By LISA TANG

news@palestineherald.com

Saturday’s Dogwood Children’s Literacy Festival was over the moon. The celestial theme, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the first moon walk, offered 75 children a chance to meet a children’s author and pick their own free books.

The United Way of East/Central Texas invited Diana Hutts Aston of Portland, Texas, to share her book and inspiration with local children. Aston wrote the award-winning children’s picture book, The Moon Over Star (2008), about a girl who watches the lunar landing 50 years ago in Star, Texas.

Dinner with Dianna included a kid-friendly meal, book reading, and signing by Aston. Her books on science and nature have won national awards, and even the attention of a U.S. President and First Lady.

The Moon Over Star won a Coretta Scott King Honor in 2009 from the American Library Association, which annually recognizes books written for youth that honor and reflect the African American experience.

Children who attended the dinner received a copy of Aston’s famous book, including personal notes from the author.

Addi Helm, 9, said she enjoyed meeting Aston and listening to her read.

“It was awesome.” she said. “It was about space, and that's what I want to do when I grow up.”

Palestine Regional Medical Center sponsored the dinner; Commercial Bank of East Texas paid for the hardcover books.

Aston calls herself a “dream activist,” one who inspires others to follow their dreams and act upon them. Mae, the character The Moon Over Star, watches the lunar landing 50 years ago, and is inspired to follow her own dreams.

Aston tries to encourage kids facing poverty and other struggles. “They can get out of it,” she said. “Reading and science and math are the way out.”

Aston said she wants to connect with poor children by visiting schools and libraries that serve poorer areas, and give them the opportunity to meet an author and talk about books. “It’s not enough to just dream: you have to act,” she said. “And teamwork is a big part of that.”

Aston said she felt honored when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama chose her book to read to children at a school in Washington, D.C.

Author Kat Kronenberg of Corpus Christi, Texas, also visited with children at Saturday's literacy festival, reading from her inspirational children's books, Love Big and Dream Big, Amazon Best Sellers and Mom’s Choice Gold Award Winners.

“I wrote the Live Big series because I want to give kids a foundation,” Kronenberg said.

The literacy festival offered a variety of activities for kids, who were encouraged to visit booths inside the mall, before they picked out two free books.

At one table, Stephanie Fleharty of the Crisis Center of Anderson and Cherokee Counties showed kids how to make “out of this world” stress balls — by filling balloons with baking flour and decorating them with space-themed designs.

At another booth, Ryan Pence of the Palestine YMCA coached the kids on completing an indoor obstacle course.

Family Smiles of Palestine, Anderson County Veterans Association, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), the ICEE Success Foundation, the Palestine Public Library, the Palestine Fire Department, and the “To the Moon Bus” also provided kid-friendly activities.

Event sponsors also included Palestine Air & Heat, the Palestine Public Library, the City of Palestine, Rennerwood Inc., and Prosperity Bank.