For most of the authors sitting pensively in the stalls of the Baltimore Book Festival, attracting passers-by to their titles was hard work.
But not for Clifford the Big Red Dog, star of the children's book series of the same name. While strutting around Mount Vernon Square near sundown yesterday, Clifford suddenly came face to face with a sugar-fueled fan named Rhavyn Vines. Thrilled to be celebrating her sixth birthday, Rhavyn - her tongue painted blue from Italian water ice - charged and clamped her excited arms around his big red right leg.
"CLIFFORD!" she squealed.
For Rhavyn's mother, Kweisi Vines, the first night of the weekend festival was to let Rhavyn explore the abundance of children's books. Today, it will be Mom's turn to indulge in literary stargazing when she attends a reading by poet Nikki Giovanni at the Walters Art Museum. Giovanni, who delivered a poem at Virginia Tech shortly after the campus shootings this year, is well-known for writings that emphasize civil rights and equality - elements that resonated throughout last night's festivities, especially for women.
The importance of such a message was not lost on Kweisi Vines, who said she encourages her daughter to read books to obtain independence in her life.
"Everything she learns now sets the tone for what she'll be like as an adult," Vines said. "And it all starts with her being able to read."
Most of the featured events last night centered around the theme of Ladies Night Out.
First, there was the enthusiastic Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio, authors of The Girl's Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch) and The Girl's Guide to Starting Your Own Business.
They told women to "be yourself" and to always speak the truth. The two New Yorkers then promptly joked - sort of - that they would be looking for visiting Yankees baseball players staying at their hotel last night.
Marie Langenes was impressed by their message.
Langenes owns an elementary school foreign-language teaching business in Portland, Ore. She agreed with them that many women have a hard time obtaining the confidence they need to ask for a raise or start a business, but said she thought the message resonated better with younger women. She started her business at age 50, when life experience had given her the necessary confidence.
Later, in the same tent, the festival hosted a panel of female authors of such titles as: How to Tell If Your Boyfriend is the Antichrist by Patricia Carlin and Hooking Up: A Girl's All-Out Guide to Sex & Sexuality by Amber Madison.
Across Mount Vernon Square was a different type of author peddling her own brand of female empowerment. Zane, author of erotic novels such as The Sex Chronicles, is a favorite of Mayor Sheila Dixon. The two once appeared together in an Essence makeover edition, Zane said. And Dixon once plugged one of Zane's books at a groundbreaking.
The Prince George's County author said her books are less about eroticism and more about empowering women. She should know. She said she has a television show in development with Cinemax and a movie in production with Lionsgate Films. Her one-woman self-publishing company, Strebor, is now a joint venture of Simon & Schuster.
The women in her books, she said, "go from being oppressed to feeling liberated and empowered both in and out of the bedroom."
Erica Turner, 36, of Baltimore said she enjoys Zane's "really racy" books, but said she agreed with the author that the women in her stories are admirable. "She makes her women strong," Turner said.
A more literary turn on independence played out in the Creative Cafe tent with Roya Hakakian, who wrote Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran.
The festival said the Iranian-Jewish writer fled with her family in 1984 from Tehran to the U.S. She discussed with a crowd of about 20 people her memoir about growing up in post-revolutionary Iran as a Jewish teenager.
But the night wasn't all about women.
"Guys night at the grill" featured Andrew Schloss demonstrating tips from his book Mastering the Grill and offering free samples and complimentary beer.
Other authors, mostly of the small, self-published variety, didn't field the crowds that the award-winning Hakakian and beer-sharing Schloss attracted.
There was Baltimore writer and poet Hester M. Jackson-Chase, who started writing when she couldn't find a Father's Day card that she liked. "I wrote one myself, and I've been writing ever since," she said.
And then there was Anne Arundel County poet Mark Marks, an author who does "nothing but shoot pool and write poetry."
The festival continues 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow. Information: http:--www.baltimorebookfestival.com.