With Children’s Book Week approaching fast and Christmas inexorably following after, a great many people are putting the final touches to book fairs which have been months in the planning.
Book fairs aim to bring as many children as possible together with as wide a variety ‘of books as possible: to show children that books can be fun, exciting, interesting and that somewhere among the tremendous variety of books available there is a book that will suit them and perhaps even set them on the road to discovering just how much pleasure can be found in books.
Organisers of book fairs may have arranged visits from authors and artists, set up activities and demonstrations, planned films, storytelling and puppet shows, thought up competitions, begged – or even bought – balloons, badges, stickers, organised posters, publicity, rotas, signs, timetables, helpers. They will have coped with fund-raising and fees, with where to put an author’s owls/ pony/snakes and where to find a printing press/easel/film projector. They will have placated the opposition and reassured the anxious. And of course obtained and displayed hundreds of books both hardback and paperback.
All awaiting floods of eager child visitors. At this moment is there a shade of doubt? Visions of children rampaging uncontrolled, descending like locusts to strip the fair of catalogues, stickers, posters, sad children with 20p expecting to buy a book, parents and teachers complaining about ‘the lack of organisation’.
If children are to get as much as possible out of visiting a book fair, the adults who take them need to do some preparing and organising.
Nancy Rhodes offers some guidelines.
A visit to a book fair may not sound very exciting. Try to give the children an idea of what will be happening there and parents an explanation of how the children will benefit (especially if it means bus fares).
Do give as much warning as possible. Make sure that parents have all the details and explain that books will be for sale. Give children enough time to save up pocket money. and tell them to dig out those book tokens from the sideboard drawer.
Find out all you can about the fair. If authors or illustrators are appearing, make sure that your visit coincides with the time those you want to see will be there. No use getting the class all excited about the prospect of meeting Roald Dahl and then finding out when you arrive at 2pm that he was there in the morning.
The organisers may be booking-in groups in advance. Find out how the system works so that your group isn’t turned away from the Jan Pienkowski paint-in, the puppet play or the Dorothy Edwards storytelling because there is ‘no room’.
If you plan to meet an author/artist, do make sure that you have read at least one of his/her books yourself. He/she will appreciate that you have taken the trouble and will appreciate your comments.
Do encourage the children to read the author’s stories – or read them to them. It’s an idea to get them to write something about why they liked the story (or didn’t) or draw a picture of something from the book or a character in the story. The author/illustrator will be delighted that the children have taken an interest and it adds more pleasure to the visit if they can approach this strange person with something to show, instead of just thrusting out a book for signing and rushing away. The author may be as nervous as the child, and will be pleased to have something to talk about.
Infants can be easily put off by bigger children. If the organisers are booking parties, they may be able to tell you about a quiet time or an ‘Infants’ time.
Don’t stay too long or try to fit in too much, especially with younger children.
Do leave time for the children to buy books. It’s very frustrating to be bustled onto a bus just as you’ve got your money ready and your favourite author is waiting to sign.
Have enough adult helpers to supervise or help the children. Explain to the helpers that you want the children to enjoy themselves and they must be given freedom and encouraged to pick up and look at the books and even to sit down and read them if they want to!
Make sure that the children have a pencil and notebook with them to write down a list of books they would like to read. (Get the helpers to write for the younger ones.) Use the lists as a basis for buying for the class library next time you have some money. It is much more likely that the books will be read if the children have had a hand in choosing them. If there is any spare money available before the visit, you could actually buy the books there so they become real souvenirs.
If there is a competition. try to get a copy in advance (or at least as soon as you arrive) so that the children understand how it works. Competitions are often a way of getting the children involved with the books. If you can visit the book fair before your class visit you may be able to devise your own activity to help them browse.
The organisers will probably have a supply of ‘giveaways’ – stickers, badges, bookmarks, catalogues, etc. Try to persuade the children that it is not the aim of the day to be the one to go home with the biggest collection!
When you get back to school, talk about the visit with the class and see what they thought about it. Get them to write a short note to the author they met or to the organisers thanking them for the visit.
You might even have some energy left yourself to drop a line to the organisers. They would be pleased to hear from you. If you have any comments, complimentary or otherwise, it will help them to decide whether it was all worth while and if so how they can make it even more successful next time.
Nancy Rhodes is a bookseller and has been involved in many book fairs. She is a member of the Children’s Book Group of the Booksellers Association. Her bookshop, The Pied Piper, is in Brentwood, Essex.