Three for Thursday

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The first of Inly’s two annual book fairs opens next Tuesday morning at 8:00, and so I will spend all next week playing store – but with real money!  I always enjoy the book fairs, mostly because they are a chance to bring kids and books together in a relaxed social setting.  It’s truly one of the highlights of the year to see kids getting so excited about the new books, making their “wish lists” and then beginning the decision process.  Their questions are great: “Do you have that horse book?”  Or…” I’m looking for a book I saw last year. It’s pink.”

For many of our parents, the book fair is a chance to see friends and maybe put a few books away for the upcoming holiday season.

We are using Scholastic for this fair.  As always, I’m mixed about that.  Scholastic knows that.  I’m very open with my sales rep about my concerns – and appreciation – regarding Scholastic. Since today is Thursday, here are three annual “issues” I face when planning a Scholastic Book Fair.

1. Too many commercial tie-ins.  Not that the Inly students see them.  As I make clear to our patient Scholastic sales rep, Hannah Montana, Raven and all of their TV-Land friends never make it onto the display.  They are hidden behind the big grey cases – but don’t tell our students.  This is a tricky one.  Lots of people say: “If a Hannah Montana book gets a reluctant reader to enjoy reading, they should be encouraged to read it.” I agree.  Let them read it.  That’s a totally different issue.  I represent Inly when we have a book fair, and school should be a safe, commercial-free zone. Decisions about those kinds of books can be made elsewhere, but I want to provide parents a place to shop where they can trust that most of the books on the shelf are good.  It’s not fair for me to put our parents in a position where an outing to the book fair is fraught with tension and negotiation. 

2. Scholastic sells many things other than books.  We get boxes of toys and posters and funny pens and….the list goes on.  I get it. Scholastic is a business.  But for many of the same reasons discussed above, I box most of the junk.  Again, I’m hoping our parents will not look at the “man behind the curtain,” or in this case the grey cases.  Our students love the pencils and posters, and I leave about 1/3 of those items on display.  But, I don’t want parents looking at me as their child begs for a toy, and reasonably wondering about the purpose of our “book” fair.   I struggle with this one because I know that for many schools that the revenue from the book fair is perhaps the only library fundraiser for the year, and those toys help make money to buy books.  But Scholastic could make wiser choices about what they send to schools.   Kids are bombarded with commercial messages everywhere they look.

3. All of that being said, there are things I really love about the Scholastic Book Fairs.  They sell some wonderful books at reasonable prices. I am always amazed at how many new titles they have on their shelves.  They are easy to work with.  The displays are inviting.  And, truly, once the extra “stuff” has been put away, what’s left on the shelf is a wide array of classic titles, interesting fiction and nonfiction, books on every conceivable subject of interest to children, books that represent all kinds of people, and…maybe even that pink book from last year.

More news from the fair next week…

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Book Fair Time

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30608783Later this week I will be setting up for the first of Inly’s two annual book fairs.  This one is the Scholastic book fair, a fact which I have incredibly mixed feelings about.

One of the things I love most about working at Inly is our respect for children, an understanding that they are not just small consumers, our emphasis on beautiful materials and most importantly to me, our commitment to exposing children to good literature.

So, one can easily make a case that Scholastic is not a great match.  Their promotional materials highlight the latest “novels” based on TV shows and there are so many Disney princesses that I feel a little sick.

My Scholastic rep knows how I feel; we have had several lively and honest conversations, and she understands that Inly hosts a “modified” Scholastic fair.  The thing is—I really appreciate what they do.  They are getting books into kid’s hands.  No argument with that.  They are making money—again, no argument.  If Captain Underpants inspires a reluctant reader, that’s great.  I just feel that it’s my job to offer our parents something else.  Captain Underpants is as near as the local grocery store, but Frederick may not be.

I am incredibly fortunate to work at a school where parents are able to buy books for their children.  But I also feel like they should be able to come to the school book  fair and not be bombarded by media images.   If all of the books are good choices, no problem.  Scholastic has some terrific books as well.  They are just not as well promoted.  They always have lovely picture books, art books and a good selection of classics for every age.

I’m excited to put good books into the hands of good kids.  It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year.  I just hope they don’t peek behind the cases…