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Book Fair or Toy Fair?

Benefits of Hosting
Hosting a Fair is the best way to support your school’s reading efforts. Students, parents, and teachers love Book Fairs for a number of reasons, including:

  • A Book Fair connects kids to the books they want to read.
  • They feature a terrific assortment of books, hand-selected by book experts.
  • Book Fairs help build school, classroom, and home libraries.
  • They generate community involvement.
  • A Fair is one of the easiest ways to raise funds for the school. (Scholastic website.)

The parent-teacher organization at the LWW's school hosts a book fair during its P/T conferences each fall and spring. The attractive displays are bright and inviting.  The goals of the event are fantastic -  to encourage personal ownership of books and raise a little money for classrooms and the library. As an indulgent grandfather, it is all I can do to keep my checkbook in my pocket...

Here are a few shots of the offerings...



Notice anything unusual about this "book" fair? Where are the books in these shots?

OK, I'll admit I was somewhat selective in my photo shoot. Not shown are cases and displays of actual books that were there as well. But I think the toys are taking over. Even a high percentage of "books" are combo books-games-activities.

This shift from print to multi-media is not just visible at school book fairs, but in the children's section at the Barnes & Noble as well. I wonder how many kids will get real books as gifts this holiday season?

We have nobody ourselves to hold responsible for creating a postliterate society...

Are book fairs really about reading anymore?

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Reader Comments (22)

I used to hate all that stuff, but a debate on LM_Net turned me around. Now I realize the point of the book fair is to raise money for the media center. It would be nice if it was only books that we were selling, but hey--that's what we'll be BUYING with the proceeds (or author visits, etc), right? I mean we could do car washes and bake sales, but book fairs are more fun, no? So now I think I'm cool with selling whatever sells for the sake of the media center.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

Amen, brother. When I was at our middle school campus, I begged the librarian to not order or put out that kind of crap. Regardless of where the money goes, it only tells the students that toys are more important than books. A book fair should be a book fair.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott S. Floyd

Talk about timely!
We just had our Book Fair. In the LMC. And it looked very much like the pictures above. In all fairness, the parents running it were also disgusted. I only wish all the proceeds went to my library. (I do get a wish list, which is getting easier and easier to compile. But it doesn't come close to what the fair rakes in.) And I have noticed the selection has gotten far worse since there seems to be only one book fair game in town....and you can ask them til you're blue in the face for what you want, and you just get what they want to send. Sighhhh. It's the independent book store vs the big box, all over again.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

I totally agree with you about how the book fair is becoming like a toy fair. I handed out the flyers and showed the author video to my students and one of them actually asked me if there were going to be toys at the fair! How scary and sad.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDebra Giannone

Book fairs are one of my pet peeves right now. My son's elementary school had its book fair two weeks ago. I don't mind buying books. As a matter of fact, I love buying books. My biggest gripe with the book fair was my son coming home from school (kindergarten) with a shopping list, complete with title, price, and where the items (not all books, of course) were located. The list was written by an adult. When I asked him, he said that's what they had done in library that day. None of the books was age-appropriate. We did end up going to the book fair on family night. I told my son in advance that he would be able to pick out three books that would be appropriate for his age/reading level (i.e. no toys--especially the $20 plastic Venus fly trap). This whole issue puts me in a tough spot. I am a media specialist in the same district that my children attend school. If I were simply a parent, I would definitely be calling the school and questioning why they were "shopping" during class time.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGina B.

