Writers for children are challenged with creating engaging material for young readers, whose ages range from infants to young adults. The brave soul that decides to take a swim in these unforgiving waters has a lot of work ahead of him or her. The plot or text must be believable, the dialogue authentic, and the characters relatable. But how do you know what kids today find believable? What types of characters would they find relatable? And just what do kids say when adults aren’t listening? And what are kids reading nowadays?
Last fall, I stumbled upon the perfect way to answer all of these questions and more about young readers. My daughter’s elementary school needed volunteers to help run the school book fair, so I signed up. Now, as a former teacher, I’ve been to my share of book fairs, but this was the first time I looked at one through the eyes of a writer. What surprised me was the amount of discourse about books (and just about anything else) that takes place at school book fairs. They offer a treasure trove of ideas and information to the observant writer.
For the children’s writer, a school book fair is an opportunity to observe how children speak and interact in an informal an atmosphere. You’d be surprised at what kids are saying today – I was. It’s also an opportunity to talk to kids about books. Find out who their favorite authors are and why. Why do they choose one book over another? Which nonfiction books are in high demand and which aren’t? Remember, kids are spending their money (or their parent’s money) on books, oftentimes when they can spend it on something else. Why?
Also take a look at the books on the shelves. Which publishers are represented? What types of books are available? Which books are selling out?
School book fairs also give you a chance to interact with teachers, librarians, and parents. Remember, these are the people that buy and expose children to books. They know what kids like to read and what they are asking for more of. Take the time to build relationships with librarians and teachers – they may be interested in inviting you to read your book or work in progress to a group of students. As a former teacher, I would have loved to expose my students to a reading by a local author. Not only can a reading encourage students to read more, but it can also motive many students to become better writers as well.
Elementary schools aren’t the only place to find a book fair. From daycare centers to high schools, librarians are coordinating book fairs that address the needs of their readers. So, if you’re a young adult writer who’s looking for new ideas or fresh dialogue for that work in progress, what are you waiting for? Contact your local high school and sign up! A couple of hours of community service may breath new life into your work in progress.
School book fairs usually take place in the fall and spring, so now is the perfect time to make that call or send that email. Nervous? Don’t be - schools are always looking for volunteers and they’ll be happy you called. So, whether you write for pre-readers, young adults, or somewhere in between, there’s a book fair in your neighborhood that needs you.