As a seller of books for children and educators, I have gone to many California schools to supply their book fairs. During this time I’ve had plenty of opportunity to watch the teachers, parents, and children who some in to look for books. In most schools, each class comes in once a day with the teacher. Sometimes parents of children come in with their class to assist. Children often come in on their own during recess and before and after school. I’d like to share some of what I’ve seen and a few suggestions that might make the experience more enriching for everyone.
One reason schools have book fairs is to expose children to a wide variety of books with the hope they will find at least one they will want to own. Most suppliers try to have a variety of books at every price range so that everyone can afford at least one book. Some children approach books fairs with anticipation, eager to find a book or books to take home. Those children are, of course, the most fun to serve. Most of them are readers. Some children come (mostly those of middle school age) because they have to, and these have little interest in books. They stand around and talk to each other, ignoring the books. Some children come so they can get out of class for a few minutes. These last two groups are a challenge, but as the book fair lady I always had a few minutes at the beginning of each class visit to give students the “lay of the land” and try to introduce books that might catch their interest with instructions on how to find them.
After this, some students usually go immediately to the fiction or a special nonfiction section of interest. Some quietly consult each other for recommendations. Some talk to their teachers or parents and some ask me for help and advice. Once I had a group of seventh grade girls discover the Amelia Bedelia books they’d enjoyed in first grade. Would you believe they sat in a circle and read them aloud to each other? Some students want to buy the books their teachers have introduced in class. I love watching this, and I love trying to find just the right books for a student who seeks my help.
But not all the experiences are happy. Most of the unhappy experiences happen in preschool or the very early grades, and they happen because parents make what I believe are mistakes. If you are the parent of a preschool or early grade child, please consider these suggestions to make the book fair a happier experience for everyone involved.
First, if you have a very young child, either at a preschool book fair or accompanying you to an older child’s book fair, try to remember that you are the adult and your child really has no idea what is good for him in the book department. He sees only a cover. He might like a book just because it’s red or has a picture of a dog on it, even if it’s Lassie Come Home or a math dictionary. You know your child’s interests. So please don’t follow your two or three-year old around and ask her what she wants. Nine times out of ten she will pick something totally inappropriate, and when you nix her choice she will get very unhappy and will then not want anything you pick out. Then you might get angry and say something like “You can’t have a book then.” And your child will cry more. You will both leave iin a huff and be miserable for a while.
This can easily be prevented with a bit of forethought. If you can, preview the book fair before your child sees it. Try to find several books that would be appropriate for your child and dovetail with your child’s interest or are similar to books she’s enjoyed in the past. Which books could you read over and over to your child and still enjoy them? If you can’t preview the book fair, try the library. Read a lot of books and see which ones you think might stand the test of being read multiple times. Check them out and read them to your child. Then if you find a book your child has enjoyed, she will probably want to own it. (Unfortunately many of the books you both enjoy might be out of print and unavailable at the book fair, so do try to preview the book fair. Or, click here to see some wonderful books I used to have at my book fairs for ideas). When you have found a group of books you are happy with, present them to your child and ask her to choose one. She still chooses, but what she chooses will be appropriate. If, on the other hand, she has independently found another book within her age and interest level, keep an open mind. Ask why she wants it. Listen. If there is any way you can feel okay with that book, buy it. But also buy one or two of the ones you like (or more if you can afford them). She will eventually want you to read them to her even if she didn’t pick them out. She’s just not going to admit that now. Tomorrow she will probably forget she didn’t choose them.
One scene I’ve had to watch too many times is parents with one idea about what is a proper book and a child with a different idea. I’m not talking about moral issues and values here, but about genres. Many young children, especially boys, simply prefer nonfiction. They want to read books that will answer their questions about the world they live in. They want books about snakes, frogs, fighter planes, classic cars, science experiments, computers, sports, or whatever their current interest is. If Mom gave them $20 and didn’t come to the book fair, they would walk out with as many books on snakes as they could find. But when Mom comes, and they bring her that really cool book on snakes or rockets or the first moon walk, she sometimes says, “No. I want you to get a story.”
Now I love well-written picture books and novels as well as anyone and love to share my favorites in read-aloud sessions. But the first book I bought my adopted son was on his favorite subject — something I knew nothing about — big rigs. He lived for big rigs. So I special-ordered the book he’d loved when we checked it out at the library and I got it for him for Christmas. He spent hours with that book before he could even read. I was always able to read Jason the stories I loved, and he learned to enjoy them, too. But when he could chose, he chose nonfiction, and those choices not only helped him learn to appreciate books, they prepared him to later read other kinds of books. Your son will grow into Bill Peet books, Mike Mulligan, or Homer Price soon enough. So please, Mom, let him buy the snake book at the book fair and you buy a story that’s just a bit above his reading level to read at an opportune moment at home. Make sure it’s a book you really like, and I’m quite sure he will learn to like it, too. And he may discover he likes stories after all — especially if you can find one about a snake.