This is the 4th year I have been at an elementary school as the media specialist. After the 1st book fair, I was so disgusted with seeing children spend $20 and not get a single book that I started weeding out all the junk before the fair opens. My feeling is that kids who have $20 are going to spend $20. If I only offer books, that's what they'll buy. I make just as much at my fairs without the toys as I did at that first fair that was full of toys.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKelly P

Actually, I looked at the photos and figured it was a packaging fair.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

I too just finished a Scholastic Book Fair. It is up to the person chairing the fair whether they want to "put out, display" the TOYS. We are not contractually required to sell everything that they send.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Doehler

Ugh! The junk! Last year I talked to my sales rep about not even sending that kind of stuff any more and she even admited that not much of it even sells in our region (midwest). Wow, image the mark-up that the toys must have to make it worth the vendor's time. I put no toys, posters, etc. out at our preview - yes, I cave and bring all the kids in for a walk through because they get so excited about the books it sells more - and only put a few things out at the fair. By some miracle, most families say no to the toys, and just a few kids bring 50 for a book mark or funky eraser.

Just say no and don't put it out! When my parent volunteers are helping me set up, I we talk about all the junk we don't need. As a parent myself, I appreciate when the toys are left in the box. I agree with Kelly P in her comment that the kids will spend what they have. If we have books as the major choice, that is what they will get.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Dierks

We gave up on Scholastic book fairs years ago, not because of the junk (we never put it out) but because of the appalling lack of diversity in the book offerings. We tried and tried but could never get the quality of books we wanted (and we're lucky enough not to be THAT strapped for cash). Of course, there aren't any other options for book fairs, so we just don't have one any more. Sigh.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Watkins

Doug's dear grandson spent a month's worth of allowance on a "math-blaster" handheld video game at his school's bookfair this fall. (Are you shocked, Grandpa?) I allowed the purchase because I thought it might be less tedious to review addition and subtraction facts if aliens got blown up in the process. It turned out that only about 1/4 of the games in the menu were actually math-based and it broke after about 2 weeks, causing lots of disappointment for everyone. We do always enjoy the Scholastic books that come home from the in-classroom order forms. In fact, I've given him some of *my* Scholastic books from 25-30 years ago.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

I have noticed the increasing amount of toys at the book fairs. At the school I did my service learning I noticed a whole table of toys. I think the title would suggest mainly books will be sold but there are just as many toys. When parents give students money for books, students would spend it on toys and candy.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjas0025

I am a media specialist in an elementary school, and would you like to guess what my book budget is this year? $0 That's right - due to budget cuts at every level of government I have NO district, state, or federal funds to purchase books. I'm relying on book fair sales to earn free books (from the book fair company) and to raise money to purchase books from other vendors, so I want my offerings to appeal to a broad audience. There are some kids who aren't that interested in books but who will spend money for a poster or an art kit or a pen that writes in four colors. Let them make that purchase at the school book fair and support the library program. There's an order form on the book fair flier that is sent home, so even if parents cannot attend our family events, they can still exercise control over what their children purchase by filling it out and sending it to school along with the money. Book fairs are more than just a way of getting books into the hands of children, as important as that is; they are also a necessary fund raising opportunity for many schools.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLori

My book fair at school is run totally by parents and volunteer students. I haven't seen the selection yet and I will be looking at the balance of books to toys and discussing it with my parent leader after the sale. I stopped using the flyers in my own classroom as a teacher a number of years ago. I was frustrated with the amount of junk purchased and the lack of quality and variety in the flyers. I was expected to do the book flyer sales last year in my classroom, this is my first year in the library. I sold around ten books and no junk over the course of the year. I had been left a large coupon which I spent on my classroom library. Although there wasn't much participation in the sales with the group I had, they were delighted when the books for our classroom came and read them voraciously.

It's a mixed bag the fair, the flyers, the junk. My own kids complain I say it's all junk. My son has to spend his own money at the fair. It makes him cautious about his purchases. He's a reader and doesn't spend time or money with the toys. Maybe because he knows they won't last and I will deem them junk and toss them. When we get the flyers, we look but we use it to see if there is anything we would like to get from the library. I love books but I don't need to own them myself. I think I'm passing that on.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan


If that were the case, wouldn’t selling drugs be more profitable and quicker?


Hi Floyd,

If it were honestly advertised as a fund raiser, not a reading promotion, I’d have less problem with this.

I am amazed by the number of comments this received!

