Eating your words has never been so fun or so festive!

With its 4th Annual Edible Book Festival, the North Mankato Taylor Library memorably dishes up both sweet treats and community togetherness.

A Unique Approach

The idea for the Festival was first concocted in the brain of Emily Frank, the North Mankato Taylor Library’s former Inter Library Loan Librarian.

“I first saw some example pictures on Pinterest that got me interested,” Frank said regarding how she decided to host an Edible Book bash. “I started Googling for more information and found out that it’s actually a global event that quite a few libraries around the world have started participating in since the early 2000s.”

Submitted Photo - Visitors enjoying the 2019 Edible Book Festival at the North Mankato Taylor Library
Submitted Photo – Visitors enjoying the 2019 Edible Book Festival at the North Mankato Taylor Library

Frank decided to test out the worldwide phenomenon in North Mankato. With some helpful tips from U.S. library blogs and the Southern Illinois University Carbondale, she kicked off the first Eat Your Words: Edible Book Festival in the spring of 2016 and was happily surprised by the enthusiastic participation.

“I was kind of nervous the week leading up to the event because the entry registrations were still coming in fairly slowly, so I was just over the moon to see everything come together in the end,” Frank said. On the day of the event, the library was packed with regular visitors and patrons alike who offered their entries and sampled the finished creations.

Even if you don’t like reading or making food… you could still participate by voting, sampling the entries, and chatting with people.

Annual Event

Even after Frank left the library, local demand ensured the Festival’s spot as an annual contest.

“It was something we had decided to keep doing because it was really popular,” said Hallie Uhrich, the North Mankato library’s Outreach Librarian. As a two-time Festival coordinator, Uhrich enjoys watching library members and visitors alike participate in the Festival.

“They were really creative last year!” she recalled.

Submitted Photo - 2019 Edible Book Festival Entry by North Mankato Taylor Library Children's Librarian, Michell - Lonesome Dove
Submitted Photo – 2019 Edible Book Festival Entry by North Mankato Taylor Library Children’s Librarian, Michelle – Lonesome Dove

The event is purposefully designed to be as inclusive as possible. The contest’s rules are simple: Re-create a favorite book as an edible masterpiece, preferably with materials that are still safe to eat after sitting out for a few hours. Anyone can enter, whether they are a library member or not, and there are no age limits.

“If they’re under ten, we ask that they have an adult there helping,” Uhrich said of her younger registrants.

Uhrich said she begins planning the Festival during the December of the previous year. She starts circulating signup forms in January and registration goes until the Thursday before the event, which is traditionally held on a Saturday afternoon. The signup forms require participants to give their names and the names of the books they plan to recreate as delicious artwork.

Something For Everyone

This year, the contest will kick off at 1:00 PM on Saturday, February 29th. The North Mankato Library finds community notables to judge entries for prizes in different categories.

“We do People’s Choice, Punniest, Most Edible, Child Prodigy, and Professionally Produced,” said Uhrich. Other than Professionally Produced, a judging tier reserved for local business entries, any culinary book interpretation can be selected to win any category.

Submitted Photo- 2019 Edible Book Festival - Professional Category - It's All Under Control
Submitted Photo- 2019 Edible Book Festival – Professional Category – It’s All Under Control

2020’s judge panel will feature personalities from the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts, the 410 Project, and KEYC News, but everyone’s vote matters for the People’s Choice category.

In 2019, Uhrich’s boyfriend walked away with the People’s Choice prize for an entry based on Gary Paulsen’s classic adventure story Hatchet.

“He made one of those cakes that’s plaid in the middle and the outside looks like a tree trunk,” Uhrich said. “It tasted good, too!”

Submitted Photo - 2019 Edible Book Festival People's Choice Award winner - Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
Submitted Photo – 2019 Edible Book Festival People’s Choice Award winner – Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Tasting good is a preferred quality but not essential to entering. The North Mankato librarians often submit their own entries for the Punniest category that have more flair than flavor.

“Michelle [the Children’s Librarian] did the Lonesome Dove last year,” Uhrich laughed. “She got a bunch of candy and put that on one side, and a Dove chocolate on the other side. Emma [the Assistant Librarian] did Flowers for Algernon, so she had a sack of flour and a mouse on top.” Needless to say, librarian entries are excluded from general judging.

Other particularly memorable past entries include a Harry Potter Sorting Hat cupcake collection, and a bread loaf shaped like a bird for Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

“It was really fun to see which books different people chose to interpret and how much creativity they put into their entries,” Frank remembered.

Don’t Like to Make Food?

Is creative cooking outside your skill set? Not to worry. The North Mankato librarians encourage everyone to come sample the edible books and judge entries regardless of whether they entered the contest. Last year’s festival hosted around 150 attendees who helped demolish the cakes, cookies, waffles, Rice Krispie treats, and other goodies on display.

“Even if you don’t like reading or making food, or even if you hadn’t heard about the event in advance, you could still participate by voting, sampling the entries, and chatting with people in the community,” Frank explained. “It was cool to see random people who were just visiting the library to pick up a book or use the computer get interested in what was going on and check out the entries. I was happy with that aspect of accessibility.”

Submitted Photo - 2019 Edible Book Festival Entry - Harold and the Purple Crayon
Submitted Photo – 2019 Edible Book Festival Entry – Harold and the Purple Crayon

Frank and Uhrich both feel that Edible Book Festival more than meets the library’s main goal of uniting diverse peoples over shared interests and are proud of the effect the contest has had on their local community.

“I loved a lot of things about the event, but my favorite was seeing how it brought together people of all ages and skill levels,” Frank said. “Even though I don’t live in the area anymore, I still follow the Library on Facebook and have loved seeing each year’s new entries as the event continues.”

Stop by the North Mankato Taylor Library to pick up a registration form or visit the North Mankato Taylor Library website  for more information.

Planning to Participate?

What? 2020 Eat Your Words Edible Book Festival

When? Saturday, February 29, 2020 from 1-3 pm

Where? North Mankato Taylor Library

Registration is required. To register online, go to the North Mankato Taylor Library website, select “Events” from the top menu, navigate to February 29th, then click “Eat Your Words Edible Book Festival.” On the page that opens, you’ll see a Register Now button.

Katie Roiger
is a freelance writer who works out of the Greater Mankato Area. She enjoys exploring every town she visits and knowing where to find the best Mexican restaurant in any 40-mile radius.