We at Lee & Low Books are often asked how schools and parent-teacher organizations can bring more diverse books to families and students through book fairs. We recently observed a wonderful illustration of a school community actively organizing a culturally responsive, diverse book fair. Today, Maria Falgoust, the librarian at the International School of Brooklyn, a Nursery–8th grade independent school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY, shares with us how her school organizes a book fair to promote diverse, inclusive books for families and students.
Lee & Low: How often does your school have book fairs?
Maria Falgoust: Once a year, usually in the late fall.
Lee & Low: Why do you have book fairs?
Maria Falgoust: There are so many reasons to host a book fair!
- Book fairs spark the love of literacy by providing an expansive, thoughtfully curated collection of rich books.
- Parents often use the opportunity to browse the books and discuss them with their children.
- It breathes life into the school’s collections: the school earns a percentage (usually 20%) of the proceeds from the fair, which can be used to boost the library’s collection as well as classroom collections.
- Book Fair customers have the opportunity to purchase books for classroom collections from teachers’ wish lists, which is a win-win for all involved.
- It is a way to engage with the greater community, as our book fair is open to the public.
My school is a French and Spanish language immersion program, and this can make it difficult for our community to access high quality reading materials in these languages. This makes our annual multilingual book fair especially valued by our families!
Lee & Low: What do you consider in selecting books to present your school community at the book fair?
Maria Falgoust: It’s a long list! I do my best to cover as many bases as I can. My goal is make sure that the books are as diverse as possible in terms of socio-economics, race, religion, geography, history, age, lifestyle, genres, gender, LGBTQIA, reading levels, and more. I want to ensure that we offer a great range of books for all ages, from babies through adults. I also try to ensure that we have books that support our curriculum (we are an International Baccalaureate N-8 school).
Lee & Low: Why partner with a local bookstore? Why do you work with a local bookstore rather than larger book fair companies?
Maria Falgoust: Working with a local bookstore offers:
- Sustainability: Supporting local businesses reflects our values and allows us to meet in person prior to the event.
- Community: It provides an opportunity to develop a relationship over time. Our repeated interactions make the process more personal and mean the bookstore will understand our community’s preferences and needs, allowing them to tailor their selections.
Lee & Low: How does a local bookstore help you host a book fair? How much control do you have in selecting titles to present at the book fair?
Maria Falgoust: Independent bookstores have personal relationships with their communities and are familiar with what types of books kids, parents, and librarians are wild about. In my experience, I have had a fair amount of control over the selection process. Once you develop a relationship with a vendor, you will get to know one another and can relinquish a bit of control if you want to, as most school librarians have overflowing workloads!
This year, Book Culture was our vendor and they provided a giant tent for a Reading Nook, two folks to work the fair, the pricing, delivery, and shopping bags.
Lee & Low: How does a local bookstore help you expose the school community to more diverse and inclusive books?
Maria Falgoust: Local bookstores tend to be invested
in promoting diversity. When writing this, I wondered if this was more of my experience living in Brooklyn or if it is common across the US. I found this article, which is heartwarming.
Booksellers, like librarians, are constantly perusing book reviews and constantly seeking out the cream of the crop. They have their finger on the pulse of the literary world, and you can count on their expertise!
Lee & Low: What is involved in organizing a book fair? What should parent committees or school librarians consider in planning a book fair?
Maria Falgoust: Book fairs require a lot of time, thought, planning, and the solid commitment of parent volunteers, the development/communication team, and administration.
Things to consider:
- Start planning at last 5 months ahead.
- The space as it can make or break the event. You need enough space for people to move freely but don’t want it to be so big that it feels sparse.
- Think about offering an online component so parents can pre-order items.
- How will you get the community involved? For example: Could you collaborate with students to make decorations? Who will design the flyer? Who will post it around the neighborhood? Who will promote the book fair via local blogs, in the neighborhood, etc.?
- Create timelines and stick to them.
- Talk up the book fair to your classes and teachers.
- Plan newsletter posts, emails, social media posts and blog posts, thank you emails, and articles to keep the community in the loop.
- Do you want to host a book raffle?
- Are you interested in hosting an author?
- Will there be a book signing event?
I recommend creating a google doc and having checklists and timelines for every step. Documenting everything and setting deadlines helps keep the event organized and on target – plus it helps for preparation for the following year. Speaking of this, be sure to plan for a reflection time with the core group of book fair leaders. This is a time to reflect on what worked well, what did not, and what you wish to try the next time.
Lee & Low: How does a local bookstore cater to your school’s unique needs?
Maria Falgoust: Local bookstores staff know what the community is interested in!
Lee & Low: What advice do you have for a school interested in having a book fair that features diversity and multiculturalism?
Maria Falgoust: Reach out to your fellow school librarians and ask which vendors they use. If you have the time to spare, attend their book fairs and see what which ones you think would be a good fit.
For some of lists of diverse books, you can check out this list I created for ISB’s families.
Lastly, consider hosting a workshop for parents, teachers, and the outside community about the need for diversity in children’s literature. I was very fortunate to have Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low moderate a panel with the talented illustrators and authors Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. Check out a blog post about the event and video here. It’s a great way to have a dialog about why it’s important for children’s books to reflect the world we live in.
Remember: this is an important and worthwhile endeavor. You can make a difference!
Maria Falgoust is the Librarian at the International School of Brooklyn, a Nursery–8th grade independent school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY. ISB offers French and Spanish language immersion programs as well as an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is reflected in our multilingual library collection. She serves as vice president of the Hudson Valley Library Association. Previously, Maria ran the elementary school library at the American Overseas School of Rome in Italy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts from the University of Washington, Seattle, and a Masters of Library and Information Science degree from Long Island University (The Palmer School) with a School Media Specialist certificate. Maria is a native of New Orleans, LA and loves traveling, cooking, reading, and hiking.