Community Outreach Adds a Special Something to Your Fair

By Lydia Kelley, Book Fair Chairperson from Valley View Elementary in Las Cruces, NM

A group of college students dressed in rodeo attire lassoing posts in front of the school.I am beginning my 3rd year as an elementary librarian. One of the greatest challenges I faced was to host a book fair that was not only profitable, but got my students excited about books. We’ve had book fairs at our school in the past, but the children were telling me it was kinda boring just to look at all the cool books. They were asking for excitement. How could I get them excited for a book fair?

A little background about our school: we are a Title 1 school with 100% free breakfast and lunch. We’re an inner city school with a high poverty rate, young parents, and grandparents raising their grandchildren. That’s not to say that all of our children are at the poverty level, but most are. Most of our children will never leave the city, much less the state. So I’ve made it my job to bring in outside resources as much as possible to show my students that there is much more to life than what they see at home.

There are two schools close to ours: New Mexico State University (NMSU) and Las Cruces High School. I knew that, as a graduate of both of these schools, there are many resources that go untapped. I decided that for my book fair I would make contact with both schools and see what could happen. For my first book fair theme, Bookaneer, I decided it wasn’t enough just to have the students help create a pirate-y atmosphere with decorations. I contacted students who were in the orchestra to come and play "pirate" music for family night, with Clifford dancing around helping families find books. Already, I could feel my students were more excited about the fair.

Our most recent theme was Wild Wild West. I called the NMSU Rodeo team to come and perform. They came in full cowboy attire complete with ropes and let the children rope the dummies in the front of the school. They also came into the book fair to read with the students and help them find books that were good for them. We also had the NMSU mascot Pistol Pete come and read as well as a local cowboy storyteller. It was a thrilling time for the students—the cheerleaders really motivated them, meaning they were even more excited about the books! Once they learned real cowboys and Pistol Pete were coming, it became all about the fair for them. Pistol Pete even helped with the book recommendations—of course, if he liked it, the book sold out!

Clifford stands in front of the Valley View Elementary book fair banner.My book fairs are successful due to the help of my community. Without their help I could not have succeeded in my mission: to show my young students that book fairs can be sensational! Using the funds from our spring fairs, we were able to buy books off the fair for the school library. I’ve given teachers discounts for books to use in their classroom, and we’ve even had the chance to take new staff members to the Book Fair Warehouse in El Paso to shop, giving them access to books for the start of their school year.
The untapped resource of enthusiasm from high school and college students became a means for exceptional revenue with our fairs—it has me looking forward to our Enchanted Forest fair this fall. I hope every chairperson has the chance to utilize this community outreach to its fullest potential.