LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The ability to read can sometimes be taken for granted.
The sixth annual Southwest Louisiana Family Book Festival took place this weekend at the Central School for Arts and Humanities.
The event hosted Louisiana and Texas authors and featured books ranging from romance, mystery, science fiction, autobiography to christian and children’s books.
Festival attendees also had the opportunity to hear some of their favorite authors.
For six years now, the full day event has brought together individuals from all walks of life—readers, authors, artists—all celebrating the written word.
“We do whatever it takes to get people here,”said festival chairperson, Rose Henny. “We have artwork. We’ve asked choirs to come and sing. We want people to come and know that reading has to deal with the whole community.”
Nearly 30 Louisiana based authors showcased their latest works at this year’s festival. They say it’s events like this that play a big role especially in small communities.
“It’s really big because it gets your name out into the community and helps people to know who you are as an author," said six-time author, Sheila Jackson.
“As a father, as a parent, and educator, I see firsthand how important reading is,” said author and music educator, Mickey Smith Jr. “Being able to communicate and articulate your thoughts; that’s a skill that’s so important in everyday life.”
Declining literacy rates is a problem affecting people all over the nation, including southwest Louisiana.
Although the U.S. spends more money per student than any other country in the world, the educational system only ranks as the 14th best. The percentage of U.S. residents who are literate, able to read and write, ranges between 65 percent and 85 percent.
This wide range is due to a difference in how literacy is measured. Approximately 15 percent of the population can read at a university Bachelor’s degree level. The majority of Americans are able to read at a 7th or 8th grade level.
“It has to be a campaign that’s not only through our schools but through the public,” said Henny.
“Literacy is so important. Not only for Louisiana, but in Lake Charles; we have some literary challenges,” said Mayor Nic Hunter. "In the digital age that we live in, that has its benefits, but we have to also challenge kids to not only be focused on the digital, but remember the power of reading.
This year’s overall theme was “Adventures in reading.”
Henny says with each year the festival continues to grow and she’s already looking forward to planning next years festival.