r’s note: I’m torn about this post. The African American Book Fair should be a positive event however the event was more of a hassle than a celebration of books. Bear with me as I muddle through my thought.
Last weekend The Bee’s Girl Scout troop checked out the 20th Anniversary African American Children’s Book Fair hosted at Community College of Philadelphia. I had just learned of the event through a random tweet and was excited that I was actually able to attend. The line up of scheduled authors sounded fantastic and best of all the event was free! The troop was told to arrive at the venue at least an hour early. Only the first 100 children would receive books and the event is so popular that there are always long lines. As we waited on line the scouts were treated to a woman and her children who tried to jump line and argued about why they couldn’t be allowed to enter early, the harassed security guard attempting to explain why we couldn’t be let in and grumbles from people complaining about the wait.
|This was the line at 12:30!|
Once we entered there were drummers who played as we walked towards the entrance where the free books are given out. I appreciate free books and do not discriminate in my offerings offerings of reading materials but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to how books were given to children. The choices seemed to range from picture books to teen books and the books were just thrusted at children as they walked in. NBC 10’s Monique Braxton was on hand and she was not friendly. When I excitedly greeted her she snapped that yes I could take her picture and handed one of The Bee’s friends from scouts, a ten year old, a picture book. I’m a fan of “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” but really, there should have been some better system in play to make sure books were given to the appropriate reader.
|The drummers were great!|
|Why I won’t watch NBC 10 on weekends|
When we got into the gym, the room was set up with tables around the perimeter. Volunteers were passing out posters and other publicity materials. There were lots of materials to be had and some neat education tools to use with the books. We were told that we could get bags at the end of the line of tables to help carry some of the stuff we had. However once at the end of the line we were told that bags were five dollars but a free book was given. I am not opposed to paying for bags (I love bags and am kinda kicking myself for not getting one) however paying for plastic bags? I’m talking the kind you get when you go shopping. Two of the volunteers had a heated discussion about whether or not bags were to be given away and we just skirted them.
Next up were some community tables with more books…only available to educators. I’m cool with that; as a library chick I have multiple opportunities to get books but instead of having the crowds wait in a long line, a slowly moving long line and then having these books on display only to be told NO, there should have been a separate space or path for educators.
We finally get over to see the authors and again, the line moves a snail pace. I love meeting authors and am excited about their works but at this point The Bee, her friend and I were stuck behind a woman who was grabbing everything she could AND just holding up the line. Bah!
Things took a huge leap towards positive when we were able to meet the authors. Deborah Gregory who wrote The Cheetah Girls and also has a new series called Catwalk. She was kind enough to take pictures with The Bee and her friend. She also a cute line of Cheetah themed accessories.
We were so lucky to meet and to get a book signed by Walter Dean Myers. He was recently named the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and he accepted my gushing and excitement about his appointment. He gladly posed pictures (despite looking stern in the one below).
Sharon Flake was there and complimented my locs. She too took all of my gushing with good nature and we chatted about whether she does school visits. She does!
L Divine was funny. She insisted on holding up a copy of her book so that people would know who she was. I told her how the books ALWAYS get stolen from the library and she laughed and said she hears that often.
I insisted on having The Bee pose with Linda Trice. Her books were always go tos when The Bee was small.
Jerry Pinkney also took my gushing with good humor. He happily posed after signing some books.
The idea of the event was a great one…bring African American authors together with children however the execution was so poorly done. The room was chaotic, the vast space full of people milling about, a slight roar of chatter made it impossible to hear. We were encouraged to buy books but there were only three cashiers! THREE!
|That line is people waiting to get posters.|
I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to come face to face with some of the most prolific authors of literature for African Americans. There was so much talent in that one room but the space and crowding of the room just put a damper on the event. Because the event was free I guess I should be happy to attend as is but I would be willing to pay for the chance to meet these authors in a setting that was a little more controlled.
I did reach out to the organizer so that I could help out next year. I think this is a fabulous event and hope that it lasts another twenty years. If you missed it this year keep on the lookout for this event the second Saturday in February. Also, (shameless plug) check out your local library for copies of books by the above authors or any others that were in attendance.