From the looks and sounds of it, there wasn’t much reading going on Tuesday in Fort Hays State University’s Memorial Union Black and Gold Room during the Young Readers Conference.

Third, fourth and fifth graders threw styrofoam balls at empty soda bottles, stacked boxes and cardboard toilet paper tubes and ran a course outlined in materials that looked like it came from the garbage.

And in fact, it was trash — or what many people might consider trash. But the “Garbage Games” exercise fit right in with the conference’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” theme.

“I think it’s important for the kids to know what happens to the recyclables. A lot of times they put it in the bag and they don’t think anything else about it,” said Sarah Broman, assistant professor of teacher education, one of the conference committee members.

In addition to creating their own games, the students saw paper roller coasters built by FHSU students in the Center for Applied Technology and Sculpture, toured the building and saw robotics and a plastic recycling project.

"This year, we wanted students to see the possibilities for them as engineers, things that they can create, they can build," said Carrie Tholstrup, coordinator in the College of Education. "It's about kids opening up their minds topossibilitiess of how they can create, how they can build, what they can do with their own talents."

They could also choose to make a purchase at a makeshift bookstore that featured titles like “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” “The Most Magnificent Thing,” “Grassland” and “The Adventures of Beanboy.”

Also featured was a video TED Talk by William Kamkwamba, who grew up in a village in Malawi. His country endured a severe drought when he was a boy, and he had to drop out of school. But Kamkwamba started borrowing books from a small library in his community established with donations from America and taught himself to build a windmill out of scrap pieces to provide electricity and a water pump for irrigation for his community.

“It really gives the kids the idea to think creatively,” Broman said of the STEM and environmental theme of the day.

The Kansas authors of the latter two books, Debra Seely and Lisa Harkrader, also spoke to the children about writing in the Memorial Union.

Harkrader told students about creating her “Bean Boy” books, in which the main character creates a comic book hero with the power of the bean. She showed the children different comic book drawing techniques she used in creating the illustrations for her books and encouraged the children to use them in their own drawings.

For “Grasslands,” Seely drew upon her own family history to tell the story of a 13-year-boy who moves from Virginia to Kansas in the 1880s. She talked about Kansas history and how the students can see their own stories are important.

“Over the years, I’ve watched these children, and they’re just hooked listening to the authors and getting involved with them, getting their autograph,” said Beth Walizer, the long-time chair of the Young Readers Conference Committee.

This was Walizer's last year chairing the committee, a task she's done since 2004. For the 2020 conference, she has passed the torch on to Broman and Tholstrup.

The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” theme was created in honor of the late Lynne Albers, who was instrumental in helping create the city of Hays recycling program. Funding from her estate, along with that of Donna Harsh, the FHSU education professor who established the Young Readers Conference, provided each student with copies of Seely’s “Grassland.”