ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The 11th annual Children’s Art and Literacy Festival (CALF) got off to a great start Thursday evening. The parade was full of characters and familiar Abilene faces leading attendees to Storybook Gardens for a celebration of art, literature, and good times with family.

“We’re excited! 6,000 young readers are [here] and their families are excited, and it’s a great time to be in Abilene,” elated Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) Vice President Robert Lopez.

Child looks over crowd at Abilene’s 11th annual CALF

Lopez told KTAB/KRBC registration for this year’s festival sat at 6,000. That’s more than last year’s attendance and proved by the crowd that showed up on the first day.

With about 1,000 young readers in Downtown Abilene eager to take part, many of them came in from out of town to join in the festivities.

“That’s exactly what the CALF does: Create enriching experiences for visitors that will last a lifetime,” Lopez said. “They might be our future ACU (Abilene Christian University) students, they might be our future elected officials or future leaders in the community. You never know.”

The parade was but a warmup for the day’s main event. The unveiling of a new statue in Storybook Gardens honored the work of bestselling author and illustrator, Brian Lies.

“This is something that, when you start off as children’s book author and illustrator, you could never imagine,” shared Lies.

The new statue, Evan’s Magnificent Garden Party, portrays a scene from Lies’ book, The Rough Patch. It’s a heartfelt tale about friendship and getting through the difficult times. But it’s not just the honors that Lies and his family said has made their first trip to the Storybook Capital of America a memorable one.

“The people of Abilene are what make this such an extraordinary event. We were blown away by the kindness the love,” Laurel, Lies’ wife, told KTAB/KRBC.

The sculpture was crafted by resident Abilene artist, Steve Nieves, drawing strong emotions from Lies. He said it was a proud moment to see his character inducted into the storybook family.

Children pose with Evan’s Magnificent Garden Party statue in Downtown Abilene at CALF unveiling

“I know Evan as a two-dimensional character so closely that to see him suddenly popped out into three dimensions is really an uncanny and amazing feeling,” added Lies.

This year’s increased attendance to the 11th annual CALF will be sure to boost expected revenue, according to Lopez. The ACVB is expecting to draw in $1.7 million during the 3-day festival.