African American Children's Book Fair draws active crowd

Posted: February 03, 2014

PHILADELPHIA There was nary a cellphone in sight.

Several thousand people, many of them younger than 15, and not a screen to be seen.

Saturday in the gym at Community College of Philadelphia, the name of the game was books.

We're talking paper here.

Print. The unmoving, staunch, typeset word.

"They're interested," said Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, who has organized the annual African American Children's Book Fair every year for 22 years. "They're hungry. People come for one reason. They love books. They buy books. My passion is books."

No doubt about it.

Parents, teachers, school administrators, kids, and assorted others, black and white alike, turned out for the afternoon event to look at stacks of titles laid out on long tables, gather up inspirational and literacy materials, and talk.

About two dozen writers and illustrators were on hand to pitch their creative wares, to meet fans and prospective fans. Several corporate sponsors of the fair bought about 1,000 books that were given away to visitors.

African drummers provided a rhythmic atmosphere in the cavernous gym and entertained the long line of adults and children waiting to enter.

"This is a unique book fair," Lloyd-Sgambati said. "It's huge."

She wouldn't get any argument on that score from Nicole Lover of Mount Airy. Lover has been coming to the book fair since it started at John Wanamaker's store on Market Street.

"I came as a little kid - my dad brought me," Lover said. "Now I'm bringing my kids."

Teren Lover, 11, a sixth grader at KIPP Philadelphia Charter School, said she loved going to the fair.

"It's exciting," she said, standing on line about to enter the vast Community College gym.

Her favorite book? Out of My Mind, she said without hesitation - Sharon M. Draper's story of a brilliant little girl trapped in a body wracked by cerebral palsy.

Not just kids, parents, and teachers are engaged by the book fair.

Tonya Bolden, an award-winning author of 20 books, said the fair provided an opportunity to bring interesting stories to young people and perhaps ignite something in them.

Bolden's latest effort, Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America, tells the unusual and true tale of a child descended from former slaves owned by Creek Indians. Sarah received a land allotment at the turn of the 20th century that eventually yielded oil and made her a wealthy child by any measure.

Bolden paints her portrait against the landscape of emerging Oklahoma and fills it with a very American cast of frauds, racists, and plain folk.

"I think kids will get a kick out of it," she said.

Christopher John Farley, a 47-year-old Wall Street Journal editor, told visitors about his different kind of book - a fantasy novel, Gameworld.

Author of several books for adults, Farley said writing for kids "is totally different."

"If the first sentence doesn't grab them, they're done," he said. "I don't see any people of color in fantasy [books]. Kids deserve to dream in color. That's why I wrote this book. . . . It's good for white kids, Asian kids. They can cross over and enter other people's minds."



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