of the music genre of plena, the national Puerto Rican music. He also introduces the two instruments used for the plena, the pandereta and the güiro, and plays plena beats for second graders from Public School 250 and Public School 257.

Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el mágico mural musical: Sofi Songs (2 minutes)

Author Raquel M. Ortiz, New York City Department of Education teaching artist Dr. Drum, and second graders from Public School 250 and Public School 257 sing the three songs found in the Sofi picture book: “Tocotoco,” “Vejigante está pintao,” and “La plena que yo conozco.” A bonus feature is the vejigante who makes a guest appearance for one of the songs.

Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el mágico mural musical: Vejigante Talk (3 minutes)

New York City Department of Education elementary teacher Humberto Soto, dressed up as the vejigante from Sofi and does a recap of the story with second graders from Public School 250 and Public School 257. Soto also answers questions about the story, explains what a vejigante is, and sings and dances for the students.

Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el mágico mural musical: The Art and the Artist with María Domínguez (2 minutes)

Artist María Domínguez explains the creative process behind illustrating the Sofi picture book. Domínguez also talks about the community mural El Pueblo Cantor (Bronx, 1996) that she designed with students from Intermediate School 193 and shows original art and marquettes she created for El Pueblo Cantor.

Tune in to TBF’s Instagram for live streams with your favorite authors

We know many of you are at home right now, and so are we — but the Texas Book Festival’s mission is to connect authors and readers, and we remain dedicated to doing just that, no matter what may be happening in the world and in our communities. So we’re working hard to bring you virtual programming that will keep you entertained, educated, and engaged throughout these uncertain times.

This week, we’re bringing authors and illustrators for readers of all ages to Instagram Live! Check out the full schedule below. Our Literary Lunch Break interviews are aimed at our adult readers, but book lovers of all ages can enjoy Tuesday’s drawing lesson and Friday’s reading.

To watch these live interviews or interactive art and reading sessions, visit @texasbookfest on Instagram at the designated time (all times CST) and click on the live story!

Stay tuned for more programming coming soon from TBF’s various online channels.

At home with the kids for longer than expected? Here’s how to keep them entertained

We know that many of you parents are at home with your children for longer than you anticipated — spring breaks were extended, vacations were postponed, and many schools are now teaching children remotely — and we want to make sure that both you and your kids, no matter how big or small, are staying entertained and intellectually stimulated while you’re at home. Here’s a roundup of just some of the educational and fun online activities to do with your kids!

Storytime with your favorite authors

Reading Rock Stars author and friend of TBF Mac Barnett is reading children books daily on Instagram Live. Each story stays up for 24 hours, so you can rewatch them later if you don’t catch them live! Check out the stories on his Instagram @macbarnett.

Famed author Neil Gaiman’s website Mouse Circus, which is aimed at younger readers, has plenty of fun for kids of all ages, including Neil reading The Graveyard Book and Neil and friends reading Coraline. You can watch the videos here! 

Artist and author Oliver Jeffers is reading his books on Instagram Live every day this week at 1 p.m. CST (and they stay up for 24 hours for those who want to watch later).

Reading Rock Stars author Greg Pizzoli will be reading his book Good Night Owl on Instagram Live on Wednesday, March 18 at 10 a.m. CST. Watch on Greg’s Instagram here — the video will stay up for 24 hours!

Who doesn’t love A Very Hungry Caterpillar? Here’s a video of Eric Carle reading the classic children’s book.

James Dean, creator of the Pete the Cat books, is doing daily storytime videos on the Pete the Cat Instagram account. Get details about the storytimes and watch them here.

Children’s author Dan Gutman is reading from his books every day at 2 p.m. on Facebook Live.

Author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds is hosting daily readings on his Facebook page and wants to do so throughout the next few weeks. Visit his Facebook page to see the videos he’s already recorded and keep an eye out for upcoming storytimes.

Create something

Reading Rock Stars author and illustrator Arree Chung is offering a free “creativity camp” for kids that offers writing, drawing and storytelling lessons. You can register for the camp here, and download Arree’s activity guides for kids here.