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Janet,

Well, I hope the book fair is not your only source of funding for materials.

My understanding is that Barnes & Noble also runs book fairs. (Talk about your big box!) Sounds like others simply choose not to display or sell the toys.

Thanks for the comment,


Thanks for the comment, Debra. I was afraid I was just getting old and grumpy. Well, I am getting old and grumpy, but at least I am not the only person sad about this trend.

All the best,


Hi Gina,

Perhaps there is a vested interest in good sales if the library gets a portion of the proceeds.

I do like the idea of families shopping together for books. Sounds like your son will get stuff that is the best for him.

Thanks for the comment,


Thanks, Kelly. This sounds like a very sensible solution to the problem. If all the toys go back to the vendor, perhaps they may re-think their marketing strategy.

All the best,


Hi Stephen,

Too funny. (And true.)


November 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks, Sandy. This is good to know.


Thanks, Linda. This makes a lot of sense. I agree that kids will buy what is available.

All the best,


Hi Anna,

Something a little sad about that too. I do like the idea of kids being encouraged to build home libraries. Maybe a new player will get in the game?



Hi Sweetie (my daughter Carrie),

Well, I hope he learned a lesson his grandfather never has. I have a big drawer of unused and broken toys myself.

As a mom, can you help the book fair sponsors make good choices too?



Hi Jas,

Yup, I think the percentage of toys to books has been slowly creeping up.

Don’t tell me they are selling candy too!


Hi Lori,

I be looking for a job in another school. I don’t care how poor a district is, there is always enough for a small book budget. Buying books only with fund raised money sends an ugly message that libraries and good books are optional.

Good luck in the future,


Hi Susan,

I hope my grandsons learn the same lesson your son did. And yes, book fairs as a whole are a mixed bag. Nice way to put it.

All the best,


November 20, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Our recent book fairs at our Elementary & British School Division, Seoul Foreign School, illustrate some differences between the book fairs you all are describing in the US & here in Seoul, S. Korea. A local book store, Kim & Johnson, supplied the books for both fairs. They ONLY brought books, DVDs (movies made from books, or educational ones), bookmarks, bookcovers & audio books! They brought boxes & boxes of books --- children's classics, popular fiction, lots of nonfiction on hosts of subjects, SAT study books, etc. The kids bought a lot & their parents came and bought more!

There was a recent article in USA Today about South Korean schools (we're an international school) & how well students do academically in S. Korea---it could be related to this love of books.

November 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Rogde

Hi Linda,

Thanks for the international perspective. Another commenter suggested book fairs are suffering from "big-box store" syndrome. Sounds like working with a local book dealer (where they exist) may be a great alternative.



November 22, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

HI Doug,. I'm still catching up on last year's posts. After all the excitement, student crews, reading promotions, etc. our bookfair earned in profit about the equivalent of $1.10 per student. Would it have been easier to ask every student to bring a dollar? You bet! But why have the book fair?

I use the fair as instructional time. Yes, I am guilty of helping students create lists including wacky items that are difficult. The reason is that we have standards about learning to make appropriate choice and choosing books for personal interest as a life-skill. We send notes to parents telling them they are under no obligation to buy what's on the list. We encourage parents to come with students to make purchases and to guide them to good books.

We do sell the junk because it earns money so we can buy the books. Having the book fair gives me the opportunity to do book talks with every class that enters the door. I race around doing individual book suggestions and find out more about what the students really want. Our library collection may not have the diversity that some of the readers are looking for. This helps me identify gaps. Also the students make lists for me of titles they want in the library after seeing them at the book fair. A great deal of instruction and learning goes on at the book fair, not just shopping.

Also, the student workers learn skills that are career-based. This may be their only chance to learn marketing, customer service, or attention to detail in retail while they have such a great mentor.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Chen

Hi Diane,

I just love how a great teacher like you can make the best out of any program and make it educational and of value. As I have to keep reminding myself, “it’s not the tools but how we use them.”

Thanks so much for the comment!


January 14, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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