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Inside Practically Paradise

Book Fair Comment You can’t miss

Last post was so long you would have missed this comment, so I’m posting it separately. One of the students did not want to look for books at the fair. When the teacher and I asked her why, she said, "Because my life isn’t all happy ever after like those books. I want something real.

I asked her to tell me the last book she read and enjoyed. It was a Sharon Draper novel. Knowing that, I could point out to her two of the titles I knew on the fair that weren’t "all happy ever after." Ahem, Scholastic, please note that you should include more Sharon Draper-like titles in a middle school book fair.

I know that Scholastic book fairs has to reach a wide audience across the country. Not all of our students are the same. It is unrealistic to expect every title to be positively received or to meet the needs of every single student. Some communities are ultra-conservative and, let’s speak frankly, homophobic among many other phobics. Some schools have never heard of the separation of church and state. Some schools take protection far above life-long learning.

I’d like to suggest that Scholastic consider different add-on modules such as "urban lit." I know that there already exist modules like manga, Spanish titles, award-winners, etc. Did you know this? There is no one place to look at a list of modules. Instead we rely upon the rep sitting in the regional offices to help us coordinate and create a semi-custom fair. (Thanks to my rep, Jim, for helping me add on my modules.) Maybe they already have such a module available. I’d better check this out.

I understand that urban lit would NOT go over well at every book fair. There will always be objections to certain titles. Scholastic chose not to include Breaking Dawn on their book fairs because it would be too controversial. What if the Scholastic Book Fair was the ONLY opportunity for these students to ever stand in the midst of a "pseudo-book store"? I shudder at remembering how many of my students raised their hands when I asked who had never visited an independent or a chain bookstore before. The Scholastic book fair is their first opportunity to select titles to own. Most of my middle school teachers don’t distribute the paper flyers to order books.

It seems that Scholastic has to balance safety for all at their fairs. Some librarians over-react to the slightest objection. I did have a parent come back in to exchange a title. She didn’t appreciate the hair inside the book on shrunken heads. If you don’t know which title I’m talking about, you are just going to have to go visit the book fair for yourself and touch this book. 

Personally, I’d rather be reading Found, Sunrise Over Fallujah, Cracker, Fablehaven, Double Identity, or Elephant Run but I understand why the students find this irresistible. I let the parent exchange the book. Child and parent then went back and purchased 3 additional titles to replace this one and everyone was happy. (Me because they spent even more money and are more likely to read again)

The parent did not attempt to stop all children from reading this title, she simply didn’t want her child to own it. I can live with that. Couldn’t you? Just because a title is at the book fair doesn’t mean that every child HAS to read it or buy it.

We are teachers in school libraries. We teach students how to determine their own interests and how to identify matches between interests and books. This is a skill they need for their entire lives. We need a variety of titles and we need a little controversy to help grow. A completely harmless, challengeless book fair would be such a dull book fair. Librarians, try changing your attitude to embracing challenges as opportunities to help students and parents consider other viewpoints. 

Let’s try getting a few more realistic titles that aren’t all happy ever after.