Crush Your Book Fair This Fall
for the Cause of Literacy

By Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal, South Park Elementary Center, South Park, Penn.

I know what you’re thinking: “Me, help organize a Book Fair? That’s what my Book Fair Chairperson is for!” I get it. I’m an administrator too. Who has time for that stuff? Well, as the reader leader for my school, I do.

You should too, especially considering that every Book Fair generates 100,000 voluntary reading minutes. Research shows that independent reading starts with access and choice. Research also shows that students who spend just 20 minutes a day reading independently are exposed to 1.8 million words a year and score in the 90th percentile on standardized tests. All this – along with that ever-important ingredient of family engagement – starts with a Book Fair.

Your Book Fair needs should be a natural extension of an ongoing literacy plan. Access, choice, and motivation – check, check, and check. Here’s how to crush it.

  1. Meet with your Book Fair Chairperson and your Scholastic representative to plan some exciting reading events during your Book Fair week. I meet with my Book Fair Chairperson a month before our Fair begins. In just spend 15 minutes, you can plan something amazing and memorable. But why limit the fun to Book Fair week? We host events the entire week before and the week of our Fair with everything from competitions (such as our Ugly Man contest last year) to reading challenges. Think festival atmosphere. Every day during the week of our Fair is something special – for instance, hat day, sock day, or team jersey day.

  2. Send a personal letter home to families inviting them to Book Fair. We’re talking about more than a simple invitation to the Book Fair. We’re talking about spelling out that list of all the great events you and your Book Fair Chairperson have planned to align with your Fair. Also take advantage of services such as mailchimp.com. With the push of a button, you can hit everybody in your school community. Also hang posters outside the school, in the hallways and outside classroom doors.

  3. Treat your teachers to a Teacher Sneak Peek at the Book Fair and, if your budget permits, let each teacher select a book. We serve up a Teacher Sneak Peek right with a breakfast on the first morning of our Fair. This not only gives our teachers an opportunity to create their Classroom Wish Lists but it also allows them to become familiar with titles they can feature in booktalks. Classroom libraries grow, home libraries grow, and readers grow. And that’s what a Book Fair is all about.

  4. Host Book Fair events and activities on your school’s homepage. Less isn’t more. More is more. Reinforce those letters and emails by promoting everything on your school’s homepage and Facebook page (even consider a fan page for your Fair). In addition, hang posters around your school, promote by word of mouth via parent volunteers, play up Fair events on your internal broadcasts, and generally exploit any promotional opportunity you can find. That’s how you crush it – the it being independent reading.

  5. Endorse books that will be featured at your Fair. You want to steer students to books that will speak to them, books that will give them them a voracious hunger for reading. One way you can do that is by doing booktalks – whether on your morning announcements, in individual classrooms or, hey, why not both? Booktalks are part of our daily literary diet at South Park. But come Fair season, we specifically push those books we know will be available to our students.

    Another way you can promote books is by using a Principal’s Pick Shelf-Talker. I know from experience, as well as from research, that kids read what people they respect recommend. If they see you take the time to recommend a book, they’ll want to know what the buzz is about. And here’s a tip: You can do this year-round.

  6. Share your goals – when you set them and when you meet them. Our Book Fairs have multiple goals, the biggest of which is to put self-selected books into the hands of our students. So to accomplish that, we tie reading challenges into our Fairs. Heck, we tie reading challenges (partnered with a book-in-hand policy) into our whole school year. If you make reading goals part of your school’s culture, you can sit back and relax come time for you Fair, even if you step up the excitement with extra challenges.

    But we don’t stop there. In these days of budget crunches blocking the path to 21st-century learning, we also are very specific – and public – about what we want to do with our Scholastic Dollars™. Over the past couple of years, we’ve told our parents, “We’re going to use our Scholastic Dollars™ to put SMART Boards in every classroom.” (We made a deal with our Parent Teacher Organization, whose members understand they’re not doing something for me. They’re doing something for the children.) Over the past two years, I’ve brought in $17,000 to $18,000 in SMART Boards, and parents celebrate our achievement. By the end of next year, we will have met our overall goal. Win.

  7. Host a Family Event during Book Fair week at which you do a read-aloud. Last year our Book Fair accidentally got booked during our Fall Festival. That was a happy accident because parents milled about from one venue to the other, and nobody wanted to leave till it was over because we announced our Ugly Man contest winner at the end. As a result, parents kept buying books, and students went home well-stocked for many hours of reading.

    So you understand the power of that read-aloud at your Family Event. Students are likely to listen, but parents are doubly as likely to listen to what an educator recommends. Remember, you’re the reader leader. Own it.

  8. Consider hosting a parent program such as Raising Readers, Read and Rise, or Kindergarten Readiness, right before or during Book Fair week. Raising literacy awareness causes parents to view Book Fair not as a fundraiser but as a venue for building home libraries. Once parents understand the importance of building home libraries (as the 2009 study by M.D.R. Evans shows), and they understand how to direct their children to right-fit books, parents will become your No. 1 literacy advocates. And, as William H. Jeynes’ research on the importance of family engagement proves, that’s huge. TIP: Consider including your parent literacy awareness night into your bevy of pre-Fair activities, and be sure to send parents home with no-cost downloadable handouts.

  9. Encourage families to download our free Book Fairs Mobile App to help them find right-fit books for their children at your Fair. The app, available through the App StoreSM and from Google PlayTM, enables parents to scan a book cover or barcode with their mobile devices to learn what age, grade, or reading level a book is.

    Reading level data includes Accelerated Reader, Developmental Reading Assessment, Guided Reading, and Lexile levels. The app also displays price, book summary, videos and podcasts, awards, and eBooks (Android only). Also, a reading counts quiz is indicated. In addition, parents can search thousands of titles to find recommendations on similar books, create wish lists, and even buy books through the school’s Online Fair, whose sales boost your school’s Book Fair revenues.

  10. Recognize your Book Fair Chairperson, along with parent and student volunteers. When I see my students anticipating the next Book Fair as they walk around with books in hand, and when I see SMART Boards in almost every classroom, I am reminded how grateful I am for my Book Fair Chairperson and all the volunteers who made our Fair possible. And I take every opportunity to tell them so, using materials found in the Chairperson’s Toolkit or even eCards that I generate from www.smilebox.com. Be personal. People will appreciate that you’re not obligated to be personal, so that extra effort will go far in reinforcing critical relationships.

    But also be public. Take time to introduce those who made your Fair a success in front of the whole school and in front of administrators. I’ve been known to introduce our Book Fair Chairperson to our superintendent by saying, “This is the person who has helped us get our SMART Boards.” People who are willing to work that hard to help children have earned your respect. Give it to them in every way possible.

Dr. Furman is a guest blogger for The Huffington Post and the author of Instructional Technology Tools: A Professional Development Plan and the upcoming title Motivating Reluctant Readers. He also was recently named one of NSBA Technology Leadership Network’s “20 to Watch” leaders. Email tips or questions to him at Rob@FurmanR.com, or text him directly at 412-999-0449. Follow him on Twitter @DrFurman.

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