Author and artist Keri Smith created Exploration of the Day, which features daily creative prompts for all ages, from creating art out of ink blots to drawing the things around you.

The Austin Public Library has a database of crafting, hobbies, home improvement, and other DIY activities accessible with your library card here.

Every day at noon CST, Mo Willems is hosting “Lunch Doodles” on the Kennedy Center website for kids of all ages to draw along with him. Tune into the episodes and download the activity pages here. 

Keep learning

The Thinkery, Austin’s children’s museum, is offering a range of educational programming for kids on their Instagram stories, from storytime to STEAM activities.

Scholastic offers a variety of daily educational projects to keep kids engaged and learning. You can sort the day-by-day activities by grade level, and they have assignments available in Spanish. Visit Scholastic’s learn-at-home portal here. 

Austin meteorologist Albert Ramon of KVUE, a local TV station, is hosting “Albert’s Weather Classroom” starting on Monday, March 23. The classes will take place every day at noon and will cover a variety of weather-related science topics. See the full curriculum here and watch live on Albert’s Facebook page here.

Some of the world’s most famous museums, like the Guggenheim in New York and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, offer virtual tours. See a list of museums with virtual tours here.

Are there any educational opportunities or storytimes we missed? Email katey@texasbookfestival.org to let us know! 

How to support Texas independent bookstores

Due to COVID-19 concerns, many businesses across the United States are shutting their doors or modifying their offerings — including independent bookstores. Here’s a (by no means complete) list of indie bookstores that have temporarily altered their services throughout Texas and how you can help them from your home as we practice social distancing and work to stop the spread of the virus.

BookPeople (Austin) has closed its store and is selling books online via Bookshop.org. Visit their Bookshop.org page here! BookPeople is also registered on Libro.FM, an online audiobook retailer which gives 100% of proceeds to the independent bookstore of your choice.

Austin Books & Comics (Austin) is also offering curbside pickup if you go to their website and submit a pull list or email info@austinbooks.com. You can pay via Square or Venmo. Find more information here.

Bookwoman (Austin) is offering curbside pickup for customers who place orders over the phone. Customers can also buy books delivered to their home on Bookwoman’s website or buy books via Libro.FM and choose Bookwoman as the beneficiary.

Literati (Austin) is a book club that delivers five children’s books for $9.95 for you to use for a week, plus the cost of any books you choose to keep. Join here.

Malvern Books (Austin)  has closed its doors until “at least” March 21, according to their website. There are no current plans for selling books, so we recommend stopping by and supporting Malvern when it is once again safe to do so!

South Congress Books (Austin) lists some available items on their website, and customers can purchase the listed items by calling the store or emailing scongressbooks@gmail.com.

The Book Nook (Brenham) offers online and phone purchases, as well as curbside service and online shipping. The Book Nook is also listed as a beneficiary on Libro.FM, and the store owner urges customers to buy a gift card to help support the store and its employees. They’re offering a free $5 gift card with every $50 gift card purchased.

The Published Page (Cleburne) is offering free deliveries for online orders over $20 and $5 delivery for orders under $20. More information is available here.

Interabang Books (Dallasoffers online ordering, free shipping with the code FREESHIP and curbside pickup. The store is also a beneficiary on Libro.FM.

Commonplace Books (Fort Worth) is accepting online orders for curbside pickup or shipping.

Lark and Owl Booksellers (Georgetown) has reduced their hours and is a beneficiary on Libro.FM.

Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston) is offering curbside pickup, $5 shipping on all online orders and free shipping on orders over $50. They’re also a beneficiary on Libro.FM. You can find more details here.

Murder by the Book (Houston) is offering curbside pickup and free shipping on orders over $50, and they’re a beneficiary on Libro.FM.

The Book Haus (New Braunfels) is offering online sales through Bookshop.org.

Books Ink (Portland) is offering curbside service if you call ahead and pay by cash or check.


