Children's Bookstore hosts panel of city-raised authors at Baltimore Book Festival

The Chldren's Bookstore, on Deepdene Road in Roland Park, is sponsoring one of the stages at this year's Baltimore Book Festival, and is convening panel of children's book writers who grew up in Baltimore.
The Chldren's Bookstore, on Deepdene Road in Roland Park, is sponsoring one of the stages at this year's Baltimore Book Festival, and is convening panel of children's book writers who grew up in Baltimore.(File photo)

Children's author Laurel Snyder, 38, lives in Atlanta, but her own childhood in north Baltimore is never far from her thoughts.

Snyder, who grew up in Radnor-Winston and went to Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, said she and her friends would walk to the Roland Park Library or into the woods behind the school after classes.

"We were this crew of kids, who looked out for one another, read a lot and explored behind the school," Snyder said. "There was a wildness to it."

Today, Snyder is one of several former Roland Park area residents who make their living writing books for children. She is one of five former Baltimoreans who will sit on a panel called Baltimore Bred, at the 17th annual Baltimore Book Festival on Sept. 28-30.

Other panelists with north Baltimore connections are Natalie Standiford, whose parents still live in Roland Park, and Adam Gidwitz, who grew up there and is a graduate of Park School.

The panel is convened by The Children's Bookstore, in Roland Park, which has participated in the festival in Mount Vernon since the start and sponsors a stage each year.

For the Baltimore Bred panel, which is debuting this year, the five writers "return to their roots, to discuss reading, writing and growing up in Baltimore," states the bookstore's website, http://www.thecbstore.com.

Children's Bookstore owner JoAnn Fruchtman, who has owned the store on Deepdene Road for 34 years, said she and her staff of five to six people brainstorm ideas for panels.

This year, they thought, "Wouldn't it be fun" to put a few former residents on a panel. The premise was, "Is there something about Baltimore that's influential?"

City has part in books

For Snyder, the influence was walking into the woods behind the school or Roland Park Shopping Center or picking large pickles from a barrel at Eddie's market.

A recurring theme in Snyder's books is "kids figuring out who they're supposed to be," she said.

Her latest book, "Bigger Than a Breadbox," is about a girl from Baltimore who moves to Atlanta and finds a magic breadbox in her grandmother's attic.

The city she loves often finds its way into her books, as does Catonsville, where she moved as a teen.

"I definitely write about it," said Snyder, who studied creative writing at the University of Tennessee.

"Writing about it is how I hold onto it," she said.

"I think everybody writes about Baltimore who grew up here, whether they mean to or not," said Gidwitz, 30, noting that three recurring characters in his books are talking ravens.

Gidwitz's second book, "In a Glass Grimmly," based on Grimm's Fairy Tales, comes out Thursday.

Gidwitz is a New Yorker now, but he tries to take in a Ravens game and have crabs each year.

He admits, "I don't get back very often."

But Roland Park and The Children's Bookstore now are part of him.

"The Children's Bookstore is where I got all of my books as a child," he said. "I have vivid memories of hiding in a corner of the bookstore and reading (The Adventures of) Tintin."

Gidwitz is still close to his grade school librarian at Park, Laura Amy Schlitz, who is also an acclaimed children's author and 2008 Newbery medalist.

For Gidwitz, being a panelist is a way of returning the kindness The Children's Bookstore showed him.

"I'm glad to support them as they supported me for so many years," he said.

But it's also about honoring Baltimore, where he was raised in a socially conscious environment.

"It was how I got into writing," he said.

Another New Yorker, Standiford, 50, still has strong ties to Roland Park and is a Friends School graduate. She said she moved to Roland Park at 13 after living in Catonsville and California.

Her sister lives in Homeland and her parents and one of her two brothers live in Roland Park.

Her uncle is James "Buzz" Cusack, who operates the Senator and Charles theaters.

Standiford, the author of numerous books, embraces Baltimore in her writing.

"The city has so much character," she said. "Because I grew up there, I use it as a setting."

But more than that, she said, the city's "slightly odd sensibility" informs her writing.

"I do still miss it," she said.