Famous dead authors roam the grounds of a college campus while children scamper about reading books as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
Is this a scene from a Stephen King novel? A haunted house? A way to get kids into college early?
No, it's the second annual Times Festival of Reading at Eckerd College. The festival will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. Organizers say the event is a way to bring reading to the entire family.
"It's important for children to see reading as a family affair," said festival spokesman Jim Faucett. "We hope the whole family will come to enjoy literature in book form, theatrical form and musical form and then make it part of their daily lives."
Festivalgoers should plan to arrive early because the first 5,000 children 12 and younger will receive a free hardcover or softcover book of their choice.
"There will be hundreds of titles to choose from," Faucett said.
Just in time for Halloween, famous authors are scheduled to reappear from the dead. Roaming the college campus will be William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Louisa May Alcott, Aesop, Anton Chekhov and Mark Twain.
But don't expect scary ghouls dripping in soot and moss. Instead, actors will be dressed in period costume, ready and willing to discuss the authors' works and answer questions about their former lives.
Readers who may be too young to question the dead authors can enjoy appearances by Wild Thing, Peter Rabbit, Spot the Newshound and Waldo.
Several current authors, including Tom Robbins, P.J. O'Rourke and Art Buchwald, will be there to give book talks to adults, but the children will want to meet author Jeff Moss. One of the founders of Sesame Street, Moss will discuss his book Hieronymous White: A Bird Who Believed He Was Always Right at 10:30 a.m. at Griffin Chapel.
And what child wouldn't like be read to by his favorite television newscaster? On the Family Stage, celebrity readers and performers include WTVT-Ch. 13's Denise White at 11 a.m., Kathy Fountain and Frank Robertson at 1:30 p.m., and Kelly Ring at 2. Susan Giles of WUSF-FM Concert 90 will appear at 3:30, and the poet laureate of WMNF-FM, James Tokley Sr., will perform at 3:45.
On the Storytellers' Stage, children's librarians from the Pinellas County Library Cooperative will present stories from around the world.
The J. Willie Read-a-thon, presented by the Pinellas County Reading Council, will feature continuous readings from the book Read To Me.
At the Kids Create art booth, children will be able to make bookmarks, picture frames, fish prints, book plates and cartoons with the help of members of the Junior League of St. Petersburg.
There also will be plenty of music, including folk, calypso, jazz and classical. Food, books and souvenirs will be on sale throughout the day.
IF YOU GO
Parking and admission are free at the second annual Times Festival of Reading at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S. To get to Eckerd College, take Interstate 275 south to Exit 4, Pinellas Bayway, and head west.