Here are all the Texas bookstores which offer audiobook purchasing via Libro.FM:

  • Beauty & Brains Books (Houston)
  • Bibliobar (Garland)
  • Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston)
  • Bookish (Malakoff)
  • BookPeople (Austin)
  • Bookwoman (Austin)
  • Brazos Bookstore (Houston)
  • Burrowing Owl Books (Canyon)
  • Copperfield’s Book Shop (Spring)
  • Fabled Bookshop & Cafe (Waco)
  • Fleur Fine Books (Port Neches)
  • Front Street Books (Alpine)
  • Interabang Books (Dallas)
  • Katy Budget Books (Katy)
  • Lark & Owl (Georgetown)
  • Monkey and Dog Books (Fort Worth)
  • Murder by the Book (Houston)
  • Nowhere Bookshop (San Antonio)
  • Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard (South Padre Island)
  • Patchouli Joe’s Books (Leander)
  • Sententia Vera Bookshop (Dripping Springs)
  • Texian Books (Victoria)
  • The Book Attic (Tomball)
  • The Book Nook (Brenham)
  • The Dock Bookshop (Fort Worth)
  • The Twig Book Shop (San Antonio)

COVID-19: How to contact TBF

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve on a global level, we at the Texas Book Festival are closely following the decisions made by local, statewide, and federal health officials. We are currently heeding the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and other officials, and our staff is working remotely until further notice. Consequently, we won’t be reachable via our office phone, and we won’t be able to accept deliveries at our office on Springdale Road.

If you need to contact TBF for any reason, please email bookfest@texasbookfestival.org, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If you need to contact a specific TBF staffer, you can find their individual email addresses on our staff page here.

We remain committed to promoting literacy and inspiring Texans of all ages to love reading, especially in these difficult and uncertain times. We welcome any feedback, concerns, or questions, and we are grateful for the continued support of the TBF community.

Recommended reading for Women’s History Month

Sunday, March 8 was International Women’s Day, but Women’s History Month lasts all of March. We asked various women’s organizations throughout Central Texas to share their recommended reading for the month — here’s what they shared:

Peggy Terry with Folktales’ Black Women’s Literary Society and theAustin African American Book Festivalrecommended the following books they’ve read over the years:

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler

Ami Kane with Girls Empowerment Network also recommended Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin recommended Educated by Tara Westover, writing, “I enjoyed the book because it is a story of resilience of a woman whose story could have been so different but she chose to believe in herself and pursue a life of high education in order to learn and grow in her professional life but also her personal life. It is deeply personal and inspiring. I recommend to anyone and everyone!! I laughed, cried, and was inspired the whole way :)”

Dorothy Marchand with the Texas League of Women Voters recommended the Texas State Historical Association’s Texas Women and the Vote, “which is a compilation of short essays on Texas women whose stories intertwine with the history of Texas women’s voting and election history since the nineteenth century,” she wrote. The ebook is free to download here.

Lesley Landry with SAFE Austin shared a variety of books the SAFE Book Club has read over the years:

  • Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by c
  • B**** Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  • Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples
  • Shrill by Lindy West
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Madame President by Helene Cooper
  • Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett
  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd
  • America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

March book club pick: ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This month, the Austin360 Book Club powered by Texas Book Festival will be reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which came out March 10. Pick it up at BookPeople and check out the review of the book at Kirkus Reviews! We’ll be discussing the book in the book club Facebook group on Friday, April 6. Join the group here!

About the book:

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Previous Austin360 Book Club picks:

Thank you for helping us raise $11,150 during Amplify!

Thank you to the 130 donors who helped us meet our Amplify Austin goal last week! Thanks to your generous support, we surpassed our goal of $10,000 and raised a total of $11,150 to support Texas Book Festival programming in 2020 and the years to come.

Your donations will help us provide books to Title I students in Texas as part of our Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads programs, provide grants to libraries across the state to expand their collections and expand the minds and imaginations of their communities, and keep both the Texas Teen Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival free and open to the public.