'Crazy Book Fair Lady' Helps Middle School Win Fall Theme Contest


Cindy Leonard no longer has any children who attend J.E.J. Moore Middle School in Disputanta, Va., but that means nothing to this chairperson, whose passion for Book Fairs helped propel her school to a first-place win in the Scholastic Book Fairs Fall 2011 National Middle School Student Crew Contest.

A second-place winner in two previous years, Moore Middle won 2,000 Scholastic Dollars and a visit from prolific author Gordon Korman, who will visit the school May 8.

Calling herself “the crazy Book Fair lady,” Cindy lives and breathes Book Fairs. “I feel like the more you do, the better it is,” she said. Cindy’s “more” means more in every sense – more teacher and parental involvement, more reading, more free books for kids, and more fun for everyone.

Despite having 20 Fairs under her belt, Cindy still draws inspiration from the Chairperson’s Toolkit and from attending workshops. “I did all the workshops,” Cindy admits. “I learn something every time I do one.”

Cindy used the theme “Adventures in Reading – ‘Book’ Your Trip!” and linked it to travel, drawing upon some ideas for “Book Fair Luau.” Luggage with Book Fair signs was scattered through the hallways, and reading road signs brightened classrooms. Even the school skeleton was fair game, sporting a Hawaiian shirt, flip flops, and a straw hat.

“We polled Moore students: ‘What do you need for a reading road trip?’ Creative answers were posted around the building, generating excitement as the Fair kicked off,” Cindy shares.

To help promote and run the Fair, Cindy accepted applications from among the school’s 1,110 students for Student Crew slots. Cindy reviewed the 90 applications she received, coordinating with teachers about which students were up for the challenge, and narrowed the list down to 40 students.

“The cool thing for me is we have such a diverse group for our Crew,” observes Cindy. “There are kids that would probably never be together if it weren’t for our Crew.”

Students made commercials to be broadcast during morning announcements, visited classrooms to build up excitement, and passed out bookmarks during reading time. Crew members also sent letters to parents that included a travel itinerary of Book Fair events.

Principal Willie Elliott challenged students to read 6,000 books between the start of the school year and the end of the Fair. Once a student read a book, his name would appear on a team road sign along a road built by parent volunteers and Crew members that runs outside the library. Students met the challenge by reading 6,493 books – more than 3,000 of which were read during the Fair itself. Top teams won a pizza party, and all students earned a day of play.

Other contests included a guessing game involving road-trip snacks, and a vanity plate design contest. Winning vanity plate designs were turned into bookmarks. English teachers worked with students on two writing contests: one in which students sent postcards from book characters, and one in which students wrote travel narratives. Narrative writers marked the site of their “travel” with a thumb tack on a huge map outside the library.

The most popular contest, however, was “Mr. Elliott’s Wacky Adventure,” in which the principal’s photo was green-screened over popular tourist destinations worldwide – the running of the bulls, for example – and students had to guess the location for a chance at a prize. Cindy worked with Crew members to create the video in collaboration with the school’s technology teacher, who incorporated the exercise into his lessons. Prizes for the various contests ranged from candy to gift certificates.

At the Fair, Crew members acted as tour guides for the three Family Events – Dad’s Pit Stop, which featured checkered flags and car-related door prizes; Mom’s Getaway, featuring a tropical vacation theme; and a Grand Day for grandparents.

Cindy’s efforts paid off: Sales at the fall Fair exceeded $12,000, and One for Books donations reached $1,200. Those students who couldn’t afford books found golden tickets in their lockers that entitled them to free books. “They come into the library and say, ‘I won something!’” Cindy says with an audible smile. “It actually brings up their confidence level.”

Teacher involvement is a key to a successful Book Fair, Cindy insists. “I’ve incorporated teachers into the planning. The teachers are getting more involved, and the parents are getting more involved,” she says.

Think your school Fair can win 2,000 Scholastic Dollars and a visit from author Roland Smith of the Storm Runners series? Get information about how you can enter the Scholastic Book Fairs Spring 2012 National Middle School Student Crew Contest here.
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