The School Book Fair – An Untapped Resource

Sunday, March 09, 2008
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.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great advice, Kesha. I never thought of that before! Since I don't have kids, I'm sure I can ask one of my friends who do, how to get involved.

Margo Dill said...

I completely agree with this. And it is better than the children's section of a book store because it is more concentrated, and there is a lot of traffic coming through. The only thing I would say to watch out for is that most book fairs are run by one company, such as Scholastic, and they are only offering books they are allowed to offer. There are a lot of great books out there by smaller presses that might not be included in a book fair, so talking to librarians and teachers is also great advice. Kesha, thanks for reminding us children's writers of these great resources! margo

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Great idea! Do you know if middle schools and high schools still have book fairs?
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse

Ally (Allena Tapia) said...

I was going to say what Margo said which is that Scholastic runs them so the publisher is nearly always Scholastic or an imprint. I've run the one at my kids school:) three times a year, one week each, two years in a row now. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to pass along a great book fair company that i just finished up. It is from Imagine Nation Books Ltd. called:

I have operated dozens of book fairs in my time and THIS one is by far the easiest and they give a 40% rebate which really cant be matched. It doesn’t take any volunteers either. My school received over $3650 in cash and books! 30% cash 10% books

We have noticed that other companies hold “captive audience gadget fairs” with minumal quality titles. It is converse to the “wholeness” of what a book fair should be. And I don’t like the fact that they dump their stuff off and leaves us to do all of the work. I pull my hair out each year doing these. Most of the time we find that people disappear so they wont have to volunteer for this labor intensive type.

I recommend to everyone if they want excellent durable, up-to-date titles . Their program is by far the newest and most beneficial I have ever seen, not to mention the easiest!

It doesnt take a list of volunteers and doesn’t take up your library space. Our school is a bit older and our library is quite small for the number of students we have.

The account manager I spoke with at Take Home Book Fair was Shane Davis. He was so helpful and was always there if I had a question. He sent 680 Take Home Book Fair catalogs to our school for free and we held the fair for 2 weeks. One other benefit is the teachers get 50% off everything. Each student took one catalog home with them and returned with their orders within our fair timeline. About 9 days after I send my orders in they UPS shipped our orders (pre-sorted in individually labeled boxes for each student)!! I couldn’t believe it. For the first time I didn’t have to sort through hundreds of books. And I didn’t have to move any tables and racks etc…

I ran the Take Home Book Fair by myself. You can get a free catalog on their website. I am staying with this company. No more pulling my hair out. I will post their website on this blog, I hope it sticks.

Thank you,

Peggy Reiling
Washington State

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